“Friendship is a virtue, or involves virtue. Furthermore, it is most necessary for our life. For no one would choose to live without friends even if he had all the other goods.” (119) In his writing, Aristotle claims that without friendship it is merely impossible for one to live a complete and virtuous life. Friendship carries a high importance for Aristotle. It is one of the essential components of the good life, and the value of friendship is in having and enjoying it. In this paper, I will discuss Aristotle’s perspective of friendship. This paper will not try to refute that friendship is a virtue, but rather take a different path by discussing how friendship may have changed in the modern world and where the modern world may still hold the same value for friendship. Further, I will discuss self-love and the paradoxes that come along with Aristotle’s self-love and how it does not fit in the modern world.
In Book VIII Aristotle discusses three kinds of friendship. The first is friendship based on utility, where both people derive some benefit from each other. The second is friendship based on pleasure, where both people are drawn from pleasant qualities. The third is friendship based on goodness, where both people admire the other’s goodness and help another strive for goodness. The first two are motivated by their own utility and pleasure, not by anything essential to the nature of the friend. The aim of these two relationships is primarily selfish, and the relationship ends as soon as it stops producing utility or pleasure for one of the friends. But they are still possible. The only genuine, friendship, however, is the friendship of good men, which is based on virtue. In this type of friendship, the each friend wishes the genuine good for the other helps the other in the attainment of that good. This type of friendship is stable and is not easily broken, since the basis of the friendship is a shared desire for what is genuinely good, which, is a perfectly stable one.
There are five significant signs of true friendship. First, true friendship is a man who wishes and does good. Second, he wishes the friend to live for his owns sake. Third, he spends time with his friend. Fourth he makes the same choices as his friend. Fifth, he finds the same things pleasant as his friend. There are give and takes in friendships. According to Aristotle, it is consisted of equal exchanges, regardless if it is utility, pleasantness, or goodness. But he does go on to say that there are relationships that naturally exist between two people of unequal standing. For example, these types of relationships would include, father and son, husband and wife, ruler and subject. The amount of love should be proportional to the merit of each person. So in this instance, a subject should show more love for a ruler, than the reverse. If there is a too great of a gap between people, friendship is impossible. Often, the two friends will grow apart if one becomes more virtuous than the other. Here we see the work of the fourth and fifth signs of friendship.
Furthermore, justice and friendship are closely connected. They both tie communities together. “Between friends there is no need for justice, but people who are just still need the quality of friendship; and indeed friendliness is considered to be justice in the fullest sense. It is not only a necessary thing but a splendid one.” Since they are closely related, it would be far worse to abuse a close friend or family member than it is to abuse a stranger.
From the beginning we see a discrepancy in Aristotle’s friendship. The ideal model of friendship is one that exists between two aristocratic men of great virtue. This disregards women from achieving this virtue. Feminists today would have a great objection to this claim. The inequality in men and women in achieving virtue is blatantly obvious. Today, we stand for equality within men and women. To say that true friendship is only possible between men. and furthermore, men who are aristocratic, would be to say that the lower class and women could not flourish. But, it is obvious that women achieve true friends and the lower class, also, achieve true friends.
While in the modern world we certainly place a high value on friendship, it still carries a greater importance to Aristotle. It no long carries a significant philosophical importance to use because we live in a world where individualism predominates. We may not be single-mindedly selfish, but we generally assume that we each chooser our own path in life, which is defined by a personal set of goals and values. Friends are a help and comfort along the way, but we do not expect them to share all our goals and values. So, where the first and second signs of friendship may correlate with our version of the modern definition of friendship. The fourth and fifth may not be of great importance to that extent. The third sign is also an important point to ponder. While, it is important for us to keep in contact with out friends, the physical contact may not be as great value in the modern world. With the advancement of technology, we now consider a phone call, email, or even a quick instant message on the internet, an efficient way to stay in contact. Aristotle would not consider this true friendship because it is important for friendship to be active. This discrepancy may be because Aristotle has a significant different world view. He thinks of human life as having a telos, or end goal, which everyone is heading. Communities are tightly knit together, where there is no distinction of a public and private life. All beings share the same goals and values, so the pursuit of happiness is a cooperative enterprise. This is why the relationship between friendship and justice is quite intriguing. For even though justice is the fullness and unity of all the virtues, friendship goes beyond justice. Where there is friendship, justice is not necessary. Yet where there is justice friendship is still necessary. This relationship could perhaps be explained by the previously mentioned point that a genuine friendship presupposes that the people involved are already ‘just’ men. Yet friendship can provides things which mere justice, alone, cannot. In my opinion, we would consider justice at a higher value than friendship. For example, if we are friends with another person, we would not assume they are not capable of doing harm, or committing an illegal act. Justice would still be necessary because if there was an illegal act committed, we would be expected to put our friendship aside and have justice do its job. I would also like to point out that Aristotle says if there is a too great of a gap, friendship is not possible. I would have to disagree, because our generation would see a gap as a learning experience. To become friends with someone who we have not much in common, is to see another perspective in living life.
