Justice and Friendship in the Task of Global Dialogue

In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle includes justice and friendship in his list of moral virtues. According to the Stagirite, these two virtues are nevertheless different from the other moral virtues in that they concern not just the human individual but also one’s rapport with the other. The main purpose of the paper is to investigate the nature of justice and friendship as discussed in the works of Aristotle with an outlook as to how we can possibly employ such a conceptualization in our endeavor to work towards global dialogue and understanding. There are three parts to the paper. The first part makes a brief and general treatment of Aristotle’s doctrine of areté (excellence or virtue). The second part focuses on justice and friendship as moral aretai. The main question tackled here is how they can be viewed as virtues. And the third part explores the prospect of applying the Aristotelian notion of justice and friendship in the task of engaging a dialogue towards global understanding and mutual respect among partners. The thesis argues that there are important elements in Aristotle’s doctrine that might be of help in realizing such a task. Moral Areté in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle’s treatment of moral areté in the Nicomachean Ethics is quite extensive. Although his main concern in his ethics is to find out how human being can possibly attain his ultimate good, Aristotle cannot but tackle the problem of moral excellences or virtues because they form part of what he identifies as human being’s ultimate end. Indeed in the Nicomachean Ethics, eudaimonia or happiness, the ultimate human end, is explicitly defined as an activity of the soul that has a rational principle in accordance with areté. Areté is thus just an aspect – although an essential one – of what amounts to eudaimonia. It describes the manner in which a human individual should carry out his characteristic task as human being in order to achieve his ultimate end. Aristotle tries to offer a clear account of areté. For that purpose he employs concrete examples to illustrate his point. One such example is the lyre-player. A lyreplayer’s distinct activity is playing the lyre. Still it is not merely in playing the instrument that he achieves his goal or purpose but in doing so in an excellent manner. And that’s what makes the difference between an ordinary lyre-player and a good one. Which then prompted Aristotle to conclude, “the function of a lyre-player is to play the lyre, and that of a good lyre-player is to do so well.”1 Aristotle wanted to see human being precisely in that fashion. As human being, one can likewise achieve one’s goal, and for that matter one’s ultimate end, by performing one’s characteristic human task in an excellent manner. Aristotle specifies this human task as “activity of the soul that has a rational principle” and identifies the excellent manner of carrying it out with acting in accordance with areté.

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics (cited henceforth as EN) 1098 a 11-12.


” finds its sense. we are now in a better position to inquire why and how justice and friendship could be viewed as moral aretai. accounting for the multiplicity of aretai that can be ascribed to him.e. 5 1114 b 26-30. such excellence in the actualization of his ergon takes place in manifold ways. The fourth point ties virtues up with the characteristic human function. And when one has already acquired them.”2 There are at least four points we can gather from this passage. And this is where the phrase. one can be expected to carry out the same virtuous acts in such a way that they already originate from one’s already virtuous character. they are states. That is to say when one acts in an excellent fashion. viz. all of which are supposed to instantiate excellence in the manner in which human being can realize his function. “With regard to the excellences in general we have stated their genus in outline. Human areté is not simply a matter of doing the characteristic task well. We can thus say that it is understood as something that is rooted in and based on human being’s ergon (function) and his energeia (i. And Aristotle has to further develop his treatment of areté to elaborate his argument as to why realizing human being’s characteristic function is such a complicated matter. unlike vices which are either excessive or defective. and that they tend by their own nature to the doing of the acts by which they are produced. that they are means. it is quite indicative of who one really is. Moral excellences or virtues are means because they represent just the right way of doing things. including the moral aretai. Whereas in its general sense. the actualization of the ergon). Accordingly the analogy with the lyreplayer can only go up to a certain extent. Instead. and that they are in our power and voluntary. This leads us to further pose a host of other questions: Are they states (hexeis) as Aristotle characterizes moral virtues to be? In what way do they satisfy the description of moral virtues as the mean between two vices? Are the virtues of justice and friendship likewise acquired and developed through the regularity of the activities pertaining to them? What would these 2 EN iii. and that they are states. The third point suggests that moral virtues are acquired by doing virtuous acts. For human being possesses not just one but numerous aretai. They are human virtues specifically because they are excellent ways of actualizing human rational nature. in the case of human being. “as right reason prescribes. Secondly. 2 . and act as right reason prescribes. the performance of such an act stems from a stable disposition of oneself. He writes. It is not merely accidental or coincidental. The first is that moral areté is something that stands in the middle of two extreme possibilities. Justice and Friendship as Moral Aretai Having discussed areté in general.But the case of human being is not that simple. Aristotle’s statement in the fifth chapter of Book Three is perhaps the most concise definition he makes of moral areté. These four points more or less sum up Aristotle’s notion of moral areté. areté simply refers to the excellence in the performance of an ergon.

