Aristotle Said There Are Three Types of Friendship, But Only One We Should Strive For

At age 17, Aristotle enrolled in the Platonic Academy. He would stay there for 20 years.

Founded by the father of Western philosophy, the Greek philosopher Plato, Aristotle was the most promising student around. He asked many questions and answered even more.

The exact time of his departure from the Academy is disputed, but it’s said that he left soon after Plato died due to his dislike of the direction that it subsequently took. In the years following, he would even go on to argue against many of his late teacher’s core ideas.

It’s impossible to say how much Aristotle wrote, but even from the fraction of his work that we have left today, there is a stunning amount of breadth in the subjects he covered.

Every field from astronomy and physics to ethics and economics has been influenced by the work of Aristotle. For more than 2,000 years after his death, he has remained one of the most widely read and quoted thinkers in the history of our species.

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While his impact can still be felt in the many different subjects today, maybe the most accurate of his observations relate to friendship. He saw it as one of the true joys of life, and he felt that a life well-lived needed to be built around such companionship. In his own words:

“In poverty as well as in other misfortunes, people suppose that friends are their only refuge. And friendship is a help to the young, in saving them from error, just as it is also to the old, with a view to the care they require and their diminished capacity for action stemming from their weakness; it is a help also to those in their prime in performing noble actions, for ‘two going together’ are better able to think and to act.”

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Aristotle outlined two kinds of common friendships that are more accidental than intentional.

The first is a friendship of utility. In this kind of relationship, the two parties are not in it for the affection of one another, but more so because each party receives a benefit in exchange.

It’s not permanent in nature, and whenever the benefit ends, so does the relationship that brought the parties together. Aristotle observed this to be more common in older folks.

An example of this would be a business or a work relationship. You may enjoy the time you spend together, but once the situation changes, so does the nature of your connection.

Similarly, the second kind of accidental friendship is one based on pleasure. This one, however, is more common in people that are younger. It’s the kind of relationship frequently seen among college friends or people who participate on the same sports team.

The source of such a friendship is more emotional, and it’s often the most short-lived of the relationships. It’s fine for as long as the two parties gain enjoyment through a mutual interest in something external, but it ends as soon as either tastes or preferences change.

Many young people go through different phases in their views on enjoyment, and quite often, the people in their lives tend to change as the phase they’re in recalibrates over time.

Most of the friendships that many of us have fall into these two categories, and while Aristotle didn’t necessarily see them as bad, he did feel that their depth limited their quality.

It’s fine, and even necessary, to have accidental friendships, but there is far more out there.

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