Monday, February 9, 2009


We believe men and women are different; equal yet different. These differences should be recognized and respected, particularly in the manner in which men and women relate to each other. In this way, friendships between men and women carry with them boundaries that do not exist in friendships between two women or two men. With this understanding, we will explore the special nature of male-female interaction and attempt to propose an alternative to the current culture of ambiguity. We'll do our best to address issues that we know from experience and observation to be prevalent problems plaguing young people today. We will explore how interaction between the sexes currently is and suggest a way how it could be. So, to begin, let's define terms. We'll look first at friendship.

"... 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?

Winslow Homer Boys in Pasture


  1. Great post! I have been discussing with David the question of dependence in relationships and he had some good points drawn from Alasdair MacIntyre's book Dependent Rational Animals. I hope he'll expand on that here.

  2. MacIntyre is great.
    This post is too philosophical for the average American. We college students digest it easily because we are constantly exposed to material like it. The average person barely skimmed the Republic, maybe a bit of Aristotle's Ethics and a few other philosophers when they were in college but never seriously thought about it. I don't know if they will be able to handle something like this.

  3. on "love is pursuit of the good." All human action pursues the good according to Aristotle. To say that love does is giving it a false definition and to say that you could have a friendship that is not aimed at "the good" would contradict this principle. So it is a moot point say that you could pretend to have friendship that is not a true one because it does not aim at the good.

    Thus, as to the question of "who is truly my friend?", it would be difficult to rule anyone out based on the definition presented here. Perhaps a few could be ruled out by this point: "The act of finding requires cognitive effort, and a material discovery. Friendships aren't stumbled upon--they are cultivated." A person you don't know or barely know is not your friend. Related to this you guys should include the point that love and therefore friendship can only increase when our knowledge of the beloved increases.

  4. A very wise man once wrote to me:

    "I would recommend that you ask yourself the following question to determine whether you indeed are being a good friend or not: is my friend a better [person] because of his knowing me, and am I a better [person] because of knowing him? It is a good friendship if the answer to both questions is yes."