Aristotle on Friendship

Aristotle begins by briefly acknowledging that friendship can only be truly enjoyed and realized between two people for there must be a shared appreciation for friendship to be present. (1) We can’t have friendship with “lifeless objects . . . for it is not mutual love, nor is there a wishing of good to the other.” (2) As well, friendship can only be truly experienced when there is mutual appreciation or “goodwill.”

To be friends, then, they must be mutually recognized as bearing goodwill and wishing well to each other . . .

There are therefore three kinds of friendship, equal in number to the things that are lovable; for with respect to each there is a mutual and recognized love, and those who love each other wish well to each other in that respect in which they love one another.

Aristotle, NE, VIII, 2-3, 1156a, 4-10

Aristotle goes on to propose three types of friendship, friendships of pleasure, utility, and virtue. (1) In friendships of pleasure, friends share common enjoyments. “So too with those who love for the sake of pleasure; it is not for their character that men love ready-witted people, but because they find them pleasant.” A simple example of this may be two friends enjoy watching the same sport together. Little else may be shared in common, but as long as this shared pleasure continues, their friendship endures. (2) In friendships of utility, friends find practical benefit from one another.
“Now 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. ” Such an example may be two coworkers enjoy a friendship as long as each of their abilities continue to benefit one another. (3) The final friendship surrounds virtue. Two friends both appreciate objective virtue and the virtue they find in one another. Aristotle considers this to be perfect friendship and the only enduring type of friendship. “[I]t is natural that such friendships should be infrequent; for such men are rare.”

Perfect friendship is the friendship of men who are good, and alike in virtue; for these wish well alike to each other qua good, and they are good in themselves.

Aristotle, NE, VIII, 3, 1156b, 5-10

On the other hand the friendship of young people seems to aim at pleasure; for they live under the guidance of emotion, and pursue above all what is pleasant to themselves and what is immediately before them; but with increasing age their pleasures become different. This is why they quickly become friends and quickly cease to be so; their friendship changes with the object that is found pleasant, and such pleasure alters

Aristotle, NE,VIII, 3, 1156b, 30-35

Aristotle unpacks these different layers of friendship in a wonderfully clear and timeless manner. I appreciated his timeless observations and clear explanations. I’ve highlighted a few more of my favorite quotes below.

a wish for friendship may arise quickly, but friendship does not.

VIII, 3, 1156b, 30

Neither old people nor sour people seem to make friends[15] easily; for there is little that is pleasant in them, and no one can spendhis days with one whose company is painful, or not pleasant, since nature seemsabove all to avoid the painful and to aim at the pleasant.

VIII, 5, 1157b, 14-15

this is why they look out for friends who are pleasant. Perhaps they should look out for friends who, being pleasant, are also good, and good for them too; for so they will have all the characteristics that friends should have.

People in positions of authority seem to have friends who fall into distinct classes; some people are useful to them and others are pleasant, but the same people are rarely both; for they seek neither those whose pleasantness is accompanied by virtue nor those whose utility is with a view to noble objects, but in their desire for pleasure they seek for ready-witted people, and their other friends they choose as being clever at doing what they are told, and these characteristics are rarely combined.

VIII, 6, 1158a, 25-30

Most people seem, owing to ambition, to wish to be loved rather than to love; which is why most men love flattery; for the flatterer is a friend in an inferior position, or pretends to be such and to love more than he is loved; and being loved seems to be akin to being honoured, and this is what most people aim at.

VIII, 8, 1159a, 14-15

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s