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A look at aristotles philosophy on friendship

What would it mean for true friendship to exist in a marriage? And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so?

And what did you want? To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth. But it can be hard to know what that sort of love consists of, let alone how to find it. We feel ourselves beloved when we know that our friend sees us for who we really are and loves what he sees.

Aristotle has some important insights about how such friendship can occur. Aristotle on Friendship In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle describes friendship as reciprocated goodwill.

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But it is the source of that goodwill that differentiates perfect friendship from two imperfect forms of friendship. With true friendship, friends love each other for their own sake, and they wish good things for each other.

The two imperfect forms of friendship are based on either utility or pleasure. Imperfect friends love the benefits they derive from their relationship: The relationship I have with a golf buddy who makes me laugh, for instance, might be a friendship of pleasure.

If he plays with me because I have a membership in an exclusive golf club, then his friendship for me is one of utility. The point here is not that true friendships are not pleasant or useful—they are—but merely that the pleasure or usefulness is not the source of the love true friends feel for each other. A true friend loves his friend for who he is, for his character.

Because the love is based on something enduring, the friendship is enduring. Imperfect friendships, on the other hand, arise and die quickly, because they are based on impermanent things: When one or both parties cease to find the relationship pleasant or useful, the relationship ceases as well. It is important to understand that Aristotle does not think the lesser forms of friendship—friendships of pleasure and utility—are bad.

Love and Friendship in Plato and Aristotle

When it does occur, it will only occur after a long period of time. Thus, even if we might hope that our useful and pleasant relationships will become true friendships, it seems like all friendships—even friendships between virtuous people—would have to begin as friendships of pleasure and utility. For Aristotle, any relationship has to be about something.

Men and women come together because they need each other and they like each other. Because human offspring take the longest to raise, men and women form the most lasting relationships of any species.

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The project of having and raising children, whether it is undertaken lightly or not, cannot be lightly discarded. In an important sense, it is bigger than the two people who take it up. The point is this: The more often you dwell on things like these, the harder it is to turn the focus away from yourself. He is not arguing that, to have a true friendship, you must single-mindedly seek to be pleasant and useful to your spouse at your expense.

  • MacIntyre also highlights the intrinsic relationship between moral trends and the changing characteristics of societies throughout history;
  • The truly happy person does not need friendships of utility, for she seeks moderation in material goods, and does not need too many friends of pleasure, for she already feels life is full and does not require more to light it up.

Imagine if we made a claim like that about a sports team. They are so concerned with displaying their own talent, or maximizing their time on the field, that the team suffers. That would be equally unhelpful.

  1. But it is necessary to have virtuous friends because the good person is more able of observing others and their activities than herself and her own actions; she finds pleasure in the actions of her virtuous friends; and the good person decides to observe, in her virtuous friend, the virtuous actions that are familiar to her in the sense that they also constitute the person that she is.
  2. For Aristotle, any relationship has to be about something.
  3. The first, and less important, is that it is possible to push back against the defence of premise 2. The author states that "being moral, having true friends, and having opportunities to express our talents, to find meaningful work, to create and live among beautiful things, and to live cooperatively in social environments where we trust each other" are required for a meaningful life, that having only some of these requirements leads to a less meaningful existence, but lacking "all of these things, especially the first two, then our life is meaningless".

And this, at long last, leads to the really important insight that Aristotle has about true friendship. This is the insight that can help us understand something important about marriage. Far to the contrary. True friends are friends because they care about the same thing: They love each other for who they are because they see that thing they care most about—goodness—in each other. True friends pursue the good together through whatever activities they share, even when—especially when—the pleasure and utility seem to be gone.

Whatever we believe the goal of life to be, says Aristotle, that is the goal we will want to pursue with our friends.

And true friends, friends who love each other for their own sake, see in each other a shared conception of the goal of life. True friends love each other for their own sake, but implicit in that love is a unity of purpose.

They are united by a common goal. Just as a football team becomes successful when all its members set aside their own concerns and pursue the goals of the team, so true friends single-mindedly pursue goodness together.

If what we cherish above all else is our own personal benefit, there is no remedy for that loneliness. All of this helps us better understand what it would mean for true friendship to exist in a marriage. It means ordering the most basic activities of life to the pursuit of goodness.

  1. And in that sense, marriage is very much about soulmates.
  2. It would be a shame, they say, if the only kinds of friendships one ever experienced were of the utility or pleasure type.
  3. However, from the definition of ethics as human ecology one question arises. A short history of ethics.

This requires a longer discussion than we have space for here. What it might mean, though, is keeping your joint focus squarely on the goal of life and guarding against what might destroy that focus. And in that sense, marriage is very much about soulmates.