Though I appreciate the sentiment, his underlying axiom is entirely untrue. Friendship, philosophy, and art are essential to human survival. I will briefly analyze the importance of these three points, clearly demonstrating the falsity of this statement. I will start with the more esoteric and move toward the concrete. This is not intended to be an exhaustive analysis and could easily be expanded into a several hundred page volume. Today, I will merely draft a rough 2-3 page summary or sketch of the flaws in the argument.
Philosophy, as defined by Webster, is “1c: a discipline comprising as its core logic, aesthetics, ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology”…
“2a : pursuit of wisdom.”
“2c : an analysis of the grounds of and concepts expressing fundamental beliefs”…
“4a : the most basic beliefs, concepts, and attitudes of an individual or group”
From a simple definitional analysis, the role philosophy plays in our daily lives and in society is evident.
Logic is essential to raw physical survival. Logical people learn from the past, and are more functional problem solvers. What is survival, if not a series of problems and hazards that must be solved and avoided? Anything which gives a creature an edge in that problem solving is essential to survival.
Ethics are essential to sociological survival. A coherent and consistent ethical code applied to a society is what allows society to survive and not fall in on and destroy each other. It allows people to manage expectations, and to understand how their individual behavior impacts the group. For instance, stealing is unethical for it actually removes resources and currencies from the “tool kit” of the victim that they could use to support themselves and take care of their families. In some societies, shame is the result of violating the ethic, which is an automatic sociological self-regulatory enforcement mechanism. A person’s code of ethics becomes the foundation upon which his reputation is built, which determines how he functions in society and how he treats and is treated. A high ethical standard garners respect, and can be used to further one’s interests in society and gain a higher standard of living. On a more base anthropological level, the simplest ethic, “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.” is what allows societies to even begin forming. It is what allows family units to stay together and not kill each other. It promotes sharing and taking care of others, in the hope that if you fall upon hard times and can’t take care of yourself, others will take care of you. Of course there are other ethical survival examples, but this will suffice for making this point! I will leave the additional extrapolation of the survival value of a complicated ethical system to the reader. Feel free to explore Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethic, Jean Jacques Rousseau’s Social Contract, J.S. Mill‘s Utilitarian Ethic, or Kant‘s Ethics, etc. These are some brilliant minds that explore ethics at a brilliant level. From ethics, springs the political system which attempts to systematize and unify one overarching ethic by which a society is compelled to conduct itself.
Metaphysics is a traditional branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world, although the term is not easily defined. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms: “What is there?” and “What is it like?”. Before man even evolved from monkeys, his innate curiosity asked these two basic questions, albeit at a rather unsophisticated level. These questions contributed information to the human scope of understanding, and allowed man to develop and communicate information to the tribe and to the generations. This curiosity is seen at its most basic form with regard to Chimpanzees exploring their environment, and playing with each other. They taste, smell, smash, touch, hold objects to understand them. The Chimps learn from each other’s experience what hurts and what kills. They learn what is edible and delicious. Without that curiosity regarding what is beyond the visible, man would never have survived even the most basic existence. We rely upon of curiosity and musing about the nature of the world to accomplish the simplest of tasks. Epistemology allows us to question not only what we know but how we know in order to give us greater insight into our conclusions derived from logic. It allows us to look at our basic educational and epistemological axioms and see the inner workings in order to clean up the system and move it to an ordered consistent and coherent whole. This allows us to attempt to have a more accurate understanding of the universe, and how it works for our own survival. The past three hundred years has seen this accelerate at an incredible rate and Metaphysics spawned a formal branch that we call “Science”, which has given us even more tools to promote our survival and comfort, such as medicine, engineering, technology, bioengineering, etc. Metaphysics allows us to systematize and categorize the world around us and human experience by means of the universal and the particular which is a uniquely useful categorization complex. Metaphysics allows us to explore causality, determinism, free-will, necessity, possibility, and other precepts of which our understandings partially determine our worldview and manage our expectations of reality. Metaphysical exploration gave us empiricism, and rationalism as well. Philosophy is “the most basic beliefs, concepts, and attitudes of an individual or group”. Awareness of these beliefs and attitudes allows us to attempt to correct evolutionarily deficient memes, and encourage positive attitudes and dogmas. It diminishes sociological blindness and encourages everyone to think. This strengthens the multi-stranded cord of society. I will not explore this point any further, as I believe that I have sufficiently demonstrated that Metaphysics as well through Philosophy is essential to our base survival and to our growth as a species.
