Aristotle shared his opinions on a variety of subjects throughout his life, including biology, physics, logic, chemistry, and ethics. In one of his most well-known philosophical works, Nicomachean Ethics, he delved deeply into the virtue of friendship. He divided friendship into three categories in his book: friendship for usefulness, friendship for fun, and friendship for the good, virtuous friendship (3. 8. 1156a, 138). According to Aristotle, humanity should value virtuous friendship above all other types of friendship because it is the true expression of honor and justice. This paper aims to prove Aristotle’s claim that the best type of friendship humanity can accept is virtuous friendship. Virtuous friendship is among the most glorious attainments a person can achieve in a lifetime.
In his quest to find virtue and moral character of humanity, Aristotle spent his time to closely examine the various aspects of friendship and the impression that each type of friendship creates from the philosophical perspective (8. 11. 1161a, 149-150). He defines self-love of utility and pleasure as selfishness and is short-lived because the intent behind such friendships is personal gains. The implication is that the friendship of utility and pleasure will survive as long as the inherent benefits exist and will dissolve as soon as such benefits cease.
The friendship of utility is shallow in the sense that it is based on what one of the parties to the relationship brings to the table, as in trade. Aristotle likens friendship of utility to that of the old people because during old age, people tend to pursue things not because they are pleasant but because they are beneficial (8. 3. 1156b, 139-140). However, even young people pursue such relationships merely because of the material benefits involved. Such a kind of friendship is always on a delicate balance because it is disrupted the moment there are lapses in the flow of benefits. For instance, consider a barber who does shaving to his clients for some time and their relationship ends as soon as another barber opens another shaving point and offers better services at affordable prices than the old one. Such an example is a typical illustration of how a friendship of utility often works.
The friendship of pleasure according to Aristotle is attractive to the young people whose lives seem to be dominated by pleasure and passions (8. 13. 1162b, 153-154). The feelings of passion between people who are in love with one another and those of various group affiliations are a classic example of friendship of pleasure. Aristotle differentiates the friendship of pleasure from that of utility using their durations. While friendship of utility seeks long-term benefits from such a relationship, friendship of pleasure seeks to benefit from what is currently pleasant, not keen on long-term benefits. It is therefore, apparent that friendships of utility and pleasure have a common feature of an abrupt ending hence unstable.
Aristotle argues that it only the virtuous friendship that is the highest friendship form. A virtuous friendship is one in which every person acts for the well-being of one another regardless of pleasure and utility. However, he apparently puts its existence between two people who are good and have same virtue, the good of friendship (8. 8. 1159b, 145-146). He recognizes that such a friendship is difficult to attain because it is hard to find two virtuous people coming together in a relationship. Building a virtuous friendship is a herculean task, though once built; it lasts for long because it can only exist amongst people whose target is attaining the good for one another. Aristotle argues that virtuous friendship supersedes justice and the only glue that binds cities of the world (8. 1. 1155a, 136). He further argues that friendship is a basic need for all people and none can feel the fulfilment without it. The argument of Aristotle reaffirms the statement that true friendship only exists when nothing is expected in return. The statement implies that virtuous friendship is the only form of true friendship because the focus of such relationships is to see the other person attain life goals in good faith (8. 13. 1162b, 152-153). Welfare of the other person in a relationship is the primary focus in virtuous friendship.
There are three forms of friendships, utility, pleasure, and that of the good, virtuous friendship. The friendships of utility and pleasure share certain common aspects especially focus on benefits and lasting over a shorter period compared to the virtuous friendship. However, the concept of true friendship is evident in virtuous friendship where one loves for the sake of another person and they all wish good things for each other (8. 14. 1163a, 153-154). Notably, Aristotle did not condemn other types of friendships as bad. Discovering someones character takes such a long time hence the rare nature of true friendship. It is important to reiterate that Aristotle did not condemn the two imperfect forms of friendship as bad and instead recognized the aspect that attaining virtuous friendship is a hard task (8. 14. 1163b, 155). He argued that virtuous friendship requires the interaction of two good persons whose main point of focus is the wellbeing of another regardless of whether or not there is utility or pleasure.
Aristotle & Reeve, C. D. C. (2014). Nicomachean ethics.