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Cold in Gardez


Stories about ponies are stories about people.

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Apr
30th
2020

Is Friendship a Virtue? · 12:32am April 30th


Not even best pony is sure.

So, those of you who've been reading my stories for a while may have noticed that many of them have a moral dimension – I'm fascinated by the idea of good and evil, of ethics and virtue, and morality in general. In my stories, things typically happen to characters for a reason, and the consequences they suffer have some purpose. A few of my 'middle period' stories like The Instruments of Our Surrender or Cirrus's saga explicitly explored the ideas of what victory means, and how ponies can win even when they seem to lose or even die. And, of course, The World is Filled with Monsters is an explicit discussion of Stoic ethics.

Oh, and there's the whole Starlight and Pals anthology with GaPJaxie, in which we try to explore philosophy, dark humor, and best pony, sometimes with uneven results. But on par I think we're asking some good questions.

And I have a question today! It's up in the blog title, so you probably know it's coming, but: Is friendship a virtue?

In the mane six, and in the elements of harmony, we have four clear virtues: Loyalty, Generosity, Kindness and Honesty. We also have Laughter, which if you squint kind of looks like joy, so let's call that a virtue as well. And then there's Magic. Which, of course, doesn't actually exist.

It's interesting that none of these virtues correspond with the original virtues discussed by the ancient Greeks: Temperance, Courage, Wisdom and Justice. But, they do sort of look like a few of the early Christian virtues (or 'fruits of the Spirit'): love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

But, the modern Elements of Harmony don't have a lock on virtue. A thousand years ago, they took a different form, in the Pillars of Old Equestria: Healing, Hope, Bravery, Beauty, Strength, and Sorcery. Leaving Sorcery aside for a moment, the others are all familiar to us. Again, we have to squint at a few of them to discern a virtue. Healing is a bit of kindness, generosity and gentleness; Strength is only a virtue to the extent it is cultivated and used for good, in which case it could be called both temperance and self-control.

Beauty, though. Beauty is an odd choice. It's not a virtue. It's barely even something within our own control. People are only beautiful to the extent that others consider them beautiful. This is not a virtue – it is a vanity. It is the opposite of what a virtue should be. And yet... when we actually see Mistmane, the Element of Beauty, we understand. She is not beautiful. She is aged, withered. Proud, yes, but only a shadow of her former self. The beauty she represents is not in her body but in her soul. It is inner beauty that this element refers to.

So, with a bit of fudging, we can explain all of the Elements as virtues, except of course Magic and it's ancient analogue, Sorcery. Why make the main character, the hero we are supposed to identify with most, the embodiment of the only element that is not a virtue, and that we cannot even understand in our mundane, human lives?

The answer, of course, is in the title of the show. Friendship is magic. Twilight Sparkle's virtue is friendship. It is what saved her in the series premier and sustained her through all nine seasons. It is why they defeated every villain they came across. And yet, Friendship is nowhere to be found as a virtue in the ancient Greek or Christian accounting. One does not need friends to be virtuous, and a person with friends can still be morally bankrupt. In fact, as we so often observe in our lives, the people with the most friends are usually those with the most money, the most beauty, the most power. Friends can be our only companions when we are at our weakest, or they can be like flies drawn to honey. Can we call friendship a virtue?

I'd be happy to hear your thoughts.

(If we apply the same logic to Starswirl, by the way, we get a subtitle for an ancient version of the show: Friendship is Sorcery.)


Unrelated, a new chapter of Natural Histories is out.

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Comments ( 42 )

I always thought of the Elements of Harmony not necessarily as virtues, but more ideals to aspire to. Guiding principles that inform what the "ideal pony" should be. You should be kind, generous, loyal, honest, joyful, and... er, magical, I guess.

darf #2 · April 30th · · ·

you'd probably benefit more from tracing the word origins back further. notably, if you go far enough back, 'lovingkindness', a weird smushed together term we dont' have a proper translation for yet, started as 'familial kindness' or 'familial loyalty'. essentially, fitting in with others and treating them kindly began in the home, and then as long as it could blossom outward, the word could continue in usage.

our most valuable contribution to this area of study has been delving into the origins of high-order concepts by these and tracing their evolution to see which of them emerged first, or in what order they might have become common.

