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Friendship and the Moral Life.

The opening statement expresses the intention to argue "for another way to think about the moral life" (p. xiii). An understanding of friendship is at the core of this other way of moral reasoning because, the author asserts, friendship is the center of the moral life itself. In this book Wadell seeks to establish the centrality of friendship in the moral life, and to expound some implications of this centrality.

The opening chapter explains why a new model for the moral life is needed. For Wadell morality, in the sense of reasoning about the moral life, must treat the human person as a whole, and must see him for what he truly is. A moral understanding in which friendship is central provides what Wadell seeks. It considers the whole person, his needs, his aspirations, his end.

In the second and third chapters Wadell turns to the thought of Aristotle. He first observes that we live in a world in disarray, one that has lost its center. Alasdair MacIntyre, he says, has prescribed precisely what is needed: a return to an Aristotelian ethic of virtue. The Aristotelian moral world is centered on a specific understanding of human nature. To be human is to have a goal to achieve, a good to become. The ultimate end of the human person is eudaimonia, the perfect and fulfilled life. As this end is constituted by virtuous living, the burden of the moral life is a striving to grow in virtue.

The third chapter, in which Wadell examines Aristotle's notion of friendship, presents a fine treatment of the three kinds of friendship and why we need them. The basic kind of friendship is that based on goodness and virtue. Friends seek the same ultimate good, and see in the other a certain embodiment of goodness; sharing the same final good, they strive to help one another in pursuing it. Friendship becomes a school of virtue. Wadell concludes that "friendship is the constitutive activity of the moral life" (p. 66), since it is the relationship in which people become good.

The goal of the fourth chapter is to demonstrate that friendship is not opposed to Christian love. Soren Kierkegaard and Anders Nygren hold that human friendship, since it is preferential, is exclusive and therefore inimical to the universal character of Christian love. Wadell gives individual treatments of these thinkers, and proceeds to form a response through expositions of the thought of St. Augustine, St. Aelred of Rievaulx, and Karl Barth. Friendship enlarges the self and fosters growth in love for God. In fact, only in friendship can a love for God take root and be fashioned. Further, the preferential love of friendship finds its truest expression in the context of Christian love for God. The friends' ultimate preference in such a context is for Christ, and thus their love becomes inclusive, not exclusive.

In my opinion the fifth chapter presents the book's most signal achievement: a strong exposition of St. Thomas Aquinas's notion of charity, or friendship with God. For Aristotle friendship with the gods is unthinkable; it requires community in nature, something shared in common. According to Aquinas supernatural grace bestows a kinship with God which makes possible the friendship called charity, which is the living expression of the union grace effects between God and man. Charity is constitutive of the end of man since the final achievement of union with God is beatitude itself. The goal of the moral life for Aquinas is to return to God through love. To expound the nature of charity itself Wadell examines the three marks of friendship--benevolence, reciprocity, and capacity to look on the friend as another self--as they obtain in friendship with God. Benevolence means that in charity a person seeks what God seeks, wills what God wills. This implies loving other persons as God loves them, or charity toward fellow humans. As regards the third mark, God becomes more and more another self as one is assimilated to Him by friendship. With incisive simplicity Wadell remarks, "God is another self to us because our self is our friendship with God" (p. 140).

The sixth and final chapter opens with a succinct expression of the major assertions of the book. Wadell says that the background chorus of the book is that we can be moral only when we can appreciate what is not ourself. Further, the basic argument of the book is that the "moral life is what happens to us in relationship with others" (p. 142). This argument calls for what Wadell calls a "relational approach" to ethics because relations are not external to the self but constitutive of it. With these themes in mind Wadell presents in this final chapter a specific consideration of just how friendships form persons. His purpose is to suggest the practical side of his model for the moral life. The plot of the moral life, then, is cast in terms of encounter and response to others. Wadell displays great insight into the dynamics of personal development in the community of friendship.

I would like, however, to note what I perceive as a weakness in his presentation. Wadell characterizes a "moral response" as one which recognizes that in other persons, "what we are ultimately called to respect and share is their otherness" (p. 151). He also quotes Edna McDonough, who says that "one behaves morally when one responds in an other-centred way" (p. 152). In this description of moral response, and throughout the sixth chapter, Wadell highlights an essential aspect of the moral life: that to be truly human one must transcend, in love, the confines of self. Wadell does not make clear, however, what is the ratio behind other-centeredness. As he noted earlier, to be human is to have a good to become. Now I reason as follows. Since man's good is a good to be achieved, this good is "other" than man himself. God is man's ultimate end, and God is "other." Precisely because man's end is God, man's actions should be "other-centred," namely God-centered. Other persons, as unique reflections of God's goodness, are to be loved as such, and thus unselfishly. Wadell seems to overemphasize otherness in human friendships, at the expense of objective goodness. I say that what we are ultimately called to respect and share in others is not their otherness, but their goodness. In friendship we grow in goodness, supporting one another in virtuous living, achieving greater unity and likeness to one another, and primarily to God.

Wadell has made a convincing case for the necessity of rediscovering Aristotelian and Christian moral principles, particularly those concerning friendship. He demonstrates, with the seasoning of deep personal insight, that seeing friendship with God as the end of the moral life, and friendship with others as indispensable to achieving that goal, is crucial for achieving a full understanding of the moral life. A better understanding of friendship in all its complexity implies a better understanding of the moral life in all its complexity. As regards Wadell's argument for "another way" of thinking about the moral life, he does not make clear in what sense he means "another." I see Wadell's accomplishment as his providing another way of thinking about the moral life in that he unfolds something in the Christian tradition which, to the great detriment of contemporary moral discussion, is often ignored.
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Author:Cuddeback, John A.
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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