Our Moral Responsibility to Diverse Friendships

Analysis of Choosing Our Friends: Moral Partiality and the Value of Diversity by Sara Goering written for my senior year Advance Topics in Philosophy class:

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In her work on Choosing Our Friends: Moral Partiality and the Value of Diversity, Sara Goering argues that many societal and moral goods come out of the diversification of friendships (401). In this paper, I will argue that we have a personal and societal responsibility to pursue diverse friendships with others of different ethnicities, backgrounds, and perspectives because of the intellectual and moral growth they induce. True moral failure does not arise out of unsuccessfully seeking diverse friends, but the absolute rejection of diverse friendships and intolerance for others with different personal views.

In a society of various political view, ethical beliefs, ideas, and experiences, we have a responsibility not only to ourselves, but the rest of our shared community to gain new knowledge towards self-improvement. Diverse friendships are the most powerful vehicle for this by first and foremost revealing our internal biases (401). As individuals, we have a natural inclination to show favoritism towards experiences we engage with, also believing that we are and justified in doing so. Having close friendships with those who have vastly different backgrounds forces us to confront these biases head on and actively question the justification for our beliefs, rather than remaining intellectually stagnant by reinforcing shared perspectives in similar friendships. Even in the instances where our beliefs are in fact valid, the process of being challenged by other perspectives and having to reevaluate our ideas through discourse with close friends is incredibly powerful towards refining and developing support for our beliefs. These beliefs that we refer to are not merely debating one’s preference for one type of candy over another. Instead, they primarily center on challenging moral perspectives and actions. In this way, diverse friendships successfully further a core value in Aristotle’s perfect friendship by holding friends to mutual moral improvements through ongoing discussions and evaluations that would be impossible in the friendship of two individuals with identical moral perspectives and ideas.

One concern that emerges however is the seemingly nonsensical expectation of diverse individuals to become friends in the face of severe or even uncompromisable differences. Indeed, we must set limits on the maximal amount of diversity possible in a friendship if we are to consider it a responsibility. Individuals on opposing ends of a spectrum when it comes to politics or ethics are capable of becoming friends. However, the nonnegotiable required commonality between two individuals must be shared respect for the other person and their own beliefs as well as a shared pursuit to grow in individual moral goodness. Under these conditions, a Christian and an Atheist can comfortably befriend one another despite their disparity in religious beliefs given demonstrated respect for the other’s perspective, but an abolitionist should have no expectations to pursue a diverse friendship with a KKK member who no intention to develop morally (405).

The degree to which not befriending a friend is a moral failure ultimately depends on the assumption that morality consists of seeking moral self-improvement and morally true beliefs. While this ethical theory is not universally shared and can be considered as a personal responsibility, instances of true  moral failure  include completely shutting oneself off from any and all diverse friendship or purely treating friendships as a means to an end as this implies that one is incapable of respecting people and people with different perspectives, a form of discrimination and a clear violation of our commonly accepted social ethical standards.

Goering, Sara. “Choosing Our Friends: Moral Partiality and the Value of Diversity.” Sara Goering, Choosing Our Friends: Moral Partiality and the Value of Diversity – PhilPapers, 1 Jan. 1970, philpapers.org/rec/GOECOF

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