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Kyle Moore-Price History of Philosophy I

Aristotle and Friendship

Aristotle believed that by living with moral virtue and striving to be the best person we can be, using practical wisdom, we would have the greatest opportunity to have the strongest and most enduring friendship: a friendship of virtue. However if we are to strive for a friendship that has its basis in virtue we must first understand the other two relationships we have, utility and pleasure, and their functioning within society. The important consideration here is to understand that these two relationships are inherently selfish and function appropriately for only as long as they serve a favorable purpose to the individuals engaged. While all three friendships that Aristotle categorizes are essential to our functioning in a society, a friendship based on goodness is the most important and necessary for our well-being and a true testament to the virtue we have attained; for if we are sharing in our virtue and love with another, wishing the best for them in a selfless way we will be most happy. However in order to be selfless we must first have self-love, so that we can share what we already have within ourselves; for no one can give us the virtue that we must acquire as individuals. It is through the discipline, honesty and love that we have for ourselves that we are able to be a true friend to others. What I think Aristotle's distinctions of friendships offers us are a way to have respect and love for all three friendships while remaining aware of their boundaries and of the responsibility we have in shaping each. By recognizing the distinctions between these different relationships, their functions and how we should comport ourselves to them, we behave in the way that will be most appropriate, beneficial and honest to

whomever we encounter while being able to engage in the highest degrees of friendship - the one of moral virtue. If a virtuous friendship is our greatest goal to strive towards, the question for Aristotle and for all other discussion of ethics must be grounded upon his ideas of moral virtue. For Aristotle moral virtue is about ones behavior; there is not an inherent, predetermined notion we have of right and wrong that we come into the world with that could be summed up into rational principles. Instead we must determine the best way to comport ourselves towards the world through practical wisdom and habituation. Practical wisdom is about figuring out the best course of action depending upon the circumstances; there are many ways in which our behavior could be inappropriate and ill-fitting for the situation but only one way to be right and just. It is essential that morals are worked out through our actions and our emotions are taken into consideration as well; emotions must be comprehended and accounted for so that they can be channeled into the right action. It is then best understood that practical wisdom is the discipline to train oneself to be the best he/she can be. Aristotle gives the example of men becoming builders by the activity of building (p952); this is to say that one cannot attain any moral virtue if it is not being practiced, and this is where discipline and motivation come in. But most people do not do these, but take refuge in theory and think they are being philosophers and will become good in this way, behaving somewhat like patients who listen attentively to their doctors, but do none of the things they are ordered to do. As the latter will not be made well in the body by such a course of treatment, the former will not be made well in soul by such a course of philosophy (p956, Aristotle)

As much as one talks, ponders or explicates a way of comporting oneself to the world if it is not put into action it has no potential for development. Aristotle is making a strong claim here. Where Plato before him had tried to discover the most just and righteous way to live through questioning with pure reason to try and obtain absolute principles Aristotle saw that these

notions, when left on their own, could not serve as a way to practice ethics; while theory is important we live within a world based upon action where our ideas must be comprehended through our perception and ordered into an appropriate action that can be intuited through following our sense of reason Secondly in order to be capable of a virtuous friendship there must be an acknowledgment of what the grounds of the two other types of friendship are, (utility and pleasure), what their functions are and how they are both intrinsically selfish. Since these relationships are also a very important part of our experience in being a social and political animal they cannot be ruled out or mistaken for being anything other than what they are. So what does it mean to have a friendship based on utility or pleasure? A relationship based on utility is one in which the two parties get something from each other. It is based upon what one can attain through the other person. This type of relationship should not be condemned or seen as meaningless but an important example of how we are political animals that play out our agendas with others on a personal level and not just within society; the same way that much of foreign policy and peace agreements are made for benefit of trade is true in personal relationships, as when we wish to purchase bread from the baker and engage in small talk about the weather; it is an equal exchange, not that the conversation is fake but it is hollow and grounded upon what one will get from the situation (in this case the bread) and so will be short lived. Pleasure on the same note can be seen similarly to utility in that it is reliant upon wanting to get something specific out of the relationship, in this case pleasure. Instead of appreciating the others character the other is noted for being found pleasant (p1060). Note that both these relationships by their definition are selfish. 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, and not in so far as the other is the person who is loved but in so far as he is useful or pleasant. And thus these friendships are only incidental; for it is not as being the man he is that the loved person is loved, but as providing some good or pleasure. Such friendships, then, are easily dissolved, if the parties do not remain like themselves; for if the one party is no longer pleasant or useful the other ceases to love him. (p1060, Aristotle)

