Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics

Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics Summary and Analysis of Book Eight

Section 1:

Friendship is a virtue or at least involves virtue. It is necessary to life, since no one would choose to live without friends even if he had all other material goods. Friends are a refuge in times of poverty and misfortune, they help to guard the young from error, they help the old in their weakness, and help those in the prime of life to perform noble actions. Parents have a natural friendship with their children, and to a certain degree those of the same race do as well. Friendship unites the state. When men are friends, there is no need of justice, but when even if men are just, friendship is still necessary. Friendship is not just necessary, but also noble.

Section 2:

Can friendship be formed between any two people? Can evil men be friends? Is there only one kind of friendship? In order to answer these questions, it is necessary to see what makes something likeable. The three possibilities are goodness, pleasure and usefulness. To be friends, two people need to be well-disposed toward one another and wish each other's good, and they must know that this is the case.

Section 3:

There are three reasons for friendship, just as there are three reasons for liking something: usefulness, pleasure, or goodness. In friendship based on usefulness or pleasure, the person is not liked in himself but because of the good or pleasure he can provide. Such friendships are easily dissolved.

Section 4:

Perfect friendship exists between good men who are alike in their virtuousness. Wishing a friend good for his own sake is the highest degree of friendship. These friendships tend to be longlasting because virtue is something stable. Because both friends are good their friendship is both beneficial and pleasant as well, and thus they unite all the three reasons for friendship. Such friendships are rare because few people have the capability for this sort of friendship and they require time and familiarity to form.

Section 5:

Friendships based on pleasure can vary in their duration. With regard to lovers, the friendship often fades away after the prime of youth is gone since the sight of the beloved no longer brings pleasure. Yet if the lovers are alike in character the friendship may last much longer. Love-affairs based in what is useful are even less-enduring than those based on pleasure. Only the friendship of good men is not harmed by slander. True friendship is that between good men just because they are good; all other friendships are only called friendship by analogy.

Section 6:

Bad men are friends either for the sake of pleasure or usefulness, while good men are friends for the sake of each other, and they are friends without qualification. Distance does not break a friendship but impedes its exercise. For real friendship, however, living near each is important.

Section 7:

Friendship in the highest degree is that between good men. Friendship is not a feeling, but a disposition, because it requires intention. Young men become friends much more quickly and easily than older men, although the latter may still be well-disposed toward others. It is impossible to have a perfect friendship with many people, because such a friendship takes a long time to build and requires a lot of time to maintain. But one may have many friends on the basis of usefulness or pleasure. Friendship based on pleasure is higher than that based on usefulness.

Section 8:

Another kind of friendship is that in which one of the parties is superior, such as the friendship between a parent and a child. In these relationships the two friends give and receive different things and also have different types of affection toward each other.

Section 9:

Equality according to justice and equality according to friendship are different. In justice equality is primarily according to merit, but in friendship it is primarily according to quantity‹that is, the more unequal two people with regard to wealth, virtue, status, etc., the more unlikely it will be for a friendship to develop. Because most people wish to be liked more than to like, most people like flatterers, who are friends in an inferior position. Being liked by someone is akin to being honored by him. People like to be honored by good men in order to assure their own good opinion of themselves. However, people enjoy being liked not for the sake of something else but for its own sake. Friendship also seems to be chosen for its own sake, but it seems to depend more on liking than on being liked, as in the case of a mother's love for a child in spite of the child's response.

Section 10:

Friendship depends more on loving than on being loved. Thus loving is the virtue of a friend. It is those who have this disposition to love according to merit who are enduring friends. This disposition is also that which allows unequals to be friends, for through this disposition they can be equalized. Good men neither err nor allow their friends to err. Wicked men tend to have short friendships based on enjoying each other's evil habits. Friendships based on usefulness or pleasure last only as long as the relationship is useful or pleasant. Friendships based on useful usually arise between those of contrary needs.

Section 11:

Both friendship and justice seem to be concerned with the same things and the same people, and every association involves a mix of justice and friendship. The degree of injustice of a harm done to another depends on the degree of friendship that exists between the two people. Political associations are formed for the sake of the expedient, and all other associations are a subdivision of this. The kinds of friendship that exists among those in the association corresponds to the type of association.

Section 12:

There are three forms of government and their corresponding deviations. The three good forms of government in order from best to least good are kingship, aristocracy and timocracy (or democracy), and the three deviations are, respectively, tyranny, oligarchy and mob rule. Of the three deviations, tyranny is the worst, and mob rule is the least evil. Kingship is somewhat like a father's rule of a family. Tyranny is like the rule of master over his slaves. In aristocracy people rule based on merit, in timocracy they rule based on honor, and in oligarchy they rule based on wealth.

