“Friends and I mean real friends – reserve nothing; the property of one belongs to the other.” – Euripides, Andromache ( 427 B.C.)
Last time we saw that Plato toiled over metaphysical or logical arguments on the possibility of and prerequisites for friendship; nearly to the point of skepticism. Today we will see how Aristotle takes us through a more worldly, yet reasoned ethical analysis of friendship, the true form of which he admits is rare, but which he never questions. In fact Aristotle considers friendship necessary and natural. For the wealthy, friends are for sharing and preserving one’s wealth; for the poor, friends are for help or a singular refuge. For the young, friends help prevent errors in conduct; while for the old, they aid one’s feebleness; and for those in their prime of life, friends prompt them to noble actions. He further argues that we know friendship is indispensable because “without friends no one would choose to live, even though possessed of every other good.”1
Aristotle determines that there are three types of friendship: ones based on utility, ones based on pleasure, and those which are prefect. Friendships based on utility are those where there is a tangible benefit from the relationship, for example a business associate. Such friendships are highly contingent as they end when the usefulness of the relationship ends (for example on retirement) or in cases where a more useful individual or more advantageous relationship presents itself. Similarly, relationships based on pure pleasure tend to be as ephemeral and superficial as the associated pleasure underlying the friendship.
For me these first two forms of “friendship” are more accurately categorized as acquaintances which is the subject of the next section. For our current purposes, friendship or the phrase ‘true friends’ refers to what Aristotle calls ‘perfect friendship’ or teleia philia. He begins his discussion of its origin by handily dispensing with one of Plato’s sticking points – noting “some likeness is involved.”2 But the vital likeness is goodness or virtue; shared values and principles. Perfect friendship is founded on enduring reciprocal good will, and the singular desire to benefit each other. The friend is a ‘second self,’ or ‘another I,’ or in Latin alter ego. In fact, perfect friendship is a relationship absent of the need for justice as it is based on unselfish benevolence with no expectation of reciprocation. These friendships last as long as goodness lasts thus for a lifetime.
(continued next post)
1Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics in On Man in the Universe. Walter J. Black, Inc., Roslyn, N.Y. for The Classics Club, 1943. Page 194.