Aristotle on: “Friendship, Love, Well-wishing, and Unanimity”

Friendship-Day-Pictures-3Friendship: Friendship is a kind of virtue, or implies virtue, and it is also most necessary for living. Nobody would choose to live without friends even if he had all the other good things. Aristotle takes up the subject of what is lovable. He returns to his three “objects of choice”: goodness, usefulness, and pleasure, each corresponding to one of the types of love. These are the three reasons humans have for loving an object or a person. Aristotle removes the love of objects from the discussion, since we do not call that friendship.

Friendship is partly the love of another person, and wishing what is good for that person, but it is not really friendship unless the love is returned. However, even people wishing well for each other are not called friends, Aristotle continues, unless they are aware of each other’s feelings. But these three motives are specifically different from one another; the several affections and friendships based upon them, therefore, will also be specifically different. The kinds of friendship accordingly are three, being equal in number to the motives of love; for any one of these may be the basis of a mutual affection of which each is aware.

Now those, therefore, whose love for one another is based on the useful, do not love each other for what they are, but only in so far as each gets some good from the other. It is the same also with those whose affection is based on pleasure; people care for a wit, for instance, not for what he is, but as the source of pleasure to themselves. Those, then, whose love is based on the useful care for each other on the ground of their own good, and those whose love is based on pleasure care for each other on the ground of what is pleasant to themselves, each loving the other, not as being what he is, but as useful or pleasant.

These friendships, then, are “accidental;” for the object of affection is loved, not as being the person or character that he is, but as the source of some good, or some pleasure. Friendships of this kind, therefore, are easily dissolved, as the persons do not continue unchanged; for if they cease to be pleasant or useful to one another, their love ceases. But the useful is nothing permanent, but varies from time to time. On the disappearance, therefore, of that which was the motive of their friendship, the friendship itself is dissolved, since it existed solely with a view to that.

But the perfect kind of friendship is that of good men who resemble one another in virtue. For they both alike wish well to one another as good men, and it is their essential character to be good men. Aristotle calls it a “…complete sort of friendship between people who are good and alike in virtue…”  And those who wish well to their friends for the friends’ sake are friends in the truest sense; for they have these sentiments towards each other as being what they are, and not in an accidental way: their friendship, therefore, lasts as long as their virtue, and that is a lasting thing. Again, each is both good simply and good to his friend; for it is true of good men that they are both good simply and also useful to one another. In like manner they are pleasant too; for good men are both pleasant in themselves and pleasant to one another: for every kind of character takes delight in the acts that are proper to it and those that resemble these; but the acts of good men are the same or similar.

This kind of friendship, then, is lasting, as we might expect, since it unites in itself all the conditions of true friendship. This friendship encompasses the other two, as good friends are useful to one another and please one another. It is but natural that such friendships should be uncommon, as such people is rare and takes time to develop, but it is the best. Such a friendship, moreover, requires long and familiar intercourse. For, as the proverb says, it is impossible for people to know one another till they have consumed the requisite quantity of salt together. Nor can they accept one another as friends, or be friends, till each show and approve himself to the other as worthy to be loved.

So it is between persons of this sort that the truest and best love and friendship is found. Those who quickly come to treat one another like friends may wish to be friends, but are not really friends, unless they not only are lovable, but know each other to be so; a wish to be friends may be of rapid growth, but not friendship. This kind of friendship, then, is complete in respect of duration and in all other points, and that which each gets from the other is in all respects identical or similar, as should be the case with friends.

loveFriendship and love: But it seems that while love is a feeling, friendship is a habit or trained faculty. For inanimate things can equally well be the object of love, but the love of friends for one another implies purpose, and purpose proceeds from a habit or trained faculty. And in wishing well for their sakes to those they love, they are swayed not by feeling, but by habit. Again, in loving a friend they love what is good for themselves; for he who gains a good man for his friend gains something that is good for himself. Each then, loves what is good for himself, and what he gives in good wishes and pleasure is equal to what he gets; for love and equality, which are found in the highest degree in the friendship of good men.

