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Plato’s Thoughts on Friendship are Quite Different Than Aristotle’s and Seneca’s

When Souls Intertwine

“The man who is to be happy will therefore need virtuous friends” (Aristotle 4). Aristotle is saying that in order for someone to be happy you must have not only friends, but virtuous friends. Virtuous friends are your true friends. What is true friendship? How do you know when someone is not only your friend, but your true friend? Some may say that a true friend is loyal, honest, and cares for you, someone who would die for you. Some may agree with Aristotle’s view of friendship. He classifies friendship into three categories: friendship for utility, pleasure, or virtue. Aristotle says a virtuous friendship is when you wish good things for the other person. Is this all that constitutes a true friendship or is there more to it? What exactly is a virtuous person? For Aristotle virtue is expressed in action. Virtuous actions are about giving what one deserves. “a virtuous friend seems to be naturally desirable for a virtuous man. For that which is good by nature, we have said, is for the virtuous man good and pleasant in itself” (Aristotle 3). It is a matter of thinking and choosing what is good for the other person. . If two people were to have a virtuous friendship then they would not be good to each other merely out of habit. One must not look for rewards or keep a tally of points; instead one must give of themselves freely without wanting anything in return. “The good man acts for honour’s sake, and the more so the better he is, and acts for his friend’s sake, and sacrifices his own interest” (Aristotle 1).

Aristotle also explains that friendships of utility and pleasure are based on liking the other person’s attributes, while virtuous friendships are based on loving the core of the person. What is the core of a person? The core of a person can be explained as their deepest beliefs, values, and a sense of what is important. If these are not similar then the friendship will result in fights over what things are worth because of a different understanding of what is owed to each person. With good friends, you know them well enough to not even have to judge them. A virtuous friend knows what to do without even thinking, therefore virtuous friendships are ones in which the people involved act based on what they know is good for the other person. Because they continuously choose the right thing, a virtuous person has consistency. With a virtuous friend, you know what that consistency is and you like it.

This leads us to the question must a person be self-sufficient in order to have a true friendship? To be self-sufficient is to be able to rely totally on yourself and know yourself intimately. “For men say that one ought to love best one’s best friend, and man’s best friend is one who wishes well to the object of his wish for his sake, even if no one is to know of it; and these attributes are found most of all in a man’s attitude towards himself” (Aristotle 1). Aristotle says that your best friend is the one that you love the best, therefore your best friend is yourself. Once you love yourself, you can then expand to love other people as much as you love yourself. Do you have to really know yourself before you can get to know another person on such a deep level? Aristotle says that to have a true friendship you must have a fundamental similarity of cores. If you do not know what the core of yourself is, then how can you know whether or not your cores are similar? Therefore you must know yourself before you can have a virtuous friendship. Referring to the qualities of friendship Aristotle states “all these marks will be found most in a man’s relation to himself; he is his own best friend and therefore ought to love himself best” (Aristotle 1). You love your true friends in the same way that you love yourself. You treat them exactly how you would want to be treated. You are always with yourself, and the first person that you learn to love is yourself, therefore you learn what true love is by loving yourself. Once you accept yourself and love yourself you can begin to accept and love other people.

A similar view of friendship comes from Seneca. While Seneca and Aristotle share many points in common, Seneca also has unique feelings on friendships. Seneca believes that “When friendship is settled, you must trust; before friendship is formed, you must pass judgment” (Seneca 11). He is saying that before you decide whether or not someone is your friend, you must judge them. If then you decide that they are to be your friend then you must trust them as you trust yourself. It is all or nothing. For Seneca, true friendship is based on really knowing the other person and trusting them with everything. Seneca believes there is nothing that could change about a person that would make you stop being their friend. You love that person for everything that they are. You should be able to “speak as boldly with him as yourself (Seneca 11)”. There is no holding back in Seneca’s view of friendship. “You share with your friend at least all your worries and reflections” (Seneca 11). True friendship is when you do not put on an act around that person, you should act as though you are completely alone. If you act as though your friend is completely loyal, then he will be completely loyal. You should feel completely comfortable around your true friend. True friendship is when you do not put on an act around that person; you should act as though you are completely alone.

Seneca defines a self-sufficient man as one who can do without something, but not necessarily desire to be without it. In regards to friendship he says a self-sufficient man “endures the loss of a friend with equanimity”(Seneca 45). Seneca feels that “the wise man is self-sufficient” (Seneca 45). He says that a wise man realizes and feels his troubles, but is able to overcome them. A wise man may lose a friend, but is able to move on without him. You do not want anything if you are self sufficient. Want implies a necessity and “nothing is necessary to the wise man”. While a man may be self-sufficient, he still desires friends. If you are self-sufficient then you do not need friends, and instead see them as a blessing.

