The Argument: The Nature of the Types of Friendship Differ in Species
July 15, 2021
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Aristotle paid special attention to the notion of friendship, which is considered one of the most important in the social life of people. In Book 8 of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle argues that “the nature of the types of friendship differ in species.” He bases his argument upon two controversial premises: a) friendship is a mutual feeling between people; b) every person is able to be friends for the sake of utility, pleasure or friendship itself (that is for the good). Despite the fact that the opponents of this idea of Aristotle might argue these statements, this essay will analyze their opinion in order to defend the position of Aristotle.
First, the opponents of Aristotle might argue that friendship cannot not always be seen as a mutual feeling. Aristotle links friendship with the concept of love; however, it is known that love is not always mutual. There are many cases when love is non-reciprocal, i.e. one party has the feeling of love while the other does not have it. For this reason, the claim that friendship is a mutual feeling is the same as to assert that love is a mutual feeling, although one can find a lot of examples when the one who loves is not loved in return. Thus, Aristotle’s opponents see the vulnerability of the Aristotelian premise in the fact that it links the concept of friendship with love, while love is not always mutual.
It makes sense to consider the problems that may be hiding behind the given position of Aristotle’s opponents. Friendship is a very valuable relationship between people. If one considers it as an opportunity for nonreciprocal feelings and attitudes, it can cause many social problems. One of them will be that the lack of reciprocity will cause many problems especially for those people who have feelings for their friends. If one sees friendship primarily as love and not as a mutual reciprocal relationship, it can lead to serious and negative consequences. As is known, the nonreciprocal love can bring anguish and unhappiness. This situation is particularly severe for the person who loves because awareness of the fact that feelings for the other person are not reciprocal can lead to destructive social results. Friends can become enemies when one of them will have no friendly feelings towards the other. Thus, consideration of friendship as nonreciprocal feeling can lead to various kinds of social problems in the relationship between people. One should not forget that though friendship is related to love, it is not the kind of love that exists, for example, between men and women, which may even lead to tragic consequences when it is not mutual. Friendship has to do with the concept of love in the sense that both parties wish each other good.
The logic of thinking of those who are against Aristotle’s first premise has a right to exist. However, their main problem is that they equate love with friendship considering friendship primarily as a kind of love. Aristotle also sees the relationship between friendship and love, but still he differentiates them. It gives him the opportunity to argue that friendship is reciprocity between people in their relation to each other. If one of the friends sees an opportunity for utility in his/her friendship, then the second one also has the right to see their friendship as an opportunity to obtain a benefit. Such friendship bears no problems and suffering because the attitude is mutual, and therefore, none of the parties suffers and experiences psychological comfort.
In turn, the second premise may also be rejected by the opponents of Aristotle’s ideas on friendship. They may argue that the concept of friendship cannot be viewed using the concepts of utility and pleasure. Friendship should be regarded solely as an attitude that is completely devoid of desire to satisfy one’s personal interests and goals. The opponents can defend their position by the idea that the one who aspires to friendship in order to obtain his/her utility or to receive pleasure cannot be called a friend. Such a person does not know what friendship is since his/her relation to another person is based on the satisfaction of his/her own interests and goals. The situation contradicts the notion of friendship as a selfless attitude between people who are friendly to each other not for profit or pleasure, but for the sake of friendship. Friendship should be seen as a selfless personal relationship between people based on love, trust, sincerity, sympathy, common interests and hobbies. Honesty, trust, and patience should be viewed as the signs of friendship. Only people who treat their friendship with honesty, trust, and patience can be called friends.
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One needs to pay attention to how the objector’s attitude towards the second premise reveals deep problems. The fact is that the requirement that the friendship was seen primarily as the absence of any self-interest does not take into account that the realities of human life and human society require pursuit of practical purposes and pleasure. Life in human society requires people to learn to coexist peacefully. How can it be possible if each person has his/her own interests and objectives, and some of them are vital? The person can do it with the help of friendship based in particular on a quest to receive the benefits. If each person seeks only a higher type of friendship, the coexistence of people will have many problems. The problems will be primarily related to the fact that the denial of practical friendship will result in the situation when people do not know how they can achieve their practical goals without causing harm to others. Thereby, the friendship based on pleasure or benefit has practicability though it does not have the high status which unselfish friendship has. Aristotle understood this and therefore, he did not deny the existence of all the three types of friendship understanding that the lack of friendship based on mutual benefit or pleasure will make communication between people more tense and problematic.
The counterargument of Aristotle’s detractors may seem to be quite logical since it is based on the widespread belief that friendship implies the absence of any self-interest and profit. Friendship should have a value in itself. It should have only one aim – friendship. Nevertheless, in my view, Aristotle has reason to protect the existence of different types of friendship based on what its purpose is. If people have mutual feelings for each other and each of them sees their friendship as the opportunity for pleasure or utility, then it makes no sense to consider this kind of friendship as complete lack of one. This kind of friendship is also a friendship, as each side is glad that he/she has a friend. Such a relationship is capable of leading to a large number of positive results, having primarily a practical goal. Moreover, Aristotle draws attention to the fact that both types of friendship (based on utility and pleasure) cannot be regarded as the highest types of friendship. The Greek philosopher understands the difference between these two kinds of friendship and the friendship which has one goal – a sincere friendship.
He points out that this kind of friendship is rare since human nature defines human need to pursue their personal and selfish goals. Aristotle appreciates this relationship, considering it a kind of true friendship and points to the fact that there are situations in life where the connection of friendship and utility is quite normal. For example, older people are often looking not for pleasure, but for assistance (that is utility) in friendship. The perfect friendship is established between virtuous people whose virtues are similar to each other. The main feature of friendship is enjoying mutual communication. Hence, boring and grumpy people are not suitable for friendship. The perfect friendship has the highest value since it is possible only between the worthy people who are able to appreciate the friendship itself, not the pleasure or benefit.
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To sum up, Aristotle’s ideas about friendship are quite important today. The depth of Aristotle’s philosophical reflection allowed him to see that human existence is not possible without the desire to have utility or enjoyment. It is for this reason that the types of friendship meeting these objectives are also recognized by Aristotle as friendship that can contribute to peaceful coexistence of people. The highest form of friendship is particularly important since it demonstrates the spiritual ability of people to be sincere and unselfish in relation to others. Nevertheless, the reality of human life does not always allow for this kind of friendship, while friendship based on mutual utility can bring tangible benefits for the whole society. Aristotle’s ideas are still relevant to this day, reminding people that despite the fact that they should strive for disinterested friendship for the good, they are allowed to have friendly relations based on the utility or enjoyment.