Plato's rejection of the instrumental account of friendship in the lysis

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In the Lysis, Socrates argues that friendship is driven by a desire to use others for one's own gain (210b-d). Some commentators take Socrates to be speaking for Plato on this point. By contrast, I shall argue that the Lysis is a reductio ad absurdum of this instrumental account of friendship. First, three arguments in the Lysis (210c-d, 214b-215b, 216d-218a) reach counterintuitive conclusions which may be avoided by abandoning the common premise that friendship is instrumental. Second, the dramatic context includes counterexamples to the instrumental account of friendship (e.g. the two friendship trios: Lysis, Menexenus, and Socrates; Lysis, his mother, and his father). Third, Socrates distinguishes between people who are desirable because they are useful, and "true friends" who are desirable for their own sake (219c-221b). This is an explicit rejection of the instrumental account of friendship.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)352-368
Number of pages17
JournalPolis (United Kingdom)
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 15 2014


  • Lysis
  • Plato
  • Socrates
  • friendship


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