Neither one is concerned with the others well-being or who they are and what makes them a good person. The first relationship simply wishes to get something good from the other and realizes that this is only possible by an equal exchange. The second relationship enjoys it because it brings the individual pleasure and not because the person they are friends with may be a good person. And the friendship of pleasure could only serve to confuse us if we believed we were being appreciated for our character and goodness if in fact it was just for a transient pleasure that we were manifesting for another. Aristotle discusses this relationship as between two lovers who equally have their own agendas of what they will attain from the other. While one lover believes they will get lots of love, the way they lavished their lover with, the other expects to gain something from them (as in a relationship of utility) and when neither lover can meet up to these expectations the relationship will dissolve and will be left with a sense of bewilderment. If these be the objects of the friendship it is dissolved when they do not get the things that formed the motives of their love; for each did not love the other person himself but the qualities he had, and these were not enduring; that is why the friendships also are transient ( p1077, Aristotle)

In todays world I relate this to the ideas of a conditional relationship. Within a conditional relationship we have certain expectations of what we wish to receive from the other person and are disappointed, dejected and even sometimes resentful to the other person when they do not live up to our expectations. Fairly it seems only natural that we would need some general conditions for a healthy relationship to flourish. Imagine for example a relationship that was not

founded upon respect, honesty and consideration. These seem to be fundamental building blocks to any strong and unifying relationship; and this I wonder how Aristotle would address. I suspect that this is where his acknowledgment of the truly virtuous person would come in. The virtuous person would not need to clarify these conditions for a relationship as they would be already a part of their nature. In being a virtuous person they already live with a strong set of morals based upon their interactions within the world and by channeling their behavior into the most appropriate action. While both of these relationships are incredibly important to a functioning society they must be understood for what they are - selfish and incidental. Rather than a friendship that is sought out and fostered for its own sake the relationships of utility and pleasure are found within circumstances where it will be most favorable and advantageous for both participating members. Within these relationships they are likely to dissolve at some point as once there purpose is served there is no use for them. The friendship based on utility will only be of benefit for as long as both members are receiving something from the other. The relationship of pleasure will likely only endure as long as the person is seen as pleasant; however since pleasures are always changing and we acquire new tastes as we grow older this friendship is also not likely to last. The individual who follows moral virtue and is able to live by practical wisdom will inevitably be drawn to a friendship of a deeper nature (beyond that of utility and pleasure), as they will see the great value of sharing the good with another for its own sake; however in order to be a good friend it must be understood that the relationship that is shared to oneself should be categorized by love (but only when our actions are virtuous and accord with all that is worth loving), as this will affect all the relationships we have with others. For Aristotle there is a responsibility we have to ourselves to be moral and virtuous individuals who practice practical

wisdom in our daily lives if we are to have any kind of peace of mind and comfort ability with ourselves and others; to have a relationship with oneself is to come to know how to be with others. However in order to share with another there must be a recognition of these good qualities and an ability to love them within the individual. Aristotle speaks of self-love's reputation as being looked down upon, ignoble and selfish. Honor for a man within Greek society is of the highest importance and self-love only demonstrates selfishness; a care and concern primarily for oneself. However Aristotle points out that a just and honorable man must in fact have a very high degree of self-love in order that they will treat others as they themselves would wish to be treated and act accordingly. Their actions will then line up to their own sense of justice and the right course of action. Therefore the good man should be a lover of self (for he will both himself profit by doing noble acts, and will benefit his fellows), but the wicked man should not; for he will hurt both himself and his neighbors, following as he does evil passions. For the wicked man, what he does clashes with what he ought to do, but what the good man ought to do he does; for reason in each of its possessors chooses what is best for itself, and the good man obeys his reason. (p1087, Aristotle)

