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· Metafriending Aristotle on Facebook.

By DIANA SCHAUB [The Claremont Review] – Plato, Epicurus, Cicero, and Seneca all wrote about friendship, but Aristotle is the place to start. Although not regarded as the most affable or approachable of writers, Aristotle does devote one fifth of his Nicomachean Ethics to an analysis of friendship, which is more space than he gives to the virtues of courage, moderation, and justice combined. What accounts for this privileged position?We perhaps get a clue when we realize that the only exhortation to virtue contained in the Ethics is for the sake of friendship. Aristotle says: “everyone should earnestly shun vice and try to be decent; for that is how someone will have a friendly relation to himself and will become a friend to another.” Aristotle bids his audience be good so that they will be lovable—lovability being required for friendship with oneself (which is the proper, self-improving form of self-love as opposed to the self-indulgent form) and friendship with another (whose goodness is so dear that he becomes, in fact, a second self). Happily, the view that friends are good things is probably ineradicable. As Aristotle said, “no one would choose to live without friends even if he had all the other goods.” But we tend to forget about the link between friendship and virtue which forms the basis of Aristotle’s entire discussion. He begins by stating that “friendship is a virtue, or involves virtue.” The first formulation—”friendship is a virtue”—points to the social virtue of amicability (a generalized friendliness without special attachment that avoids the opposing vices of fawning and cantankerousness). The second formulation—that friendship involves virtue—is more interesting (and Aristotle spends the next 26 chapters elaborating its meaning). Since the Greek preposition is meta, a more literal translation would read: “friendship is with virtue.” Aristotle’s curious definition implies that friendship and virtue are themselves friends, for like friends, they are with one another. So, if you want to find friendship, look for virtue, and vice versa.

Because friendship is linked to virtue, not every relation commonly called friendship is, in truth, friendship. Aristotle engages in a philosophic version of “unfriending”: gently, he sets out to correct his readers—a correction necessary in every era, but especially ours. Friendships premised on mutual utility, an exceedingly prevalent form of human connection, turn out to be seriously deficient—limited both in scope and duration. Since the friends value each other on account of something incidental, the friendship is truly co-incidental. It was formed because the two happened to be of use to one another and it remains dependent upon continued usefulness. These are implicitly contractual partnerships, more like ephemeral alliances than real friendships. In more explicitly profit-driven settings (a commercial transaction, for instance), individuals are upfront about using people for their own ends. However, problems arise in friendships of utility since the friends disguise the fact that they are more interested in getting than giving. Suspicion and recrimination are endemic to such friendships. I have heard of youngsters with dirt bikes who prefer not to get the bikes out when bike-less friends visit, not because they don’t like to share, but because they worry that their friends might be friends of convenience only. Sensitive youngsters don’t want to tempt others into confirming their suspicions. Along with the opportunistic of all ages, it is the old (intent on gain or perhaps simply survival) who are most given to friendships of utility.

More typical of the innocent young are friendships of pleasure…

Continued at The Claremont Review | More Chronicle & Notices.

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