After what we have said, a discussion of friendship would naturally follow, since it is a virtue or implies virtue, and is besides most necessary with a view to living. For without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods; even rich men and those in possession of office and of dominating power are thought to need friends most of all; for what is the use of such prosperity without the opportunity of beneficence, which is exercised chiefly and in its most laudable form towards friends?

Other than this, friendship protects prosperity, is a refuge in poverty and misfortune, keeps the young from error, assists the elderly, and stimulates to noble actions those in the prime of life. Friendship deepens thought and reinforces action. Parent feels it for offspring and offspring for parent, not only among men but also among most animals. It holds states together, and lawgivers care more for it than for justice. People who are friends have no need for justice, but people who are just need friendship as well, and the truest form of justice is a friendly quality. Friendship is not only necessary but noble, and it is those with the greatest virtue who are friends most of all. Some philosophers say that friendship is a kind of likeness, others say the opposite. But is there only one type of friendship?

This question may be cleared up by identifying the object of love. There are three grounds upon which a person might wish another well, who, to be truly a friend, must both recognise and reciprocate this well-wishing: that he is useful, that he is pleasant, or that he is good. These reasons differ from one another in kind, and it follows that so do the corresponding forms of love and friendship. Yet, only those who love each other because they are good love each other for themselves, whereas friendships that are founded on usefulness or pleasure are only incidental, and are easily dissolved if one or both parties ceases to be useful or pleasant. These break ups are made more difficult if one or both parties has misrepresented himself or has been misled into thinking that he is loved for himself rather than for some incidental attribute. After a break up, each party should retain some consideration for the other in honour of their former friendship. Friendships that are founded on usefulness are particularly frequent in the elderly, and those on pleasure in the young. As the young are both pleasure seeking and dominated by their emotions, they quickly fall in and out of love, changing often within a single day.

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 their own nature and not incidentally; therefore their friendship lasts as long as they are good – and goodness is an enduring thing.

The good are not only good to each other, but also useful and pleasant, and this without qualification. It follows that love and friendship are to be found most and in their best form between such virtuous people. Unfortunately, such perfect friendships are as rare as virtuous people themselves, and require a lot of time and familiarity, for people cannot know and trust each other until, as the proverb says, they have eaten salt together. A wish for friendship may arise quickly, but perfect friendship itself does not, and then only in those who are loveable and who are conscious of this fact. In loving his friend, a person loves both the friend and that which is good for him personally, and this need not involve any contradiction. Thus, the person wishes the same things for himself and for his friend, and shares in the same joys and sorrows. He makes an equal return in goodwill and pleasantness, in accordance with the saying that friendship is equality.

There are some relationships, such as those between older and younger or ruler and subject, in which there is a clear inequality between the parties. In such unequal relationships, each party makes a different return according to the nature of the relationship. For instance, a father renders one thing to his son, and the son renders another, equally appropriate, thing to his father. At the same time, the son should love his father more than his father loves him, and in proportion to his superior merit – thereby re-establishing a sort of equality. If, however, persons are vastly unequal in virtue or in wealth or in anything else, then they cannot be friends, and men of no account do not expect to be friends with the best or wisest men.

Most people prefer to be loved rather than to love because they are avid of flattery. However, friendship depends more on loving than on being loved, and an enduring friendship requires due measures of loving. Like loves like, and this is especially true in the case of virtue, for virtuous people hold fast to each other, and neither go wrong nor let their friend go wrong. Wicked people on the other hand do not even remain like to themselves, let alone to each other, and become friends only for a short time so as to delight in each other’s wickedness.

Just as friendship binds together individuals, so justice binds together communities. Friendship is closely related to justice, and the demands of justice increase with the strength of a friendship. For this reason, it is more terrible to defraud a friend than a citizen, more terrible not to help a brother than a stranger, and more terrible to wound a father than anyone else. At the same time, the friendship of kindred and that of citizens should be marked off from the rest on the grounds that they rely on a sort of compact and are therefore more like mere friendships of association.

