In book VIII of his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle discusses friendship.
Friendship, Aristotle writes, is ‘one of the most indispensable requirements of life.’ We would not, he goes on to say, choose to live a life without friendship, even if we had everything else that was good. Friendship, then, is for Aristotle, one of the greatest, if not the greatest, resources for mankind.
Aristotle defines friendship and divides it into three separate groups: friendship of utility, friendship of pleasure, and friendship of virtue.
Friendship of utility is defined as a friendship in which the two people are involved in the friendship due to the benefits they receive from it. Friendship of pleasure is defined as a friendship in which the two people are friends because of the pleasure one accrues for oneself. Aristotle would say that these two friendships are not ideal friendships, and that they seem to be fundamentally selfish.
Friendship of virtue, however, which is for Aristotle the ‘perfect form of friendship’, is ‘that between the good, and those who resemble each other in virtue.’ This kind of friendship, in contrast to the other two, lasts longer because it is not selfish, but because the people ‘wish the good of their friends for their friends’ sake.’
There is so much that could be said about this subject, but there are perhaps some key things to take from a book worth reading:
Friendship is an act of giving, rather than an act of taking, as is also viewed today, but it appears that friendship is much more important to Aristotle than we might first think. Friendships are for Aristotle equal, and just. In an individualist society today, we tend to pursue our own interests and goals, and we allow others to chase their own interests also, even though we may at times feel that they may not be making the right choices. For Aristotle, the emphasis is community, and rather than working for oneself, we should be working for each other. This may be much easier said than done, but, if we try, with Aristotle’s view on the ‘true’ form of friendship (friendship of virtue), we may become more of a giver, rather than a taker, and may eventually find more satisfaction because not only might we form deeper, more meaningful relationships with others, we may find ourselves reaching a greater understanding of both ourselves and of others.