Friendship and the Common Life: Happiness in a Modern Polis


At the heart of Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics (NE) lays an awareness of the role that friendship plays in the formation or moral character. This ontological aspect of moral deliberation stands in stark contrast to the decision-making protocols currently in vogue for most forms of practical ethics, particularly the style of preference utilitarianism adopted in Australia.

As the twentieth century began to unfold, a series of achievements in science caused a technical anxiety that had hitherto been unknown. Two major developments serve as book-ends to this twentieth-century period of technical anxiety, Einstein’s theories of special and general relativity (1905, 1916) and the completion of the human genome map (2000). At the other end of the century, advances in the genomic sciences produced a technical anxiety over the hereditary risks associated with transgenic species, the moral issues associated with cloning, and the ‘big brother’ risks associated with genetic information.

This paper will make two related claims. First, it will argue that something like Aristotle’s understanding of friendship is required for the formation of moral character, and second, the type of impartial rationality commonly advocated in practical ethics is deficient because it ignores this ontological dimension.

[1] Meacham, S. (1964) ‘The Social Aspects of Nuclear Anxiety.’ American Journal of Psychiatry 120: 837-841.

[2] Funding to the ELSI program exceeds all other funding that had previously been devoted to ethical, legal, and social issues in health care.


Published in Full, Peer-reviewed, Friendship, Politics


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The Author:

Dr Philip Matthews

This paper has been published as:

Matthews, P. (2011). Friendship and the common life: Aristotle's contribution for a modern utilitarian society. In P. Hanna (ed.), An anthology of philosophical studies, Vol. 5. (pp.97-106). Athens, Greece: Athens Institute for Education and Research.