There are three kinds of constitution, monarchy, aristocracy, and timocracy or polity, monarchy being the best kind and timocracy the worst. Their respective perversions are tyranny, oligarchy, and democracy, in which privileges are not extended according to merit and rulers look after their own interest rather than the common interest. Of the perversions, tyranny is the worst and democracy is the least bad, with the result that the perversion of the best is the worst and that of the worst is the best. The relationship between father and son is analogous to monarchy, that between man and wife to aristocracy, and that between brothers to timocracy. If these relationships become devoid of friendship or justice, they descend into the perversions of the constitutions to which they are analogous.

Complaints and reproaches tend to arise in the friendship of utility, since those who are friends on the ground of pleasure both get at the same time that which they desire, and those who are friends on the ground of virtue are anxious to do well by each other. Differences also tend to arise in friendships of superior and inferior, for each expects to get more out of the other, and the friendship ends up being dissolved. The better or more useful person expects that he should get more, or else he feels less like he is being a friend and more like he is performing an act of public service. The more needy or inferior person also thinks that he should get more, reasoning that there is otherwise no use in being the friend of a good or powerful person. Each party is justified in his claim, and each should get more out of the friendship than the other – but not of the same thing. The superior person should get more honour, and the inferior person more gain. However, it is often the case that a benefactor loves his beneficiary more than his beneficiary loves him in return because it is more pleasurable to give than to receive and because the benefactor is in some sense responsible for ‘creating’ the beneficiary, much like an artist creates a work of art. It is preferable to have a small number of meaningful friendships than many superficial ones. A virtuous person may be self-sufficient, yet he will seek out friends, for friendship is one of the greatest goods in life.

A person is proud if he both is and thinks himself to be worthy of great things. If he both is and thinks himself to be worthy of small things he is not proud but temperate, for pride implies greatness. In terms of the vices, a person who thinks himself worthy of great things when he is unworthy of them is vain, whereas a person who thinks himself worthy of less than he is worthy of is pusillanimous. Compared to vanity, pusillanimity is both commoner and worse, and so more opposed to pride.

Although the proud person is an extreme in respect of the greatness of his claims, he is a mean in respect of their truthfulness. He is avid of his just deserts and particularly of honour, the prize of virtue and the greatest of external goods. He is moderately pleased to accept great honours conferred by good people, but he utterly despises honours from casual people and on trifling grounds. As a person who deserves more is better, the truly proud person is good, and as he is good, he is also rare. In sum, pride is a crown of the virtues; it is not found without them, and it makes them greater.

The proud person is liable to disdain and to despise, but as he thinks rightly, he does so justly, whereas the many disdain and despise at random. Although the proud person is dignified towards the great and the good, he is unassuming towards the middle classes; for it is a difficult and lofty thing to be superior to the former, but easy to be so to the latter, and a lofty bearing over the former is no mark of ill-breeding, but among humble people it is as vulgar as a display of strength against the weak.

Again, it is characteristic of the proud man not to aim at the things commonly held in honour, or the things in which others excel; to be sluggish and to hold back except where great honour or a great work is at stake, and to be a man of few deeds, but of great and notable ones. He must also be open in his hate and in his love (for to conceal one’s feelings, i.e. to care less for truth than for what people will think, is a coward’s part), and must speak and act openly; for he is free of speech because he is contemptuous, and he is given to telling the truth, except when he speaks in irony to the vulgar.

Nicomachean Ethics, Book 4

Intellectual virtues are developed through teaching, and moral virtues through habit. Moral virtues are not in our nature, but nor are they contrary to our nature, which is adapted to receive them. Sight and hearing are in our nature, and so they are given to us. In contrast, the arts and the moral virtues are not given to us, but are acquired through constant exercise. Just as a man becomes a sculptor by sculpting, so he becomes just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.

It is impossible to define virtue with any precision, as the goodness of a feeling or action depends on individual circumstances. However, just as strength is destroyed by a defect or excess of exercise, so the virtues are destroyed by their defect or excess. For instance, he who flies from everything becomes a coward, whereas he who meets with every danger becomes rash. In contrast, courage is preserved by the mean.

