Aristotle on Friendship Essay Sample

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Friendship is a bond in which many individuals make every effort to achieve, although the meaning of it is not known to them. Individuals surround themselves with other humans, their friends, in order to achieve a greater happiness. It has become part of human nature. Friendship has become such a part of human nature that it can be seen in examples such as a human’s hierarchy of needs created by Maslow1. Constantly individuals strive to broaden their circumference of their circle of friends, because they are being pressured towards making ‘perfect’ friendships through stories, media, family, and education. Aristotle wrote of the significance of friendship in books VIII and IX of the Nicomachean Ethics, which deal exclusively with friendship. In Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, he proclaims that there are two different categories of friendship; perfect and imperfect. He considers that the greatest friendship anybody can obtain is a perfect friendship. However before a person can discuss Aristotle’s perfect and imperfect friendships, they must first understand the meaning of philia. Philia, is a Greek word which translates to “friendship” which is an emotional connection amongst human beings.

This connection or bond provides the foundation for all forms of relations among people. In Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, he expresses friendship in terms of philia. This idea is completely different then the modern classification as it is more general in its explanation. Aristotle’s account of friendship has been challenged numerous times, as many individuals see no place for friendship or philia in ethics. While referring to Aristotle’s breakdown of friendship, friendship has a place and is appropriate in ethics, as individuals have a special moral obligation to the people with whom they share a relationship, as opposed to those of whom they do not. Aristotle recognizes three classes of friendship; the friendship for utility, friendship for pleasure, and finally the virtuous friendship. These classes of friendship are considered when discussing the imperfect and perfect friendships. This then leads to the definition of the imperfect friendship, friendship established completely on mutual utility and/or mutual pleasures, which in both circumstances are brief and quite simply dissolved. Aristotle describes this since the friendships “were not enduring; that is why the friendships also are transient”

The first friendship, friendship for utility, is believed to be the most insecure. “Those who exchange utility rather than pleasure in their erotic relations are friends to a lesser extent and less enduring friends”. The individuals who enter into these friendships love one another for the value obtained from each other, and not for friendship itself. It is a reciprocated arrangement made in order to trade utilities as each individual owns something that the other individual desires. An example of this is when an older gentleman gets into a relationship with the younger woman in the form of a ‘sugar daddy’. In this relationship the older gentleman is using the younger woman for his sexual desires, whereas the younger woman is using the older gentleman for his money. Both individuals in this case entered into the relationship with mutual knowledge of the utility each would receive. The second friendship, friendship for pleasure, this friendship is also usually mutual, and tends not to last for a long period of time. This friendship is created amongst two individuals that wish to achieve pleasure from one another. Aristotle writes “the lover takes pleasure in seeing his beloved, but the beloved takes pleasure in being courted by his lover”

For this friendship Aristotle uses young people as an example, as they live under the direction of their emotions, and sexual desires. In this friendship, both individuals do not really care about each other’s problems or feelings, but they enjoy each other’s company. An example of a friendship for pleasure is people who go to football games together, or a club together as they are friends for their own sake as the friendship brings pleasure. However this is the extent to their friendship, because the friends do not truly care for one another. Finally there is friendship for virtue which creates the perfect friendship. The virtuous friendship is the friendship in which both individuals admire the other’s ‘goodness’ and help each other to strive for goodness. This relationship tends to last a longer time, but can only occur among two people with the same virtues and both individuals have to be virtuous. “Clearly, however, only good people can be friends to each other because of the other person himself”.

Aristotle claims that individuals in a virtuous friendship are one, as he believes they view this friend as another self. The entire reason that Aristotle lays out all of these definitions is to prove that friendship is a necessity of a virtuous life, and that “without friends no one would choose to live”7, meaning that because friendship is such a large portion of an individual’s life, they have a moral obligation to these friends. On the other hand some individuals disagree with Aristotle’s stating that people have no more moral obligations to their friends than strangers on the street. They believe that the only true person you have an obligation to is yourself. If given the ethical dilemma of one of their friends dying and five strangers dying they would see how each loss affects them. They may choose to save the friend for a selfish reason like not wanting to have to find another friend. They could argue that saving them was not because they had a moral obligation to, but simply because it was in their best interest.

Aristotle however can fight this by stating that this friendship would then be based on utility. By allowing the friend to live over the strangers because you do not want to find someone new, it shows you are using this friend for their company. Although this relationship may not be a perfect friendship, the individual was obligated to save them as they were using them. Another argument may be that one does not need friends to reach the aim of human action: happiness. Individuals may dispute that they can be virtuous and live a virtuous life without a friend. For example, virtue can be achieved without the use of another person, as one can live on their own to work on themselves and make themselves a virtuous person. A virtuous being is somebody who does the distinguishing action of being human well8. These persons believe that they are doing the acts that a virtuous person would do, that they have a virtuous character, and that they have virtuous thoughts. These individuals may understand what it takes to be virtuous; they intend to do what it is they are doing, that they intend it for its own sake, and finally that they act with confidence and steadfastness. As none of these requirements state friendship, or even other individuals, many may argue that they are unnecessary in ethics.

Aristotle believes however, that the virtuous being requires friends for the uncomplicated reason that relationships are a large portion of human nature, and that having friendships appears to be one of the highest external goods. He also believes a virtuous person gains virtue of thought through teaching. In order for a person to be taught they need someone to teach them, therefore they need to form a relationship with another person. Although this relationship may not be a perfect friendship, it would be a friendship based on utility. Aristotle’s main argument to this is that no one would choose to live alone, as humans are social creatures whose nature is to live with others. Therefore the happy man needs friends. When two individuals decide to bear children special obligations are put on them. It is thought that since the parents generally choose to bring the child into the world, they have special obligations to them. When asking any parent if they would save their child’s life over a stranger’s, they would choose their child. This is because there is a sort of duty of the parent towards their child. There is also a special obligation for the child to take care of the parent.

Since the parent gave the child life, helped them to sustain life, and taught them to grow, the child than has a moral obligation to his or her parents. Aristotle writes “it would be thought that in the matter of food we should help our parents before all other, since we owe our own nourishment to them”9. Even a parent who chooses to give their child away does so because they feel morally obligated to give them the best life in which they can. No matter the culture or religion a person is from, they choose to put their family or friend above the whole, as these are the people in which they relate with and choose to keep close to them. In conclusion, individuals have special obligations to whom they have relationships with, due to these special obligations Aristotle’s account of friendship belongs in ethics. No matter the religion or culture a person is from they hold a special moral obligation to their family.

Although many individuals may deny it, they would choose to save the life a friend before they would a stranger, although in some situations this may seem ethically wrong. This can be reasoned to the fact that friendship brings us happiness, which is the end goal of humans. To seek friendships is part of human nature as we are all social beings. Aristotle states at one point that “without friends no one would choose to live”10, and in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs he puts friendship as a human necessity. Friendship is a necessity in human life, found in every story, movie, or textbook. It can be seen throughout history, in the present and will inevitably be seen in the future. Based on this fact, friendship has a rightful place within ethics. Individuals strive to achieve friendships, even without knowing the complete definition. In order to find true happiness a person must find true friendship.

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