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Although he lived long ago, the ethical writings of the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BCE) still have relevance to the present day, particularly when we want to understand the meaning of friendship. In Books VIII and IX of his work the Nichomachean Ethics (named in honor of both his father and son, who shared the name Nichomachus), Aristotle categorizes three different types of friendship: friendships of utility, friendships of pleasure, and friendships of the good (also known as virtuous friendships). Briefly, friendships of utility are where people are on cordial terms primarily because each person benefits from the other in some way: business partnerships, relationships among co-workers, and classmate connections are examples. Friendships of pleasure are those where individuals seek out each other’s company because of the joy it brings them. Passionate love affairs, people belonging to the same cultural or social organization, and fishing buddies all fall into this category. Most important of all are friendships of the good. These are friendships based upon mutual respect, admiration for each other’s virtues, and a strong desire to aid and assist the other person because one recognizes an essential goodness in them. (See Tim Madigan’s article ‘Aristotle’s Email, Or, Friendship in the Cyber Age’ in Philosophy Now 61 for further details on these categories.)

But, the questions remain – just why do we need friends? And if we do need them, how do such relationships arise?


This article was originally published in the June/July 2018 issue of Philosophy Now. The article can also be viewed on the publisher's website:

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