Philosophical Studies

, Volume 175, Issue 12, pp 3099–3116 | Cite as

On having bad persons as friends

  • Jessica IsserowEmail author


Intuitively, one who counts a morally bad person as a friend has gone wrong somewhere. But it is far from obvious where exactly they have gone astray. Perhaps in cultivating a friendship with a bad person, one extends to them certain goods that they do not deserve. Or perhaps the failure lies elsewhere; one may be an abettor to moral transgressions. Yet another option is to identify the mistake as a species of imprudence—one may take on great personal risk in counting a bad person as a friend. In this paper, I argue that none of these intuitive explanations are entirely convincing; for many such proposals run contrary to widely accepted features of friendship. However, they do point us in the direction of a more satisfying explanation—one which concerns a person’s moral priorities. An individual who counts a morally bad person as a friend is, I propose, one who betrays a distinct kind of defect in her values.


Friendship Partiality Moral character Moral complacency 



I am very grateful to Adrian Currie, Lachlan Umbers, and an anonymous referee for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of PhilosophyAustralian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.CanberraAustralia

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