it's therefore probably not much of a surprise to find that the first most nebulous and virtuous term is associated with 'godliness'. it still doesn't have a much better translation that 'one'. but 'two' can be translated as 'wisdom', and if you cast the dichotomy of a wise man versus an unwise man, it's clear to see why we value this as a concept going forward. concept three is 'understanding', however, which i have to admit prickles in proximity to 'wisdom'. isn't someone who is wise also understanding of things? well, no. 'wisdom' is a more direct translation of 'accumulated knowledge', whereas 'understanding' is more an operational take on how things work. theory versus practice, if you want.

then we get to four, and while on the other half of the planet that somehow got caught as 'death', over here it's been 'family' and 'lovingkindness' since early sanskrit. maybe it's that dichotomy that fuels the remainder of the division: if we don't properly understand love and kindness in the family unit, how could we expect it to go outwards?

we could do the rest but it doesn't really seem that valuable unless someone buys on to the initial translation.

so, to answer your question, yes, friendship is a virtue, it's been one since at least tribal hebrews, and it usually means 'do what's best for everyone before what's best for yourself'. this is translated another way in the asiatic languages, but it eventually becomes more self-sacrificing, and we're not really sure if the translational integrity is preserved.

please hit us up for more discussions about word origins, unless everything we typed was meaningless, in which case, please let us know that and we'll stop being a bother.

I wouldn't exactly call it a virtue, but the way I see it is that each of the elements is meant to teach something, so her element teaches that one should have good friends, which I agree with. Also, even though it's not direct, Twilight's leadership could be the virtue that's supposed to be gleaned from her character? Because magic leads the other elements?

Why is Pinkie Pie in a Starlight Glimmer suit? :rainbowhuh:

More to the point, "virtue" is kind of a bullshit word.

I remember how people always used to upbraid children with "patience is a virtue" when I was a kid. Well, then impatience is also a virtue, because you get shit done. This idea that you can distill all useful behavior down to a word or two is pompous and sadly common to religious traditions.

Though I do think some concepts are usually very good. Compassion, modesty (not the sex kind that is), and humility, for three, but I cribbed those bitches from Taoism.

Overall, I'm leaning towards my answer being no, because I think virtues rest mostly in your actions and behavior. And the other virtues the show hinges on have some kinds of action connected to them, albeit to varying degrees of looseness. Honesty means you tell the truth, Loyalty means staying by someone's side when you could walk away, things like that.

But friendship, I suppose is more of a thing that you have, right? If you have a friend, than you also have friendship, and since there's no hard, rigid rule to determine whether you're friends with someone, I'd say any two people are friends if each one says they're friends with the other. But does that translate to an actual behavior that can be called virtuous? I'd say not necessarily. The show certainly seems to think you can be a good friend, and if someone can be a good friend surely it's possible to be a bad friend too. I'd argue that the former is indicative of virtuous behavior towards a friend and the latter indicative of the opposite.

In the show canon, friendship is the glue that holds the Elements together, and amplifies their power way beyond what they can do individually.

In many of my stories I position friendship as the ultimate virtue: it makes it possible for all the other virtues to interact - a sort of virtue ‘boson’ in that sense. In other stories I have Twilight discover that friendship is the virtue that makes it possible for harmony and discord to coexist, enabling a balance that avoids the world becoming either too chaotic to sustain life, or a tyranny of stultifying, unchanging order.

What counts as a virtue to begin with is constrained by the culture defining said virtue. To a dragon, for example, at least in season 1, friendship probably isn't a virtue. To ponies, it most certainly is. To people, it varies greatly. For example, having friends is going to be more important to those struggling to eke out a living than a cunning, materialistic wall street broker.

I don't think it's inherently virtuous, otherwise, everypony would be their own Element Bearer in that way. You don't have to be a good person to have friends, but some friendships are really damn good and worth cherishing. Maybe even good enough to save things and move mountains. Surely there's some magic in that? And don't we all have friends that we might value differently than others? I'm hardly convinced that, as an example, Twilight Sparkle is going to think of her friendships with Rainbow Dash and Lyra the same way.

5253017
Considering she was able to find a Fluttershy suit in one episode, are you really that surprised she found a Glimmy one? :raritywink:

Hmm, I don't believe Friendship is a virtue, no, but more as one of the byproducts of acting upon the other virtues. Virtues, when enacted, will passively strengthen the ties between people, creating stronger bonds and new friendships. At the start of the show, all that Twilight had was Magic, as she had ignored and many times disdained everything that didn't offer some sort of academic improvement or advantage.