Perhaps these difficulties will be cleared up if we first ascertain what is the nature of the lovable. For it seems that we do not love anything, but only the lovable, and that the lovable is either good or pleasant or useful. The motives of love being thus threefold, the love of inanimate things is not called friendship. For there is no return of affection here, nor any wish for the good of the object: it would be absurd to wish well to wine, for instance; at the most, we wish that it may keep well, in order that we may have it. But it is commonly said that we must wish our friend’s good for his own sake. But useful would appear to mean that which helps us to get something good, or some pleasure; so that the good and the pleasant only would be loved as ends.

wishing-wellFriendship and well-wishing: One who wishes the good of another is called a well-wisher, when the wish is not reciprocated; when the well-wishing is mutual, it is called friendship. But ought we not to add that each must be aware of the other’s well-wishing? For a man often wishes well to those whom he has never seen, but supposes to be good or useful men; and one of these may have the same sentiments towards him. These two, then, are plainly well-wishers one of another; but how could one call them friends when each is unaware of the other’s feelings?

In order to be friends, then, they must be well-wishers one of another, i.e. must wish each other’s good from one of the three motives above mentioned, and be aware of each other’s feelings. Well-wishing seems to be friendly, but is not friendship: for we may wish well to those who are unknown to us, and who are not aware that we wish them well; but there can be no friendship in such cases. But, generally speaking, well-wishing is grounded upon some kind of excellence or goodness, and arises when a person seems to us beautiful or brave, or endowed with some other good quality, as we said in the case of the athletes.

Well-wishing and love: Well-wishing is not the same as love; for it has none of the intense emotion and the desire which accompany love. Love, moreover, implies intimate acquaintance, while well-wishing may spring up in a moment; it does so, for instance, when athletes are competing for a prize: we may wish well to a competitor, and be eager for his success, though we would not do anything to help him; for, as we said, we suddenly become well-wishers and conceive a sort of superficial affection in such cases.

unanimityFriendship and unanimity: Unanimity [or unity of sentiment] also seems to be an element in friendship; and this shows that it is not mere agreement in opinion, for that is possible even between people who know nothing of each other. Nor do we apply the term to those who agree in judgment upon any kind of subject, e.g. upon astronomy (for being of one mind in these matters has nothing to do with friendship); but we say that unanimity prevails in a state when the citizens agree in their judgments about what is for the common interest, and choose the same course, and carry out the decision of the community.

It is with regard to practical matters, therefore, that people are said to be of one mind, especially with regard to matters of importance and things that may be given to both persons, or to all the persons concerned; for instance, a state is said to be of one mind when all the citizens are agreed that the magistracies shall be elective, or that an alliance be made, as, for instance, if both the populace and the upper classes agree that the best men shall govern; for thus they all get what they want. Unanimity, then, seems to be, as it is called, the kind of friendship that prevails in states; for it has to do with what is for the common interest, and with things that have a considerable influence upon life. It should be reminded that It is the friendships of utility and pleasure that keep the city together. however; it takes the character of those in the virtuous friendship for a solid community to exist.

Discussion: The truth seems to be that well-wishing is the germ of friendship, in the same way as pleasure in the sight of a person is the germ of love: for no one falls in love unless he is first pleased by visible beauty; but he who delights in the beauty of a person is not one whit in love on that account, unless he also feels the absence and desires the presence of that person. Just so it is impossible for people to be friends unless they first become well-wishers, but people who wish each other well are not a whit on that account friends; for they merely wish good to those whose well-wishers they are, but would never help them in any enterprise, or put themselves out for them. One might say, then—extending the meaning of the term—that well-wishing is an undeveloped friendship, which with time and intimate acquaintance may become friendship proper,—not that friendship whose motive is profit, nor that whose motive is pleasure; for well-wishing is no element in them. He who has received a benefit does indeed give his good wishes in return to his benefactor, and it is but just that he should; but he who wishes that another may prosper, in the hope of good things to be got by his means, does not seem really to wish well to the other, but rather to himself, just as he is not really a friend if he serves him with an eye to profit.