Whereas Philosophy is the left-brained exploration of the nature of reality, Art is the right-brained exploration and communication of postulation, world-views, and questions by the artist to the audience.
Tolstoy said in his essay “What is Art” that, “Art is not, as the metaphysicians say, the manifestation of some mysterious idea of beauty or God; it is not, as the aesthetical physiologists say, a game in which man lets off his excess of stored-up energy; it is not the expression of man’s emotions by external signs; it is not the production of pleasing objects; and, above all, it is not pleasure; but it is a means of union among men, joining them together in the same feelings, and indispensable for the life and progress toward well-being of individuals and of humanity.” Frank Lloyd Wright said , “Art is a discovery and development of elementary principles of nature into beautiful forms suitable for human use.” Elbert Hubbard said, “Art is not a thing — it is a way.” André Gide said in Poétique, “Art begins with resistance — at the point where resistance is overcome. No human masterpiece has ever been created without great labor.” Francis Ford Coppola said, “An essential element of any art is risk. If you don’t take a risk then how are you going to make something really beautiful, that hasn’t been seen before?” and Maria Popova summarizes: “This is the power of art: The power to transcend our own self-interest, our solipsistic zoom-lens on life, and relate to the world and each other with more integrity, more curiosity, more whole-heartedness.”
The essential thing to realize, is that Art purpose is communication: it is an expression, or an exploration by an artist. There are acouple forms of communication in this: Intra-personal, Inter-personal, and Extra-personal. Intra-personal communication deals with the individuals communication with himself. It is similar to dreaming: the mind’s subconscious spits out a technical readout smushed together in upon itself. It allows us to uncover what we are truly feeling, thinking about, and experiencing. It is a form of psyche self-diagnostic test.
Interpersonal communication originates within the artist, is transmitted by the medium, is received and interpreted by the audience, and then responded to.
Extra-personal communication is directed at the the universe: it is created to explore, to ask questions, to try new things and experiment. It is the purest form of art, in my view: “Ars Gratia Artis”.
Sometimes this speaks to others and communicates with them. Art lets us know that we are not alone in the darkness. Many artists feel that if no one acknowledges their art, then it has no meaning, worth, or value. Art, though a communicative medium, is not primarily a means of communication at least in the traditional sense. Art doesn’t require an audience to have value. It doesn’t even need to be particularly high quality. Art’s primary purpose is personal. It’s meaning is individual. It is an expression/exploration of an idea, thought, feeling, or concept. Art is relative to the creator and the audience. Art made merely as a creative outlet is every bit as beneficial and useful as art made to decorate the Sistine Chapel. In fact, Oscar Wilde said that “All art is quite useless”. He didn’t mean that it has no value, but that if art is being twisted to serve a purpose, is it truly art? Propaganda is not art, nor is advertising under this definition. Now, he is also not advocating an ultimate all-encompassing definition of useless. He is primarily referring to art that has been commercialized, or ab-used to serve a purpose beyond the art. These things can have artistic qualities, but not necessarily be actual art. A play has value in merely being performed, whether or not anyone watches it. It indicates that mankind can create in a vacuum. It is truly “Creatio ex nihilo”. This is an important step in the evolution of humanity, this ability to create from nothing. It has an ontological value beyond what the actors experience.
Art must have thought behind the creation. It must be spawned from the creative spark within our being. It must flow from our soul, from the universe through the conduit of our bodies and minds. Art must be free to explore. Art must be the manifestation of the Universal. It must tie into something greater. This is why so-called “commercial art” is rarely art, though commerce and art are not exclusive. Jackson Pollack deconstructed ideas in his process of chaos, form, color, and meaninglessness. He was actively participating in understanding the universe in a new light in the creation of his splatter. Van Gogh, Monet, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo: all created a perspective of the Universal and translated it to canvas, or stone, or plaster. Beethoven heard the symphonies of the universe, even when deaf, creating some of the most transcendental music in human history. Banksy comments upon human nature and society in his graphic arts. Chuck Close and John Cage take a closer look at the elements of their respective mediums, analyzing their subjects in the light of their own novel world views. Art must be intentional. Beauty need not be.