Moral excellence is closely related to pleasure and pain: it is in pursuing and avoiding pleasure and pain that bad things are done and noble things not, and so it is by pleasure and pain that bad people are bad. There are three objects of choice, the noble, the advantageous, and the pleasant, and three objects of avoidance which are their contraries, the base, the injurious, and the painful. The good tend to go right, the bad wrong, about these, and especially about pleasure which is common to the animals and which is also found in the advantageous and in the noble. A good person feels pleasure at the most beautiful or noble (kalos) actions, whereas a person who is not good often finds his perceptions of what is most pleasant to be misleading. It is harder to fight with pleasure than with anger, but both art and virtue are concerned with what is harder, and even the good is better when it is harder.

A person may do a seemingly virtuous action by chance or under compulsion. His action is truly virtuous only if (1) he knows that the action is virtuous, (2) he chooses to do the action for the sake of being virtuous, (3) his action proceeds from a firm and unchangeable character. In short, an action is truly virtuous if it is such as a virtuous person would do.

But most people do not do these, but take refuge in theory and think they are being philosophers and will become good in this way, behaving somewhat like patients who listen attentively to their doctors, but do none of the things they are ordered to do.

There are three things that are found in the soul, passions, faculties, and dispositions. As the virtues are neither passions nor faculties, they must be dispositions. In light of this, virtue can be defined as a disposition to aim at the intermediate between deficiency and excess, or, in other words, as a disposition to aim at the mean, which, unlike deficiency or excess, is a form of success and worthy of praise. While it is possible to fail in many ways, it is possible to succeed in one way alone, which is why the one is easy and the other is difficult. By the same token, men may be bad in many ways, but good in one way only.

So far so good, except that not every passion or action admits of a mean, for instance, not envy or murder. It is never a question of murdering the right person, at the right time, and in the right way, for murder is bad in itself and neither a deficiency nor an excess. The principle virtues along with their corresponding vices are listed in the table.

In some cases, one vice can be closer to the virtue than the contrary vice, for instance, rashness is closer to courage than cowardice, and prodigality is closer to liberality than meanness. This is not only because the first vice is more similar to the virtue than the contrary vice, but also because the contrary vice is the more common. Rashness is more similar to courage than cowardice, which is more common than rashness, and prodigality is more similar to liberality than meanness, which is more common than prodigality. Hence people oppose not rashness but cowardice to courage, and not prodigality but meanness to liberality.

It is no easy task to be good. For a person to increase his likelihood of hitting the mean, he should (1) avoid the vice that is furthest from the virtue, (2) consider his vices and drag himself to their contrary extremes, (3) be wary of pleasure which clouds judgement and leads astray. The person may miss the mean by a little, for instance, he may get angry too soon or not enough, and still be praised for being either manly or good-tempered. It is only if he deviates more widely from the mean that he becomes blameworthy; how widely is difficult to determine, as it depends on the individual circumstances and on how they are perceived.

For in everything it is no easy task to find the middle … anyone can get angry – that is easy – or give or spend money; but to do this to the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, with the right motive, and in the right way, that is not for everyone, nor is it easy; wherefore goodness is both rare and laudable and noble.

Adapted from Aristotle’s Universe: A Primer on Aristotle.

One swallow does not make a summer, nor does one day; and so too one day, or a short time, does not make a man blessed and happy.

For Aristotle, a thing is best understood by looking at its end, goal, or purpose (telos). For instance, the end of a knife is to cut, and it is by grasping this that one best understands what a knife is; the end of medicine is good health, and it is by grasping this that one best understands what medicine is (or ideally should be). If one does this for some time, it soon becomes apparent that some ends are subordinate to higher ends, which are themselves subordinate to still higher ends.

If, then, there is some end of the things we do, which we desire for its own sake (everything else being desired for the sake of this) … clearly this must be the good and the chief good. Will not the knowledge of it, then, have a great influence on life? Shall we not, like archers who have a mark to aim at, be more likely to hit upon what is right?

The science that has for object the chief good, and whose end therefore includes that of all the others, is none other than the political art. To obtain the chief good for one person is fine enough, but to obtain it for the state is finer and more godlike. In inquiring into the chief good, care must be taken not to be too precise: fine and just actions admit of much variety and fluctuation of opinion, and ‘it is the mark of an educated man to look for precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits’.

