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Topic #H64

Cicero On Friendship, Laelius 1-61

15 March 2002

Scribe: Adam Mazurick



These minutes were not spoken; for another version, go to the spoken minutes     



<Professor’s postscript, 2002.iv.18: in the course of a political letter I penned in January 2002, I quote from this work (section 37), to wit: your alliance with your friend is not sufficient excuse for you to follow him into foolish or wicked behaviour.  To see that letter (concerning the Canadian military involvement in Afghanistan), click here.>



                  The topic of last Friday's class was friendship. Professor Hutchinson began Friday's class by regarding Cicero as one of the more important and influential philosophical voices of his time and could be considered an authority on the topic of friendship.        


Though Cicero's account of friendship is invaluable, professor Hutchinson digressed and commented on Socrates and his ideas concerning friendship.  Socrates made several good points about friendship, and it is through the philosophical works of Plato (an indirect source of Socrates' ideas) that we encounter the first serious meditation on friendship. Socrates expressed a keen interest in the subject of friendship.  He noticed that friendship and friends in general are taken for granted and not given the type of attention and consideration that material objects receive. It was Socrates' contention that people generally neglected their friends. Why would someone neglect a friend?  Well, Socrates argued that unlike material objects, friends and friendship had no monetary value. For this reason Socrates believed that we cease to value our friends due largely to materialistic and superficial reasons.


Shortly after discussing Socrates' philosophical views professor Hutchinson commented on how the ancients determined the value of something by means of a 'balancing scale'.  Similar to the 'scales of justice' whom the blind folded maiden and patron of law grasps, the value of something in ancient times was once determined by the sheer weight of that object.  Though initially the professor's comparison was slightly unclear, it shortly unfolded and provided remarkable clarity to Socrates' argument. Friendship was something that could not be weighed and have its value determined monetarily.  Professor Hutchinson's clever commentary on ancient scales and means of determining the value of an object really emphasized the fact that friendship, though a covention of man, was largely an intellectual activity and could not be valued in the same way that something material in nature could.  This point made by Professor Hutchinson was discussed in much greater detail in the reading on which his lecture was based. Laelius regarded the worth of friendship to be far more valuable than anything material.  It was his contention that friendship next to wisdom, was the greatest gift the gods could have ever imparted to mankind.                                                                                                                              

Professor Hutchinson then examined man's perceived notion of self-sufficiency. The professor contended that by nature, man is a highly social creature.  A being that's daily routine frequently involves contact with other people.  He indicated that man has a profound dependency on help from others.  In this respect professor Hutchinson rejected the notion of how self-sufficient man is.  Mr. Hutchinson alluded to primate activity as an example of how profoundly social some beings are. Primates share the same clade as humans do, meaning that both primates and humans share similar ancestry. This allusion made by professor Hutchinson further illustrated how social man is and further countered this somewhat cosmopolitan notion of self-sufficiency.  To further counter this notion of self-sufficiency, professor Hutchinson compared man and his notion of independence to a lion being put into an urban atmosphere. The lion is a creature that by nature is highly independent and self-sufficient.  An urban atmosphere is hardly the habitat appropriate for such a creature.  Why would man have constructed an urban environment in which people are involuntarily put into close contact with one another if man were not a social being?  The lion imagery helped convey the silliness of man's concept of independence.                                                                   


Next, professor Hutchinson proceeded by commenting on Aristotle's philosophy of friendship.  Aristotle distinguished that three types of friendship exist.  Firstly, Aristotle contended that there was one type of friendship based on mutual advantage.  The second type of friendship was one, which was based on a mutual exchange of pleasure.  This type of friendship may be romantic in nature.  Lastly, Aristotle contended that a third relationship type existed, one that was much more gratifying and based on mutual respect.  With reference to the lecture's reading, Laelius too argued that friendship served many practical purposes as well.  Friendship was believed by Laelius to relieve adversity by dividing and sharing burdens.  In this respect friendship has practical purposes identified by each Aristotle and  Laelius.                                                                                                                        


Shortly after professor Hutchinson's discussion of Aristotle's philosophical views concerning friendship, a student asked, "Isn't friendship ultimately about sacrifice?"  This question was ultimately provoked by the Aristotelian discourse on friendship earlier in the lecture.  Mr. Hutchinson contended that though a friendship may partly involve some degree of self-sacrifice and struggle, more often than not a friendship outside of one romantic or biological in nature is based heavily on a mutual advantage or an exchange of pleasure.  In this respect a friend can only tolerate a certain level of struggle and sacrifice and at some point may wish to forgo relations with that individual.  Professor Hutchinson digressed and commented on more of Aristotle's work. He indicated that Aristotle wrote quite a bit about when it is appropriate to end relations with a friend.         


Nearing the end of the lecture professor Hutchinson briefly examined the mystery and significance of sex.  He established that sex, when had with someone whom you are sincerely interested in and share a fond appreciation of, is immensely more satisfying than any casual encounter. He suggested that one of the many things wonderful about sex is the yearning for significance in another individual.  The professor stated that this principal of yearning for significance applies also to friendship.  The main difference being that sex is essentially friendship gone crazy.  By that the professor meant that a relationship of intimacy and trust is deepened by the exchange of pleasure.  This immense exchange of pleasure is primarily what separates this type of friendship from others less rooted in physicality.                                                                                                                                                          

The professor concluded Friday's lecture by discussing the loss and transition of friendships.  Elaborating on what Cicero had contended, professor Hutchinson explained that mourning over the loss of a friend is perfectly natural.  He explained that grieving was something common among people who had lost a person significant to them, however, Mr. Hutchinson felt that this process of grieving should not consume one's entire life. Mr. Hutchinson alluded to a personal story in which his son's friend Jack moved away. His son was obviously saddened by the loss of his friend, but one day Jack came back for a visit and the two children apparently had a wonderful time.  This story illustrated how devastating the loss of a friend can be.