Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

J. Clerk Shaw

Committee Members

Jon Garthoff, Kristina Gehrman, Joe Miles


Friends often express their friendship through conversation. When one friend helps another change for the better in a such a conversation, the friends are engaging in “counsel.” Counsel, though a common practice, is not well understood and is often done badly.This dissertation explores the practice of counsel, arguing that it is grounded in friendship, aims at the good of one of the friends, and is characterized by an open-ended form of subjective communication. To do this, it puts forward a minimal conception of friendship and shows how each of its six aspects is necessary for both friendship and counsel. Then it addresses what counts as “changing for the better” and the problems of deference that can arise when friends don’t agree about what is good. Next, it explores the Kierkegaardian concept of subjective communication, considers how Socrates used it, and shows why this method is not only best-suited but necessary for counsel. Finally, it delineates the criteria for ideal counsel and illustrates these with two extended examples.

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