As the series progresses, she starts to learn the virtues of other elements, which gets them ever closer together. In this process, Twilight develops her own virtues, learning to be a better friend to her peers, which leads her to unlock her full potential.

I strongly think that friendship can't be virtue, but this is because friendship is a relation between two people, not because of its moral worth. I see that virtues are property of an individual human being. It takes two to have friendship, and removed one of them from existence the friendship is removed too. If friendship was virtue that wouldn't the case, a property of individual shouldn't depend on an other individual. Finally, my ethics is deontological, in other words I see morality as being about whether actions is inherently right or wrong , so virtues are tangentially related related to ethics. So I don't see virtues being moral indicators.

5253014
CiG deliberately confined this speculation to Greek and Greek-inflected (read: Christian) virtues, so a Hebrew/Eastern concept like lovingkindness is right out.

Friendship is Magic is an easy equation that doesn't actually describe the Element. It is described as a "spark," revelations come to Twilight in moments of serendipity and inspiration. Magic, therefore, is something like openness to inspiration, to the Divine, to destiny. This is a kind of faith, and also a kind of submission to authority. Very Christian.

Friendship is a survival strategy with a proven success rate.

5253071
okay. sorry we were wrong. we'll delete our comment if someone wants.

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

I would think it's not a virtue, because it's not a personality trait, something that "good" people aspire to emulate. It's also something that "bad" people can have. Maybe that's the thing that can keep such people from being completely evil, but friendship often results from common interests, and those interests can be bad. I could see desiring friendship with everyone (a kind of "love thine enemy" thing) as being virtuous, but not just friendship itself.

5253076
The hell? Why would you do that?

Maybe friendliness? I dunno.

Virtues are not exempt from abuse. It is very possible to make a case for how kindness, generosity, loyalty, and honesty can all be used and abused for personal gain. What makes virtues virtuous is the fact that they are almost always found in people who could be considered beacons of morality, yet even these people, they can act with anger, lash out, and cause harm. Does this make them less virtuous? Was it virtuous of Jesus Christ to spend hours making a whip of cords to drive the merchants out of the temple? Was it virtuous of James D. Rockafeller to donate a small percent of his fortune to charities to restore his public image?

My point is that even virtues can be abused, and even the most virtuous people can cause harm. What really matters is the reason for, and effect of, the behavior. When Jesus drove the merchants from the temple, he was cleansing a holy site of evil. When Rockafeller donated to charities, he did so to regain public support.

To summarize, friendship is a virtue, but like some virtues, it can be exploited for personal gain. What matters is the fact that friendship is almost exclusively considered a positive thing. Whether an individual friendship can be considered virtuous depends entirely on the reason for friendship.

Heck of a question, cause there are so many things about the premise you need to settle first. Are virtues even necessarily good things? Is an action good just because it's generous, or an emotion good just because it's joyful?

And then we need to interrogate the connotations of the words. Loyalty, for example, is one I have a lot of trouble with, and I think so did many of the show writers. What does loyalty mean in this context? Faith? Perseverance? Patience? Trust? Depending on how you interpret the term, I'd say that loyalty has caused a lot more destruction in the grand scope of history than it's built. Being loyal to a person to the point that you overlook or dismiss their flaws and failings is not a healthy thing, but it is technically loyalty.

So, friendship. It's certainly important for mental health, and it arguably plays an important role in keeping the fabric of society in the right shape, and by and large society is a good thing, I'd say. And again, depending on how we define a friendship, the argument for it being a virtue changes. Does true friendship imply all of the other Elements? If your friendship is strong and healthy, should there be a channel of kindness, generosity, etc, between the two sides? By that logic a friendship can't be any more destructive than a purely functional partnership, or else you're calling all of those other virtues into question too, so now the question is whether social relationships in general are good.

Can an individual even embody a virtue like friendship, which is by definition a shared thing? You can be friendly, or likeable, or outgoing, but the virtue is called friendship, implying a relationship of some kind, and on that same line of thinking, can two people form two halves of a virtue? And now we're back to questioning and defining the nature of virtues.

So I guess my answer to the question is... ~~Philosophy~~

But no, probably not. It's just a nice thing to have and to practice.

