Philia: Brotherly Love

Let brotherly love continue. Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body. Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge. Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me. Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation. Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.

Hebrews 13:1-8

We recognize philia and its meaning from the name Philadelphia, that is, the city of brotherly love. This is the love of friendship, best friends, and the fellowship of being with those people you enjoy.

Philia is the Greek word for neighborly love – the bonds of friendship that bind us together in community. Philia can be defined as “the reserve of human warmth, enthusiasm and generosity that nourishes and stimulates the fellowship at the heart of civic life.” By “reserve” I mean that these qualities already exist in our communities; we just need to draw them out. In other words, our communities are inherently resilient. The lens of resilience is fundamental to Philia because it makes us re-examine our assumptions about how individuals and communities function and grow. It reminds us that we are not merely passive recipients in need of outside support and intervention, but have a built-in capacity to heal, adapt, transform and survive.

In contrast to the desiring and passionate yearning of eros, philia entails a fondness and appreciation of the other. For the Greeks, the term philia incorporated not just friendship, but also loyalties to family and polis-one’s political community, job, or discipline. Philia for another may be motivated, as Aristotle explains in the Nicomachean Ethics, Book VIII, for the agent’s sake or for the other’s own sake. The motivational distinctions are derived from love for another because the friendship is wholly useful as in the case of business contacts, or because their character and values are pleasing (with the implication that if those attractive habits change, so too does the friendship), or for the other in who they are in themselves, regardless of one’s interests in the matter. The English concept of friendship roughly captures Aristotle’s notion of philia, as he writes: “things that cause friendship are: doing kindnesses; doing them unasked; and not proclaiming the fact when they are done” (Rhetoric, II. 4, trans. Rhys Roberts).

Aristotle elaborates on the kinds of things we seek in proper friendship, suggesting that the proper basis for philia is objective: those who share our dispositions, who bear no grudges, who seek what we do, who are temperate, and just, who admire us appropriately as we admire them, and so on. Philia could not emanate from those who are quarrelsome, gossips, aggressive in manner and personality, who are unjust, and so on. The best characters, it follows, may produce the best kind of friendship and hence love: indeed, how to be a good character worthy of philia is the theme of the Nicomachaen Ethics. The most rational man is he who would be the happiest, and he, therefore, who is capable of the best form of friendship, which between two “who are good, and alike in virtue” is rare (NE, VIII.4 trans. Ross). We can surmise that love between such equals-Aristotle’s rational and happy men-would be perfect, with circles of diminishing quality for those who are morally removed from the best. He characterizes such love as “a sort of excess of feeling”. (NE, VIII.6)
Friendships of a lesser quality may also be based on the pleasure or utility that is derived from another’s company. A business friendship is based on utility–on mutual reciprocity of similar business interests; once the business is at an end, then the friendship dissolves. This is similar to those friendships based on the pleasure that is derived from the other’s company, which is not a pleasure enjoyed for whom the other person is in himself, but in the flow of pleasure from his actions or humor.

The first condition for the highest form of Aristotelian love is that a man loves himself. Without an egoistic basis, he cannot extend sympathy and affection to others (NE, IX.8). Such self-love is not hedonistic, or glorified, depending on the pursuit of immediate pleasures or the adulation of the crowd, it is instead a reflection of his pursuit of the noble and virtuous, which culminate in the pursuit of the reflective life. Friendship with others is required “since his purpose is to contemplate worthy actions… to live pleasantly… sharing in discussion and thought” as is appropriate for the virtuous man and his friend (NE, IX.9). The morally virtuous man deserves in turn the love of those below him; he is not obliged to give an equal love in return, which implies that the Aristotelian concept of love is elitist or perfectionist: “In all friendships implying inequality the love also should be proportional, i.e. the better should be more loved than he loves.” (NE, VIII, 7,). Reciprocity, although not necessarily equal, is a condition of Aristotelian love and friendship, although parental love can involve a one-sided fondness.

The concept of philia love, or brotherly love, can be analogous to the modern idea of Platonic Love.  Today, when people refer to “Platonic Love” they are referring to an affectionate relationship without sexual intimacy. This is not what Plato meant when referring to love. Plato’s Symposium addresses love and presents various opinions on the subject. A symposium was a banquet, usually accompanied by much wine, but at this particular symposium, the diners chose to remain relatively sober. Likewise, the customary symposium entertainment was sent away. This made the discussion of love the central aspect of the feast. The recounted speech of Diotima is taken to be closest to Plato’s own ideas on love.

The type of love Plato seems to have admired most was that in which one man loved another because of his intelligence or virtue, rather than because of his physical attractions — a love of the idea of beauty more than the physical appearance, and a love of a person is a lesser love to that of absolute beauty, the ideal form.

Platonic love in the modern world can also refer to love between gay men.  I think that we should think of Platonic love and Philia love in the same way.  We should love our fellow man, treat him kindly without expecting something in return.  The beauty of friendship is that you are a friend through thick and thin, which could be described as a Platonic relationship, but the traditional definition of Philia love is a friendship based on conditions.  However, I think that if we think of brotherly love as a love with conditions, then we are doing it an injustice.  We should love our friends unconditionally, and I hope that is what all of us do.


Philia from Wikipedia
A Short Handbook on Love
Definition of Philia
Philosophy of Love
Platonic Love

Note:  I debated whether or not to include the Biblical passage above because it comes from Hebrews Chapter 13.  See, I have a bit of a fear of the number “13,” not a major fear, just a wariness.  In other words, I have a slight case of “Triskaidekaphobia.” Triskaidekaphobia (from Greek tris meaning “3”, kai meaning “and”, deka meaning “10” and phobia meaning “fear” or “morbid fear”) is fear of the number 13; it is a superstition and related to a specific fear of Friday the 13th, called paraskevidekatriaphobia or friggatriskaidekaphobia.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

6 responses to “Philia: Brotherly Love

  • silvereagle

    Another well researched and well written short essay. Sources from The Bible and from the classics as well. I know you spend much time in this posting each day, as well as maintaining the school schedule for the high school and the college classes. Very fortunate students I know.So often these tumbler boards focus only on the erotic aspect of what is loosely defined as 'love', i.e., sex. It is good to keep our focus on the total meaning!

  • becca

    another wonderful well written and thought out post. again i learn more and more.

  • Uncutplus

    Will tomorrow's subject be agape love?AGAPIMOU

  • fan of casey

    Joe: Friendships are an important aspect of having a full life.PS: I was born on a 13th and I've had a number of birthdays that fell on the dreaded Friday so I've learned to embrace the horror. 🙂

  • JoeBlow

    silvereagle, love is so much more than sex. Although sex can be such a fun part of it, LOL.Thanks, becca.Uncutplus, I am sure that agape will be a future post.FOC, both my mother and grandmother were born on the 13th, so it must not be so unlucky. I just try to avoid the number when I can.Thanks, naturgesetz.

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