On Having Bad Persons as Friends with Jessica Isserow
April 4th, 2020
28 mins 52 secs
About this Episode
"Nietzsche was friends with Wagner, Copperfield with Steerforth, Rick
Blaine with Louis Renault...one who enters into a friendship with a bad person very much seems to have gone wrong somewhere," writes Isserow. But what is wrong, exactly, with choosing to make friends with bad people? Does it tell us something important about ourselves and could this fact maybe even reveal a glimmer of truth about cancel culture?
Links and Resources
- Jessica Isserow
- The paper - "On Having Bad Persons as Friends"
- Background on philosophy of friendship
- Interview with Alexander Nehamas
- Paper by Cocking & Kennett "Friendship and moral danger"
- Recent work in philosophy of friendship
"Some values are incredibly weighty, and as such, they ought to occupy an
important role in our moral priorities. One could understand an individual who was willing to forgive a friend’s failure to recycle; for this is a fault in spite of which we could plausibly accept someone. But an individual who discounted a friend’s rampant racism would suggest to us that she could not care less about the values which tell against racism, or for the potential victims of racist attitudes. At the very least, she would suggest to us that she does not stand for (or is not standing up for) such values in the fullest sense. Her willingness to discount vices of this extreme sort would suggest that there are certain values to which she is not properly responsive."
"I think that this gets right to the heart of where our individual goes wrong in
counting a bad person as a friend. The problem is that she likes him in spite of his shortcomings, and the shortcomings in question are incredibly weighty. But it would seem that they are not sufficiently weighty for her, and this points towards something worrying about her moral priorities. In choosing to pursue a friendship with a bad person, she effectively suggests that a serious moral flaw—vehement racism, say—is a minor vice that can be outweighed by a person’s other recommending qualities."