and it’s meaning through the eyes of Aristotle. Walking into this class back in the start of September I thought about the concept of love very narrow-mindedly and often reserved my interpretation to a singular entity defined simply as one person strongly caring for another. Never in my right mind did I believe one emotion could be separated into several forms. While it was obvious to me that the admiration I had for my favorite jeans was not quite the same as in how I care about my Mother, it was not until I took my first Philosophy class did I begin to expand my perspective of love and the types of love existent in human nature.
While the majority of people seem to think of love in the popularized all-for-nothing, ‘go to the end of world and back’ sense, what strikes me as more intriguing is the idea of friendship. From this course I have learned that friendship, which stems from the word philia meaning love in Greek is the highest kind of love/relationship. It is a way of loving that can be sought for with many, but sometimes found to be lasting in only a select few. To me, the way to understanding love starts with friendship and not with romance. Although both are closely linked, romance is flexible and arbitrary while friendships are deeply rooted and fixed in nature. Companionship through friends is essential to loving and loving and can create and strengthen our ethnics and morals.
To understand love, more specifically friendship it is important to know that we as human are social beings. We enclose ourselves with many different people, and those especially close to our hearts and minds are called our friends. It is in our nature to be social, for we learn about ourselves and evolve through our relations with others. Because of this, we [as humans] are constantly trying to broaden the boundary of our circle of friends. Aristotle understood the importance of friendship and wrote highly of this type of relationship. A modernized view of friendship can be defined as, “one joined to another in intimacy and mutual benevolence independently of sexual or family love” (Merriam-Webster). Aristotle’s view on friendship is much more enlightened and expansive than this; however, his assertions are certainly not perfect. In this essay I will outline Aristotle’s stance about friendship, show both the pros and cons of his arguments and share my personal beliefs on the subject.
Friendship for Aristotle (and Greeks in general) is much broader than the dictionary definition. Aristotle regards both less-intimate bonds as well as deeper, loving connections as ways of practicing friendship. Relationships between couples, parents and their children, neighbors, business partners, teammates, teacher and student, etc. would all be seen as friendships in Aristotle’s eyes. However, he does make it a point to distinguish between different types of friendship and love’s role within these relations.
Friendships for Aristotle can be divided into three main categories:
Friendships of utility. These friendships are based on people who are useful to each other. This is the sole reason behind them being friends. A good example of a friendship of utility might be the relationship between a salesman and a customer. The store clerk needs the buyer because (s)he has to make a living and the buyer needs the clerk because he needs a particular item. Both have something the other wants. Such friendships are only temporary and do not last very long as once the customer is no longer useful to the salesman, or visa versa, the connection is severed and the friendship ceases to exist. Friendships of utility are common among older people, for in old age people pursue the functional rather than the enjoyable.
Friendships of pleasure. These types of relationships are based on the amount of pleasure the people get from being in the relationship itself. People who go out together, or enjoy the same activities might be in this type of relationship. They are friends for their own sake, because the friendship brings them pleasure and enjoyment, not for their friend’s sake. Friendships of pleasure are common among young people. Young people quickly start and end friendships because what pleasures and satisfies them undergoes constant change.
Friendships of virtue. Unlike friendships of utility and pleasure which can include a circle of friends, friendships of virtue are strictly one-on-one relationships. They are monogamous in nature and such a friendship can only occur between two people of the same (or closely similar) values and ideals, and both persons have to be virtuous. According to Aristotle, one can only become virtuous through wisdom and age. Therefore friendships of virtue are rarely found among young people. It is a relationship of mutual respect and love. The persons in this type of relationship are not in it because they gain something from the relationship, they are not friends because they find each other useful or bring each other pleasure, but because they see virtues in each other that they see in themselves. Such love has roots in altruism and agape love and rest on the idea of ‘wanting the best for someone else for their friend’s sake.’ It is not surprising that such relationships are uncommon according to the philosopher.
Aristotle says that a friend of virtue is another oneself – in a sense, describing them as soulmates. A friend of virtue is a key part to self-sufficiency. Virtuous friends spend time with each other and make the same choices as each other. One person’s happiness influences another’s happiness and visa versa. The friend, in the Aristotelian scheme, becomes an extension of the individual. In a sociological perspective, the other friend becomes the ‘social relative mirror’ (Marxist term) in which you define yourself – meaning, you only know yourself in relation to your external, transfigured Other.
It can be argued that Aristotle is wrong when he distinguishes between friendships of utility or pleasure and friendships of virtue. Are we, as human beings, capable of doing a completely unselfish act? Can we truthfully say that we are friends with someone not for our own sake but for the sake of the friends? It may be a harsh reality to some, but I personally disagree with Aristotle on this.
