Monday, May 24, 2010

Aristotle's Views on Friendship

Our last book in Great Books 1 by Mr. Wesley Callihan, was The Basic Works of Aristotle. The last few books of the Ethics were Aristotle's thoughts on friendship and the different types and levels within friendship. This is the last paper I wrote for the class. I'd love to hear your thoughts/comments.


In his book Nicomachean Ethics, book eight, Aristotle lays out his idea of the varying degrees of friendship. Though it is not believed Aristotle feared God, there is a remarkable correlation between his three ideas of friendship and the different types of friendship seen in Proverbs. The word friend is used throughout Proverbs more than 15 times, but revealed through a closer look, the meaning behind the word differs. Even a quick inspection through a list of friends on facebook, will even shockingly agree with both Aristotle and Scripture. Everyone has friends of contrasting purposes. There are three kinds of friendship; that of utility, pleasure, and perfection.

The first tie between people, Aristotle calls the friendship of utility. Utilitarian friends are described by Aristotle when he says "those who love each other for their utility do not love each other for themselves but in virtue of some good which they get from each other." This relationship forms because of needs met by the other party. Business partners demonstrate this association well. Two business men may not have an existing camaraderie with each other, but they are useful to one another for the express reason that one or both individuals benefit from the acquaintance. Aristotle, Plato's student, saw clearly into the reason all men have such relation with another person and expressed it in saying, "do men love, then, the good, or what is good for them?" Sometimes this alliance is formed for necessity, but also out of love for oneself and what he may receive from the relationship. The mutual friendship can be beneficial in some cases, but there is also the danger of falling into a trap or be taken advantage of. The Bible shows that this level of friendship can often be harmful. Proverbs 19:4 warns us that, "wealth makes many friends, but the poor is separated from his friend." And then in 19:6 we are told that, "many entreat the favor of the nobility, and every man is a friend to one who gives gifts." It is natural for people to befriend those from whom they will gain something, and it is not all wrong, but it is a relationship to be cautious of and enter into with discretion.

Secondly, Aristotle says, is the friendship of pleasure. This friendship is not wholly unconnected with the first for as Aristotle says, "therefore those who love for the sake of utility love for the sake of what is good for themselves, and those who love for the sake of pleasure do so for the sake of what is pleasant to themselves." He expressed it very clearly. Such friendships are obviously not going to last forever. People change and once a person does not find pleasure in the acquaintance, then the friendship is likely to end. Proverbs 17:9 seems to give an example of people who are friends for the sake of enjoyment, but when there is strife or trouble caused, they are separated. There is no consistency in a relationship that is based on momentary satisfaction or amusement.

The final and most meaningful friendship, is that of the perfect friendship. By perfect, Aristotle in no way implies flawless people, but rather a friendship in which the two people love the other person with pure love for who they are with no thoughts as to how they might benefit. In fact their goal, rather than focusing on themselves is centered completely on the well being of the friend. This selfless relationship often lasts for years or even a life time. These friends are the ones that will stick by each other in good times and bad. They are the ones who are there to share their troubles, tears, and joys. Everyone has heard the proverb that says, "a friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." This is the kind of friend everyone wants to have. Families should model this type of friendship. Though there is the tie of relation, there ought to be a strong, yes even the strongest, tie of friendship.

Without fail everyone has friends, and as Aristotle says, "Without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods; even rich men and those in possession of office and of dominating power are thought to need friends most of all." Some friends are here for a moment and others for day, but it's the friends that stay for years that will mean the most and have proved their true friendship in the end. Speaking of friendship Aristotle says, "it helps the young to keep from error; it aids older people by ministering to their needs; and those in the prime of life it stimulates to noble actions." Aristotle also says of friendship that "it helps the young to keep from error; it aids older people by ministering to their needs; and those in the prime of life it stimulates to noble actions." Proverbs says "As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend." Not only should we look for the right friends with which to spend time, share thoughts, tell stories, speak confidentially, and eat meals, we ought to aspire to become better friends ourselves. Strive for virtue and excellence, for it is the virtuous and principled people that make the best of friends.

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