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The obstacles against reaching the highest level of Aristotelian friendship online

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The ubiquity of online social networks has led to the phenomena of having friends that are known only through online interaction. In many cases, no physical interaction has taken place, but still people consider each other friends. This paper analyzes whether these friendships would satisfy the conditions of Aristotle’s highest level of friendship–what he calls perfect friendship. Since perfect friendship manifests through a shared love of virtue, physical proximity would seem to be unnecessary at first glance. However, I argue that the nature of online interaction may preclude us from fully recognizing the virtues and vices in others to the degree necessary for perfect friendship to occur. As such, online friendships face significant obstacles against moving beyond utility or pleasure, and this has important repercussions for online interaction more generally.

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  1. I will address this notion of being judged below, in the section on apperception.

  2. The most obvious exception to this rule is the case of a handicapped person who is able to overcome the stigma barrier through the anonymity that internet communication provides. In such cases, making friends online may be easier, at least in the initial stages. This has little bearing on the possibility of full Aristotelian friendship.

  3. Many of these programs use video of actual actors, in order to complete the illusion. At some point, discerning the difference between speaking to an actual human and speaking to a computer program will be difficult at best. ELIZA was written in the 1960 s and was already fooling users!


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Correspondence to Robert Sharp.

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Sharp, R. The obstacles against reaching the highest level of Aristotelian friendship online. Ethics Inf Technol 14, 231–239 (2012).

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