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Deliberation concerns what is usually [one way rather than another], where the outcome is unclear and the right way to act is undefined. And we enlist partners in deliberation on large issues when we distrust our own ability to discern [the right answer].
Here, Aristotle describes the importance of friendship to decision-making. Other people can help us act virtuously by improving our ability to deliberate or, as defined by Aristotle, to contemplate matters in which we can take action. This idea feeds into Aristotle’s emphasis on the importance of politics to human life—the meeting of multiple minds to deliberate on how to increase the happiness of themselves and their community. At the core of this view of politics stands a sense of friendship.
Clearly, the states we have mentioned are blameworthy, and the state intermediate them is praiseworthy; in accord with it one accepts or objects to things when it is right and in the right way. This state has no name, but it would seem to be most like friendship; for the character of the person in the intermediate state is just what we mean in speaking of a decent friend, except that friend is also fond of us.
Here, Aristotle advocates for friendliness and civility even with people who are not our close friends. He takes pains to point out that this friendliness must be balanced, however. A person who seems disagreeable about everything will never progress very far, but a person who behaves in an ingratiating way to everybody, who tries to please everyone and cause no hurt, will ultimately cause damage to him/herself and others too. A balanced friendliness with strangers need not entail bending over backward for others, merely that we treat them as we would a friend, without expecting the true underlying fondness we have for actual friends.
[M]ost lawful actions, we might say, are those produced by virtue as a whole; for the law prescribes living in accord with each virtue, and forbids living in accord with each vice.
Aristotle describes how communities, which are a larger extension of friendship, can help a person live with virtue through the upholding of societal structure. Laws exist as a key part of the structure of any community, and laws are, at base, put in place so as to maintain virtue and stave off vice. By living as part of a community and abiding by that community’s laws, a person receives a framework in which to practice living virtuously.
[T]hose who wish goods to their friend for the friend’s own sake are friends most of all; for they have this attitude because of the friend himself, not coincidentally.
Here, rather than the friendship of fellow citizens or political collaborators, Aristotle discusses the friendship of truly close friends. In his view, true friendship is not defined by what people need or want from each other because those things are likely to change with time. True friendship is rather defined by a love for another person regardless of what can be received from them because of a mutual admiration for each other’s unchanging moral character, independent of situational factors.
Concord also appears to be a feature of friendship. That is why it is not merely sharing a belief, since this might happen among people who do not know each other. Nor are people said to be in concord when they agree on just anything, on astronomical questions, for instance, since concord on these questions is not a feature of friendship. Rather, a city is said to be in concord when [its citizens] agree on what is advantageous, make the same decision, and act on their common resolution.
Aristotle elaborates on his idea of friendship, noting that a key feature of companionship is collaboration. Friendship is not merely agreeing with somebody on something but coming together with those agreeing beliefs and determining a mutually advantageous course of action. Since happiness is an activity, friendship’s role in happiness must also be active. Anyone can share a belief with another person, but friends will be able to work together effectively to improve the world.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Nicomachean Ethics!