Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Arisotle, love, and pleasure

Some more thoughts on Aristotle and Plato on pleasure and their interest in using homosexual erotic relationships as examples of a cause of pleasure and as a means of illustrating how to think about the nature of pleasure itself... Aristotle offers further evidence of a detailed engagement with Platonic accounts of love and pleasure at NE 1157a1–12. Here, Aristotle is contrasting the virtuous kind of friendship (philia) with other forms on the grounds that it is much more stable and lasting since each member of the relationship receives the same things from the other.
ἡ δὲ διὰ τὸ ἡδὺ ὁμοίωμα ταύτης ἔχει· καὶ γὰρ οἱ ἀγαθοὶ ἡδεῖς ἀλλήλοις. ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ ἡ διὰ τὸ χρήσιμον· καὶ γὰρ τοιοῦτοι ἀλλήλοις οἱ ἀγαθοί. μάλιστα δὲ καὶ ἐν τούτοις αἱ φιλίαι μένουσιν, ὅταν τὸ αὐτὸ γίνηται παρ’ ἀλλήλων, οἷον (5) ἡδονή, καὶ μὴ μόνον οὕτως ἀλλὰ καὶ ἀπὸ τοῦ αὐτοῦ, οἷον τοῖς εὐτραπέλοις, καὶ μὴ ὡς ἐραστῇ καὶ ἐρωμένῳ. οὐ γὰρ ἐπὶ τοῖς αὐτοῖς ἥδονται οὗτοι, ἀλλ’ ὃ μὲν ὁρῶν ἐκεῖνον, ὃ δὲ θεραπευόμενος ὑπὸ τοῦ ἐραστοῦ· ληγούσης δὲ τῆς ὥρας ἐνίοτε καὶ ἡ φιλία λήγει (τῷ μὲν γὰρ οὐκ ἔστιν ἡδεῖα ἡ (10) ὄψις, τῷ δ’ οὐ γίνεται ἡ θεραπεία)· πολλοὶ δ’ αὖ διαμένουσιν, ἐὰν ἐκ τῆς συνηθείας τὰ ἤθη στέρξωσιν, ὁμοήθεις ὄντες.

Friendship based on pleasure is similar to this one [sc. one based on virtue] for good men also are pleasing to one another. (Similarly friendship based on the useful, because good men are also useful to one another.) Friendships last especially in those cases when the same thing is shared between them, such as pleasure. But not just that; also pleasure from the same thing, for example as with witty people and not as with a lover and beloved. For these two do not take pleasure in the same things, but the former in seeing the latter, the latter is being cultivated by the lover. And sometimes when the bloom of youth fades so too does the friendship (for the appearance is no longer pleasant to the lover and the beloved is no longer cultivated). But many do remain friends, provided as a result of familiarity they enjoy each other’s character, now that they have become alike.
Aristotle offers a rather complicated analysis of different kinds of intimate relationship which may involve the taking of pleasure by both sides, by only one or, perhaps, by neither. At this point of his discussion he is comparing and contrasting cases in which a friendship is based, at least initially, on pleasure, with those which are based on either the good character of the friends or on some utility which one provides the other. In some ways, some examples of pleasure friendships are like those based on good character. For example, friendships based on pleasure can be as stable as friendships based on virtue, provided that the two members continue to take pleasure in the same things. (Virtuous people will take pleasure in the same things and so a virtuous friendship will also involve many experiences of pleasure, even though pleasure is not the grounds of the friendship.) Aristotle contrasts such a stable friendship based on pleasure with the case of a relationship between a lover and a beloved since in the latter case Aristotle says that although both members of the pair may take pleasure from the relationships, their pleasures come from different sources. For the older lover the pleasure comes from his seeing the beloved, whereas the beloved may take pleasure in being cared for and cultivated (therapeumenos) by his lover. What’s more, Aristotle insists that such erotic relationships are temporary since they depend on the particular and transitory youthful beauty.

At 1157a9 Aristotle uses the same word for the youthful beauty of the beloved –
ρα – as he does in the simile illustrating the relationship between pleasure and activity at NE 1174b33 which further confirms the assumption that in that simile Aristotle is indeed using familiar terms of praise for a young beloved.It also confirms the suspicion that in the passage in book X the intended analogy is between the perceived outward pleasing appearance of a beloved young man and the perceived pleasure attendant on a particular activity. In his analysis of the philia between lover and beloved, Aristotle then points out that when the beauty disappears so does the lover’s pleasure in viewing the beloved and when the lover no longer offers the same kind of attention to the beloved then the beloved’s pleasure from the relationship also ceases. Often, when youthful beauty fades, since the relationship is grounded on the respective pleasures each takes, so too does the relationship itself unless it has been replaced by a more lasting tie based on familiarity (1157b10–12). This in turn contrasts with another kind of erotic relationship in which the two partners exchange favours of utility rather than pleasure (b12–14).This final form of erotic relationship is most unstable because, as Aristotle curtly notes, the two are not philoi of one another but only of the gain they might take from the relationship. Once that opportunity has disappeared, so too has the relationship.Aristotle may well be offering his analysis on the basis of what he considered to be generally acceptable accounts of how interpersonal relationship in fact differ and develop. All the same, as he wrote this passage he can hardly have been unaware of a Platonic antecedent of his discussion of the differences between the exchange of pleasures between lover and beloved and something more focussed on character and perhaps even virtue. Indeed, Plato appears to have been very fond not only of this particular theme but also of the metaphorical use of the term ὥρα to refer to the particular bloom of youth displayed by the beloved. The most obvious antecedent for Aristotle’s account of this form of philia, as Burnet notes in his commentary on NE 8.4, is Pausanias’ speech in the Symposium, particularly 183d8–e6. So that is where I will go next.

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