Syllabus for PHIL 313: A Seminar in the History of Philosophy


Questioning the Nature and Goodness of Friendship



Dr. James Hatley

Philosophy House

Office Phone: 410-677-5072

Home Phone: 410-543-7635

Office Hours:  TTh 3:15-5:15


In this seminar we will turn to the history of philosophy in order to consider what a broad range of thinkers have had to say about the particular nature and goodness of friendship.  In doing so we will have (at least!) two objectives: 1) to determine how each particular philosopher’s taking up with the issue of friendship shows her or his particular philosophical orientation; 2) to use our newly acquired knowledge about these diverging orientations to build our own theories about the nature and goodness of friendship.  Put more simply: we will learn about the history of philosophy in order to begin to do philosophy.


There are two readers in this course.  The first, Friendship: Philosophical Reflections on a Perennial Concern, contains a series of primary texts from those thinkers in the history of philosophy who have had something important to say about friendship.  The readings are arranged sequentially in terms of the time when the author lived.  They represent ancient Greek, Stoic, Medieval Christian, Late Renaissance, Enlightenment, American Transcendentalist, 19th Century Continental and contemporary American philosophical approaches.  The second reader, Friendship: A Philosophical Reader, consists in part of a series of secondary essays interpreting what various thinkers from the history of philosophy have had to say about friendship.  This text also contains several essays reflecting on particular questions that are part and parcel of any attempt to develop a cogent theory about friendship. 


The course ends with our turning to a film about the life of the novelist Iris Murdoch, in order that we might test the theories we have learned, as well as our own ideas about friendship, within the context of a concrete although imagined world.  The final paper for this class will involve your interpreting Murdoch’s life via one of the theories and in terms of one of the questions which has come to obsess your thinking during the course.


This class asks for a lot--that you take the time and effort to learn in a disciplined way what others have written, as well as to reflect creatively upon your own responses to their arguments.   Among the questions we will be asked to consider is how and whether friendship differs from erotic love, of whether friendship is principally a human or divine capacity, of how friendship functions to help us to become better or even good persons, of how it brings us into contact with other human beings, of how it functions politically and socially.  And I would not be surprised if a few of you bring up the issue of whether friendship can be a trans-species phenomenon, although that is one question not included in the historical discussion of this issue.




            Friendship: Philosophical Reflections on a Perennial Concern, Blosser and Bradley, eds.

            Friendship: A Philosophical Reader, Badhwar ed,

            Iris, a film portraying the life of Iris Murdoch, directed by Richard Eyre


Web Resources:





Weekly Reading Questions (9):                         27%

Class Participation:                                           08%

Oral Presentations (3):                                      24%

Rewritten Reading Questions (2):                      16%

Final Paper:                                                      25%



Weekly Reading Questions: You will be given one to three questions every Monday concerning the reading that is to be discussed the next Monday.  Come to class with paragraph long (or more) answers to each question based on your reading.  The questions will at least in part be designed to let you speculate about, to be critical of, or to develop your own response to the insights being developed in the assigned reading.  These questions will also be discussed in class.


Rewritten Reading Questions:  Twice during the semester, once after we’ve finished with the Ancient selections and then again after we’ve finished with the Medieval/Renaissance/Kant selections, students will rewrite one question from the reading questions.  This rewrite should be more than 2 pages long.  In it you will apply what you’ve learned from your reflections and our class discussions. 


Oral Presentation: Using the reading questions as your guide, you will lead a discussion of the assigned reading for that day of class.  This will occur three times during the semester.  You should have also done some background research on the figure for whom you are responsible.  Consider yourself for that day to be a scholar of Kant, or Emerson, or whomever. These presentations will always be on Monday.   This is a serious responsibility.  You will be given a grade based on your preparation and performance.  You will also compose and answer an additional two questions of your own on the reading.


Hint: In carrying out both of the assignments above, it will be helpful for you to consult the introductory material in both texts, as well as rummaging around in encyclopedias or dictionaries of philosophy.  One is located in the Philosophy House.  Please do not take it out of the building.  There are others in the library.  Copplestone’s series on the history of philosophy might also be worth a glance or two.  Part of your work in this course will be to gain a clearer understanding of some general principles and decisive questions for, as well as the historical situation of each philosopher treated in the course.


Final Paper: This paper requires you to take up with a particular philosophical approach that we have discussed in class in order to treat a particular theme concerning the nature or goodness of friendship that emerges in your viewing of the film Iris.  The paper should be at least 4+ typewritten pages (over 1,000 words).  More will be said about it later.


A ROUGH GUIDE TO THE READINGS (subject to minor revisions)


Weekly Reading Questions


Week One (1/30, 2/1): Ancient Greek/ Plato


            Plato’s Lysis (BLOSSER, 25-51)


Week Two (2/6, 8): Ancient Greek/Aristotle


            Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (BLOSSER, 51-65)


            Web page with a good essay on Aristotle’s notion of the good:  Aristotle on the Good


Week Three (2/13, 15): Secondary Reading on Aristotle


“Aristotle and the Shared Life” (BADHWAR, 91-107); “Friendship and Other Loves (BADHWAR, 48-64), “When Harry and Sally read The Nichomachean Ethics” (BLOSSER, 375-388)


Week Four (2/20, 22): Stoicism


            Cicero, Epictetus, Seneca and Plutarch (BLOSSER, 67-114)


Week Five (2/27, 29): Medieval Christian


            Augustine of Hippo, Aelred of Rievaulx and Thomas Aquinas (BLOSSER, 115-152)




Week Six: (3/6, 8) Secondary Reading


“The Problem of Total Devotion” (BADHWAR, 108-132); “Friendship: The Least Necessary Love” (BADHWAR, 39-47)


Week Seven (3/13, 15): Renaissance/Enlightnment


Montaigne (BLOSSER, 153-164), Bacon (BLOSSER, 165-172), Hobbes (BLOSSER, 183-192), Hume (BLOSSER, 205-212)


SPRING BREAK—March 17th-25th


Week Eight (3/27, 29): Enlightenment/Secondary Reading


            Immanuel Kant (BLOSSER, 213-219)/“Kant on Friendship” (BADHWAR, 133-154)


Week Nine (4/3, 5): Secondary Reading on Kant


            “Friendship as a Moral Phenomenon” (BADHWAR, 192-210)


Week Ten (4/10, 12): Utilitarian


            “Martial Slavery and Friendship: John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection of Women (BADHWAR, 267-284)




Week Eleven (4/17, 19): Transcendentalist


            Emerson (BLOSSER, 257-272)


Week Twelve (4/24, 26): Post Hegelian


            Kierkegaard (BLOSSER, 243-256)


Week Thirteen (5/1, 3):  Three contemporary accounts of Friendship


            Clement (Handout); Gray (BLOSSER, 319-333) and Arendt (BLOSSER, 335-360)


Week Fourteen (5/8, 10): IRIS


Week Fifteen: FINALS WEEK:


            DUE: FINAL PAPER!