Volume 6, 2021
Laura J. Mueller, Eli Kramer
Let’s Be Frank: Revitalizing Frank Friendship in the Contemporary Philosophy Classroom
Philodemus’s On Frank Criticism offers a unique conception of friendship that relies on frank speech, or truth-telling. The ability to have frank conversations with one another is the heart of a conception of friendship in which we are seen, heard, and acknowledged. This is the friendship through which we become better citizens and better selves. In particular, Philodemus is offering this truth-based friendship to students and their mentors. Yet, one would be hard put to find such trust and deep friendship in the university philosophy classrooms of today. Our professionalized and content acquisition focused culture in the academy all too often inhibits fostering these kinds of relationships with our students. We begin the essay by tracing the roots of this kind of frank friendship in Plato’s Lysis, and then contextualize its emerging role in the ancient philosophical classroom by exploring its place in Philodemus’ Epicurean philosophical community at Herculaneum. We do so to see how such friendship moves beyond discourse and into practice. Next, we use Arendt and Foucault to unpack the public and private dimensions of frank friendship in the philosophical learning environment and its role in a good life and good politics. Finally, we show how the classroom practice of Modern Socratic Dialogue (MSD) can re-enliven frank friendship as a spiritual exercise in the contemporary university-philosophy classroom. Specifically, we argue that MSD is a particular method of dialogue suited for the public realm of friendship and that it contributes to the care of one’s soul, thus modeling in our classrooms a method of dialogue for both the public and private dimensions of life.