Aristotle on the good of virtue-friendship
Aristotle's well-known divisions of friendship, those based on utility, pleasure and virtue, are based on the kind of good each provides. It is fairly easy to see what is contributed by utility- and pleasure-friendships, but virtue-friendship presents a special difficulty. Aristotle writes that virtue-friendship occurs between good (virtuous) persons, each of whom is happy because of that goodness. Aristotle also asserts, however, that the good (happy) person, especially the philosopher, is largely self-sufficient, needing little in the way of external goods for his happiness. Such a person is virtuous not only in the moral sense but intellectually, having developed the capacities of the mind to make effective moral decisions and, in the case of the philosopher, to contemplate the most divine of subjects. If that is the case, it is not difficult to see why such a person would not need many utility- or pleasure-friends, but why would he need virtue-friends? What does virtue-friendship contribute to the happiness of one who is already happy? Possible answers to those questions have been provided by a number of commentators, whose views will be considered below. I believe their answers can be classified into three general types of argument: the ‘opportunity argument’, the ‘reassurance argument’ and the ‘pleasure argument’. Although all of these have their merits, each has pitfalls. There is another possible answer, an ‘essentialist argument’, which more accurately describes Aristotle's view. I will argue that virtue-friends come to understand each other's true selves, and each, through the awareness and contemplation of the other, becomes a better human being and, consequently, happier.
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Document Type: Research Article
Affiliations: Campbell University, NC.
Publication date: 01 February 1992