for those who live together delight in each other and confer benefits on each other.”5 However.”3 Insofar as the law bids one to fulfill every sort of virtuous acts. EN ii. This is especially the case when it comes to the idea that moral areté is a mean between two vices. the two would prove to be virtues that are in some sense different from the other moral virtues. Moral aretai are intermediate states and their activities are also intermediate. He writes. Aristotle writes. he states. “if the acts that are in accordance with excellences have themselves a certain character it does not follow that they are done justly or temperately. one general. others in respect of an activity. which allows the employment of the same term for both. however. it must be pointed out from the very start that our main concern here is particular justice. And that is precisely what justice in the universal sense signifies.”4 The same can be observed in Aristotle’s account of friendship. Aristotle basically understands complete excellence. 3 4 5 EN v. In regard to justice for instance. but those who are asleep or locally separated are not performing. and choose them for their own sakes.4 1105 a 27-33. but only the activity of it. abiding by what the law requires amounts to acting in accordance with the various aretai. Although there is a great similarity between universal justice and particular justice. But justice and friendship appear to be no longer concerned with what is deficient or excessive in one’s acts because they have to do with the rapport between two parties involved in a relationship.2 1130 b 25-26. “As in regard to the excellences some men are called good in respect of a state. and thirdly his action must proceed from a firm and unchangeable character. In Book Eight of the Nicomachean Ethics. that’s only one distinctive trait of a moral areté.5 1157 b 5-11. it must be noted that there are two senses in which justice is understood in the Nicomachean Ethics. For in regard to other elements characteristic of a typical moral areté. Although eventually. In his account of justice and friendship.activities then be? Can it really be claimed that there are specific activities proper to the two virtues? Before tackling these issues. it seems that the idea that areté is a state applies to all sorts of moral virtues. such that what we affirm of particular justice very often applies to universal justice as well. The agent must also be in a certain condition when he does them. Aristotle seems to take both justice and friendship as states. including justice and friendship. In other words. in the first place he must have knowledge. He explicitly writes that friendship is a state of character. the similarity between the two kinds of justice enables us to understand one in function of the other. in that it consists in the observance of the law. By universal justice. for example. 3 . so too in the case of friendship. but are disposed to perform. they are no longer about one’s conduct as an individual but about the dynamics of relationship between individuals. “the things that tend to produce excellence taken as a whole are those acts prescribed by the law which have been prescribed with a view to education for the common good. Nonetheless. secondly he must choose the acts. the other particular. distance does not break off the friendship absolutely. EN viii. the activities of friendship. it seems that justice and friendship hardly meet the requirements.

