What Is Friendship?

Without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods; even rich men and those in position of office and of dominating power are thought to need friends most of all; for what is the use of such prosperity without the opportunity of beneficence, which is exercised chiefly and in it's most laudable form towards friends?

- Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, 1155a

Podcast of the Day

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the concept of friendship. In Greek and Roman times, friendship was thought of as being an essential constituent of both a good society and a good life; a good society because it lay at the heart of participative civic democracy; a good life because it nurtured wisdom and happiness. It is this period which gives us the texts on friendship which, to this day, are arguably the most important of their kind. Amongst their authors is Aristotle, who engaged in one of the great philosophical discussions on the subject. For Aristotle, friendship could fall into three categories: it could be based on utility, pleasure or goodness. In its latter state, Aristotle described it as being 'a single soul dwelling in two bodies'. So how did the Ancients establish the parameters of the true nature of friendship in the literature and philosophy that followed? How have different forms of friendship helped or hindered creativity and intellectual pursuit? What has been the apparent relationship between friendship and power? And what of the darker aspects of friendship - jealousy, envy and exploitation?

Listen to Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss friendship on the In Our Time podcast.

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

"The aspect of friendship that I would like to focus on is its non-economic character. Although we benefit from our close friendships, these friendships are not a matter of calculable gain and loss. While we draw pleasure from them, they are not a matter solely of consuming pleasure. And while the time we spend with our friends and the favors we do for them are often reciprocated in an informal way, we do not spend that time or offer those favors in view of the reciprocation that might ensue."

Continue reading Todd May's short article: Friendship in an Age of Economics

Further Reading

"Friendship is undoubtedly central to our lives, in part because the special concern we have for our friends must have a place within a broader set of concerns, including moral concerns, and in part because our friends can help shape who we are as persons. Given this centrality, important questions arise concerning the justification of friendship and, in this context, whether it is permissible to “trade up” when someone new comes along, as well as concerning the possibility of reconciling the demands of friendship with the demands of morality in cases in which the two seem to conflict."

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Friendship by Bennet Helm

Related Topics

Empathy | Moral Psychology

Each day I post short quotes by great thinkers on a particular philosophical, scientific or historical topic, along with videos, interviews and articles by contemporary thinkers that explore each topic in more detail. Find me on Facebook or Twitter or enter your email below to learn about the ideas that helped shape our world.

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