Friendliness is considered to be justice
in the fullest sense.
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Friendship is clearly necessary and splendid, but people
disagree on its precise nature. Friendship consists of a mutual
feeling of goodwill between two people.
There are three kinds of friendship. The first is friendship
based on utility, where both people derive some benefit from each
other. The second is friendship based on pleasure, where
both people are drawn to the other’s wit, good looks, or other pleasant
qualities. The third is friendship based on goodness, where both
people admire the other’s goodness and help one another strive for
The first two kinds of friendship are only accidental,
because in these cases friends are motivated by their own utility
and pleasure, not by anything essential to the nature of the friend.
Both of these kinds of friendship are short-lived because one’s
needs and pleasures are apt to change over time.
Goodness is an enduring quality, so friendships based
on goodness tend to be long lasting. This friendship encompasses
the other two, as good friends are useful to one another and please
one another. Such friendship is rare and takes time to develop,
but it is the best. Bad people can be friends for reasons of pleasure
or utility, but only good people can be friends for each other’s
On the whole, friendships consist of equal exchanges,
whether of utility, pleasantness, or goodness. However, there are
some relationships that by their nature exist between two people
of unequal standing: father-son, husband-wife, ruler-subject. In
these relationships, a different kind of love is called for from
each party, and the amount of love should be proportional to the
merit of each person. For instance, a subject should show more love
for a ruler than the the reverse. When there is too great a gap
between people, friendship is impossible, and often two friends
will grow apart if one becomes far more virtuous than the other.
Most people prefer being loved to loving, since they desire
flattery and honor. The true mark of friendship, though, is that
it consists more of loving than of being loved. Friendships endure
when each friend loves the other according to the other’s merit.
Justice and friendship are closely connected, as both
tie communities together. Since justice, friendship, and community
are closely related, it is far worse to abuse a close friend or
family member than it is to abuse a stranger.
There are three kinds of political constitution: monarchy,
aristocracy, and timocracy. Tyranny is the corruption of monarchy, where
the tyrant looks out for his own interest rather than that of his subjects. Oligarchy
is a perversion of aristocracy, and democracy is a perversion of
timocracy, but neither is as bad as tyranny. Monarchy is analogous
to the father-son relationship, aristocracy to the husband-wife
relationship, and timocracy to the relationship between brothers. Corrupt
political institutions are like those relationships where no friendship
exists, as in the master-slave relationship.
Problems between friends occur most frequently
within friendships based on utility. On the whole, the person who
receives a service, and not the giver, should determine the value
of that service. In unequal friendship, it is important that each
person receive an appropriate benefit. A poor person cannot give
money to a rich benefactor, but can give whatever honor is within
the poor person’s means.
In discussing friendship, Aristotle seems intent on discussing
every kind of interpersonal relationship and deals at some length
with family relationships and political institutions. Nonetheless,
his model of ideal friendship is that which exists between two aristocratic
men of great virtue. These men are not bonded together through need,
utility, or familial duty, but rather through mutual respect and
Aristotle explains that friendship is the act of loving
rather than the act of being loved. It is important that friendship
be active, since Aristotle treats friendship as an energeia, akin
to pleasure and happiness. Friendship is one of the essential components
of the good life, and the value of friendship is in having and enjoying
While we in the modern world certainly place a high premium
on friendship, it carries far more importance for Aristotle. Flipping through
modern works on ethics, it would be difficult to find an extended
discussion of friendship at all, let alone a discussion that occupies
one-fifth of an exhaustive treatment of the subject, as Aristotle’s
does. Friendship no longer carries significant philosophical importance
to us because we live in a world where individualism predominates.
While most of us are not singlemindedly selfish, we generally assume
that we each choose our own path in life, which is defined by a
personal set of goals and values. Friends are a help and a comfort
along the way, but we cannot expect them to share all our goals
Aristotle’s worldview is significantly different because
he thinks of human life as having a telos, or end
goal, toward which it is heading. In Aristotle’s world, city-states
are tightly knit communities where no strong distinction exists
between public and private life. All citizens share the same goals
and values, so the pursuit of happiness is a cooperative enterprise.
The close connection between friendship, the community,
and the individual explains why we find a discussion of political
constitutions in the middle of Book VIII. According to Aristotle,
citizens should not cooperate simply because the laws compel them
to. Rather, they should cooperate out of a friendly feeling that
comes from sharing their lives and goals with one another. His analogies between
political relationships and family relationships are not simply
metaphorical: both should be determined primarily by love and duty.
Laws exist only as safeguards for when the appropriate friendly
feelings break down.
Aristotle discusses political constitutions in much greater
detail in the Politics, which does not agree entirely
with his assessment in the Ethics. In that work,
he describes oligarchy as the corrupt form of aristocracy, and he
is not so firm in his claim that monarchy is superior to aristocracy
Timocracy, which in the Politics is called
a polity or constitutional government, derives its name from the
Greek word teme, meaning property qualification.
The idea is that all citizens with a minimal property qualification
have equal rights. This is roughly the form of government that existed
Monarchy, aristocracy, and timocracy are all considered
to be good forms of government because they all extend privileges according
to merit. In a monarchy, the king is of more noble stature than
any of his subjects, and so he has every right to govern absolutely
so long as he cares for them. An aristocracy consists of a small ruling
elite who again are the most noble, and a timocracy also proffers
benefits according to each person’s due. This conferring of benefits
according to merit is the principle of distributive justice, which Aristotle
discusses in Book V.
When merit ceases to determine privilege in a state, that
state slides from one of these forms of government to a corrupt
form. For instance, a tyrant is a king who no longer cares for his
subjects and so is no longer virtuous and worthy of his place.
It may seem strange that Aristotle lists democracy among
the corrupt forms of government, as we generally think of democracy
as one of the greatest inventions of the Greeks. Aristotle
uses “democracy” to mean a kind of mob rule, where those who are
afforded the most privilege are not necessarily those who most deserve