Aristotle and Friendship

1000 Words2 Pages

I We know that Aristotle thinks that

(a) the good life consists in excellent, distinctively human activity,

(b) such activity involves character and an ideal of what is noble and worth

doing for its own sake, and

(c) that this activity is (deeply) enjoyable and satisfying because in so acting,

the virtuous person is doing just what she wants to be doing.

II In Books VIII and IX, Aristotle discusses the role of friendship in the good life.

From what has been said so far, it is clear that he must think there is an intimate link

between friendship and virtuous activity. What does Aristotle think friendship is

such that it is so closely tied to the virtuous activity in which a good life consists?

III As usual, Aristotle begins with consensus among thoughtful people. The

indispensable value of friendship is not in dispute: “without friends no one would

choose to live, though he had all other goods.” (1155a5) So it is agreed that

friendship is an ineliminable part of a good human life. But, again, what is

friendship that it is so valuable? And, more specifically, how does this truth fit with

Aristotle’s doctrine that the good life consists of virtuous activity?

IV Aristotle distinguishes three kinds of friendship:

a. relationships of mutual utility or advantage,

b. relationships of mutual pleasure,

c. relationships of mutual love essentially including esteem of the other’s


He says only the third is a friendship in the most genuine and noble sense.

Now the claim that genuine friends are characterized by esteem of each other’s

character may seem odd at first. We may be apt to think of friends as caring about

each other in a way that is not obviously related to character. I want my friends to

flourish for their own sake. What is the relation between a mutual desire for the

other’s flourishing and mutual esteem of character?

V Aristotle argues that only in a relation of mutual esteem between virtuous people:

a. does each love the other “as being the man he is” (1156a20) as opposed

to as a source of advantage or pleasure,

b. will the relationship endure, independently of the vagaries of fluctuating

circumstance, mood, etc. (1156b1)

c. is the relationship reciprocal in the best sense, since “each gets from each

in all respects the same as, or something like what, he gives.

Open Document