Lecture 19

Lecture 19

I appreciate a useful friend primarily for his usefulness for me and only secondarily or indirectly for any quality he may have in himself (e.g. his professionalism is useful to me). This has a parallel in the phenomenon of esteem which is a good accorded by others which therefore, as previously mentioned, can just as easily be taken away by them because the esteem does not reside intrinsically in the individual esteemed as his own (1095b25). In esteeming me, a friend is useful to me.

Aristotle names two ends of practical life in the polis: esteem and money, which have the status of goods for a good life. If the end of practical social life is to be held in high regard by others and to enter friendships that are useful to this end or the end of making money (1096a6), the man who pursues such a life comes to a stand that is upheld by others or is pursuing an end which is endless in the sense that it can never come to final completion. These deficiencies are to be overcome in a life which is a practical working of the soul in accordance with its abilities and excellences (1102a5, 1098a17) and in which friendships are based on the well-wishing for each other's accomplished excellence.

Telei/a d" e)stin h( tw=n a)gaqw=n fili/a kai\ kat" a)reth\n. ou(=toi ga\r ta)gaqa\ o(moi/wj bou/lontai a)llh/loij, $(= a)gaqoi/, a)gaqoi\ d" ei)si kaq" au(tou/j: (1156b7)

The perfect friendship [which has come to an end or final state to which nothing further could be added] is that between the good in the sense of those who are similar according to their excellence, for such friends want for each other alike the good insofar as they are good, and they are good in themselves.

Such friends who are good in themselves according to the excellence they have achieved through work (e)ne/rgeia) have a stand in themselves and they like each other not because they want an advantage from each other nor because they are simply uplifting for each other's moods, but because they estimate each other's highest capabilities. Such friends like each other and "have each other through themselves" in who they are "and not according to what happens accidentally" (di" au(tou\j ga\r ou(/twj e)/xousi kai\ ou) kata\ sumbebhko/j 1156b11). These highest capabilities are principally self-control in which the desires are set limits by understanding, manliness in the sense of a judicious control over the passions in dealing with adverse situations, prudent practical insight which is able to assess all the aspects of each given situation and choose an appropriate course of action which hits the mean, and justice in the sense of a fairness in social intercourse in which each party receives his due (cf. Eth. Nic. Book V). Other capabilities which friends can like in each other are excellences in the sense of what the friend is good at, for being good at something is also an a)reth/. The estimation of a friend in what this friend is good at can be a liking simply on the basis of utility which regards the friend as a means to an end, or it can be a liking and appreciation of the other's ability as such, apart from any considerations of utility and the benefit to be had from this ability.

Genuine friendship of the capable attained through time and habit

Just as the capabilities which constitute a good life have to be practised to be attained through a working of the soul, so too do friendships between men who are good and capable in themselves require time and habitual intercourse (e)/ti de\ prosdei=tai xro/nou kai\ sunhqei/aj 1156b26). They do not just happen by accident like friendships based on pleasure. The men "cannot get to know each other until they have consumed the proverbial amount of salt together" (1156b27). Friendship between good men is an ethical phenomenon in the sense that it grows out of habitual practices and is therefore also lasting. Moreover, such a friendship is woven into the fabric of a happy life constituted by good habitual practices and forms part of the end or perfection of a happy life in society. But, as Aristotle points out, such friendships of the good are rare, because capable men whose life-energies are directed at practising and attaining excellence in its various ethical, social aspects are also rare (1156b25). Capable men are few and far between.

Good friends like each other in an appreciation of each other's good qualities, which are acquired, habitual capabilities of various sorts. Such appreciation and even admiration are genuine in the sense that the qualities in question really do inhere in the friends themselves. (A)reth/ falls under the category of quality: e)n t%= poi%= ai( a)retai/ 1096a25, i.e. how someone is.) The estimation in which the friend is held has no trace of flattery, which is a disingenuous holding-in-high-estimation in order to gain some sort of benefit from the other. Likewise, in a genuine appreciation of each other's capabilities, the covert hostility of stand-offishness, in which the prime concern is for one's own standing in relation to the other, plays no role. Thus we can see more clearly how Aristotle conceives friendship as a mean between flattery and hostility (cf. previous lectures).

Since time is required to attain the capabilities constituting a good life, it can be no surprise that friendship between good men is not to be found among the young, who live more for momentary pleasure and fun, and have not yet practised and habituated an ethical stance in the world consisting of a texture of good practices. "They live their lives according to mood and mostly pursue pleasure for themselves and what is immediately present." (kata\ pa/qoj ga\r ou(/toi zw=si, kai\ ma/lista diw/kousi to h(du\ au(toi=j kai\ to\ paro/n 1156a33). For young people more than older, more experienced people, the world opens up in an array of changing moods which affect the soul and change it "all at once" (kata/stasin a)qro/an Rhet. A 11 1369b33) from one mood to another, from feeling good to feeling bad and conversely.

A man therefore comes to stand in his existence only after learning, practising, habituating his abilities at the acme (e)n a)km$= 1156a27) of his life where he has learnt practical insight, is able to judge situations adequately in all their various aspects, to mostly hit the mean and also grasp the moment resolutely to deal with situations appropriately as they arise. A man in the prime of life is at the height of his powers in the sense of having attained his abilities, both ethical and otherwise practical. An old man, in turn, is no longer at the acme, no longer in the firmness of a composed, insightful stance and is thus no longer able to resolutely and appropriately seize the moment (Rhet. II Ch. 12-15 cf. GA18:194, 196). The brief acme of life with its attained abilities and accomplishments is the closest which finite human existence actively engaged in social life comes to final, accomplished, perfect standing presence or e)ntele/xeia.

To be continued...

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