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Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy

Opinion by AngelusB posted over a year ago
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(Be warned: This is quite lengthy) It's an essay from a Buffy related book once again credited to 'Imblack21' for her find. The girls becoming a b/a santa!
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Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy
Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale

The essay in question:


Buffy in the Buffy:
A Slayer's Solution to Aristotle's Love Paradox

Melissa M. Milavec and Sharon M. Kaye

Background from the essay...

The Aristotelian Framework

According to Aristotle, there are three levels of friendship. The lowest form, "utility friendship", is based on mutual benefit, irrespective of whether or not two parties especially enjoy each other. Utility friendships are deliberately chosen for specific reasons. (Examples given: "fellow travelers, business partners, and soldiers seeking advantage in war." ) In each of these cases, the individuals establish a relationship in order to accomplish a conscious goal.

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The next level is "pleasure friendship", a relationship based on mutual enjoyment, regardless of whether or not either party is especially beneficial to the other. Pleasure friendships are driven by subconscious needs and desires over which human beings have little control. (Examples given: " dining clubs and religious cults." ) In each of these cases, the members get together to indulge passions and escape the toil of everyday life.

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Finally, the highest level, "complete friendship", includes both utility and pleasure but does not exist for the sake of the other. In a complete friendship, each party values the other for their own sake. Complete friendship is rare. In fact, Aristotle is hard-pressed for examples. We argue, however, that Buffy's relationships with Riley, Spike, and Angel illustrate each of the three levels of friendship, respectively.

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Riley and Utility Friendship:

On the surface, Buffy and Riley are a perfect match. They share the same goal, fighting evil, and they accomplish this together. Yet Riley is "mister Joe Sensible" and Buffy comes to reject the logic he embodies.

Buffy realizes that it is beneficial to spend time with Riley while patrolling the streets and cemeteries of Sunnydale. Even from the beginning though, however, Buffy acknowldeges that when she is with Riley, she feels "like something is missing". As Buffy and Riley grow closer physically, they also become emotionally distant and detached. This is symbolized in "Where the Wild Things Are", when poltergeists temporarily magnify the psychic distance between Buffy and Riley. Despite being wrapped in Riley's embrace, Buffy feels completely disconnected, telling Riley, "you're too far away from me. You...have to...keep touching me."

In "Buffy vs Dracula" we learn the reason for the distance between the two. Being a slayer, Buffy is deeply connected to the supernatural world. This fills her with needs and desires that Riley will never understand.

Buffy's far-away gaze is not lost on Riley. Although Riley loves Buffy, he feels emotionally isolated from her and concludes, "she doesn't love me" (The Replacement).

The problem is that Buffy deliberately chooses Riley with a particular goal in mind: to have a "normal" boyfriend (Doomed). He is a utility friend for her. Utility friendships are not ideally suited for erotic love because of the strict rationality on which they are built. This becomes clear when the problem with Riley is echoed in a series of episodes concerning robots.

Because Riley and Buffy do not connect emotionally, their relationship is essentially robotic. Spike hints at this in "Into the Woods", when he tells Riley, "the girl needs some monster in her man....and that's not in your nature." Foreshadowing his own experience with the Buffybot, Spike goes on to say, "sometimes I envy you so much it chokes me. And sometimes I think I got the better deal. To be that close to her and not have her. To be all alone even when you're holding her. Feeling her, feeling her beneath you. Surrounding you. The scent...No, you got the better deal." Spike soon discovers that this is not true. It we compare the relationship between Spike and the Buffybot to the relationship between Riley and the real Buffy, we can see that neither got the better deal. Thwarted with passionlessness, Spike and Riley got the same deal.

Buffy and Riley demonstrate the friendship of utility based on rationality. Their relationship makes sense and they are a great benefit to one another. In fact, their breakup is geuninely heart-wrenching. First Buffy decides to let Riley go, and then she convinces herself that she could try harder to love him. She is too late to catch Riley, however, and this is just as well. Erotic love cannot survive on reason alone.

Spike and Pleasure Friendship:

When Spike first arrives in Sunnydale, Buffy never imagines that she will ever have any positive feelings toward him.

Things are different, however, after Buffy dies and the Scooby Gang brings her back from the grave. Feeling as though she is going through the motions of slaying and sleepwalking through life, Buffy turns to Spike in a moment of need. Although Buffy knows she is being seduced by darkness, "giving in to it [and] going totally wild" helps her to cope with the misery of being back in the world. (Smashed)

Buffy reveals her subconscious desire to be with Spike when she sings, "this isn't real, but I just want to feel" (Once More, With Feeling). Yet she denies it and tries her best to make it go away. She reasons with him, "you don't...have a soul! You can't feel anything real! I could never be your girl." She reasons with herself: "He's everything I hate. He's everything I'm supposed to be against." All of this reasoning, however, does not keep Buffy away from the secret she shares with Spike in the shadows (Dead Things).

