20 October 2006

Brotherly Love = Bias ?

I'll try to explain why Whiting deals with the passage we have been considering as she does, in particular, her attempt to construe sunwkei/wtai as meaning "is familiar with" instead of "is intrinsically bound up with".

According to Whiting, Aristotle holds that natural affection, such as the love that a mother has for her child, is an "eogcentric bias", akin to racism, which we should strive to overcome. She comments, as regards the passage we have been looking at:

...the apparent assimilation of character-friendship to the attitude of parents toward their children may give us pause. For this makes it seem as if Aristotle's account of character-friendship is grounded in the sort of egocentric bias on which ethnocentric and other objectionable forms of bias are based. So we must pause to see that this is not the case (289).
She holds that, according to Aristotle, natural affection such as a mother's love, although an "egocentric bias", nevertheless has a useful function, since it shows us that altruistic attitudes are possible, and it provides a model for the sort of unbiased, "impersonal" affection that we should cultivate in character-friendship, thereby overcoming these inherent "biases":
...his appeal to psychological fact about whom and how we do love is not a crude attempt to justify conclusions about whom and how we ought to love, but rather a strategy for establishing the possibility of attitudes he seeks eventually to recommend (290).
Thus Whiting wants to deal with the passage from VIII.12 as: it is providing a model, in familial affection, for phenomena that are important in character-friendship. That is why she wants to take sunwkei/wtai as meaning "familiar with", and she resists recognizing that it is referring, rather, to an enduring bond based on a relation of flesh and blood. She says this about the role of the passage:
Aristotle is preparing here for his account of character-friendship, which is also a developmental achievement: it takes time and intimacy for the parties to become familiar with one another in ways such that they are "other selves" to each other, each appreciating and enjoying the other's activities in something like the way she appreciates and enjoys her own (289).
In fact the passage does not have that role. It is not remotely related to Aristotle's discussion of character-friendship, which is in VIII.3-5 and IX.4-9. Rather, VIII.12 occurs at the end of Aristotle's extended discussion of the relationship between civic friendship and familial affection. The passage aims to identify the bases of familial affection; it is not meant to prepare for anything else.

In any case, the notion that familial affection is an "egocentric bias"--or even the picture that we are trapped within a nature that gives us "biases" toward racism and loving our children, which however we have to fight our way free of--although an interesting theory, is definitely not Aristotelian. This seems more like the Republic's attitude toward the family, which Aristotle criticizes in Politics II. (Or see the Eudemian Ethics : "in the household are located the original sources and springs of friendship, constitutional goverment, and justice", dio\ e)n oi)ki/a prw=ton a)rxai\ kai\ phgai\ fili/aj kai\ politei/aj kai\ di/kaiou, 1242a40-41.) And the view that, although these affections are "biases", they are nonetheless extremely useful for the public good and essential to constitutional government (as would be implied), is Mandeville, not Aristotle.