Aristotle On Three Kinds Of Friendships

Posted by Navin Amarasuriya on Mar 16, 2019
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Read this on another website -- and thought is quite relevant to many things ServiceSpace stands for ...


In Book VIII of “The Nichomachean Ethics”, Aristotle makes reference to three kinds of friendship.

1) The first is friendship based on utility, where both people derive some benefit from each other.

Aristotle describes a friendship of utility as shallow, “easily dissolved” or for the old. He views them as such because this type of friendship is easily broken and based on something that is brought to the relationship by the other person. Aristotle uses the example of trade and argues that friendships of utility are often between opposite people, in order to maximize this trade

2) The second is friendship based on pleasure, where both people are drawn to the other’s wit, good looks, or other pleasant qualities. Aristotle says that riendship of pleasure is normally built between the young as passions and pleasures are great influences in their lives. This type of relationship is characterized by such feelings as passion between lovers, or the feeling of belonging among a likeminded group of friends. It differs from the friendship of utility in that those who seek utility friendships are looking for a business deal or a long term benefit, whereas the friendship of pleasure Aristotle describes is where one seeks something which is pleasant to them presently.

The first two kinds of friendship are only accidental, because in these cases friends are motivated by their own utility and pleasure, not by anything essential to the nature of the friend. Both of these kinds of friendship are short-lived because one’s needs and pleasures are apt to change over time.

3) The third is friendship based on virtue, where both people admire the other’s goodness and help one another strive for goodness.

Friendships of the good are ones where both friends enjoy each other’s characters. Aristotle calls it a “…complete sort of friendship between people who are good and alike in virtue…” This is the highest level of Philia,(φιλία), often translated “brotherly love”, and one of the highest forms of Love in Aristotle´s “Nichomachean Ethics”.

Those involved in friendship of the good must be able to value loving over being loved and as such, their relationship will be based more around loving the other person and wanting what is good for them. Goodness is an enduring quality, so friendships based on goodness tend to be long lasting.

This friendship encompasses the other two, as good friends are useful to one another and please one another. Such friendship is rare and takes time to develop, but it is the best.

As well, Aristotle believes that it is through friendship that cities are held together. Those with the moral virtue to enter virtuous relationships are a major part of this but friendships of utility and pleasure are also needed as friendships of virtue are severely limited in number It is the friendships of utility and pleasure that keep the city together. however; it takes the character of those in the virtuous friendship for a solid community to exist.

Aristotle states in Book VIII, Chapter 1: “Between friends there is no need for justice, but people who are just still need the quality of friendship; and indeed friendliness is considered to be justice in the fullest sense. It is not only a necessary thing but a splendid one”. Aristotle bases his conception of justice on a conception of fair exchange, and does the same for friendship. Friendships are balanced by the fact that each friend gives as much as receives. Hence, justice and friendship are closely connected.

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Comments (3)

  • Birju Pandya wrote ...

    Thank you for offering this!

  • Amanda weitman wrote ...

    Thank you. This is so helpful.

  • Dimple Parmar wrote ...

    Thank you for sharing.