Aristotle on Friendship

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Aristotle once said there are three types of friendship:

  1. A friendship of utility.
  2. A friendship based on pleasure.
  3. A friendship of the good, based on mutual appreciation of the virtues that the other person holds dear.

Nobody says it better than a man whose wisdom has informed the Western civilization for thousands of years.  His observation is spot on, but it is also depressing. He paints such a bleak picture of the human condition. And most of our friendships actually do fall into the first two categories, while the last category has become rather rare, especially in an age of instant gratification.

But what does friendship mean to you anyway? Let me tell you. Friendship is one of the most important cornerstones of a meaningful life.  Human beings are social animals, but we also want to be liked and be meaningful to others.   Having friends means we contribute to the lives of the others, who also care about us.  Nothing makes me happier than finding common ground with like-minded people who care about my intellectual interests as much as I want to help develop theirs.  Something as simple as reading each other’s blog posts and critiquing each other’s writing can lead to a long-lasting friendship.  Although I have had friendships of pleasure, they are superficial; friends who are there for the good times and disappear for the bad times. It’s great to have friends to enjoy the little pleasures of life with, but at the same time, you know these friendships are only transient.  Category 1 and Category 2 friendships are really opposite sides of the same coin because they are both transactional. For this reason, they are unreliable and superficial.

As an only child of parents who are not exactly known for great communication skills (disputes and shouting were common in my household),  life  was a rather lonely experience. I did not have a sister or a brother to turn to for advice for all of life’s little details.  I was left to my own devices for much of my life.  But that kind of life also forced me to seek friendships in every way possible, mostly in school but also online. It is not uncommon for only children to seek new adventures and open up their hearts and minds to new experiences and new people.  I have known classmates and co-workers who grew up as only children, and we found ourselves with so much in common. Not surprisingly, we became instant friends.

We are not responsible for the fact that life is a lottery, and we cannot have everything we want.  But being an only child has given me a chance to view friendship through a different lens from that of many people. I am more appreciative of friends than I would have been if I had not grown up as an only child.  I’ve tried to make up for that gap in my life  by embracing each friendship to the fullest extent possible through generosity and an open mind.  It is also through a willingness to embrace people for their differences, and to appreciate the interests and values they hold dear, not that we have to agree on every issue.  I detest friendships of utility or pleasure.  They evoke the worst characteristics in humanity.  Are we human beings merely instruments, waiting to be disposed of at each other’s discretion?  Aristotle was very astute in his observation of friendship, and he recommended Category 3 friendship. Category 3 friendship is the most preferable. It is where people themselves and the qualities that they represent provide the incentive for the two parties to be in each other’s lives, and not merely to receive benefits. And this is my idea of friendship.

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