Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Aristotle on Friendship

Aristotle defines friendship roughly as "loving others for their own sake" in Nicomachean Ethics VIII. He adds that reciprocity is necessary, that is, each person must love the other or wish the other well. Friendship is mutual love; you can only be a friend with a friend. Therefore, one can't be friends with inanimate objects, which can't return our love (unless this is Toy Story). Similarly, one person wishing another person well is not friendship but a display of good will.

According to Aristotle, there are three types of friendship, based on utility, pleasure, and virtue. In a friendship of utility, each person loves the other for the sake of some good received from the other. Friendships of pleasure involve loving others for something pleasant that they give. By contrast, friendships of virtue turn on a love for each other's character.

Not surprisingly, the perfect friendship for Aristotle is one based on virtue. Virtuous people are a pleasure to be around, love the good, and therefore naturally seek the companionship of other virtuous people. The stability of character of the virtuous person ensures that a friendship of virtue will last long, if not permanently. In a sense, both friends are of a common mind or project, which is the willing of the good for the other. Friendships of utility and pleasure are more fickle, more easily dissolved; a person loved for some good or pleasure provided might stop offering that benefit. In those friendships, a person only loves another to the extent that they can profit or take advantage; they will their own good but not that of the other.

For the Catholic, according to Aquinas, a higher view of friendship is possible, which we'll see in a future post.

In the next post, I'll look at Lauren Faust's view of friendship as I review the first three episodes of MLP: FiM. In addition, sometime in the future, I'll examine other Aristotelian virtues with the help of the "Mane Six."

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