Present Aristotle's Idea On Civic Relationship

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Present Aristotle's idea on civic relationship


When discussing how humans relate to each other in society, it is customary to go back to the simplest forms of relationship that of family and friends. By studying these intimate relationships, it is believed one can learn and extrapolate to consider wider, looser forms of human interconnectedness: we can move from the personal to the civic domain. Tying together the two forms of friendship (personal and civic) has a long line in political philosophy. But there are, as I shall point out in this paper, problems in this move.

This paper has two functions - firstly, to consider the concept of Civic Friendship as a form of friendship, and secondly, to examine whether or not it is a feasible aspiration in large democracies. My argument is that to view the civic relationship as a literal form of friendship may be mistaken, and that the only manner in which this can ultimately make sense is metaphorical at best. To do this, I shall consider both of the usual arguments for civic friendship: that it is a form of advantage friendship or a form of virtue (character/perfect) friendship. Then I shall consider the metaphorical argument, finally arguing that the concept is unlikely to do the work expected of it in characterising the civic relationship.

What is Civic Friendship?

Before considering the place of civic friendship in a well-ordered society, it must be distinguished from other sorts of friendship. Whatever civic friendship is, it must define the way that people relate to each other in the public sphere. It must be both civic and a type of friendship if it is to carry meaning.

The civic element means it must relate to the civic realm - how we relate as citizens. It is not synonymous with being a citizen but it should offer some illumination as to how, at a civic level, citizens relate. The adjective “civic” is used to denote the politically relevant forms of friendship to distinguish between the private (individual) and public (political) realms.

Aristotle's idea

The Aristotelian model of friendship draws out a direct connection between the personal and the civic. Not only does Aristotle hold that intimate relationships are a necessary part of the flourishing life, but that “civic friendship” is an essential human good. The function of civic friendships is to help maintain the practice of law and justice in the state, but also to make possible the cultivation of personal friendships based on virtue. To reinforce this, personal friendships based on virtue, he argues, serve as an independent check on possible intrusions and corruption of the state. When citizens view each other as civic friends, they come together in a broad consensus on matters of public policy, of things that are advantageous to the community.

Aristotle is careful to distinguish political communities from other types of community. The political community is distinguished by two criteria: firstly a shared system of courts, laws and a shared conception of justice and secondly, that citizens ...
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