Artists must explore the Universe, in all of it’s facets as they seek ultimate truth, or whatever shreds of temporal truth they can seize, and represent. Artists are practical experiential existential philosophers. They provide a similar role in society, and explore similar issues, in a completely different manner which is usually more accessible to the masses than “hard philosophy”.
Painters must paint. It is what is within them. Writers must write. Film makers must make film. Sculptures must sculpt. Poets must wax poetic. The medium is not what matters. The critical view of reality and the attempt to discover it through creation is what matters. With this in mind, we see why an audience is non-essential and even tangential to the artistic process. However, we all hope that our art reaches other people, or displays what truths we have learned and discovered before them, so they might be enriched and lead greater, more full lives. We hope that our art challenges world views, or at least causes us to view the world with greater observed acuity. We hope that our art causes people to re-evaluate their axioms, and base assumptions as to the nature of reality, other people, nature, themselves, and their belief structures. Art is subversive. It is inherently unstable. It is dangerous. Free thought and action is required. It is quirky. It is weird. It views ordinary life through a new lens. It looks at the elements, and the big picture simultaneously yet independently and exclusively. It takes paradox in stride, bending our minds, and crushing our lazy banality.
However, in the end, art is for the artist. We make art, for art’s sake because we can’t do otherwise. We must connect to the Universal and allow it to pass through us into the specific. In this, art need not be beautiful, or True in and of itself. It must realize itself and grow. It must relate to the comprehensive whole, connecting our spirits with itself. That is where the Truth and Beauty lie. If it is True, it is inherently beautiful, no matter how horrible. If it is Beautiful, it is inherently True, no matter how false. That which is True, and Beautiful must be good.
Through all of this, Art springs eternal. Art is what binds us to the universe and to each other. It is a self-healing balm within our souls. It allows us to cope with our experiences and our feelings. It allows us a lens to interpret our experience and respond to reality. Without Art, creativity must die. Without Art, critical perspectives will be lost. Art must be created in order to enhance our lives and understandings beyond anything that Math and Science can do. Art must direct Sciences and Math. And Sciences and Math must direct art. They must be in balance: a system in tension. Different realms of epistemology collide, but each are essential to crafting a great understanding of the mosaic of the Universe, and Art will allow us to Transcend our bounds and limitations and connect to the fires behind the curtain.
This divine spark of creativity is what directs humanity: this imp of the subconscious. It is brilliant, and quirky, and is what allows us to survive and thrive. Without it, there would be no survival, no science, or philosophy, or industry. Mankind would likely not be capable of even the most basic survival, without that spark of inspiration that acts as a guiding light. We need art for our soul, and for our mind, and for our will! Artists are those who strip away everything else in order to unleash this imp.
We see higher orders of animals exhibit artistic tendencies in their own attempt to cope with reality, or play with the world around them. Dolphins blow water rings for fun, and move coral and rocks on a sea floor around in artistic patterns. Elephants and primates express themselves, and have been known to paint and create. It seems that experiencing and creating art is essential to psychological health and well-being.
Art is the exercise that allows the muscle of creativity to grow. Creativity allows us to escape the basic problems, and solve various conundrums and trials which vex our human existence. Creativity goes hand in hand with logic to our survival. Ergo, Art for these reasons and more, is essential to human survival. Again, I have just painted the broadest of strokes, and have left many areas incomplete, barely referenced and some aspects I just plain omitted. However, if you consider everything that I have hinted at, you will likely intuit that Art is essential to our survival as a species.
