Philosophers on Friendship

Marcus Tullius Cicero was one of the greatest Roman orators. Cicero was educated in law, philosophy and had exceptional rhetorical skills. Cicero kept a close relationship with Atticus which led him to dedicate Laelius on Friendship which is a treatise on friendship. The two primary ingredients of friendship described by Cicero were honesty and honor. He demands that friends should ask each other what is only honorable without even being asked, and they should give each other frank advice. Cicero claims that loyalty is important in friendship which he refers to as “unwavering constancy” which can never be disloyal (Brown, 2015). Some of the constituents of loyalty include sympathy, sociability and frankness. He notes that friendship can never be achieved without virtues such as temperance, wisdom, courage, and justice. The origin of friendship is not due to sense of personal inadequacy but it is human nature itself. Friendship has no price tag such that it can be bought and politics is not a good place for making friendship. Friendship ends when immorality is involved and when it does end, enmity should be avoided. Criticism is not bad in friendship but friends should not deny each other what they love to do. A lasting friendship is founded on trust. 

Aristotle’s view on friendship is described in Nichomachean Ethics where he identifies three types of friendship: friendship based on utility, friendship based on pleasure and friendship based on good. Friendship based on utility occurs where individuals derive benefits from each other. In this type of friendship, friends are loved for the sake of the benefit that each is aiming to attain. Aristotle described this friendship as easily dissolved and shallow as once the benefit ends, so does the friendship (Kowalski, 2012). Much of this friendship is based on profit and little or no pleasure is involved. The second type is friendship based on pleasure. In this type, friends are motivated or brought together by their pleasing qualities such as good looks and wits. Unlike friendship based on utility which is present among the old, friendship based on pleasure is common among the young as they are driven by feelings and emotions, and they are not looking for a long-term benefit but something that is pleasant in the present. Once the pleasures end, this type of friendship dies. Aristotle considers these two types of friendship as accidental as they are not motivated by the nature of the friend but utility and pleasure. Aristotle recommends the third type of friendship which is based on goodness as both individuals admire each other’s quality of goodness and help one another strive for goodness (Riesbeck, 2016). Aristotle terms this as the highest level of philia as both individuals are alike in virtue. This is a lasting friendship. 

Augustine explains friendship on religious lines. He describes friendship as a delightful bond uniting many into one (White, 2011). His view of friendships is almost similar to Aristotle’s friendship based on goodness (perfect friendship). He viewed good friendship as one that that parties aim at building each other and assisting each other to attain virtue. Friends have the ability to make or break their partners in their journey to virtue. A perfect human relationship is one that helps each other to seek the ultimate good which is God. Augustine noted that the greatest friendship is with God and one this is attained, one should strive to bring others to Him. Augustine asks friends to be cautious as friends can be an impediment to virtue through derailing our practical reasoning, misdirecting our love and fostering vices (Nawar, 2015). Therefore friends can aid or derail the attainment of true virtue which is God. 


Leave a Reply