, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 185-199
Date: 08 Jan 2011

Flourishing on facebook: virtue friendship & new social media

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Abstract

The widespread and growing use of new social media, especially social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, invites sustained ethical reflection on emerging forms of online friendship. Social scientists and psychologists are gathering a wealth of empirical data on these trends, yet philosophical analysis of their ethical implications remains comparatively impoverished. In particular, there have been few attempts to explore how traditional ethical theories might be brought to bear upon these developments, or what insights they might offer, if any. In attempting to address this lacuna in applied ethical research, this paper investigates the ethical significance of online friendship by means of an Aristotelian theory of the good life, which holds that human flourishing is chiefly realized through ‘complete’ friendships of virtue. Here, four key dimensions of ‘virtue friendship’ are examined in relation to online social media: reciprocity, empathy, self-knowledge and the shared life. Online social media support and strengthen friendship in ways that mirror these four dimensions, particularly when used to supplement rather than substitute for face-to-face interactions. However, deeper reflection on the meaning of the shared life (suzên) for Aristotle raises important and troubling questions about the capacity of online social media to support complete friendships of virtue in the contemporary world, along with significant concerns about the enduring relevance of this Aristotelian ideal for the good life in the 21st century.