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Aristotle on Friendship

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Friendship is undoubtedly one of the most important elements in the books of Aristotle's ethical principles

Aristotle takes the idea of friendship to a serious degree. He categorizes them into three groups or types of friendships. This report will attempt to define each type of friendship as well as identify the role of friendship in a society. Aristotle considers friendship to be a necessity to live. He claims that no individual would chose to live without friends even if the individual had all of the other good things in life. He also describes friendship as a virtue and as just.

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In book VIII of Aristotle’s The Nicomachean Ethics (1999; 1156a6 – 1156a30), the notion of ‘The Three Kinds of Friendship’ (Philia) is expressed. Holding that there are three basic kinds or species of friendship that bind us together expressing that in respect to each there exists a mutual and recognised love. Utility, pleasure, virtue and the good can attract and bind us together in an association of friendship, essentially we become friends with certain individuals because they are either: useful to us, provide us with pleasure, or they attain to the principles of virtue and the good

In pursuing friendship by way of our actions we can have three goals in mind. The ‘three objects of love’ that which we strive to achieve being: utility, pleasure and the good. Friendships of utility and pleasure pertain to self-indulgent and self-centred natures and are therefore only friendships in a truncated effect, they are prone to dissolution due the changeable nature of our wants and desires effecting what we find useful or pleasurable. Aristotle states that in such friendships love is only incidental with one not precisely loving the other at all but only his own good. Hence these relationships are seen to be incomplete or imperfect. To base a friendship on utility is not to love the other in their own right but to gain some good from them, in relation to one or both the parties involved. Aristotle relates this kind of friendship to that of a commercial transaction between two parties or a relation of two old men who provide each other with mutual support in their twilight years.

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In Book IX of the Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle continues his discussion of the attributes of friendship

Where he discussed the kinds and nature of friendship in the earlier book; however, in this book he deals with the moral and social obligations of friendship, in keeping with the ethical concerns of the book. Instead of dealing with the attractions and qualities that make the association with another person “good, pleasant or useful,” he discusses the ways in which an already established friendship make certain requirements of people, and distinguishes the kinds of friendship which no longer require the performance of these duties. Aristotle begins with the question of “How to measure what friends owe to one another.” He continues to make the distinction between good, pleasant and useful in friendship, of course. He points out that an unequal friendship based on different motives (combinations of the above three desires), can be dissolved when one party ceases to get any satisfaction out of the relationship. The example he gives is of two lovers, one of whom no longer feels any pleasure in the other. Aristotle says that such friendships are doomed because they rely not on what the other person is, but on what they have to offer. He repeats his belief that only a friendship based on an appreciation of the good character of each party can outlast mere pleasure or usefulness:...when friendship is based on character, it does last, as we have stated, because it is friendship for its own sake, (in which each partner is loved for what he is.) (Aristotle, The Nichomachean Ethics, p. 245-6)

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Altogether, the decision of whether to have friends or not is a choice of the individual

Indeed having friends appear to be a basic need for life. In fact, such relationships are a necessity of human nature as people have a natural urge to communicate. Although people who have the best things in the world seem to be self-sufficient, they still have a need for friends. This is due to the fact that one can only live well by having friends, as friendship provides the ideal conditions for the pursuit of success in life. Consequently, friends may provide such things as motivation, encouragement, opinion, suggestions, money, food, shelter, etc. However, the most important thing of all is that they give emotional support, which is essential for human beings to receive happiness. Friendship is needed to have happiness and happiness is needed to live a good life.

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Pakaluk, Michael (2005). Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics: An Introduction. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 23.

John M. Cooper, "The Magna Moralia and Aristotle's Moral Philosophy," in The American Journal of Philology 94.4 (Winter, 1973): pp. 327–49

Kraut, Richard, "Aristotle's Ethics", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

Polansky, Ronald (2014). The Cambridge Companion to Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 114.

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