You are on page 1of 3

Dominik Jarczewski o.p.


Aristotle treats the subject of friendship in Book VIII of his Nicomachean Ethics. In this essay I would like to focus on the three kinds of friendship as presented by the Stagirite. To perform it, its worth considering first what friendship, according to Aristotle, actually is. Aristotle says that friendship is a kind of love that should be mutual and consist of wishing good to the other1. Because of that condition, we should exclude the love of lifeless objects since one wishes good for them only for his own sake and this feeling cannot be mutual2. Moreover nonreciprocal love, i.e. one-side goodwill, shouldnt be called friendship. Later on Aristotle adds the third condition. Its not sufficient to bear mutual goodwill to each other, because we can think of two people who know each other (personally or not) but dont know that their feelings are reciprocated. So the knowledge of ones love is also a necessary element of the friendship. To conclude, we can give the definition of friendship, quoting Aristotle: To be friends, then, they must be mutually recognized as bearing goodwill and wishing well to each other for one of the aforesaid reasons3. What are these reasons? That, in fact, will be the main topic of my essay. Nonetheless, Id like to underline once more the importance of aforesaid three conditions to the proper understanding of Aristotelian concept of friendship. The following three kinds of friendship must be considered as fulfilling all these conditions. A great confusion may arise from mixing these kinds of friendship with another kinds of love. Aristotle distinguishes three kinds of friendship in regard to which of three types of lovable things there is a mutual and recognized love4. These three types of lovable things are: useful things, pleasures and things lovable in themselves5. The Stagirite points out that the first two kinds of friendship (i.e. for the sake of utility and for the sake of pleasure) are only incidental. One doesnt love another in so far hes the one whom he loves, but because of

Cf. ARISTOTLE, Nicomachean Ethics, Book VIII, 2 [further quoted as: NE VIII, 2]. Available in the Internet: 2 For example, an owner of a house cares about the house, but he does it not because of any intrinsic and unqualified value or even dignity of his house, but because he wants it to fulfill well its functions as a living place and defense from cold, bad weather conditions and his enemies. This is needed for him as a good necessary to survive and maybe as well as a trade good to be exchanged one day. 3 NE VIII, 2. 4 Cf. NE VIII, 3. 5 They correspond with the three objects of choice in Book II: the noble, the advantageous and the pleasant NE II, 3.

a pleasure or a good to which their love leads. But since that good or pleasure isnt essentially linked with beloved, these friendships may be easily dissolved. As far as man is unique in its essence, he is replaceable as a bearer of a possibility to gain an extrinsic good or achieve the state of a pleasure. If the one party is no longer pleasant or useful the other ceases to love him6. Moreover, a useful good depends on its end. As soon as its achieved, the useful good becomes useless. Aristotle remarks that utilitarian friendship exists mainly between old people and those who pursue utility7. What characterizes them is that they neither spend a lot of time with each other nor (though not always) find each other pleasant. The only purpose of their friendship have to be linked with some good which they expect to achieve due to their relation. Theyre lovers not of each other but of profit8. An example of this type is the friendship of host and guest. On the other hand, young people as guided by emotion tend to choose what is pleasant for them, so they form hedonistic friendship9. Because they are impatient and want to achieve their goals immediately and they are, moreover, instable in their pursuits, their friendship is yet more ephemeral than utilitarian one. However, as their love is very passionate and the pleasure proceeds from their community, they wish to spend together as much time as possible. Although utilitarian love may last longer 10, hedonistic one is more intensive and draw its pleasure from togetherness. The perfect friendship may be held only between good men, who must be alike in virtue. If it is like so, their nature is good, so: if they love each other for their sake, they love their nature, which is affiliated to the goodness. As goodness is an enduring thing, this kind of friendship should also last long. They treat one another as a good without qualification. But being good without qualification include in itself all the classes of good, set by any qualification. Moreover, the good is always useful11. So they are useful for each other12. Theyre also pleasant to each of them for theyre alike and, being good, they find pleasure in the same actions. Aristotle thinks that ones goodness determines all the other qualities. So, if we have two good men, i.e. alike in virtue, they should be alike in other respects. The second premise here seems to be that people who are alike find pleasure in coexistence.
NE VIII, 3. Cf. Ibidem. 8 NE VIII, 4. 9 Cf. NE VIII, 3. 10 In fact, as Aristotle maintains, hedonistic friends fall in and out of love often within a single day. 11 Cf. NE, VIII, 4. 12 Cf. NE VIII, 3.
7 6

Aristotle points out that such a perfect friendship, as expected, is very rare. To form it, time and familiarity are required. The philosopher reminds the condition of the recognition of ones friendship. A friend should be found lovable and trusted. And that requires time. For a wish for friendship may arise quickly, but friendship does not13. Aristotle compares the perfect friendship with two inferior kinds of it, particularly in regard to its duration. He aims to show which of its features warrants the endurance. First, he notices that what is common in these three types of friendship is the getting the same thing from the same source from each other14. Then, he points out that, for the sake of utility or pleasure, its indifferent whether men are good or bad. But only a couple of good15 can form a friendship for their own sake. The bad couldnt found delight in each other but for some advantage coming of their relation16. However, the good man loves the goodness and he notices the goodness of another good man and make it the object of his love. Because, due to her virtue, the goodness has become inseparately linked with the nature of beloved, as loving goodness he must love her as well. Moreover, only that kind of friendship is resistant to slander17. Thats because the true friendship requires trust. Its not hasty in building the relationship, so it isnt hasty in breaking it. We may add that, as good and virtuous men ,they should recognize the unsurpassibility of an oath and the duty of faithfulness. The Stagirite remarks that the term friendship is ambiguous. In the proper meaning, it should be understood as the true friendship, i.e. the friendship between two good men for their own sake. Aristotle specifies that these are friends in virtue of their goodness18. Another kinds of friendship should be recognized in analogy to the true friendship. As far as the motive of the proper friendship is good, the motives of utilitarian and hedonistic friendship can be understood as qualified goods. For, only what one consider to be good for himself may be the object of love. These qualified goods are only incidentally connected with ones friend. And because of that Aristotle distinguishes the true friendship (i.e. without qualification) and incidental friendship (only in resemblance to that first one).
13 14

Ibidem. Aristotle evokes here the unsymmetrical relation between a lover and beloved. They both get a pleasure, however from two different sources: the first in seeing his beloved and the second in receiving attention from her lover. If their love doesnt change its object from beauty of ones appearance to the beauty of his character, their friendship shall quickly pass as they grow older. NE VIII, 4. 15 Neither any couple of bad, nor any couple of good and bad, even nor couple of neither good nor bad with anyone, would ever create the third kind of friendship. NE VIII, 4. 16 Cf. NE VIII, 4. 17 Cf. Ibidem. 18 Cf. Ibidem.