Aristotle on Friendship

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Aristotle on Friendship

We are social creatures. We surround ourselves with other human beings, our friends. It is in our nature. We are constantly trying to broaden the circumference of our circle of friends. Aristotle understood the importance of friendship, books VIII and IX of the Nicomachean Ethics deal solely with this topic. A modern day definition of a friend can be defined as �one joined to another in intimacy and mutual benevolence independently of sexual or family love�. (Oxford English Dictionary). Aristotle�s view on friendship is much broader than this. His arguments are certainly not flawless. In this essay I will outline what Aristotle said about friendship in the Nichomachaen Ethics and highlight possible flaws in his arguments.

Friendship for Aristotle (and Greeks in general), as mentioned above, is much broader than the definition given in the O.E.D. Aristotle regards less intimate bonds as friendships as well as the intimate relationship in the modern definition. Relationships between husband and wife, father and son, neighbors, business partners, team members, members of a political party, teacher and student, etc would all be viewed as friendships in Aristotle�s eyes (Russell McNeil). However he does distinguish between different types of friendship.

Friendships for Aristotle can be divided into three main categories.

Friendships of utility are based on people who are useful to each other. This is the sole reason behind them being friends. A good example of a friendship of utility might be the relationship between a car salesman and a car buyer (John L. Fjellstad). The car salesman needs the buyer because he has to make a living and the buyer needs the salesman because he needs a car. Both have something the other wants. These friendships do not last very long as once the buyer is no longer useful to the salesman, or visa versa, the connection is severed and the friendship ceases to be. Friendships of utility are common among old people, for in old age people pursue the useful rather than the pleasant.

Friendships of pleasure are based on the amount of pleasure the people get from being in the relationship. People who go to football matches together, or who go to the pub together might be in this type of relationship. They are friends for their own sake, because the friendship brings them pleasure and enjoyment, not for their friend�s sake. Friendships of pleasure are common among young people. Young people quickly become friends and quickly cease to be friends because what pleasures them changes constantly.

Friendships of virtue, unlike friendships of utility and pleasure, which can include a circle of friends, are strictly one on one relationships. These types of friendships can only occur between two people of the same virtues and both persons have to be virtuous. One can only become virtuous through wisdom and age. Therefore friendships of virtue are not found among young people. It is a relationship of mutual respect and love. The persons in this type of relationship are not in it because they gain something from the relationship, they are not friends because they find each other useful or bring each other pleasure, but because they see virtues in each other that they see in themselves. They wish well for their friends for their friend�s sake. It is not surprising that such relationships are rare according to Aristotle.

Aristotle says that a friend or virtue is another oneself, they are soulmates. A friend or virtue is a key part to self-sufficiency. Virtuous friends spend time with each other and make the same choices as each other. Friend A�s happiness contributes to friend B�s happiness and visa versa. The friend, in the Aristotelian scheme, becomes an extension of yourself.

It can be argued that Aristotle is wrong when he distinguishes between friendships of utility or pleasure and friendships of virtue. Are we as human beings...
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