"... for without friends no one would choose to live."
(Book XVIII of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics)
The topic of friendship has inspired more books than one could read in a lifetime. Search "friendship" on Google books and enjoy browsing over 368,000 titles. Why so many? Because man only makes sense in the context of others. We need friendship. Thus, it makes sense to analyze here, the nature of this indispensable element of our experience. But we'd rather not reinvent the wheel. What we present here is our image of friendship, inspired by Aristotle, supplemented by our professors, and proven by our experiences.
Man is physical. He creates himself by interacting as a person with the environment around him. His interior disposition is a reflection of his actions in the physical world. As a social being, man seeks the company of other persons. Friendship socializes man in childhood and entertains him in old age. In an environment with other people, man seeks to break the solitude of egocentricity. Friendship is the link between man's experience and the human experience. Outside of himself, man can fully experience his "humanity." The human experience is the common search for the true, the good, and the beautiful. In communion with others, man participates in the reality of discovery. In solitude, man is his own measure. So man needs man. But in what capacity?
Aristotle divides friendship into friendship for the good of utility, for the good of pleasure, and for "good qua good" (good as itself). This third type of friendship fulfills man not just on an organismic level, or on an animal level, but on a personal level. It is only in the pursuit of the good as itself that man can enter into an exchange which satisfies man's search for meaning and discovery. The object in this friendship is the well being, the good, of the friends.
True friendship occurs between two persons who seek the good (defined as well-being by Aristotle) in itself. This eliminates from our definition of "genuine friendship" any relationship of utility or pleasure, where man seeks only the utility or pleasantness of the friendship. Friendship must be good for both individuals. It is impossible to love something "not-good;" love is pursuit of the good. Friendship-love cannot exist oriented toward the "not good." It also must be a two way street; one man can't be friends to another man in solitude. Friendship requires time; one man must find another likable. It is not enough to enjoy initial attraction. We emphasize the verb "find." The act of finding requires cognitive effort, and a material discovery. Friendships aren't stumbled upon--they are cultivated. Finally, the virtuous man is a better friend. We improve our friendships by improving ourselves.
"... and in loving a friend men love what is good for themselves; for the good man in becoming a friend becomes a good to his friend. Each then, both loves what is good for himself, and makes an equal return in goodwill and in pleasantness; for friendship is said to be equality, and both of these are found in the friendship of the good." (Book XVIII of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics
In light of what we have written here, perhaps we should all take a moment and consider, who is truly my friend?
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