People agree that the chief good is happiness (eudaimonia), but the many and the wise disagree as to its nature. The many and vulgar identify happiness with sensual pleasure, but a life of sensual pleasure is no better than that of a beast. People of superior refinement and active disposition identify happiness with honour, but honour is merely a mark of virtue, and one that is reliant upon the recognition of others. Neither can happiness be identified with virtue itself, for then happiness would be compatible with a lifetime of sleep or inactivity or with the greatest sufferings and misfortunes.

According to Plato there is such a thing as the Form of the Good in which all good things share. However, this notion should be rejected as ‘piety requires us to honour truth above our friends’. Aristotle raises eight objections to the Theory of the Forms, but claims that this is not the place to investigate it. He revisits the subject in the Metaphysics.

Returning to the search for the chief good, a goal that is an end in itself is more worthy of pursuit than one that is merely a means to an end, and a goal that is never a means to an end but only ever an end in itself is more worthy of pursuit than one that is or can be both.

Now such a thing happiness, above all else, is held to be; for this we choose always for self and never for the sake of something else, but honour, pleasure, reason, and every virtue we choose indeed for themselves (for if nothing resulted from them we should still choose each of them), but we choose them also for the sake of happiness, judging that by means of them we shall be happy. Happiness, on the other hand, no one chooses for the sake of these, nor, in general, for anything other than itself.

All well and good, but what does happiness actually consist in? It is by understanding the distinctive function of a thing that one can understand its essence. For instance, one cannot understand what it is to be a gardener unless one can understand that the distinctive function of a gardener is ‘to tend to a garden with a certain degree of skill’. Whereas human beings need nourishment like plants and have sentience like animals, their distinctive function is their unique capacity to reason. Thus the Supreme Good, or Happiness, for human beings is to lead a life that encourages the exercise and development of reason and the practice of virtue. Happiness resides not so much in the possession as in the practice of reason and virtue, for just as it is not the strong and beautiful but those who compete well who win at the Olympic Games, so it is not the wise and virtuous but those who act well who win – and rightly win – the noble and good things in life. Their life is also more pleasant, as virtuous actions are pleasant by nature, and all the more pleasant still to the lover of virtue.

Now for most men their pleasures are in conflict with one another because these are not by nature pleasant, but the lovers of what is noble find pleasant the things that are by nature pleasant; and virtuous actions are such, so that these are pleasant for such men as well as in their own nature. Their life, therefore, has no further need of pleasure as a sort of adventitious charm, but has its pleasure in itself.

A person’s good or bad fortune can play a part in determining his happiness; for instance, happiness can be affected by such factors as material circumstances, social position, and even physical appearance. Yet, by living life to the full according to his essential nature as a rational being, a person is bound to become happy regardless of his good or bad fortune. For this reason, happiness is more a question of behaviour and of habit – of excellence and of virtue – than of luck. A person who cultivates reason and who lives according to rational principles is able to bear his misfortunes with equanimity, and thus can never be said to be truly unhappy. Even the greatest misfortunes can be borne with resignation, not through insensibility to pain but through nobility and greatness of soul.

With regard to the soul, it comprises a rational and an irrational part. The irrational part has a vegetative element that is concerned with nutrition and growth, and an appetitive element that contains a person’s impulses and that more or less obeys the rational part. If the rational part is strong, as in the virtuous person, it is able to exert a greater degree of control over the appetitive element of the irrational part. Similarly, there are two kinds of virtue, one that pertains to the intellect and that consists in philosophic and practical wisdom (dianoetic virtues), and another that pertains to the character and that consists in liberality and temperance (ethical or moral virtues). A person may be praised for either or both kinds of virtue.

Adapted from Aristotle’s Universe: A Primer on Aristotle

Yesterday, I prepared a dinner for some friends, and we recited the Socratic Prayer from the Phaedrus in lieu of grace, with someone reading the lines of Socrates and someone else that of Phaedrus.

I think I will be sticking with the Socratic Prayer, it is absolutely perfect for a dinner amongst friends.

Socrates: Beloved Pan, and all ye other gods who haunt this place, give me beauty in the inward soul; and may the outward and inward man be at one. May I reckon the wise to be the wealthy, and may I have such a quantity of gold as a temperate man and he only can bear and carry. – Anything more? The prayer, I think, is enough for me.
Phaedrus: Ask the same for me, for friends should have all things in common.
Socrates: Let us go [eat].