Take the example of gift giving… Does someone give a friend a gift because they know he/she will like it, or to make a good impression on the person, or for the idea that ‘you only give a gift to get something greater in return?’ There can be any number of reasons why someone would give a gift, but in my opinion the most feasible reasons would be ones where the gift-giver expects to get some form of repayment, even if it is as simple as being liked or appreciated. Altruism is rare to find in modern-day Western culture, and no act is completely selfless. Another example could be helping an elder woman across the road. Would you help her because she needs help or because you would feel a great deal of self-satisfaction by helping her? In my opinion, even if only a small part of the reason why you would help her relates back to self-satisfaction, it would mean that you are not helping her without receiving some form of incentive. We are inherently selfish beings. There is always a degree of self-interest. Therefore Aristotle’s definition of friendship of virtue is wrong, in my opinion, or at least too exclusive.
One of the books studied in this course, The Meanings of Love by Robert Wagoner identified six types of defined loves present in Western culture. The author illustrates his claims by defining and presenting definitions of six expressions of love. His fourth idea of love moral love is based on the inner principles of moral uprightness, stability, faithfulness and integrity. The characteristics of respect and rationality determine the credibility of a moral love relationship. Moral love – in my opinion – was one of the most intriguing loves I have learned about because it deals with love not in the highly romanticized sense, but targets the basic foundations of human nature and our social interactions. Using Wagoner’s definition of Moral love, I related his ideals to principle and came to conceptualize friendship in a much more broadened sense.
Wagoner reference to Immanuel Kant, an 18th century German philosopher who stated that the legitimacy behind moral love is found in our rational nature which influences our experiences. Kant says that our ability to apply rational principles is what makes moral experience possible (70). In order to form a moral love we must live consistently by two principles of rational nature. First, the same respect and regard we hold to ourselves must be given to all equally. And secondly, our actions must not be self-regarding but instead our relations should be based on the idea that they can be universalized. If carried out correctly, it is the gratification of mutual rationality and strong sense of moral obligation to each other that unite people to love. Moral love is highly rational and is subject to scrutiny reason in order to achieve integrity. In a moral loving relationship, the lover is not so much committed to the beloved as he/she is committed to the relationship itself, because it defines the individual.
The notion of sexuality in moral love threatens its very nature. Kant states, “To truly love others is to care for them as whole persons, that is, as rational and moral sovereigns and not merely as sexual creatures” (80). Friendship could evolve into a greater love, which could result in a union such as marriage which holds importance in moral love; for any sexual relation outside of this strictly shows utilitarianism. It is the difference between the good and the right, and in this case of moral love, sexual relations only seek to use the other as a thing which is immoral in nature. Moral love can be best defined as a “labor of love” where an individual is consistently trying to change themselves into universal beings rooted in moral uprightness. Such a relationship could be described as Aristotle’s friendship of virtue.
However, the counter-argument can also be made. Kant differs with Aristotle’s definition of friendship. Kant believed that an act could only have moral value if and only if you were not the primary beneficiary of the act. According to Kant with Aristotle’s theory of friendship it seems the friendship can not be a moral goal. A friendship is “morally neutral”. He goes on to assert that it does not say, or show anything about your moral character. Of course Aristotle would disagree; he would say having a friend of virtue is a goal that every moral person should strive for.
Kant believes that people don’t seek friendship for friendship’s sake but to satisfy needs (friendship of utility). Kant sees true friendship as two people taking care of the other’s needs. If I take care of my friend’s needs he/she will take care of my needs. Friendship was based on reciprocity. Kant believes that a truly virtuous man is friends with everyone and should not limit himself to a select few friends, as this would be being exclusive. He should love everyone equally. However, friendships by definition are exclusive, and as a result one is forced to play favoritism. According to Kant friendships are the have of people of lesser virtues blocking out the world. Aristotle would disagree; he would say friendships are the way into the world. Kant has a somewhat negative view of friendship whereas Aristotle thinks friendship is good and therefore sought by everyone.
Aristotle’s basic idea of dividing friendship into sections, utility, pleasure and virtue, is good but it can be said that his ideals are too high. Can he be right in saying that only virtuous people can have true friendships? The rest of us with lesser virtues are left with friendships of utility and friendships of pleasure, as only a select few can be truly virtuous. Many would be offended by this and many would believe that although they may not have friendships of virtue as Aristotle meant it they are not inferior and are true friendships all the same.
It would be more beneficial to all if Aristotle made it clear that it is possible for everyone to experience true friendship and not limited it to ‘virtuous’ people. If virtue is attained by age and wisdom does that not mean that everyone is potentially virtuous and therefore everyone can potentially be in a virtuous friendship?
Subjectively speaking, I find many flaws in Aristotle’s views on friendship. The main ones being that he is too elitist, too exclusive when it comes down to defining true friendship and is far too inclusive when it comes to friendships of