Over 2,000 years ago, Aristotle defined three kinds of friendship. They still apply today. Here’s an edit of the original text, Book VIII of his Nicomachean Ethics:
There are therefore three kinds of friendship, equal in number to the things that are lovable. Now those who love each other for their utility do not love each other for themselves but in virtue of some good which they get from each other. So too with those who love for the sake of pleasure; it is not for their character that men love ready-witted people, but because they find them pleasant.
These are the first two kinds of friendship: utility and pleasure. Aristotle says that, if we love people primarily because they help us or are fun to hang out with, we don’t really love them for who they are - we love them for what they can do for us.
And thus these friendships are only incidental; for it is not as being the man he is that the loved person is loved, but as providing some good or pleasure. Such friendships, then, are easily dissolved, if the parties do not remain like themselves; for if the one party is no longer pleasant or useful, the other ceases to love him.
Aristotle observed that friendships of utility happen mostly among older people, while friendships of pleasure are often a byproduct of young people going through different phases and finding out what they like.
There is nothing wrong with these kinds of friendships, but if they’re all we ever experience, we’ll always crave something more - a friendship of the good.
Perfect friendship is the friendship of men who are good and alike in virtue; for these wish well alike to each other qua good, and they are good themselves. Now those who wish well to their friends for their sake are most truly friends; for they do this by reason of own nature and not incidentally; therefore their friendship lasts as long as they are good-and goodness is an enduring thing.
Friendships of the good aren’t based on what people can do for you or how they make you feel - they simply exist because you value who they are.
Maybe, you love their dedication to hard work or their honesty. Maybe, it’s their courage to step up in conflicts. But whatever pleasure or utility you get out of the relationship is a side effect of loving them as they are. Of course, such friends are rare.
But it is natural that such friendships should be infrequent; for such men are rare. Further, such friendship requires time and familiarity; as the proverb says, men cannot know each other till they have 'eaten salt together'; nor can they admit each other to friendship or be friends till each has been found lovable and been trusted by each.
The only thing that can build friendships of virtue is time.
Think about it. Your closest friends are the people with whom you’ve gone through the most intense phases of your life.
They may not always have been periods of stress, challenge, or trauma, but they were always…forceful. An internship with lots of nights out. A road trip across the country. A year of watching games together each weekend.
Still, surviving hardship together is one of, if not the most powerful way to bond. Seeing one another grow and overcome what we feared is witnessing a show of true character, a display of goodness. But watching each other go through trials takes time.
Those who quickly show the marks of friendship to each other wish to be friends, but are not friends unless they both are lovable and know the fact; for a wish for friendship may arise quickly, but friendship does not.
The older we get, the more deliberate we must be in our efforts to make true friends.
With each passing year, we ask fewer personal questions. We don’t want to risk looking stupid or overstep our boundaries or blow our shot with a business contact. But in the end, we only miss our chances to share. To be vulnerable. To navigate a crisis alongside someone and bond in the process. That’s sad, but we can change.
Friendships of pleasure and utility are fine, but they’re just a basic ingredient of life. If we never venture beyond them, we’ll miss the relationships that give us true meaning and happiness.
The only way to build these friendships - the friendships of the good - is to spend time together and learn to value each other as human beings as we go through our ups and downs.
It won’t always be easy to make this time and it won’t always work out, but if we commit to valuing virtue over comfort and pleasure, maybe, we can look back at the end of our lives and see the faces of a few people we’ll call true friends.
About No Sense Friday: Most people live for Friday. Relaxing on the weekend is fine, but we can’t just waste it away every time. That’s why Friday is the most important day to call out things that make no sense. Because in a way, the concept of ‘Friday’ itself makes no sense.
A good life is lived every day, not just once a week.
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