Plato’s Rejection of the Instrumental Account of Friendship in the Lysis

in Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek Political Thought
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In the Lysis, Socrates argues that friendship is driven by a desire to use others for one’s own gain (210b-d). Some commentators take Socrates to be speaking for Plato on this point. By contrast, I shall argue that the Lysis is a reductio ad absurdum of this instrumental account of friendship. First, three arguments in the Lysis (210c-d, 214b-215b, 216d-218a) reach counterintuitive conclusions which may be avoided by abandoning the common premise that friendship is instrumental. Second, the dramatic context includes counterexamples to the instrumental account of friendship (e.g. the two friendship trios: Lysis, Menexenus, and Socrates; Lysis, his mother, and his father). Third, Socrates distinguishes between people who are desirable because they are useful, and “true friends” who are desirable for their own sake (219c-221b). This is an explicit rejection of the instrumental account of friendship.




Robinson, ‘Plato’s Lysis: The Structural Problem’, p. 79.


Penner and Rowe, Plato’s Lysis, pp. 273-78.


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