Aristotle on friendship


A QUALITY rendered as 'friendship'--though the Greek and English terms are not identical in content--now comes under examination. It is a relation to some other person or persons without which life is hardly worth living. Some account for it on the principle of 'like to like,' others on the opposite theory. Now, loveableness comes of goodness, or pleasantness, or usefulness. Love is not bestowed on the inanimate, and it must be mutual; it is to be distinguished from goodwill or devotion, which need not be reciprocated.

Genuine friendship must be based on goodness; what rests on pleasantness (as with the young), or on utility (as with the old), is only to be recognized conventionally as friendship. In perfection it cannot subsist without perfect mutual knowledge, and only between the good; hence it is not possible for anyone to have many real friends. Of the conventional forms, that which is born of intellectual sympathy is more enduring than what springs from sexual attraction; while what comes of utility is quite accidental. The former may develop into genuine friendship if there be virtue in both parties. Companionship is a necessary condition, in any case.

Variants of friendship, however, may subsist between unequals, as between parents and children, princes and subjects, men and women, where there is a difference in the character of the affection of the two parties. A certain degree of inequality--though we cannot lay down the limitation--makes 'friendship' a misnomer. One would not desire the actual apotheosis of a friend, because that would take him out of reach; it would end friendship. Friendship lies rather in the active loving than in being loved, though most people are more anxious to be loved than to love.

Every form of social community--typified in the State--involves relationships into which friendship enters. The relationships in the family correspond to those in States; monarch to subjects as father to children, tyrant to subjects as master to slaves; autocratic rule to that of the husband, oligarchic rule to that of the wife; what we call timocracy to the fraternal relation, and democracy to the entirely unregulated household. In some kinds of association, friendship takes the form of esprit de corps. Quarrels arise most readily in those friendships between equals which are based upon interest, and in friendships between unequals.

Friendship is a kind of exchange--equal between equals, and proportional between unequals; a repayment. This suggests various questions as to priority of claim--e.g. between paying your father's ransom and repaying a loan, both being in a sort the repayment of a debt. No fixed law can be laid down--i.e. it cannot be said that one obligation at all times and in all circumstances over-rides all others.

The dissolution of friendship is warranted when one party has become depraved, since he has changed from being the person who was the object of friendship. But he should not be given up while there is hope of restoring his character.

Friendship is not to be identified with goodwill, though the latter is a condition precedent; we may feel goodwill, but not friendship, towards a person we have never seen or spoken to. Unanimity of feeling--not as to facts, but as to ends and means--is a sort of equivalent to friendship in the body politic. The reason why conferring a benefit creates more affection than receiving it seems to be that the benefactor feels himself the maker of the other; we all incline to love what we produced--as parents their children, or the artist his own creations.

The good man is self-sufficing, but friends are desirable, if not actually necessary to him, as giving scope for the exercise of beneficent activities, not as conferring benefits upon him. Besides, man's highest activities must be exercised not in isolation, but as a member of society, and such life lacks completeness if without friends. Finally, friendship attains its completest realization where comradeship is complete; that is to say, in a common life.

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