The Road to Wisdom: A New Conceptualization of Friendship in Fourth-Century bce Athens1

in Conceptualizing Friendship in Time and Place
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In the Athens of the fourth century bce we find a new conceptualization of friendship. This conceptualization has been made possible by a new understanding of wisdom. The most influential statement of the new view is found in the Platonic dialogue Alcibiades i.

The way for the central role of wisdom in this picture has been paved by larger cultural changes. In order to provide a suitable context for an intellectualist understanding of wisdom and for the emergence of the new model of friendship, the first section of this paper describes earlier ways of thinking about relationships, with special attention to the place of wisdom with regard to them.

The new model involves at least three items: two friends and one goal. The two friends are friends in moving towards the goal. Reversely, the goal is part of what constitutes the friendship. This means that the goal is not conceptualized as something extraneous to the friendship, something that serves as an instigating factor, for instance. Rather, it is the essence of the friendship. We shall see how this works in the original form in which the new conceptualization emerged; here the goal is wisdom, which is both the essence of the two friends’ relationship and something that is present or to be realized in each of the friends.