Zoli Filotas – Equality, Power, and Aristotle on the Friendship of Husband and Wife
McGill Philosophy Workshop
Equality, Power, and Aristotle on the Friendship of Husband and Wife
Wednesday, February 17, at 12 PM in Leacock 927
There is a massive body of late twentieth century literature on the concept of equality. Although scholars typically give short shrift to the concept’s historical sources, they often do find time to summarily trace it back to Aristotle, whether (like Christine Korsgaard) they give him credit, or (like Catherine MacKinnon) blame him for incoherent or unjust aspects of modern political thought. My presentation challenges this historical commonplace. Equality, I argue, plays a radically different role in Aristotle’s philosophy than it does in many contemporary accounts of personal relationships (in particular, I will mention those of Korsgaard, MacKinnon, and Bernard Williams).
I focus on what for Aristotle is a particularly difficult relationship
to theorize, the friendship of husband and wife. Aristotle writes that married couples occasionally achieve virtue friendship, a relationship defined and perfected by equality, reciprocity, and symmetry. But he also notoriously claims that marriage is the natural rule of superior over inferior. I reconstruct the theory of personal relationships that allows him to see these claims as consistent and coherent. Unlike modern theorists, I argue, Aristotle treats equality not as intrinsically valuable, but as a problematic tool necessary to achieve our goals only because of certain peculiarities of the human condition. It is "problematic," on Aristotle’s account, because of its connection with difference, sameness, and power. For Aristotle, all cooperative action involves the ‘rule’ (exercise of power) of one party over another. When people are unequal, the differences between them provide reasoned ground for assigning power and coordinating action; where people are equal, they are in the relevant respects the
same, and there are no such grounds. Thus relationships between equals must be structured by power that is arbitrary and to some extent unjust.