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Aristotle and friendship

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It may seen odd but writers from Paper Masters have researched and found that Aristotle takes much of his notion on friendship from politics. Research papers on Aristotle's view of friendship looks at the philosophy of Aristotle and explicates how this philosophy boils down to politics and virtue in a man.

Aristotle's treatment of friendship, including his definitions of friendship, is found within his work on ethics, the "Nicomachean Ethics." Friendship is included within his discussion of his general ethical theory. Aristotle bases his ethical theory on two constructs:

  • Politics
  • Virtue

In most of the "Nicomachean Ethics," Aristotle discusses these two major subjects as separate subjects; or when they are discussed in relation to each other, they are discussed mostly with respect to what proportion of each is found in political activities or the conditions or state of a person's life. For instance, the more political an action is, the less virtuous it may be. And the more virtuous is an individual, the less he may be involved in the practical ends of politics. As mentioned earlier, friendship is a blending of politics and virtue; it can be looked at as an ideal blending.

The Philosophy of Friendship According to Aristotle

Friendship is included as a subject in term papers about Aristotle as a part of his general ethical theory because friendship has to do with the good which is the fundamental of the general ethical theory. As Aristotle begins the "Nicomachean Ethics," "Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim as some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim." Aristotle then makes the distinction between the two subjects which are the major subjects of his ethical theory--i. e., politics and virtue--and which are also the bases for his two definitions of friendship.

As Aristotle elaborates his theory of ethics, one learns that virtue is the highest good. But before he deals with virtue, Aristotle presents in the opening of the "Nicomachean Ethics" another perspective on ethics which bears on his conception of friendship. "As there are many actions, arts, and sciences, their ends also are many." The ends of the "master arts" have preference over the ends of the subordinate actions, arts, and sciences for "it is for the sake of the former that the latter are pursued." The example Aristotle uses is the art of riding which includes bridle-making, as well as other tasks and skills concerned with equipment for horses necessary or desirable for the art of riding. There would be no sense in making a bridle if there were no art of riding. Since the craft of making a bridle goes into the art of riding, the art of riding is the higher, or preferred, end. Similarly, the activity of friendship is subordinate to the virtue of friendship because virtue is the higher good. As the craft of making a bridle contributes to the higher end of the art of riding, so does the part of friendship which is the activity contribute to the higher end of the virtue of an individual who is a part of the friendship. Virtue is the focus of the various activities, qualities, and ends Aristotle covers and analyzes in the "Nicomachean Ethics." The activities, qualities, and ends are evaluated on the basis of how they contribute to virtue or interfere with it or take from it. The more an activity, quality, or end contributes to virtue, the higher ethical value it has; and the more it impedes or takes from virtue, the lower its ethical value, with some activities, etc. being unethical.

Explicating Aristotle on Friendship

Aristotle's concept of friendship ties in with his general ethical theory because the theory's essential concerns of virtue, happiness, and the good are found also with friendship. Not only is friendship "a virtue or implies virtue," but friendship is "most necessary with a view to living." The essential qualities of Aristotle's ethical theory are realized in friendship. Like politics or the state or society, friendship involves these main qualities of the virtue, happiness, and the good. However, they are concentrated in friendship in a way that makes it unique. Friendship is distinguished from the community, but it is not opposed to it. But friendship is not only of value to individuals and a type of relationship in which the highest ethical qualities and ideals are realized. Also, friendship "seems to hold states together, and lawgivers care more for it that for justice." More than the state, it is friendship which has a direct part in the lives of persons of all ages and in different relationships to one another. Wealthy and powerful men seek friendship because it provides them with an "opportunity of beneficence"; which beneficence is an act and a quality beyond and apart from their enjoyment of their possessions and their position of having power. "In poverty and other misfortunes men think friends are the only refuge." Older persons are helped in their needs and weaknesses by friends; and parents naturally feel friendship toward their offspring, as their children feel it toward them. As much as or in many cases even more than justice, it is friendship which holds a community together because it "expels faction," and with friendship men have "no need of justice." One of the main reasons friendship is so important for Aristotle is that as human beings are political in nature in that they naturally form into and seek out communities, friendship is an important element not only in holding communities together, but in making virtue a part of them; which means communities can better have a part in giving persons happiness.

"Perfect friendship is the friendship of men who are good, and alike in virtue." As the title of Schollmeier's book on personal and political friendship in Aristotle, "Other Selves," suggests friendship is valuable and ethically commendable because it manifests and enhances the good, virtue, and happiness not only in individuals themselves but in their community. Individuals who are friends cannot commit harmful or unjust acts against each other; and because they have the virtue which is also important in holding a community together and contributing to the quality of life in that community, they cannot bring harm or injustice to it. While political friendship does not have the same high ethical status as does personal friendships, it is nonetheless important ethically because "political friendship of the good kind is altruistic, for fellow citizens in healthy constitutions act for the sake of one another."

While Aristotle's conception of friendship may seem impractical or unrealistically ideal, nearly all individuals do in fact form friendships. Nearly all do this naturally without realizing why they are doing it or what their friendships entail and signify. What Aristotle says about friendship, however, and what he discloses about it in his analysis would be acknowledged by most persons about their own friendships if they reflected on them. As Aristotle affirms, friendships do bring a heightened quality to the lives of individuals and to a community. The happiness friendships engender in individuals which in a way spreads into the community is because of the ethical nature of friendships, as Aristotle recognized.

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