If we pull and stretch friendship into something like 'functional member of society' then I think it could be. That's a huge generalization that would have to be riddled with clarifications and stipulations of course, so friendship/friendliness is as good a word as any

Hmm.

I think you could make a decent argument for friendship being a virtue, in the sense that having the quality of being friendly or a good friend could be considered a virtue of the soul. Pinning down what to call that quality is a touch trickier -- but maybe it's as simply as calling it friendliness. It's a complex enough thing that I don't think it can be broken down to one or a couple of the other virtues. Comradeship, maybe? Conviviality?

Alternatively, you could look at friendship as something that happens between two or more people -- that is, it's an interaction, and thus not something that a single person can cultivate internally. By that metric it's not a virtue, but could be considered the sign of properly cultivated virtues in the people involved.

"Friends with who?"

I am no philosopher or anything, but I'll try to put my two cents in. I do not think that friendship in and of itself is a virtue. As others have said, friendships are based upon relationships between two or more individuals. All of the individual elements are traits that are seen as good in the mindset of western civilization. In fact if you tried to remove the group-think that comes from "civilization" all of the virtues are meaningless words. It is the behavior associated with each trait that is really important, the words are just labels. For example, the word obsequious refers to someone who acts with a deferential attitude toward another, Loyalty or generosity are similar in that they refer to giving of one's self to another. Why then is one considered good and the other bad?

Best pony is certain that Friendship is not a virtue. After all, it kind of makes it hard for him to conquer the world with his dark magic and red horn.

Wait, you and GaPJaxie did a story together!? How did I miss this and is it even safe for mere mortals to read?

It's interesting to me that in the third season finale, when they go through and "name the elements" and talk about what Twilight has learned, Celestia refers to Charity (Generosity), Compassion (Kindness), Devotion (Loyalty), Integrity (Honesty), Optimism (Laughter), and Leadership (Magic/Friendship).

One of my Old Story Ideas was exploring the fact that the names of the Elements of Harmony, as given by the show, aren't entirely accurate, and that Celestia's naming of them were in fact the "true" names, with the other names being the children's tale names for them.

Optimism certainly feels like what "laughter" really is, given that it is the power to persevere through bad times and keep a positive outlook - indeed, many of Pinkie's core struggles have been about optimism (and conversely, loss of hope), and optimism was the virtue that she exhibited when she could overcome the fear of the dreadful forest (and indeed, her song is literally about optimism).

Many of Twilight's trials have been trials of leadership, which makes me suspect that is the "true" virtue that she epitomizes.

I don't think we need to make Laughter into Joy to make it a virtue. Joy could be in a different iteration of the elements as it's own virtue. But laughter is something different and trickier. Still a virtue though. Joy is for when everything is wonderful, or there's something special you can find in a moment. Laughter though, laughter is when things are uncomfortable. Most punchlines to jokes are either because something is unpleasant (it's funny cause it hurts) or cognitively dissonant (puns and nonsense). And either way Laughter helps by letting us respond to the absurd or uncomfortable and start healing.

So laughter is a virtue, and like any virtue it can have a dark side under the wrong circumstances. Like cruel humor, mocking someone to deal with the pain of your own empathy, for example. Being so generous you forget yourself, being so kind you won't fight when it's needed... you know the drill. But because a virtue can be corrupted doesn't mean it isn't one.

Which brings us to Beauty. Inner beauty is of course very important, but it's worthwhile to remember that outer beauty is also an inherently a good thing. It makes the world a better place. Obsession with physical beauty can be a problem, but that doesn't make beauty a vice. From other people that's a kind of gluttony, or just a lack of wisdom, and directed at yourself that's vanity. Beauty itself has nothing to do with it. Regarding the Lady Galadriel, as best as I can remember it: "You could break yourself on her like a ship on a rock, or drown like a hobbit in a river. But neither the rock nor the river would be to blame."

5253019
I think this is actually coming at it backwards: that something is a virtue when it is, you know, virtuous. When it's the thing that is called for. Of course that also depends on your framing the the quality in question. You could as easily say that impatience is NEVER a virtue since by definition it means wanting to go before it is time, and that patience is not 'wait longer' but 'wait for the right time'... whether that's in five years or five seconds.

