ARISTOTLE’S MODEL OF FRIENDSHIP can be argued that the antique model of friendship enshrined by Aristotle is a very limited and ideologically burdened account. In the classical tradition the basic model of friendship that every commentator relies upon is the ideal relationship between two freeborn adult males.
If Aristotle is right, then friendships based on pleasure or on utility are certainly possible, but they are all deficient modes of friendship since the final tendency of friendship is towards virtue and the good. In response to this, one would have to say that from a contemporary perspective friendship is not obviously about virtue in the first -choose our friends on the basis of what we have in common as well as whether we enjoy being with them. Our friends may inspire us to become better people, but this will not always be the case. And even if we often do think of our friends as decent people, it is not clear that we have to. Again, I may like someone and continue to think of her as a friend although I am well aware of all of her moral failings.
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If it is said that such a relationship cannot be considered a real friendship, then this could only be a stipulated assertion, based upon an a priori definition of what friendship is. In fact, we might say that, from a contemporary perspective, to describe two people as “friends” does not entail anything about their moral involvement with each other.
Aristotle insists, for example, that a good friend will avoid burdening his friends with his own troubles and pains. According to Aristotle, “That is why someone with a manly nature tries to prevent his friend from sharing his pain. Unless he is unusually immune to pain, he cannot endure pain coming to his friends; and he does not allow others to share his mourning at all, since he is not prone to mourn himself either.” And he concludes, “Females, however, and effeminate men enjoy having people wail with them; they love them as friends who share their distress. But in everything we clearly must imitate the better person.”
Aristotle argues that no one would ever choose to live without friends, even if he had all the other goods. This is, I think, a true claim—it may even be obvious—but it is at the same time a profound and significant truth about human beings. Later Aristotle explains: “Surely, it is absurd to make the blessed person solitary. For no one would choose to have all [other] goods and yet be alone, since a human being is political, tending by nature to live together with others” (1169b) . This suggests that being with others, and especially with those, to whom we are friends, is not merely a desirable benefit of being alive but a fundamental condition for living a fully human existence and for appreciating the value of life in the first place.
Aristotle’s philosophical account of friendship has remained the paradigmatic theory of friendship for those who succeeded him. And even though there has always been an enormous amount of scholarly controversy concerning the proper interpretation of his most basic ideas.
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