Tuesday, June 5, 2012

friend ship

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We are social creatures. We surround ourselves with other human beings, our friends. It is in our nature. We are constantly trying to broaden the circumference of our circle of friends. Aristotle understood the importance of friendship, books VIII and IX of the Nicomachean Ethics deal solely with this topic. A modern day definition of a friend can be defined as “one joined to another in intimacy and mutual benevolence independently of sexual or family love”. (Oxford English Dictionary). Aristotle’s view on friendship is much broader than this. His arguments are certainly not flawless. In this essay I will outline what Aristotle said about friendship in the Nichomachaen Ethics and highlight possible flaws in his arguments. Friendship for Aristotle (and Greeks in general), as mentioned above, is much broader than the definition given in the O.E.D. Aristotle regards less intimate bonds as friendships as well as the intimate relationship in the modern definition. Relationships between husband and wife, father and son, neighbors, business partners, team members, members of a political party, teacher and student, etc would all be viewed as friendships in Aristotle’s eyes (Russell McNeil). However he does distinguish between different types of friendship. Friendships for Aristotle can be divided into three main categories. 1. Friendships of Utility . Friendships of Pleasure . Friendships of Virtue. 1. Friendships of Utility Friendships of utility are based on people who are useful to each other. This is the sole reason behind them being friends. A good example of a friendship of utility might be the relationship between a car salesman and a car buyer (John L. Fjellstad). The car salesman needs the buyer because he has to make a living and the buyer needs the salesman because he needs a car. Both have something the other wants. These friendships do not last very long as once the buyer is no longer useful to the salesman, or visa versa, the connection is severed and the friendship ceases to be. Friendships of utility are common among old people, for in old age people pursue the useful rather than the pleasant. . Friendships of Pleasure Friendships of pleasure are based on the amount of pleasure the people get from being in the relationship. People who go to football matches together, or who go to the pub together might be in this type of relationship. They are friends for their own sake, because the friendship brings them pleasure and enjoyment, not for their friend’s sake. Friendships of pleasure are common among young people. Young people quickly become friends and quickly cease to be friends because what pleasures them changes constantly. . Friendships of Virtue Friendships of virtue, unlike friendships of utility and pleasure, which can include a circle of friends, are strictly one on one relationships. These types of friendships can only occur between two people of the same virtues and both persons have to be virtuous. One can only become virtuous through wisdom and age. Therefore friendships of virtue are not found among young people. It is a relationship of mutual respect and love. The persons in this type of relationship are not in it because they gain something from the relationship, they are not friends because they find each other useful or bring each other pleasure, but because they see virtues in each other that they see in themselves. They wish well for their friends for their friend’s sake. It is not surprising that such relationships are rare according to Aristotle. Aristotle says that a friend or virtue is another oneself, they are soulmates. A friend or virtue is a key part to self-sufficiency. Virtuous friends spend time with each other and make the same choices as each other. Friend A’s happiness contributes to friend B’s happiness and visa versa. The friend, in the Aristotelian scheme, becomes an extension of yourself. It can be argued that Aristotle is wrong when he distinguishes between friendships of utility or pleasure and friendships of virtue. Are we as human beings capable of doing a completely unselfish act? Can we truthfully say that we are friends with someone not for our own sake but for the sake of the friends? Personally I disagree with Aristotle on this. Take the example of Mr Jones giving Mr Smith a gift, let’s say a CD. Is he giving Ms Smith this gift because he knows Mr Smith will like it or because Mr Smith will think better of Mr Jones, or because he hopes that Mr Smith will get him a nice gift sometime? There can be any number of reasons why Mr Jones would give Mr Smith a gift but in my opinion the most feasible reasons would be ones where Mr Jones expects to get some form of repayment, even if that is only Mr Smith liking Mr Jones as a person more. No act is completely selfless, take an old lady about to cross a busy road, would you help her because she needs help or because you would feel a great deal of self-satisfaction by helping her. In my opinion, even if only a small part of the reason why you would help her, self-satisfaction would play a part in you’re reasoning to help her. We are inherently selfish beings. There is always a degree of self-interest. Therefore Aristotle’s definition of friendship of virtue is wrong, in my opinion, or at least too exclusive. Kant also has problems with Aristotle’s definition of friendship. Kant believed that an act could only have moral value if and only if you were not the primary beneficiary of the act. According to Kant with Aristotle’s theory of friendship it seems the friendship can not be a moral goal. A friendship is “morally neutral”. It does not say anything about your moral character. Of course Aristotle would disagree he would say having a friend of virtue is a goal that every moral person should strive for (John L. Fjellstad). Kant believes that people don’t seek friendship for friendship’s sake but to satisfy needs. Kant sees true friendship as two people taking care of the other’s needs. If I take care of my friend’s needs he will take care of my needs. Kant believes that a truly virtuous man is friends with everyone and should not limit himself to a select few friends, as this would be being exclusive. He should love everyone equally. However friendships by definition are exclusive, and as a result one is forced to play favoritism. According to Kant friendships are the have of people of lesser virtues blocking out the world. Aristotle would disagree though, he would say friendships are the way into the world. Kant has a somewhat negative view of friendship whereas Aristotle thinks friendship is good and therefor sought by everyone. Aristotle’s basic idea of dividing friendship into sections, utility, pleasure and virtue, is good but it can be said that his ideals are too high. Can he be right in saying that only virtuous people can have true friendships? The rest of us with lesser virtues are left with friendships of utility and friendships of pleasure, as only a select few can be truly virtuous. Many would be offended by this and many would believe that although they may not have friendships of virtue as Aristotle meant it they are not inferior and are true friendships all the same (John L. Fjellstad). It would be better if Aristotle made it clear that it is possible for everyone to experience true friendship and not limited it to ‘virtuous’ people. If virtue is attained by age and wisdom does that not mean that everyone is potentially virtuous and therefore everyone can potentially be in a virtuous friendship. Personally I think there are many flaws in Aristotle’s views on friendship. The main ones being that he is too elitist, too exclusive when it comes too defining true friendship and too inclusive when it comes to friendships of utility, e.g. I don’t see the coalman as being my friend even though by Aristotle’s definition of friendship of utility we are friends. Aristotle does however make many good arguments, and does a good job with dividing up friendship into categories. It allows us to look at friendship in a more structured way and lets us evaluate different friendships in our life. In this essay I have outlined some of Aristotle’s views on friendship as he discussed in the Nichomachaen Ethics, books VIII and XI. I have also given my own arguments on why I do not agree with certain arguments made by Aristotle and the arguments of Kant, also in opposition of Aristotle, as well as Aristotle’s counter arguments.


Aristotle; Nicomachean Ethics; ed. by Richard McKeon; Book VIII-IX Clancey, R, Friendship According to Aristotle, 7th Nov 001 [date accessed] Fjellstad, John L, Aristotle’s Account of True Friendship, 7th November 001 [date accessed]. Ross, W.D, Exerpts From Aristotle’s Ethics, 7th Nov 001 [date accessed] Russell, J.S., Aristotle on Friendship, 7th Nov 001 [date accessed] Russell McNeil, Aristotle on Friendship, 7th November 001 [date accessed]. http//www.mala.bc.ca/~mcneil/lec1c.htm

Word Count 144

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