Talking about the Elements of Harmony, we need to first ask: what is Harmony? It's agreement, accord, a combination of different tones into a whole that does not clash.

This leads me to think that the virtues of the Elements are all fundamentally social ones. You must show Kindness to someone; you must be Loyal to someone or -thing outside yourself; you cannot be Generous without someone to be Generous to. Even Honesty and Laughter achieve their fullest meaning when dealing with others: being Honest to someone, and sharing Laughter with them.

So Friendship, in this view, is the meta-virtue that emerges from the other Elements, but also allows them to flourish to their fullest. It is, ideally, the practice of Harmony, by which many different ponies (or people!) come together voluntarily, and are stronger and better off because of their differences and because they're working together.

Maybe the question isn't quite right. Friendship is a status describing how two people relate to each other. I don't think that statuses - things you are - are virtues. I think it's actions that are virtues. Statuses are, sometimes, simply the results of those virtuous actions, but they're not the actions themselves. Statuses aren't virtue, they just reflect having been virtuous.

So I don't know if friendship is a virtue. But I do know, without a doubt, that acting in such a way as to be a friend is a virtue.

5253167
That's something I was thinking about. I'd argue, though, that even among very bad people friendship between them is still a good thing. Perhaps one of the only good things about them. Of course it might also make them more dangerous, but that's always they way of it. It's like the Ebon Dragon: a hypothetical being of pure evil with no virtues can't actually accomplish anything. The more virtues the bad guy has the worse they may actually be in practical terms... but it also means they're that much closer to redemption. Evil is not only pointless, it's inefficient.

5253030
That's sort of similar to what I do. My usual paradigm is "The essence of friendship is that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts" and, in a practical magical sense, makes Harmony so much more than the individual elements. Of course I also frame Discord as the essence of individuality, which is why Discord is also needed in the cosmic scheme of things. And yes, Harmony harmonizes with Discord. Much to the chagrin of a Draconequus we all know.

5253227
5253224

This is what I meant about the whole being more than the sum. Harmony manifests on every level: a proton and an electron alone take on entirely new emergent properties that just didn't exist before when they become a hydrogen atom. In the friendship between two creatures we find something greater. Harmony is an aptly chosen name for the song of creation and the fundamental basis for reality as we know it. The simple statement that we are more together than we are alone.

Our ability to social network is something that puts us way above other animals. It’s as essential as tool usage. Working for the good of the group, and caring for the young and helpless, has always been associated with the highly evolved. So I find it funnily appropriate for it to be associated with terms synonymous with “unnatural power.” It’s something we use to get amazing shit done.

5253071
I never knew that, but it’s no surprise coming from the ponies. They celebrate literally getting a personalized mark from destiny itself. Destiny such a big thing for them, they base their entire lives on the event. We’ve even seen ponies teaching it like a subject or scholarly pursuit. The link between Disney and friendship wasn’t always there. But it was STRONGLY implied with Cutie Mark Chronicles. Then it was codified with Twilight’s ascension to Alicorn; destiny was key to both her, and her friends. If anyone still hadn’t gotten it by then, the Tree of Harmony later makes an avatar just admits “I have been guiding all of your actions to prepare you for the tasks I’ve set out for you.”

That’s why I find Starlight’s hatred of cutie mark so fascinating. Her umbridge isn’t the dystopic reality of a population being brainwashed and branded. She just hates the idea of anything controlling HER. Her escalating to messing with the time stream was a natural extension. She is the Rick of ponies.

What if we were to reduce Friendship down as you did Strength? I think that you'd find some components that go into friendship that look a lot like virtues. Thoughtfulness, as the ability to be thinking of specific others well-being and happiness. Kindness, in contrast, is much less specified for a small group, and much more generalized to everybody. Empathy, to be trying to feel as other people feel to understand and support them. Flexibility, the magical ability to be able to let yourself change for other people, if they're worth it. I think of all of these as virtues, and I don't think I could be a friend without any of them.

(By the way, the new chapter of Natural Histories seems to have completely avoided tripping an update notification for me. I thought you ought to know.)

..Thinking on this...
5253222
In a similar vein to this, I think the Elements give each other context, and that's an important thing in that morality system. Each of them, individually, can go wrong: joy/laughter directed cruelly at someone else's expense, kindness or generosity to the ruin of the self and the detriment of others, loyalty to an unworthy cause, honesty revealing dangerous or harmful secrets at bad times, and a group of friends who use their internal bonds to better hurt or exploit those outside. When the Elements are taken together, though, they bolster each other, mitigating each others' negatives and enhancing their positives.

