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Irreconcilable demands: friendship and the question of the political in Aristotle, Kant and Schmitt

posted on 17.05.2017, 01:39 authored by McDonald, Blair
This thesis takes issue with the politics and ethics of friendship vis-à-vis the Western philosophic tradition, in particular, the work of Aristotle, Immanuel Kant and Carl Schmitt in the aftermath of Jacques Derrida’s study Politics of Friendship (Politiques de l’amitié). I consider the relation between philosophy, politics, ethics and friendship and ask in what ways we can use the topic of friendship as grounds for rethinking the demands of ethical responsibility and calls for new political structures of association. Each of the philosophers considered have a particular concern for friendship that is troubled by the reconciliation of politics and ethics. In different ways, each struggle to give friendship a proper place and meaning that could integrate the stakes of politics with that of ethics. As a result I examine what I suggest are the irreconcilable demands of political commonality and ethical responsibility that emerge in their discussions. For instance, in Aristotle, the irreconcilable demands of friendship are the result of his conception of virtue and self-sufficiency, in Kant, the discrepancy between duty and choice and in Carl Schmitt, the distinction between friends and enemies. The difficulty that troubles each of their concerns with friendship is the outcome of a number of aporias that make it difficult, if not altogether impossible, to resolve without admitting contradictions. Consequently I contend that what must be advanced within the history of friendship’s thought is that political belonging and ethical responsibility are founded upon irresolvable binds; binds that frustrate the possibility of founding a politics on or with friendship in any simple or instrumental manner. I conclude by suggesting that in order to play host to future speculations of the relation between friendship, ethics, politics and philosophy what must be understood are the ways in which these contradictions are fundamental to that very possibility. In this sense, I position the politics and ethics of friendship after Derrida within a ‘deconstructive’ framework. The only means by which we can live and imagine new political and ethical practises of friendship are by affirming these aporias as the conditions of possibility.


Principal supervisor

Andrew Benjamin

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Arts