Spike is irresistible to Buffy because he is a monster: monsters are evil, evil is dangerous, and danger is exciting.

The problem is that the very danger Buffy enjoys in the relationship makes it wrong. It is significant that Buffy finds herself completely unable to tell her friends about her new lover. She cannot tell them because she is ashamed of herself for putting them, as well as herself and her entire life's work, at risk. Buffy knows that "to act on want can be wrong" (Surprise). Since sleeping with Spike is counterproductive to her most cherished goals, it is a strictly irrational affair.

After sleeping with Spike many times, Buffy finally comes to her senses in "As You Were":

Buffy: It's over.
Spike: I've memorized this tune, luv. Think I have the sheet music. Doesn't change what you want.
Buffy: I know that. I do want you. Being with you makes things simpler. For a while.
Spike: I don't call five hours straight a little while.
Buffy: I'm using you. I can't love you. I'm just being weak and selfish...
Spike: Really not complaining here.
Buffy: And it's killing me.


Buffy realizes that Spike is nothing but a pleasure friend for her. Pleasure friendships are not ideally suited for erotic love because they are driven by needs and desires over which one has little control.

While the relationship has a negative effect on Buffy, it seems to have a positive effect on Spike.

Being around Buffy gradually makes Spike vulnerable and sympathetic.

If Spike is capable of transformation, then why does Buffy refuse to give him a chance? The answer to this question emerges in a frank exchange between Buffy and Spike in "Seeing Red":

Spike: You love me.
Buffy: No. I don't.
Spike: Why do you keep lying to yourself?
Buffy: I'm not saying I don't have feelings for you. I do. But it's not love. I could never trust you enough for it to be love.
Spike: Trust is for old marrieds, Buffy. Great love is passionate and dangerous. It burns and consumes.
Buffy: Until there's nothing left. That kind of love doesn't last.


The appeal of the relationship is the excitement, and the excitement is premised on danger. When the danger is gone, so is the appeal. Buffy has put herself in the twisted position of valuing darkness in someone. Carrying on with the relationship would mean actually rooting against Spike's improvement.

Buffy and Spike demonstrate the friendship of pleasure based on irrationality. The two share a strong chemistry. In fact, it seems it might be possible for them to start all over again under different circumstances. Buffy is wise, however, to terminate the relationship. Erotic love cannot survive on passion alone.

Angel and Complete Friendship

So far, we have seen why Aristotle's first two levels of friendship are less than ideal as bases for erotic love: utility friendship disregards emotion, and pleasure friendship disregards reason. In Aristotle's philosophy, reason and emotion are the two operative forces in the soul. Given reason's orientation toward utility and emotion's orientation toward pleasure, it is difficult to see how Aristotle can successfully develop a third way of valuing another human being.

After Aristotle, however, medieval philosophers began to wonder whether there are not just two, but three operative forces in the soul. St. Augustine was the first to identify the missing component as the will.

William of Ockham was the strongest will theorist of the Middle Ages. Explaining how the will fits into an Aristotelian account of the soul, he writes that the will "commands the inferior powers, including reason...[and] moderates one's passions." Since the will has power over both reason and passion, it need not value things for the sake of utility or pleasure. The will is free to value things for their own sakes. It therefore provides a basis for complete friendship.

Buffy's relationship with Angel demonstrates complete friendship. Angel is the most complicated character of all because he shifts between the natural and supernatural world.

During the times when Angel is in full possession of his soul, his relationship with Buffy is both beneficial and enjoyable. Angel helps Buffy accomplish her goal of protecting Sunnydale and Buffy provides Angel with inspiration to make amends for the evil deeds he's committed in the past. Far from being bored with Angel through all of this, Buffy worries that he might be bored with her. Angel confirms, however, that there is no need to worry: "Buffy, you could never be boring, not even if you tried" (Helpless).

Despite the fact that the relationship includes both utility and pleasure, it does not exist for the sake of these things. This is evident because their love persists through extraordinary circumstances that deprive them of the benefit and enjoyment they share. In "The Prom", it becomes clear that the gypsy curse, set to annihilate Angel's soul whenever he experiences a moment of perfect happiness, is the ultimate test for a relationship. It prevents Buffy and Angel from having sex and other normal things like dresser drawers ("because that's what couples do, they have drawers" ). Buffy and Angel both indicate on a number of occasions that they are willing to give up on the things other couples have if it means that they can be together. Each is willing to sacrifice anything. At the same time, however, neither is ultimately willing to let the other make these sacrifices. They part at the end of season three because they value the other for their own sakes.

