Part II: types of friendship

What forms does friendship take? How do people fulfill their social needs? Aristotle answers this question in no uncertain terms. He divides friendship into three distinct types that are based on the three objects worthy of affection: the good, the pleasant, and the useful. The lowest form of friendship is the useful type, which arises when men agree on an exchange of goods for mutual benefit. The affection in this type of friendship is not “affection for one another per se but in terms of the good accruing to each from the other.” The next type is the friendship based on pleasure, which is associated with emotional relationships and (in particular) romantic relationships. Both the useful and the pleasant friendships are considered as friendships “only incidentally, since the object of affection is not loved for being the kind of person he is, but for providing some good or pleasure.” In contrast, the highest form of friendship is the one based in virtue, which involves good men engaging in it for its own sake. In this situation, “each partner is both good in the unqualified sense and good for his friend.” This type of friendship encompasses the useful and pleasant types, because that which is good is also pleasant and useful.

This model of the hierarchy of friendship has prevailed throughout the ages. Cicero alludes to it when, in an effort to distinguish the best type of friendship, he writes: “I am not now speaking of the friendships of everyday folk, or of ordinary people — although even these are a source of pleasure and profit — but of true and perfect friendship.” As further evidence that Aristotle has established a lasting set of norms for the discussion of friendship, one need not look farther than the work of the sixteenth-century essayist Michel de Montaigne, who writes that “all associations that are forged and nourished by pleasure and profit… [are] the less friendships, in so far as they mix into friendship another cause and object and reward than friendship itself.” Clearly Aristotle’s influence on the discussion of the forms of friendship is a formidable one.

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