Section 13:

Friendship in each form of government exists to the extent that justice exists. A king is a friend to his subjects because he wishes to make them good. In aristocracy the friendship is by virtue of a relationship of superiority based on merit, and in timocracy there is friendship based on equality. There is little friendship in the deviant forms of government. Of the three corrupt forms of government, friendship is mostly likely to arise under mob rule.

Section 14:

Parents love their children as they love themselves, and children love their parents because their being comes from them. Siblings love each because they were born of the same parents. The friendship of siblings and kinsmen is like that of comrades. Friendship between parents and children involves much more pleasure and usefulness than other friendships because of their life in common. Friendship between a husband and wife exists by nature for men and women tend to form couples by nature for the sake of reproduction and for supplying each other's needs. Children tend to keep a marriage together, because they are a good common to both spouses.

Section 15:

Those who are friends by virtue of equality should be equally disposed in their love for one another and those whose friendship is by virtue of superiority should love each other in different ways according to their position. Quarrels occur most of all in friendships based on usefulness because each is only using the other for his own benefit, but in friendships based on virtue quarrels are rare because the friends are eager to treat each other well. Friendships based on usefulness can be ethical or legal. Legal friendships are formed based on specified forms of exchange, while ethical ones do not have specified terms by reciprocity in giving is expected. A person should not receive a service in this kind of friendship unless he is able to repay it. In friendships based on virtue quarrels over who receives more do not arise because intention is the measure.

Section 16:

In friendships based on superiority quarrels often arise because the person who is superior thinks he should receive more by virtue of his superiority and the one who is inferior thinks he should receive more because of his greater need. The claim of each person is correct, and it is possible to fulfill both claims because the superior should receive more honor and the needy should receive more material gain. Thus in associations of unequals the party who is benefitted should repay the superior party with honor, because it is impossible to give an equal amount in return. This is especially true in the cases of honors paid to parents or to the gods.


This chapter is the first of two chapters on the nature and purpose of friendship. An in-depth analysis of Aristotle's view of friendship will consequently be provided at the end of the next chapter. For now, the analysis will cover the points in this chapter which are not directly connected with those discussed in the next chapter.

Aristotle classifies friendships into three different types according to the basis of the relationship. The first is friendship based on usefulness. In speaking of this sort of friendship, Aristotle seems to have in mind primarily a sort of business or commercial relationship. It is the lowest of the three types of friendship and is the least enduring. The friendship ends as soon as one of the two parties is no longer useful to the other or no longer has anything useful to offer. The second type of friendship is that based on pleasure. This friendship can have varying degrees of nobility and stability depending on the type of pleasure sought and the character of the friends. Still, the aim of the relationship is primarily selfish, and the relationship ends as soon as it stops producing pleasure for one of the friends. It is possible for wicked men to have these first two types of friendship. The only genuine, friendship, however, is the friendship of good men, which is based on virtue. In this type of friendship, the each friend wishes the genuine good for the other helps the other in the attainment of that good. This type of friendship is stable and is not easily broken, since the basis of the friendship‹a shared desire for what is genuinely good‹is a perfectly stable one.

The relationship between friendship and justice is quite intriguing. For even though justice is, in the broad sense, the fullness and unity of all the virtues, friendship goes beyond justice. Where there is friendship, justice is not necessary. Yet where there is justice friendship is still necessary. This relationship could perhaps be explained by the previously mentioned point that a genuine friendship presupposes that the people involved are already just men. Yet friendship can provides things which mere justice cannot. While friendship is reciprocal, the principal virtue of a friend is to love rather than to be loved. While justice requires a strict reciprocity according to merit, friendship can exist in an unequal relationship because the inequality is in some way bridged by the love of the friends.

A further relationship between friendship and justice comes to light in Aristotle's discussion the types of government. There are three good regimes, kingship, aristocracy, and timocracy. Their deviations are tyranny, oligarchy and mob rule, respectively. The more just the regime is, the more friendship there will be among the people of that regime. This idea again reinforces the point that justice is presupposed by friendship. Moreover, it provides insight into the idea developed in Aristotle's Politics that the city (that is, the Greek polis) exists not merely for the sake of survival but for the sake of living well. A just regime is one in which the laws lead the citizens be virtuous. Thus the groundwork is laid for genuine friendships, which are a necessity for a fulfilled human life.