Aristotle on Friendship

Topics: Friendship, Virtue, Nicomachean Ethics Pages: 7 (1680 words) Published: November 23, 2014


Aristotle on Friendship

Friendship is a bond in which many individuals make every effort to achieve, although the meaning of it is not known to them. Individuals surround themselves with other humans, their friends, in order to achieve a greater happiness. It has become part of human nature. Friendship has become such a part of human nature that it can be seen in examples such as a human’s hierarchy of needs created by Maslow1. Constantly individuals strive to broaden their circumference of their circle of friends, because they are being pressured towards making ‘perfect’ friendships through stories, media, family, and education. Aristotle wrote of the significance of friendship in books VIII and IX of the Nicomachean Ethics, which deal exclusively with friendship. In Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, he proclaims that there are two different categories of friendship; perfect and imperfect. He considers that the greatest friendship anybody can obtain is a perfect friendship. However before a person can discuss Aristotle’s perfect and imperfect friendships, they must first understand the meaning of philia. Philia, is a Greek word which translates to "friendship" which is an emotional connection amongst human beings2. This connection or bond provides the foundation for all forms of relations among people. In Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, he expresses friendship in terms of philia. This idea is completely different then the modern classification as it is more general in its explanation. Aristotle’s account of friendship has been challenged numerous times, as many individuals see no place for friendship or philia in ethics. While referring to Aristotle’s breakdown of friendship, friendship has a place and is appropriate in ethics, as individuals have a special moral obligation to the people with whom they share a relationship, as opposed to those of whom they do not. Aristotle recognizes three classes of friendship; the friendship for utility, friendship for pleasure, and finally the virtuous friendship. These classes of friendship are considered when discussing the imperfect and perfect friendships. This then leads to the definition of the imperfect friendship, friendship established completely on mutual utility and/or mutual pleasures, which in both circumstances are brief and quite simply dissolved. Aristotle describes this since the friendships “were not enduring; that is why the friendships also are transient”3. The first friendship, friendship for utility, is believed to be the most insecure. “Those who exchange utility rather than pleasure in their erotic relations are friends to a lesser extent and less enduring friends”4. The individuals who enter into these friendships love one another for the value obtained from each other, and not for friendship itself. It is a reciprocated arrangement made in order to trade utilities as each individual owns something that the other individual desires. An example of this is when an older gentleman gets into a relationship with the younger woman in the form of a ‘sugar daddy’. In this relationship the older gentleman is using the younger woman for his sexual desires, whereas the younger woman is using the older gentleman for his money. Both individuals in this case entered into the relationship with mutual knowledge of the utility each would receive. The second friendship, friendship for pleasure, this friendship is also usually mutual, and tends not to last for a long period of time. This friendship is created amongst two individuals that wish to achieve pleasure from one another. Aristotle writes “the lover takes pleasure in seeing his beloved, but the beloved takes pleasure in being courted by his lover”5. For this friendship Aristotle uses young people as an example, as they live under the direction of their emotions, and sexual desires. In this friendship, both individuals do not really care about each other’s problems or feelings, but they...
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