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Friendship: A Modern View of Aristotelian Ideas

This is a bit of analysis regarding Aristotle’s treatise on friendship. I hope you find it thought-provoking and enlightening.

In his treatise on friendship, Aristotle presents a detailed and well-supported aesthetic that is still respected as a source of truth about a nebulous and controversial topic. Throughout the treatise, the author makes preliminary claims about single aspects of friendship, and proceeds by developing his argument relating to them. In a style similar to that of Descartes, Aristotle assumes little, and most of his statements are “if then” comments that provide qualified support for his arguments. In addition to the philosophical nature of the treatise, Aristotle’s ideas come into play in both real life and in literature. While many of his claims, including his definition of friendship, are somewhat controversial, they are well-supported and proven through a process of axiomatic development.

When Aristotle begins to talk about “The Kinds Of Friendship” in Book VIII, his first claim is that “Friendship is a necessity.” (Page 200) This is an expansive assertion that requires a large amount of support, so he begins by dissecting his assertion and defining what friendship is precisely. In the process of defining friendship, it becomes clear that a more accurate approach might be to divide the term “friendship” into three classifications of relationships: those based on utility, those based on pleasure, and those based on goodness. By defining friendship in more specific terms, Aristotle is able to prove that in each case or definition of friendship the relationship is a necessity. (Aristotle, 2004)

In the case of a relationship based on utility, Aristotle comments that “sometimes they do not even like one another.” While this is characteristic of relationships based on utility, it is, perhaps, not characteristic of relationships based on pleasure. The fact that the members of the utility-based “friendship” do not like each other does not discount the fact that they may live in a symbiotic fashion that proves favorable to both parties involved. While the E. Coli living in the intestines of the human being may not enjoy reading a heartfelt poem from its host, it does reap the benefits of the ingested food. Oddly enough, Aristotle would classify this type of relationship as friendship, given his definition relating to utility.

Friendship based on pleasure is different, although not necessarily better, than friendship based on utility. In this type of relationship, the members typically like each other and are often “in love,” but they do not act in the personal interest of their partner unless it provides self-satisfaction in some way. This might be considered closer to a “perfect friendship” than a relationship based on utility in that the members do make each other happy in a pseudo-selfless manner. Aristotle also notes that this relationship is most common among the young, the same group that defines the meaning of sin, the same group that is destined to make errors and learn how to perfect their ways or else fail in the Darwinist world of adulthood.

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