Plato's lysis and its influence on Kant and Aristotle
MetadataShow full item record
Most scholarship concerning Plato’s Lysis focuses on the failure of Socrates’ elenchus in its endeavor to define friendship. However, this construal of the dialogue is shortsighted. If one analyzes the dialogue’s dramatic subtext then one will discover a fairly complete theory of friendship attributable to Plato. This issue is critical, for the Lysis is a significant influence on Aristotle’s ethical theory. Thus, unless one grasps the relationship between Aristotle’s ethical theory and this particular dialogue, then one could argue that one does not really understand Aristotle’s motivations regarding his usage of friendship as the defining normative force of his political community. Similarly, understanding the Lysis is paramount to understanding Kant’s theory of friendship as well, for Kant can be interpreted as a virtue ethicist. And, analogous to other virtue ethicists such as Aristotle and Plato, Kant espouses a perspective on friendship, which utilizes friendship as the social cohesion of the moral community. However, unlike Plato and Aristotle who argue that friendship exists for the sake of the other person, Kant’s theory claims that one must participate in friendships for the sake of duty. This departure raises various issues regarding his understanding of friendship, for example, are friendships genuine? For Kant, friendship enables those involved to gain a greater understanding of the moral law and nurture relationships which will facilitate that goal. In this respect, like good Aristotelians help one another attain eudaimonia, good Kantians help each other strive towards holiness. Hence, for Kant, the empirical facets of our relationships such as aspiring towards eudaimonia, are not as important as gaining a better understanding of the moral law. Thus, to whom the actions are geared does not matter; it is the actions themselves, which are important. In this respect, while the virtuous will genuinely desire to help their friend, they do not genuinely help their friend in the Ancient Greek sense, since their actions are performed for duty’s sake. Nevertheless, Kant introduces humanistic qualities to friendship, e.g. trust, respect, and self-disclosure, which advances its study into the present day.
Oviedo, Michael Peter (2008). Plato's lysis and its influence on Kant and Aristotle. Master's thesis, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from