Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics

Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics Summary and Analysis of Book Nine

Section 1:

Conflicts often arise in friendship because on of the parties does not get what he desires out of the friendship, usually when one person thinks that what he is receiving is not of equal worth to what he is giving. Yet who is to decide the worth of what is given or received? In friendships according to virtue, things are given for the sake of the receiver and the return is made according to intention, though it is not necessary of equal value. Yet in other friendships in which things are given with an expectation of return, the best measure seems to be what both parties decide to be fair.

Section 2:

As a general rule, people should repay debts before giving to their friends, unless the amount used to pay the debt is need for a noble and urgent cause. The repayment that one should make depends on the nature of the relationship between the two parties. For example, honor should be given to parents, but not as much as to the gods.

Section 3:

Should a friendship end when one of the friends changes in character or thought? In friendship according to usefulness or pleasure, it is reasonable to end the friendship when one of the two people changes such that the relationship is no longer useful or pleasurable. If a good man befriends someone on the assumption that this person is good but he turns out to be evil, he should not immediately break off the friendship. First he should try to help the friend correct his character. Yet if the other friend is beyond correction, it fine to end the friendship. If one friend grows far superior to the other in character and virtue, there will no longer be a basis for genuine friendship, but the superior friend should maintain a certain regard for the other as a remembrance of earlier intimacy.

Section 4:

The dispositions, feelings and actions proper to friendship originated those proper to a good man's relation to himself. For a virtuous man has harmonious thoughts, the parts of the soul are in concord, and he wishes for himself what is god. The thinking part of a person is what the person primarily is. Because a true friend is another self, friendship shares the qualities of proper self-love. Bad men, on the other hand, are in conflict with themselves, for they choose what is pleasant but harmful rather than what is good. Evil men seek companions as a distraction, to escape from themselves. Bad men are full of regrets because they do that which the highest part of themselves does not want to do. A bad man is thus not disposed to love himself.

Section 5:

Good will is similar to friendship, but it is not friendship because we can have good will toward strangers. A feeling of love is also not friendship, because friendship does not involve intensity or desire as a feeling of love does. Good will is the beginning of friendship, and can lead to friendship if the good will persists and familiarity arises. Good will toward another general arises because of seeing some goodness in the other person.

Section 6:

Concord is a mark of friendship, and appears particularly to be the mark of political friendship, because it is concerned with matters of expediency. Concord exists among good men, for they wish what is just is and expedient. But bad men rarely share the same thoughts because wants more than his own share; thus they often end up in a state of discord.

Section 7:

Benefactors seem to love those they have benefited more than beneficiaries love their benefactors. This occurrence may seem unnatural, but there is good for it. A benefactor loves the person he has benefited because that person is, in a sense, his own work, and a way to extend his own existence and action. For the beneficiary, receiving a benefit is useful and expedient, but it is not a noble action which he can remember with pleasure. It is more perfect to act than to be acted upon, and thus the benefactor receives more pleasure than the beneficiary. Furthermore, a person is fonder of something if has put effort into acquiring than if he has simply received it.

Section 8:

Should a person love himself more than others? People tend to censure those who love themselves most and it is considered noble to disregard one's own good and act for the sake of one's friend. These arguments, however, are not quite correct. For it is said that a person should love his best friend most, but the attributes friendship belong most of all to a man in relation to himself. When people use the term "self-lover" reproachfully, they are referring to those who take more for themselves than they should. Such men are aiming to gratify their desires and the nonrational part of their soul. When considered in this way, the reproach is just. Yet a genuine self-lover is person who is virtuous, seeks the genuine good and is ruled by the rational part of the soul. For each man is his intellect, most of all. A good man is a self lover in this second sense, since he will do what is noble for himself and also be beneficial to others. A good man obeys his intellect. An evil man, on the other hand, is a self-lover in the first sense. A good man prefers what is noble to everything else, and would give up wealth or even his own life for the sake of what is noble.

