The great famous Roman philosopher Cicero (106-43 BCE) understood the importance of friendships and the role and place the right sort of friend should occupy in life. In the matter of Friendship played a different role in Cicero’s life than it does for most people today. Drawing from the work of Aristotle, Cicero regarded friendship as the most important relationship a man could have. The quality of person mattered enormously. Cicero argues for choosing friends who have the right sort of good character because such people help to make others better people. The right friend becomes a second self.
Moreover, Cicero contends that there are cases in which a person is justified and perhaps even required to end a friendship in order to preserve their own character. He offers a general rule: Neither ask nor consent to do what is wrong. A genuine friend would not want you to compromise your integrity and most certainly would not want to be the cause of your doing so. The issue is what counts as “wrong.” Cicero offers some types of cases I will make more concrete and particular. He uses the world “immoral” and his use is really quite ordinary: Something immoral goes against a set of shared values and commitments. Going against those values and commitments is what makes an act wrong.
Some Main Points
- Your friend makes an immoral request of you. It may start with request to tell a little white lie or to to shade the truth about a relatively minor issue. Subsequent requests may be for bigger and bigger lies.
- Your friend wants you to pander to his immoral desires. “Pander” is the crucial word here; they want you not just to go along grudgingly with their desires but to cater to those desires. Even more, they may want you to have and act on those desires yourself.
- Your friend asks you to inflict a wrong on another person. Again, this may start with something small and inconsequential. The issue is that your friend is getting you to do their dirty work.
- Your friend’s vicious conduct affects others—yourself or a total stranger. “Vicious” is beyond mean; it is reprehensible and perhaps even unforgivable. A person with good moral character cannot ignore this sort of act; it demands action.
Now you recognize you need to end the friendship. But how to do that? It is easy to avoid or even “ghost” acquaintances but not so with a person who has been at the center of your social and familial life.