However, we cannot just end here. There is still more to friendship for Aristotle in Book IX. Here he goes further into friendships based on utility or pleasure. He restates that they dissolve when the friends no longer find utility or pleasure in one another. These breaks are more complicated when people are misled into thinking they are loved for their character and not for certain incidental attributes. It may be necessary to break off a friendship with someone who misrepresented the kind of person he really is. Further, according to Aristotle friends who do grow apart cannot remain friends. Regardless, they still should hold on to some consideration for the former friendship.
Moreover, the feelings we have for our friends are the same as we have for ourselves. So, a good friend wishes good things for his friend, enjoys that friend’s company, and shares personal happiness and sorrows. This would also be said about ourselves. This could reflect even the people who treat themselves poorly and others poorly. Feeling goodwill toward a person who we see has merit or goodness is not the same as friendship because its superficial. Friendship is a form of friendly feeling that exists between friends or within a state when people have the same ends in view. A good person who is self-loving will seek only what is best for himself, which will be consistent with what is best for all. A good person will do unselfish acts. For example, taking a risk for friends or giving money away. They do this because they are noble and are motivated by self-love. He then goes on to say that a good person is self-sufficient and he has no need of friends. But, friendship is on of the greatest goods in life, so a good person cannot achieve perfect happiness without friends.
Evidently, it is better to have many friends. But, there is a limit to how many intimate friendships one can sustain. It is preferable to have a few close friendships than many superficial friendships. Friendships are in need during adversity, but it is more value in prosperity. This is so because in adversity we would not want others to share our misfortune, but in prosperity we can help others out.
However, we see two paradoxes in Aristotle’s account of friendship. First, if we admire friends for those qualities we admire in ourselves, then it seems to be that self-love is the more valuable than the love of others. Second, if self love is the most valuable thing, and if the truly happy person is not in need of outside help, it seems that the truly happy person does not need friends at all.
Aristotle does think that self love is very valuable. It seems negative in the modern world because Aristotle considers it a different kind of person. In Book VIII, he distinguishes three different kinds of friendship. Similarly, self love can take on these characteristics too. We think of self love as a bad thing because in the modern world, we normally think of it in terms of utility or pleasure. So for example, the person who seeks, selfishly, wealth and honor, does not care about who may get hurt along the way, and benefits out of utility. The person who seeks out the pleasures will seek out sex, exquisite dining, and other pleasures, and will not care who gets hurt along the way. These would be inferior forms of self love. They are not treating themselves well. It is best to love oneself out of good character. The person who seeks true personal goodness will aim at a virtuous life that consists not only of health and prosperity, but also of magnanimity and amiability. But we can see why in the modern world, this may not hold to be true. There are differences between Aristotle’s ideal of the virtuous self love and the modern worlds’ ideals of selfless virtue. While in both, the person will look out for the benefit of the others, the self love will look out for others, reflecting on that it is a noble personal trait. Selfless people do not think of themselves at all. So, our moral, virtuous role models, such as, Mother Teresa, Princess Diana, Gandhi, would not be held in high esteem for Aristotle. Aristotle’s self love has an understanding that he is noble and superior to the people he is helping. It brings up a controversial issue in the modern world of ethical egoism. Ethical egoism is the idea that self love is the most important virtue and that if we all sought what was best for ourselves, the world would naturally work its way into a desirable shape without the need for selflessness. It is unpopular in the modern world because we assume that people tend to be selfish conservatives who have no interest in the needs of others. We have to remember though that Aristotle lived in a world where there was a common agreement on what was good for all and where the community mattered more than the individual. (Again, in the modern world we take a great value in individualism.) Successful people measured their success in part by the success of their fellow citizens. In a world that believes in individualism, selfishness seems like a vice because there is no evident benefit for oneself in helping others.
On the other hand, Aristotle and the modern world would agree with his limitation on close intimate friends. We do hold a greater value on true close friends, than many superficial friends. I have been told repeatedly, you should be able to count your true friends with one hand. I also have been told that you should feel thankful if you can count more than three true friends. I think this is where we get our concept of a “best friend.” There is usually only one, at most two, “best friend.”
In conclusion, Aristotle’s account of friendship is important to understand the value of friendship. His notion of self-love is quite intriguing because of our perception of the negative value on self-love. It is interesting because there is a level of shallowness to being good. Regardless, his value on this virtue is what allows human beings to flourish and achieve true happiness.