What is primarily equal in particular justice pertains not to the persons but to the things involved. money or honor. Commenting on the friendships between unequals. while injustice relates to the extreme. in these may also be included the lesser evil.9 1159 b 26-32. which is why parents are honoured. but anything which may be considered advantageous. 4 . viii. “for the lesser evil is reckoned a good in comparison with the greater evil. he urges parties in friendship to perform acts which promote equality. Hence. is justice a mean. the species of associations which bind people constitutes a fundamental factor in the determination of the kind of justice and friendship between the parties concerned. also viii. And on the basis of such equality or inequality. according to him. he appraises friendship according to the equality or inequality of the parties. Both justice and friendship have to do with the relationships that exist between persons.Consider thus what Aristotle writes about particular justice. involves a certain equality and likeness. He says. 1160 a 28-30. Friendship. Justice in the particular sense has to do largely with the handling of things in respect to parties concerned.8 1159 b 2-3. are “concerned with the same objects and exhibited between the same persons. On the basis of such interpersonal relationships. Aristotle writes. In Aristotle’s treatment of friendship. then. although derivatively it is likewise said that the just man is equal.11 As in his treatment of justice.9 Justice and friendship depend to some extent on what unites parties.9 1159 b 25-26.12 1162 a 9-14. for that is true of 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 EN v. EN viii. One reason for this is that both. People need to have something in common between them in order for justice and friendship to be established.b 10. this can be seen especially in his emphasis on the questions of equality and inequality of the persons involved in such relationships.5 1157 b 36. See EN viii. and it consists in ascertaining and effecting the equality of goods in the enterprise and interaction between parties. Thus.11 1161 a 30 . “These friendships imply superiority of one party over the other. Almost the same things are being said about friendship and justice. See EN viii.12 1161 b 11. “equals must effect the required equalization on a basis of equality in love and in all other respects. See EN viii. The justice therefore that exists between persons so related is not the same but proportioned to merit. Only derivatively.1134 a 1. EN v. while unequals must render what is in proportion to their superiority or inferiority. Aristotle remarks. but because it relates to an intermediate amount. justice and friendship are said to develop and exist. according to the Stagirite. “Justice is a kind of mean but not in the same way as the other excellences.5 1133 b 32 .10 The assessment of persons or parties is a consideration equally important in the accounts of justice and friendship.13 1162 b 2-4. viii.”7 Aristotle views the mean in friendship in quite a similar manner. EN viii. And what are these things that are to be subjected to equalization? These are goods that include not only things such as products.”12 The similarity of friendship to justice is too great to be ignored.3 1131 b 20-21.”8 And what makes the two even more similar is the interpersonal relationship they both signify.” 6 It is a mean not on account of itself but on account of the equality that describes the relationship of goods involved.

See EN v. 17 See EN viii. And that explains why the mean in justice is understood differently. ix. there is a specific activity ascribed to each of them.8 1159 a 27.8 1159 a 33-35. and so too with the justice in these relations.” 18 Aristotle also says. See also EN viii. but an overlapping of accounts. v. It is the interplay of a particular praxis and pathos that is rather emphasized.”13 Here. Justice and friendship do not just have things in common but are also closely tied up with each other. Aristotle gives more weight to praxis. and each gets what befits him.5 1133 b 30-31. 16 EN v.6 1158 b 19. 19 EN viii. i. For the mean in justice is manifested in the fact that “just action [dikaiopragia] is intermediate between acting unjustly [adikein] and being unjustly treated [adikeisthai].7 1168 a 19-20.8 1135 a 16. They also have to do with being acted upon.8 1136 a 4. “since friendship depends more on loving [en tôi philein]. Friendship. But like any other moral aretai. For which reason they can readily be regarded as moral virtues. but in performing definite acts that are in themselves described as actualization of justice or friendship. b 5. such that in both justice and friendship there is an interplay between praxis and pathos. viii. ix. is the same that is found in an aristocracy. between acting and suffering an act from the other.9 1169 b 10-12.5 1157 b 30 where Aristotle employs the term antiphilein. these two aretai are not just about doing an act.5 1157 b 33. and it is those who love their friends that are praised. There is another one important similarity between justice and friendship.11 1161 a 20-25.. there is no longer a mere parallelism between justice and friendship.”19 13 14 EN viii.”16 Similarly.8 1168 a 28.17 And yet. insofar as it concerns relationship between parties. of both loving [philein] and being loved [phileisthai].8 1159 a 12 ff.e. justice and friendship are virtuous states that are instantiated not in one’s being in the mean with regard to certain acts or passions. but of both praxis and pathos. as in the case of justice. 34. in the account of friendship.15 Notice the specificity of the activities ascribed to justice and friendship. they too remain purely a state of character if not translated into concrete acts or activities. Aristotle uses dikaiopragein to refer to acts of justice. and to confer benefits is characteristic of the good man and of excellence. loving [to philein] seems to be characteristic excellence of friends [philôn areté]. It has been pointed out that both are states or hexeis. arguing that “it is more characteristic of a friend to do well by another man than to be well done by. again. And it’s quite interesting that in the case of both justice and friendship. or more particularly. Unlike the other moral aretai. b 1. The friendship of man and wife. ix. In the Nicomachean Ethics. And this activity already entails the involvement of another party. for it is in accordance with excellence  the better gets more of what is good. v. viii. is not just a matter of acting or praxis.3 1165 b 4.1 1129 a 8. And this has to do with the activities in which they are instantiated. praxis and pathos are viewed no longer as the matter with regard to which one ought to be in the mean.friendship as well. 18 EN ix.14 while for acts of friendship he employs the term philein. 15 See EN viii. In other words. 5 .