Now on to friendship. Aristotle said, “In poverty and other misfortunes of life, true friends are a sure refuge. They keep the young out of mischief; they comfort and aid the old in their weakness, and they incite those in the prime of life to noble deeds.” The Gallup Organization’s director, Tom Rath, states In his book, Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford To Live Without, that if you ask people why they became homeless, why their marriage failed or why they overeat, they often say it is because of the poor quality, or nonexistence, of friendships. They feel outcast or unloved. His work resulted in some surprising statistics: If your best friend eats healthily, you are five times more likely to have a healthy diet yourself. Married people say friendship is more than five times as important as physical intimacy within marriage. Those who say they have no real friends at work have only a one in 12 chance of feeling engaged in their job. Conversely, if you have a “best friend at work”, you are seven times more likely to feel engaged in your job. Aristotle made the point that it is better to give than to receive in friendship. Aristotle also believed that friendship can only arise indirectly, like happiness. It comes with living a good life, including strong personal values such as honesty, character and passion. These things indirectly arise out of and are strongly influenced by Art and Philosophy. Epicurus said, “The noble man is most involved with wisdom and friendship.” Author Mark Vernon writes that “a close friend is a mirror of your own self, someone with whom you realize that, though autonomous, you are not alone… Friendship cultivates the virtues, such as creativity and compassion, which are essential to a flourishing society”. Donald X Burt argues in his essay, “Friendship and Society: Introduction to Augustine’s Practical Philosophy, “It is a fact that humans spend most of their lives in relationships with others of their kind and these relationships are more than just being in the same place at the same time, like people gathered together in a subway train, moving in the same direction but unknown and uncaring about the other. The fact is that human beings gather in all sorts of societies: families, nations, and innumerable purely voluntary associations.”
Now, some view this as negative: Hobbes described the “natural” human being as an animal driven by self-interest, suspicious of and (where possible) aggressive towards others of its kind. Nietzsche maintained that anti-social attitudes are the best characteristics a human being, not the worst. Only the weak seek others in society; the strong relish isolation, coming together only to accomplish a joint action furthering their individual will to power. Society stands in the way of the purposes of the Superman and is best done away with to clear the ground for the truly superior human being to develop. However, many other great minds have argued contrary to this. Those following in the traditions of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle have generally agreed that society for humans in a good thing. Without going so far as Marx or Hegel who suggest that the whole value of the individual comes from the collective, people like Aquinas and Locke argue that the full perfection of the individual physically, intellectually, and spiritually depends on a healthy relationship to others. St. Augustine argued, “In this world two things are essential: a healthy life and friendship. God created humans so that they might exist and live: this is life. But if they are not to remain solitary, there must be friendship.” He cries out, “What is there to console us in this human society so full or errors and trials except the truth and mutual love of true and good friends?” The first thing a baby sees when opening its eyes are its parents, and life begins with their friendship. If we are lucky, family friendship is a reality that lasts a lifetime and we spend our days searching for others with whom we can find the depths of trust and caring and security that we experienced within our own family. When we find it, a new brilliant phase of our life opens up. Proper familial friendship is what allows humans to know what to look for in a mate, so that a new friendship can arise. This friendship is the fabric upon which families are crafted and society is woven. A society based on proper friendships, born out of ethics and expressed through art is a healthy positive and functional society. Augustine argues: The harmony that comes from friendship rests on order: “an arrangement of equal and unequal things which gives to each its proper place.”
The root cause of the degradation of modern society is the withering of the fabric of friendship. People who act with only their own best interests at heart destroy society. They damage each other and themselves at a fundamental level. This destruction of the ideal of friendship is the chief cause of war, poverty, divorce, pain, suffering, etc in society. All of societies ills can be traced toward an all-devouring selfishness and a corruption of friendship which has poisoned society. This loss of friendship is what is leading us to our destruction.
If we are going to live in society; and let’s face it, there just isn’t enough land and resources to be complete hermits; then we must have some sort of relationship with people. The better this relationship functions on a sociological and personal level, the off society is as a whole. The healthier society is, the more assured our individual survival. Art and philosophy are also essential to a healthy society. Ergo, Friendship, Art, and Philosophy are essential to our being and to our assured survival.
For more reading on Augustine’s Theories of Friendship: http://www41.homepage.villanova.edu/donald.burt/friendship/04.htm