Section 9:

A happy man needs friends. Friends are considered to be the greatest of external goods, and if a good man is supposed to be of service to others he will need friends to be a of service to. Most importantly, man is disposed by nature to live with others, and thus it would seem unfitting that a blessed man would be solitary. A blessed man will not need friends for the sake of mere usefulness or pleasure. Even by nature, a virtuous friend is choiceworthy for a virtuous man. For that which is good is good and pleasurable to a virtuous man. The life of a virtuous man is good and pleasant, and they are pleased by their awareness of that which is good in itself. A virtuous man is disposed toward himself just as he is disposed toward his friend, since a good friend is another self. Since a virtuous friend would be a choiceworthy object for a virtuous man, having friends is necessary for happiness.

Section 10:

How many friends one should have depends on the type of friendship under consideration. With friendships based on usefulness or pleasure, too many friends would be laborious and bothersome. With the case of friendships based on virtue, there seems to some sort of upper limit to the number of friends because there is a limit to how many people one could nobly live together with. One can only attend to so many people at a time. And all of a person's friends will themselves need to be friends, which will become more and more difficult in proportion to the number of people. Love is a sort of excess of friendship, and can be felt toward one person only. Similarly, very strong friendship can exist between only a few persons.

Section 11:

Friends are sought in times of both good fortune and bad fortune. Friendship is more of a necessity in times of bad fortune, but is more noble in times of good fortune, because in times of bad fortune friendship is based on usefulness while in times of good fortune it is based on virtue. Better men avoid sharing their grief with their friends, because they don't want to cause sorrow to their friends. But weak men enjoy have others as companions in grief. We should be eager to invite our friends to share in our good fortune but slow to have them share in our bad fortune. Further, it is good to go uninvited to help friends in a state of misfortune. In all cases, the presence of friends is choiceworthy.

Section 12:

Living together is important for friendship, so that friends can engage in activities together. A friendship of bad men becomes evil, for they engage in bad pursuits, and they become more evil by their mutual influence on one another. The friendship of good men is good, and friends become better through their good influence on one another and by correcting each other.


Aristotle's discussion of friendship implies his fundamental view of human beings as social beings. Even if a man had everything else‹wealth, fame, virtue, and so on‹he still could not lead a happy life without friends. Friendship is thus a necessity for the good life in Aristotle's view. Yet friendship in the genuine sense is not merely a superficial exchange of pleasantries; it is much deeper. While Aristotle does discuss friendships based on usefulness or on pleasure, he does not consider these to be friendship in the genuine sense. True friendship is based on virtue, and requires wishing the good for the other. Wishing the good for a person in the Aristotelian sense is not at all a vague and sentimental concept. Primarily, wishing the good for someone means helping him to be virtuous, for it is by being virtuous that a person will be genuinely happy, as established in Book One. For this reason, friendship is what many natural law theorists call a genuine human good, something in human life which it is natural for people to seek because it fulfills an intrinsic human need and is an end in itself. As relational beings, people need genuine friends in order to live a fulfilled human life.

Friendship is a sort of self-love. Good self-love consists in wanting what is genuinely good for oneself. It is a friendship between the highest part of the soul and the lower parts, in which the highest the lower parts of the soul are brought into harmony with the intellect, Aristotle sees as the most proper identification of a person. A friend is another self, and thus in genuine friendship one wishes the good for another and helps him to achieve that good, which consists primarily in being virtuously.

How, then, do friends help one another to progress in virtue? First of all, those who have genuine friendships must to a certain extent be virtuous already, for a certain degree of virtue is a prerequisite for a genuine friendship, and the more virtuous the two friends are the higher the friendship will be. A friend is another self, and as such a genuine friend is indispensable for the attainment of self-knowledge. Self-knowledge is indispensable for growth in virtue, and genuine friends provides a person with a sort of mirror with which to see himself more clearly. Further, friendship involves a sort of healthy competition for virtue between the friends, by which each spurs the other on to greater virtue. There is no element of antagonism in this sort of a competition, but rather a sort of mutual encouragement. Friends also help each other to grow in virtue by correcting one another, encouraging one another in virtue, and providing good example to one another.

In all situations of life, friendship is choiceworthy. Friends appear to be the greatest of human goods. Even for a man who is most blessed in terms of virtue, wealth, honors and so on cannot be truly blessed without friends, for such relationships are a necessity of human nature.