5253232
5253237
(Also, pity I can't follow you again. :))

5253014

'wisdom' is a more direct translation of 'accumulated knowledge', whereas 'understanding' is more an operational take on how things work.

Hold on a second. That right there is the D&D Intelligence vs Wisdom divide, but with "wisdom" being used as the name of the wrong side. What the expletive?

Chris #38 · May 1st · · ·

I believe that friendship would be considered the ur-virtue in the context of Equestria, because Equestrians are secular humanists. Well, probably "secular equinists" or something, but I'm going to use our own primate-centric nomenclature for the moment.

To back up and justify myself, let's go back to the Christian virtues: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Those are great things to be, but how do we know that? Well, because God wants us to act like that. Thus, the ur-virtue is doing what God says, because from that are derived all other virtues. This is the approach most theistic religions take, whether they call it Belief, Submission, or whatever. It all comes down to the same thing: to be virtuous, one must recognize the higher moral authority of God.

But what if there isn't a God to turn to?

For all that many of us have tried to cast Celestia and/or Alicorns generally in deific roles over the last decade, I think it's safe to say that she/they are not worshiped, nor even recognized, as omniscient and omnibenevolent. And without that, you can't turn to her/them as an ur-virtue: by definition, the one to whom submission would be given must be absolutely good (or else they might not espouse virtue) and absolutely aware (or else they might espouse what only seems to be virtuous, when viewed from a sufficiently limited perspective). If Celestia ain't that, and if Alicorns ain't that, and if (this next part isn't explicit in the show, but I feel pretty comfortable saying it) there isn't any creature that can realistically claim to be that, then what's left? They might worship a less tangible creator in the same way we humans do, but there's been no evidence of that so far. So how do they tell right from wrong?

Well, with secular humanism.

What is secular humanism? Basically, a philosophy that humanity is capable of being moral without relying on God to tell us what is moral. Note that secular humanism doesn't say anything about whether or not there is a God; it just says that humans can figure out right and wrong without appealing to God's authority. Secular humanists can be atheists, agnostics, or members of most any major religion, including most sects of Christianity. I mention all this now to make it clear that when I say that the ponies appear to be secular humanists, I'm not making any statement about their specific religious beliefs; I am saying, however, that I believe that the inescapable absence of any sign of theistic practice in Equestria is strong evidence for a secular humanist approach being taken by the majority of the pony population.

(And as a piece of meta-evidence, I would submit that, depending on how the question is asked, most Americans agree with the basic secular humanist principal: that morality can be reasoned out, and is not solely dependent on appeal to a higher power. Therefor, we should not be surprised that the ponies approach morality in the same way as many-to-most of us do!)

But what is the ur-virtue of secular humanism? If people are expected to figure out right and wrong, good and evil, virtue and vice... if we're expected to do that without using "because God said so" as our proof... how do we do that?

Well within that framework, each individual has a responsibility to educate themselves, and to continuously learn more, in order to develop a more complete (some would say, a better) moral framework. Being the limited creatures of limited knowledge that we are, people of course can't know everything, and this is where interpersonal relationships come into play. There is an ethical imperative that follows from secular humanist thinking: one must go out into the world, share what one knows, learn what others know, and adapt and grow one's understanding of the world and our duties as individuals through those interpersonal connections. In other words:

My dear Twilight,[...] I have an even more essential task for you to complete: make some friends!

So, I contend that, just as the ur-virtue of western theism is belief/submission, so is the ur-virtue of secular humanism friendship. And without the ur-virtue of friendship, the other elements/virtues don't have a framework within which they can reside.

The same argument you used for friendship could be applied to other virtues. Truth can be a weapon to hurt others, one might be loyal to evil, generous to the wicked, etc, etc. A lazy look at wikipedia leaves me with virtue as moral excellence, a trait desirable by it's inherent goodness. Leaving aside the inevitable moral grayness of perpetual sophistry and cultural influence, I would make a point that friendship, as caring bods with others, rather than a virtue itself, is the fertile soil upon which virtue can grow. After all, goodness and desirability are things we define and discover through our relationship with others, as individuals and as a society. Then, it makes sense for friendship to bind the five, for it to be the spark that manifests them. For it to change with time and bearers.

