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Aristotle shared his insight regarding an array of subjects throughout his lifetime, his interests included biology, physics, logic, ethics and many others. Out of a variety of virtues that Aristotle was examining, friendship, perhaps, was the topic which was quite extensively explored by the philosopher in many of his writings (Stern-Gillet, 1995).
The three levels of friendship in the modern context
Aristotle classified friendship into three types with the first one based on utility meaning that people communicate with the sole purpose of deriving benefit from each other. This is the lowest form of friendship, described by Aristotle as shallow and easily terminated (Stern-Gillet, 1995). The second type is based on pleasure implying that people gravitate to each other’s appearance, pleasant qualities, sense of humor, or wits. In the first two types of friendship, people are guided by their interests, be it financial gain or seeking pleasure for oneself.
These types are bound to end sooner or later because people’s needs and pleasures tend to change as time passes. The third type, being the highest, is based on goodness, where people guide one another in their search for virtue. The fundamental pillar of virtuous friendship is the selfless willingness to give love unconditionally. Driven by virtue, a person entirely ignores his gain or pleasures, wanting only the best for a friend. This type of friendship is bound to stand the test of time as it is not ruled by self-interests (Pedemonte, 2014).
It is interesting to place the ideas of friendship put forward by Aristotle in the context of present-day realities, and answer the question whether the ideas are still applicable today. The first type, based on utility, is a rather wide-spread type of friendship that is common today. As people have to engage in a variety of business activities with other individuals with the purpose of deriving profit, they easily make new friends.
If one uses the services of a barber for a long time, a friendship may arise out of it although it is purely based on utility, where the barber needs a customer, and the customer needs to have his hair cut regularly. The friendship will fade almost immediately if, for instance, the customer finds another stylist or a barber quits his job. There is no doubt that the friendship based on utility exists today, and it will certainly exist hundreds of years from now as people will always need to communicate with others for benefit.
However, given the profit-driven nature, I would not regard the utility-based relations as friendship. The people engaged in this type of friendship are colleagues, business partners, customers and clients, but, in my opinion, definitely not friends.
The second type, based on interests and pleasure finding is not only common but perhaps more advanced today than it was in Aristotle times. The emergence of the Internet imparted a new, digital shape to this type of friendship. People now may communicate in groups, forums, SM platforms divided by interests. The friendship based on pleasure, in my opinion, is more common among the young people who are looking for their place in the world, trying to justify who they are, and find people who think and act alike.
It would be sad to acknowledge that the third type of friendship, based on virtue and selflessness does not exist nowadays, at least, I would like to believe that it really does. Although Aristotle’s idea of virtue where one selflessly gives everything to a friend expecting nothing in return may be two-sided. What if a person practicing a virtuous friendship meets someone whose idea of friendship is based purely on utility? This will mean that someone may be taking an unfair advantage of another person’s selfless nature.
I have not yet encountered the highest type of friendship as described by Aristotle. My understanding of friendship is based on common interests, hobbies, and life-goals. Bearing that in mind, I would love to have a friend who partially shares my interests, although I love engaging in constructive arguments with my friends over the ideas where our opinions are different. While I value my friends, and I am willing to go an extra mile to help them in need, I expect that they will be there for me when I need them.
With this said, the highest type of friendship does exist nowadays, although it is rather rare. The virtuous type may be common for priests, recluses or highly-religious individuals who are far from the idea of pursuing money and profit.
The friendship needs to be based on justice, although one should not put his own interests forward in a way that would make friendship more beneficial for one particular side (Sokolowski, 2001). Although Aristotle wrote thousands of years ago, his legacy endures to this day, and the three levels of friendship may be found in various communities.
Sokolowski, R. (2001). Friendship and Moral Action in Aristotle. The Journal of Value Inquiry, 35(3), 355-369. Web.
Stern-Gillet, S. (1995). Aristotle’s Philosophy of Friendship. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press.