Friendship

Strange to say we do not often hear folks talk about friendship, the relationship between two people which can, in some cases, last a lifetime and makes both people so much happier than they would be otherwise. Clearly it is an important relationship, but since it doesn’t involve sex (as a rule) it doesn’t seem to be of interest to a great many people.

Interestingly enough both Plato and Aristotle discussed friendship at some length. Plato wrote a dialogue about it, called Lysis. Aristotle spoke about friendship at length in the Nicomachean Ethics where he says, in part:

“Friendship is clearly necessary and splendid, but people disagree on its precise nature. Friendship consists of a mutual feeling of goodwill between two people.

“There are three kinds of friendship. The first is friendship based on utility, where both people derive some benefit from each other. The second is friendship based on pleasure, where both people are drawn to the other’s wit, good looks, or other pleasant qualities. The third is friendship based on goodness, where both people admire the other’s goodness and help one another strive for goodness.

“The first two kinds of friendship are only accidental, because in these cases friends are motivated by their own utility and pleasure, not by anything essential to the nature of the friend. Both of these kinds of friendship are short-lived because one’s needs and pleasures are apt to change over time.

“Goodness is an enduring quality, so friendships based on goodness tend to be long-lasting. This friendship encompasses the other two, as good friends are useful to one another and please one another. Such friendship is rare and takes time to develop, but it is the best. Bad people can be friends for reasons of pleasure or utility, but only good people can be friends for each other’s sake.

“On the whole, friendships consist of equal exchanges, whether of utility, pleasantness, or goodness. However, there are some relationships that by their nature exist between two people of unequal standing: father-son, husband-wife, ruler-subject. In these relationships, a different kind of love is called for from each party, and the amount of love should be proportional to the merit of each person. For instance, a subject should show more love for a ruler than the reverse. When there is too great a gap between people, friendship is impossible, and often two friends will grow apart if one becomes far more virtuous than the other.

“Most people prefer being loved to loving, since they desire flattery and honor. The true mark of friendship, though, is that it consists more of loving than of being loved. Friendships endure when each friend loves the other according to the other’s merit.”

For Montaigne true friendship consists in a blending of wills. One wills what the other wills, wants only what the other wants. I suppose this is what Aristotle meant when he mentions being friends “for each other’s sake.”  It is the blending of two souls into one. The key for both men is that one must be primarily concerned about another person — not oneself.

As I look back on my life I realize that, aside from my wife who is my best friend, I had only one or two “good” friends in the sense that Aristotle mentions. I feel myself very lucky to have had those few since some people never have any at all. And in an age in which friendships are often superficial and made and broken by way of social media we may lose the notion of good friends altogether. That would be very sad indeed. For as Aristotle insists, friendship is essential for human happiness.  But it requires that we come out of ourselves and “admire the other’s goodness and help [that person] strive for goodness.” In a word, we must care about another and want that person’s happiness in order to find happiness ourselves. And please note that love plays an important role in friendship. It cannot be found on an electronic toy or in the casual relationships most of us form with the others with whom we work or play — unless we get to the point where we think more about them than we do ourselves.

I have found the friendships I have formed on these blogs to be very important to me and to my own happiness. I am delighted when I hear from my blogging buddies, worry about them when they are silent, and wish them well in whatever they undertake. I realize this is not the highest form of friendship, but, while it may be based on utility to a degree, it is none the less a type that Aristotle could never have imagined and I suspect he would have been only too happy to discuss it at some length!


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8 thoughts on “Friendship

  1. Good post..
    I feel as you get older it becomes really hard to establish this third type of friendship because history with a person is an element too. And this far shorter amount of time to develop history becomes an obstacle. Family and this third type of friendship are often one in the same, but not always as there is a fair amount of family estrangement.

    As I look back, the very best friend I ever had, was my Mother and sadly, she is gone.

    And oddly, pets can fulfill this mutual “good” friendships too. Love freely given, no judging and no criticism.

  2. I must imagine that you are likewise ‘glad’ for the constant ‘friends’ who may not lend themselves to your familiar comforts, over decades now. Your words here suggest as much, though if so, so hard to say from the periphery. As for me…I AM glad.

  3. Hugh, good post. I have been blessed with three lifelong friends dating back to grade school. When we get together, that history makes it easy for us to dialogue even when we have not spoken for awhile.

    While i have adult-made friends, none compare to the old ones. Yet, my blog friends have been very rewarding. Like uou, we can speak candidly and respectfully, with a known context. We don’t need to explain as much. Sometimes, I write a little more for the benefit of other readers, not necessarily for the host,

    Keith

  4. Good post … I never thought of different categories of friends as such, though obviously many have been but brief interludes in my life. By the definition of the third type of friendship, I can count 3, though none date back to my early years. As for the friends I have made through blogging … they do, indeed, require yet a fourth category. In some ways, I am closer to a few of my best blogging-buddies than I am to people I have known for decades. There are a few of you who I think of more as family than just blogging friends. And I think some people likely never have the ‘friendship based on goodness’, for some are not able to care more about another than themselves. And on that note … have a happy day, my friend!

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