What is clear here from Aristotle's distinction of the good and wicked man is that, (I) when the good man is gentle and kind by virtue of his discipline and moral actions then it will only be natural that he will be in harmony with himself and express that with his friends. (II) The wicked man or individual who does not listen to their voice or turns away from reason will be of no benefit to anyone because they will be acting out of impulse, selfishness and greed for which nobody can remedy but them and the power of their own reasoning. In this instance having selflove would be of no benefit as it would be an advocation of that wicked persons bad behavior on which they could not learn and have remorse for their actions. But self- love for the virtuous person must be understood as being the true indicator of how they will function in a world with

others. If they cannot treat themselves (whose actions are of a loving and valuable nature) with kindness and patience then they would not be able to recognize the good actions and behavior in another. What I think Aristotle offers us with his distinctions of the three friendships is a way in which we can comport ourselves into the world with honesty and respect to the two types of friendship (utility and pleasure) while still aiming for the highest level of friendship based upon virtue. It would be impossible that every person we encounter we could treat as our best friend and would not serve us any purpose but to exhaust us of all our energy. At the same time it would be equally as disconcerting if we acted as if everyone in the world were merely pawns in which we could manipulate to get what we want. And the friendship of pleasure could only serve to confuse us if we believed it to be based on being loved for our character when it was really for a feeling we were provoking in them. Therefore it seems absolutely necessary that we make boundaries for ourselves so that we can put our best and most appropriate effort forward to each relationship. If we are aware that one relationship is based upon a gain that we are getting from another we have no need to feel guilty or ignore this fundamental fact. Instead we can appreciate it for what it is and in this way we are being the most respectful and honest to the friendship. The same is true for a relationship based upon pleasure. If we know that this is its basis we have no need to feel confused or dejected as we can recognize that it relied upon circumstances triggering a certain behavior that we or someone else was finding pleasurable and that this behavior is not endurable as our circumstances and personality are always changing. In turn we may begin to mimic what we think is the most appropriate behavior based upon what we will get from the situation. Aristotle refers to this as obsequiousness where one tries to placate to everyone for many different reasons. The chief reason that comes to my mind is the way in which we may try

and be nice to everyone in order that we will be liked. This in itself is of a selfish nature. Rather than being genuinely nice and respectful to a person we try and manipulate them with lavish niceties in order that they will think highly of us; it is never about them but is again about ourselves. However what is similar in both cases is their desire for recognition of their good behavior in order that they receive something. Therefore with these considerations we can move towards being genuine and shaping ourselves through our moral virtue and having self-love for the individual we are trying to become. We are not going to be able to satisfy everyone and this is something we must be comfortable and accepting of. It is only by using practical wisdom within each situation, being aware of what a relationship requires of us, and being genuine with how we will comport ourselves towards it that we will have any luck at forming a truly genuine relationship that is based upon something unconditional. The friendship of virtue is to be reached by the individual who understands their role in society and sees how their actions affect the society they are in. In this way when they act with moral virtue they can act with assurance and have self-love that they treat themselves appropriately as well. To treat one appropriately is to be aware of the boundaries that are contingent upon the two friendships of utility and pleasure and respond genuinely thereto. We must remember that the relationships of utility and pleasure's function are to be supported by inherently selfish interests. This in itself is not something to condemn or put down for it is part of forming a functional society that survives by the services and work of others. However the way we act towards these friendships must recognize their transience and specific role if we are to aim for any higher form of relationship. A friendship based on virtue requires many components but most necessarily are those of discipline for self through habituation, recognition of the different types of friendships and self-love. This type of friendship will take

much work and effort as it requires time and will be of such a great importance that will draw the two individuals to a shared motivation to spend their time together. In order that either members can be able to engage in such a friendship that celebrates and relishes of the goodness in each other and separate of each other we must be able to fully accept that we are to appreciate the other for goodness sake alone and the highest qualities we see within them and are thus also a reflection of ourselves.


Aristotle, The Basic Works of Aristotle, Richard McKeon (Editor). Modern Library Classics. September 11, 2001. 1. (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, p952) 2. (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, p956) 3. (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, p1060) 4. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, p1087)