Friendship and Aristotle
Published 15 Mar 2017
Out of the ten books of Nicomachean Ethics, only books eight and nine are on the subject of friendship. In natural human nature, people do not want to be lonely. They have an urge to socialize and affiliate, as mankind is a social and political animal. In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle examines happiness, which he defines as the good towards which every human action is directed. Friendship brings people the most happiness as people need love to survive. According to Aristotle, an important ingredient of happiness is friendship. Without doubt, any individual will feel lonely without friends. In fact, human beings and even other creatures have a natural urge to affiliate. Many animal species affiliate, collecting in groups, flocks, or schools to migrate or search for food. Living creatures depend on one another for survival whether it be physical needs or emotional needs. Without emotional support, no matter how much money or success a person gains, he/she will not be happy.
Each individual needs to have family and/or friends to share some of his/her wealth and success with. For instance, if a student gets an “A” on a test, but cannot show it to the busy parents, the student will feel unhappy. This is due to the fact that people have a need to show off their achievements that they have worked very hard for, to the people that they care about. Therefore, without friends whatever success or material goods gained will lose their meaning. “For without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods.” (Nicomachean Ethics-Book VIII). For Aristotle, ethics is “the art of living well.” One can only live well by having friends, since friendship provides the ideal conditions for the pursuit of success in life. For example, friends can provide motivation, encouragement, good suggestions and recommendations, and possibly even financial support. Most often people seek the company of their friends for a sense of security when they are anxious or frightened. “And in poverty and in other misfortunes men think friends are the only refuge.” (Nicomachean Ethics-Book VIII)
This shows that friends can make people happy by providing help and security. One can only live well if one is happy. Aristotle once stated that, for living is the soul’s function; and to live well is to be happy. Since friends make people happy, human friendship is necessary for people to live well. Self-love is not as bad as people believe it to be. In fact, having love for oneself does not necessarily mean that one is a selfish person.. A person must love him/herself first before he/she can love another person. For the most part, Aristotle sees friendship as in some way equivalent to self-love, or friendship with oneself. On the other hand, it can be argued that another person is needed in addition to an individual in order to have a friendship. In any case, it seems strange that a person can have an attraction to him/herself.
As Aristotle clearly differentiates between good and bad forms of self-love, he indicates that the self-love he talks about is not common greed or selfishness. Here, he argues that true self-love comes from a life directed by reason and a desire for what is good rather than feelings and what is only beneficial. One’s friends are mirror images of oneself, and so in a true friendship one wishes the good for the other and helps him/her to achieve a character of virtue. “For those who are friends on the ground of virtue are anxious to do well by each other.” (Nicomachean Ethics-Book VIII). It is believed that one will treat a close friend as well as he/she treats him/herself or even better in some cases. For instance, when one loves another person, he/she will feel happy when the person he/she loves is happy and feel sad when that person is sad. This is for the reason that when one puts much love into another person, one will in a way see that person as a part of him/herself. Love for neighbor is actually love for the person as an image of God. Of course a friend is considered to be a neighbor as well. In this sense, loving a friend is equal to loving God.
There are two types of equality. In justice equality is according to merit. In contrast, in friendship it is according to quantity. People tend to feel more comfortable with others that are more alike to them. Friendship depends more on giving love than on receiving love. Thus, friendship is a large investment. It is love that takes away the differences between friends. Friends that have a great deal of love for one another will not care about how many differences there are between them. Nevertheless, love allows unequals to be friends.
In true friendships, what unequal friends owe to one another is not material goods or the value of money. However, good friends are duty bound to care for, help and be there for one another. In good friendships there may still be a few expectations, but in totally perfect friendships there are no expectations at all. Perfect friends love one another unconditionally. In contrast, friendships where things are given with an expectation of return are not true friendships. These relationships are formed out of selfishness with the ingredient of love is missing. In such friendships, both parties must decide what is fair in order to maintain good relations. Unfortunately, some friendships that start off to be true and full of love can breakdown. Conflicts often arise in friendship because someone does not get what he/she wants out of the relationship. Furthermore, people tend to fight when one or more persons believe that what they are receiving is not equal to the worth of what they give.
Generally people need friends to live a good life and be happy. Yet, there are people who chose to be alone for various reasons and even enjoy it. Nevertheless, the decision of whether to have friends or not is a choice of the individual. Indeed having friends appear to be a basic need for life. In fact, such relationships are a necessity of human nature as people have a natural urge to communicate. Although people who have the best things in the world seem to be self-sufficient, they still have a need for friends. This is due to the fact that one can only live well by having friends, as friendship provides the ideal conditions for the pursuit of success in life. Consequently, friends may provide such things as motivation, encouragement, opinion, suggestions, money, food, shelter, etc. However, the most important thing of all is that they give emotional support, which is essential for human beings to receive happiness. Friendship is needed to have happiness and happiness is needed to live a good life. A true friend helps the other to achieve a character of virtue and only wish for the best for him/her. Moreover, one must fulfill his/her own needs in order to be happy, but not to a selfish degree. Furthermore, proper self-love is different from selfishness. In conclusion, friendship is equal to self-love because in true friendships, friends will love one another unconditionally as they love their own self.
- Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle , Joe Sachs (Translator) , Joe Sachs: Focus Publishing/R. Pullins Company, Incorporated: 2000: 143-180