Do you need an Aristotelian Friend in your Life?

A couple of days ago, I wrote a post highlighting a quote by Greek philosopher Epictetus:

The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.

This reminded me of a concept we discussed (and also used) in the MAPP classes at Penn. Aristotelian Friendship. While the concept of Platonic Friendship/Love (a non-sexual relationship that is pursued because the other person inspires the mind and the soul) has entered everyday speech, Aristotelian Friendship seems more uncommon.

Plato_AristotleThe ancient Greeks knew four kinds of love: Eros (sexual desire), Storge (parental/familial love), Agape (divine love, also: charity/compassion), and Philia. Now Philia is closest to our modern understanding of friendship. Aristotle described three kinds of Philia: friendships of utility, friendships of pleasure and friendships of the good.

Friendships of utility are of a shallow kind; today, I guess we would call that networking – it´s more about being acquainted (and potentially useful reciprocally) in the future. Friendships of pleasure take place on a deeper level. Nowadays, we would speak of drinking buddies, or people who share a passion with regard to the same hobby.

Now, the deepest kind of Philia is a friendship for the good. This means that two people enjoy each other´s company because of a mutual admiration for each other´s characters and personalities. And it can also mean not only admiring, but caring about and strengthening the other person´s character and well-being. Therefore, an Aristotelian friend (for the good) will:

  • listen actively when you have to share something good and advise you on how to get more of that into your life;
  • give you frequent feedback on your strengths and “what´s right with you”;
  • but is also honest with you pertaining to your weak spots. Today, we would say: that friend does not let you get away with your sh.t.

Do you have someone like that in your life? Good for you. And if you don´t? Go and find somebody. Now!

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