Complete friendships are rare because valuing someone else for his or her own sake is extremely difficult. As Aristotle puts it, complete friendship requires virtue. For Aristotle, virtue is found in strength of character, and for William Ockham, strength of character is found in willpower. Buffy and Angel are two individuals of rare willpower. This is symbolized on the series through fighting.

As a vampire slayer, Buffy is essentially a fighter. Even among slayers, however, Buffy is famous for her power. This suggests that her power is not just a function of the physical and mental abilities that destiny bestows upon the chosen ones. Buffy has inner strength all her own. After defeating the king of vampires, Dracula himself, Buffy is still "chock full of free will" (Buffy vs Dracula).

As a result of his dual nature, Angel is also a fighter. His vampire nature cause him to desire the blood of the innocent, while his human soul causes him terrible anguish over this desire. In "Amends", Angel musters the strength to kill himself. Buffy prevents him, however, insisting that "strong is fighting! It's hard and it's painful and it's every day. It's what we have to do. And we can do it together."

In "Something Blue", Buffy intuitively recognizes that the love she seeks goes beyond what most people settle for: "...I have to get away from that bad boy thing. There's no good there...But I can't help thinking - isn't that where the fire comes from? Can a nice, safe relationship be that intense? Part of me believes that real love and passion have to go hand in hand with pain and fighting." Note that Buffy says this prior to her relationship with Spike. She has not yet learned that the pain and fighting of real love do not come from "the bad boy thing." They come from the difficulty involved in valuing the other person for his or her own sake.

It is natural for human beings to value themselves for their own sakes. This is why Aristotle says that being in complete friendship is like having another self. In the Angel crossover episode, "I Will Remember You", Buffy and Angel experience this in a striking way.

Buffy: I don't know - I just know that when you're around, whether I see you or not, I feel you - inside - and it throws me.
Angel: Throws me too.


Separating is difficult because they are part of each other. As Aristotle says, "nothing is as proper to friends as living together". What is unusual about Angel and Buffy is that their love endures despite their separation, showing that erotic love survives when two people value each other for their own sakes.


The Paradox Revisted:


We are now in a position to revisit Aristotle's love paradox. Is erotic love chosen or not? Buffy's relationship with Riley demonstrates the problem with conceiving of erotic love as a choice. When you choose, you have some goal in mind, and when you have some goal in mind, you are not valuing the other person for his or her own sake. You end up with a utility friendship, defective in it's stultifying rationality. At the same time, if we think of erotic love as something that chooses us, we run into the opposite problem, demonstrated by Buffy's relationship with Spike. When you have no choice, you lose control, and when you lose control, you cannot value the other person for his or her own sake. You end up with a pleasure friendship, defective in it's frightening irrationality. By giving us only two options, the paradox suggest that erotic love is altogether incompatible with valuing others for their own sakes.

In his bleaker moments, Aristotle seems to indicate that erotic love is limited to the first and second levels of friendship. We need not draw this conclusion, however, if it is possible for erotic lovers to value each other for their own sakes. Buffy's relationship with Angel suggests that the will makes this possible. The will solves the paradox because it is a rational, meaning that it is neither strictly rational nor strictly irrational. Willing is a choice insofar as it is in one's control, but it is not a choice insofar as it is not undertaken with some further goal in mind. The other person becomes an end in himself or herself. This is the perfect love that Buffy and Angel would achieve were they not beset with impossible obstacles (including the writers prerogative to milk the forbidden love formula for all it's worth).

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That's the gist of it. Really intriguing and insightful look into all three relationships. And of course, I couldn't agree more.

She took the words right out of my mouth. Food for thought though.
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Random Quotes:
I especially liked this quote from "Chosen" describing the B/A kiss:

"Champions share passions others can only dream of, and their kiss could easily have moved a mountain... or sent the world straight to Hell."

But my favorite quote about B/A from a writer of the books comes from Christopher Golden in the first Watcher's Guide book:

"Buffy the Vampire Slayer was, is and always will be Angel's soulmate. She knows it, and he knows it, and though she has tried to move on, all other men walk in the sunlight. Angel is her shadow side, the true half of her, and though they cannot be together as lovers, no man or God or Powers That Be can sever the deep bond between them."
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5 comments

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I love it
posted over a year ago.
 
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AngelusB said:
Glad you enjoyed it. :)
posted over a year ago.
 
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janas said:
This article is amazing
posted over a year ago.
 
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AngelusB said:
I'm pleased you liked it hun, I love your Icon. ;)
posted over a year ago.
 
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This is one of the written articles that I have read about Buffy's relationships. Well balanced and beautiful. So touching in fact it brought the waterworks
posted 3 months ago.