friendship and happiness

It may be conceded that friendship is desired for its own sake, but this does not prove that friendship is necessary for happiness. Can we be happy without friends? Aristotle examines this question and concludes that since people are naturally inclined to interact with each other, they will not be happy unless they engage in some sort of interaction:

In misfortune a man needs someone who will do good to him, and in good fortune he will need someone to whom he may do good.
It is perhaps also strange to make a supremely happy man live his life in isolation. No one would choose to have all good things by himself, for man is a social and political being… Even a happy man needs society.

Cicero agrees that friendship is essential to happiness, and even places it over material goods in importance because of its lasting nature: “Friendships are a man’s own possession, permanent, stable, and reliable, so much so that even if he should be able to keep those things which we call the gifts of fortune, still his life could not possibly be happy if it were devoid and empty of friends.” Aquinas takes this assertion and qualifies it in light of the Christian tradition. In an allusion to Aristotle, he writes:

If the question refers to the happiness of the present life then, as the Philosopher says, the happy man needs friends… for good activity….
But if the question refers to the perfect happiness we will have in heaven, friendship is not a necessary requirement for happiness since man has in God all the fullness of his perfection. But friendship makes for the well-being of happiness.

He is not downplaying the importance of human friendship, but rather emphasizing the fact that perfect happiness comes from friendship with God: “If there were only one soul loving God, that soul would be happy, though not having a neighbor to love. But supposing the neighbor to be there, love of him follows from perfect love of God.” This friendship with the divine will be discussed later in the section entitled Friendship with God.

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