Friendship, Justice, Joy

Patricia Graham-Skoul
Loyola University-Chicago

             In the Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle makes what seems to me to be a very surprising claim, namely that friendship, or what has to do with friendship, counts for more than justice.  This statement is surprising to me because justice seems more comprehensive and more likely to secure longer-lasting benefits for a greater number of individuals.

            But perhaps my surprise that Aristotle values friendship before justice requires further examination in order to determine what justice and friendship entail, how justice and friendship might be connected or complementary goods (e.g., why “just people need friends”) and how, or whether, they can be prioritized (e.g., why “friends have no need for justice”).  In this paper, I intend to investigate the applicability of these to the account in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes.  As I shall argue, the Hymn to Hermes provides a paradigm for the resolution of an ethical dilemma.  It narrates how two brother gods, Hermes and Apollo, became the best of friends – even though Hermes initially wronged Apollo (by stealing his cattle) – after they stated their grievances to their father Zeus, by whose side were placed  “the talents of justice for both of them.”  In my study of this hymn, I analyze the significance in the poem of the expression “justice for both of them,” how justice is integrally related to their friendship, and how they come to experience mutual joy.

            In this paper, my primary concern is the Hymn, for which seek to further our appreciation of its poetic integrity and the significance of the issues with which it deals.  Through examining the issues raised by the Hymn, we can deepen our awareness of the tradition that influenced Aristotle’s ethical theories about virtue and the flourishing way of life.  We can also develop a perspective with which to examine dilemmas in other literature and even in our own lives.  The audience will be invited to contribute parallels from their own readings or musings or to address broader questions.