In Plato's Lysis, Socrates and Menexenus argue if friendship must be reciprocal:

S: Then this notion is not in accordance with our previous one. We were saying that both were friends, if one only loved; but now, unless they both love, neither is a friend.

M: That appears to be true.

S: Then nothing which does not love in return is beloved by a lover?

M: I think not.

S: Then they are not lovers of horses, whom the horses do not love in return; nor lovers of quails, nor of dogs, nor of wine, nor of gymnastic exercises, who have no return of love; no, nor of wisdom, unless wisdom loves them in return. Or shall we say that they do love them, although they are not beloved by them; and that the poet was wrong who sings-

Happy the man to whom his children are dear, and steeds having single hoofs, and dogs of chase, and the stranger of another land?

M: I do not think that he was wrong.

S: You think that he is right?

M: Yes.

S: Then, Menexenus, the conclusion is, that what is beloved, whether loving or hating, may be dear to the lover of it: for example, very young children, too young to love, or even hating their father or mother when they are punished by them, are never dearer to them than at the time when they are being hated by them.

It's suspicious that Socrates' counterexamples are all about things and animals, not humans.

Couldn't we say that reciprocity is needed if it is possible? Things can't love you back, strictly speaking.

Animals can, but it's not so far-fetched to demand that a dog or horse lover is also loved back by dogs and horses. And regarding quails, we're actually talking about a thing, the finished dish - not the live quail.

Or couldn't we say - in a similar metaphoric sense - that even things, like wine, can love you back or hate you? If you get addicted to it, and it harms you, wine hates you. We don't call an alcoholic a "wine lover" except as an ironic statement.

In short, the quoted passage seems like sophistry at a first glance, and I wonder if I'm missing something?

  • 2
    So, who is a friend, can you answer? May 14 at 8:15
  • The words Friend and Love are different. One definition of the word Love is: To Will The Good Of Another. There is no reciprocity in that. I can love anyone or anything I please, I can love a photo that I know went in an incinerator 40 years ago. I can love my country, or my personal idea of my country. Friendship is a mutual relationship. You could stretch it to include some animals, but the plant on my desk at work that I love will never be a friend. The quote and the title question are divergent.
    – Scott Rowe
    May 14 at 12:49
  • @ScottRowe in the Greek text, the same word is used: φίλος or φιλέω (as Verb). If two different words were used, which were regarded as unrelated, the passage would make even less sense.
    – viuser
    May 14 at 19:44
  • So it is like anything else that relies on Agency, you can choose to love someone, and they can choose to love you back.
    – Scott Rowe
    May 14 at 20:43


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