Forum Philosophicum

Volume 14, Issue 1, Spring 2009

Catherine Cowley
Pages 17-37

Philia and Social Ethics

Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, treated the different characteristics of human love and their expression. The first section discusses eros and the second shows how agape provides the essential framework for Catholic charitable organisations. I will be arguing that by omitting any reflection on the role of philia, he missed a significant opportunity to retrieve an important part of the Tradition and expand our usual understanding of the elements of social ethics. Part I briefly gives the background of Benedict’s non-use of philia in his encyclical and indicates the basis for the view that philia has no place in Christian social ethics. The favoured approach is that of agape. Part II presents Thomas Aquinas’ view of friendship and how it might counter the shortcomings identified by the authors in Part I. Part III applies his view of friendship to the key principles in Catholic social teaching of solidarity and preferential option for the poor. Part IV concludes with some general summary remarks.