I agree with Aristotle and Seneca on many of their points. There are different levels of friendship and a true or virtuous friendship is the deepest kind. I think that a true friend is someone who you love no matter what. Once you have decided that you are friends, you have to trust them with everything and love their core. There may be some attributes that you may not necessarily like, but you must love them regardless. There are some friends that you may just be with for a short period of time, but these are not true friends. True friendships are special and do not just happen over night. You must grow with the other person and learn to love them. Aristotle emphasizes the need for virtue in order for true friendship to exist. I think he is absolutely right. Virtue is a spiritual trait, and friendship, in its truest form, can be said to be spiritual. Unlike pleasure friendships and useful friendships that dissolve when the potential for pleasure or profit disappears, virtue is evidence of a consistent component in someone’s character. Therefore, virtue is a reliable trait upon which friendship may be built. It gives confidence in our feelings that the person we have befriended will remain constant in our lives. Consistency is important in friendship because a friend who is unpredictable will not allow us to form deep personal bonds with them.

I think that a person must be self-sufficient before they can have a true friendship. Some one who is self sufficient can grow to love other people. True friendship involves knowing someone intimately and having similar values and beliefs to that person. A true friend is almost a second self. If you have completely opposite values, it is impossible to have a true friendship. If you cannot agree on fundamental values, then arguments will break out often. Therefore, if you do not know what you value, you cannot know if you and your friend have similar values. To be self sufficient is to be able to rely on your self for everything. If you rely on other people instead of relying on yourself, then you will be using people for what you need at that point in time. This is not a true friendship, this is a friendship based on utility. This type of friendship will terminate as soon as the people involved stop gaining from each other. When you love yourself, you respect yourself. If you don’t respect yourself, how can you respect anyone else? People judge how they treat other people based on how they treat themselves. If you do not know what love truly is, how can you love someone else?

Plato’s thoughts on friendship are quite different than Aristotle’s and Seneca’s. In Phaedrus, it is said that true friends “never have a change of heart (231a)”. This means that once you are someone’s friend, you are their friend no matter what. You cannot change your mind about being their friend. Friends do things for each other selflessly. They “do not keep a scorecard of labors endured”(231b). When you are truly friends with someone you do something for them because you want to, not because of what you will get in return. The conversations between Phaedrus and Socrates also place a lot of emphasis on knowing your friends inside and out. You know how your friend thinks and feels on certain subjects and you respect their opinions. Friends do not “get irate over trivial matters and only slowly build a mild anger from big problems, forgiving unintended mistakes and trying to forestall deliberate transgressions. These are proofs of a friendship which will last a long time (233c)”. You do not get into fights over trivial matters with a true friend because you love him and respect him enough to let them have different opinions than you. Another good point is brought up in these conversations: “non-lovers, possessing a measure of self-control, choose to do what s best rather than to follow in the footsteps of public opinion”(232a). True friends follow their hearts when it comes to matters dealing with the friendship and only want what is best for their friend.

In Phaedrus, Socrates mentions “I am still not able to ‘know myself’… and it seems laughable for me to think about other things when I am still ignorant about myself” (229e). Socrates feels that in order to judge something else, you must first know yourself completely. In order to deliberate about something, you must know fully what you are about to deliberate. This can be directly related to friendship and self-sufficiency. When you are deciding what kind of friendship you want to have with someone you are, in essence, deliberating what kind of person they are and if you love what they are. In order to decide whether or not you love that person entirely, as a true friendship would need, you must know that person fully. How could you judge someone without knowing everything about them?

True friendship requires at least these two things: virtue and self-sufficiency. Many people in the world use the term “friendship” in a loose sense. One might begin to caution themselves against a thoughtless use of the term. One may even want to ask whether they are the type of person with whom true friendship is possible. I suggest we begin to think of friendship in a more spiritual manner. Perhaps we should begin to reintroduce into our dialog other words that might describe the different levels of relationships we have, such as “acquaintance,” or the notion that we might be “familiar” with a person. At the very least perhaps we should consider whether the term friendship should be spent so easily and whether we should consider it such an abundant commodity. Friendships should take time. As Aristotle said, “though the wish for friendship comes quickly, friendship does not” (1155a) Discovering the soul or core of another person is one of the ultimate goals of friendship. We must remember that this takes time. We must consider the metaphor of one another as onions with many layers, the peeling back of which should be done carefully and may even cause some tears.