For that reason. As moral aretai. after a lengthy process that couldn’t but require a tremendous amount of adjustments. there is no shortcut or express way towards a just and friendly global order. friendship among nations is often born out of a sustained long-running rapport that was never exempt from conflict and discord. activities characteristic of justice and friendship properly belong to parties insofar as they are in a relationship.Global Dialogue from the Perspective of the Aristotelian Conception of Justice and Friendship What and in what way can Aristotle’s discussion of justice and friendship contribute in the task of promoting global dialogue towards mutual respect and understanding? There are a lot of presuppositions implied in Aristotle’s conceptualization of justice and friendship. The first one has to do with the fact that areté is a state. Justice and friendship in any kind of relationship do not take place in a vacuum. acceptance and goodwill. Unlike the other moral aretai. the activities pertinent to justice and friendship are quite different from those of other moral virtues. And when that is constantly sustained. countries would have to begin with existing international relations and work things out to achieve a more just and cordial rapport among them. compromise. These activities activate and reveal the sort of state their rapport has attained. justice and friendship are built upon the condition and situation of parties involved. For they are functions carried out by parties not independently of each other but always in coordination with each other. This brings us to our second important point. justice and friendship are states that are manifested in concrete activities. dialogue. But as pointed out. there is a great certainty that the relationship would attain another level whereby treating each other with mutual respect and understanding readily becomes the hallmark of their rapport. of which the 6 . as history would suggest. They always happen within the context of lived realities. That way. And the reason why parties in such a relationship can treat each other justly and cordially is only due to the fact that they have learned to do so in time. As in the case of moral aretai. the rapport between parties need to be maintained and constantly pursued until such time that it achieves its ideal state. They are thus not so much a set of criteria to be met before relationship is entered into as states that have been attained by parties involved in already existing relationships. Indeed. we can focus only on at most three important elements that might be of help in the pursuit of global dialogue. not to mention the extra-effort of parties to understand and accommodate each other. That explains Aristotle’s employment of specific terms to identify the activities characteristic of justice and friendship. namely that the activities proper to justice and friendship are never unilateral or one-sided. This means that justice and friendship are born out of a process that might require a certain period of time. And that takes time. These activities are the same sort of activities that allowed justice and friendship to develop into states of character. As in the case of moral virtues. Relations among nations need to come of age. given the limitation of the present paper. it is always important to realize that while a relationship may not yet be in a state of justice and friendship. Meanwhile. Nonetheless.

Ph. For it is founded on an existing rapport and it starts with reciprocal activities. the activities of justice and friendship are functions of the whole and not of parts. Rev.D. But. pacts. Dean of Studies and Professor of Philosophy. That’s quite significant.com 7 . Philippines lorenzfestin@yahoo. justice and friendship concern not so much the choice of what is intermediate as the interplay between praxis and pathos. the unilateral acts of influential countries would have to give way to a new order of multilateralism. justice and friendship are actualized in the form of dikaiopragein and philein. Festín. the pursuit of global dialogue is always in line with the aim to promote justice and friendship among nations. Makati City. In such a setup. contracts. Justice and friendship do not consist merely in one party acting on the other – whereby one carries out an act and the other is merely the object or beneficiary of that act – but in a mutuality of praxis and pathos. Accordingly. Instead they are the very praxeis in which justice and friendship are actualized. such as dialogues. In other words. as mentioned earlier. They pertain to the dynamics of relationship between parties. in which parties are both agents and beneficiaries.proper activities consist in the choice of what is intermediate in regard to praxis and pathos. In other words. which are activities that can never be done individually or in isolation from the other party. M. deals and other joint ventures. Lorenz Moisés J. Fr. San Carlos Seminary. That’s more or less the ideal of a just global order. And here every country is a partner in the enterprise. For they no longer have to do with what is the mean in one’s praxis or pathos. And that can never take place in an instant. Nations should be equal partners in justice and friendship. For once again it underlines the reciprocity that should characterize the conduct of relationship between parties. The third point has to do with the idea that moral areté is an intermediate state and that its activity is the mean between two extremes. whereby each of them is an agent and beneficiary of the achievements of global dialogue and cooperation. dikaiopragein and philein differ significantly from the activities of other moral aretai.