I think being able to connect with people and form strong bonds with them qualifies as a virtue. People who try to go through life alone have a hard time of it, and there are other virtues they'll struggle to attain.

If you value friendship above all else, you're gonna have problems, but that's true of any virtue. A person who values honesty to the exclusion of kindness will tend toward cruelty. A person who values loyalty to the exclusion of honesty becomes an accomplice. A person who puts friendship above all other virtues will make bad friends and become a worse person.

But for me (and season 1 Twilight Sparkle), friendship was the most important virtue to learn because it was the one we lacked the most. Like Twilight, I was an introvert, a self-contained person who interacted with the rest of the world on a primarily transactional basis. Learning about the magic of friendship encouraged me to invest time and energy in making friends, even when that was uncomfortable for me. That in turn encouraged lots of other virtues to grow.

The Principle of Equal and Opposite Advice says that for any piece of advice you give someone, there is someone out there who needs exactly the opposite advice. Certainly there are people out there who have invested too much in friendship and need to focus on other virtues. But for an introverted nerd like me, friendship is the virtue I need most.

5253014
I'm very interested in word origins!

At the moment, I'm most-interested in these issues:

"Perfection": The only 2 independent inventions of the concept of "perfection" that I've been able to verify are in Greek by Plato, and in Sanskrit by early Hindu scriptures. I've found the word "perfect" used in translations of ancient Egyptian myths, and also in the Legend of Gilgamesh. Finding it in ancient Egypt wouldn't surprise me, but it would really surprise me if the Old Babylonians, 3000-2000 BC, had a notion of "perfection", because it doesn't fit their cultural pattern. But deciding whether they did or didn't turns out to be really hard or impossible, because the Legend of Gilgamesh is translated from versions in about 6 different Mesopotamian languages, all of which we know very little about.

"Love": I've looked into all of the ancient Greek words that are sometimes translated as "love", and I don't think any of them are even close to what we think of as love. I suspect the one you called "familial loyalty" is "storgē." Christians think "agape" means "brotherly love", but it doesn't seem to mean that except in some Christian writings. It seems to have meant satisfaction, or a feeling toward something or someone as being satisfactory. The words most-often translated as love are "eros" (lust) and "aspazontai" (greet with affection). "Philia", usually translated as friendship, is as close as the ancients seem to have come to the concept of love.

"Rape": Some folks say we live in a rape culture, but actually we live in one of the few non-rape cultures. A rape culture is one which doesn't have the concept of rape, which is, approximately, the crime of having sex with someone when that person doesn't want to have sex with you. Not many cultures believe that's necessarily a crime. I suspect that those which believe that a woman always has the right to choose whom to have sex with, or to veto any proposed candidate, are a minority. Even those which do, don't usually give that right to slaves, and don't usually believe that women have the right to withhold sex after their culture's analog of marriage. More often, cultures have a concept of "having sex with a woman who isn't yours", as in ancient Rome and I think Greece. There's a lot of disagreement about what the "laws against rape" were in ancient Rome because they had no term that can be translated as "rape". They had laws against what we now translate as "seduction". I'd like to know whether any ancient culture had a concept of "rape". I suspect that would be found mainly in low-tech tribal societies and in pre-warfare civilizations (eg maybe Minoa before 2000 BC, South America before 1800 BC, Mesopotamia before 4000 BC).

It's interesting that none of these virtues correspond with the original virtues discussed by the ancient Greeks: Temperance, Courage, Wisdom and Justice.

I don't think the ancient Greek "arete" can be translated as "virtue". Western "virtue" is Christian, and tied up with the notions of "sin" and "free will", both concept that don't seem to have existed in ancient Greece before Plato. Christian virtue is moral virtue; ancient Greek virtue was practical virtue. A person could be virtuous without being nice to others, and without having any responsibility for possessing those virtues.

It's similar to the contrast between the ancient and Western uses of the word "hero". To us, a hero is a good guy; to the ancient Greeks, a hero was a strong guy, a larger-than-life figure, including what we'd call both heroes and villains. (They didn't really have villains either; the moral framework needed to make that concept instantiable didn't exist. "Villain" only recently acquired moral dimensions; I think that even in Shakespeare's time it still meant only "poor".)

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