Home | Texts by category | | Quick Search:   
Works by Aristotle
Pages of Nicomachean Ethics

Previous | Next

Nicomachean Ethics   

man is to himself, he is to his friend also (for his friend is another
self):-if all this be true, as his own being is desirable for each
man, so, or almost so, is that of his friend. Now his being was seen
to be desirable because he perceived his own goodness, and such
perception is pleasant in itself. He needs, therefore, to be conscious
of the existence of his friend as well, and this will be realized in
their living together and sharing in discussion and thought; for this
is what living together would seem to mean in the case of man, and
not, as in the case of cattle, feeding in the same place.
If, then, being is in itself desirable for the supremely happy man
(since it is by its nature good and pleasant), and that of his friend
is very much the same, a friend will be one of the things that are
desirable. Now that which is desirable for him he must have, or he
will be deficient in this respect. The man who is to be happy will
therefore need virtuous friends.
Should we, then, make as many friends as possible, or-as in the case
of hospitality it is thought to be suitable advice, that one should be
'neither a man of many guests nor a man with none'-will that apply to
friendship as well; should a man neither be friendless nor have an
excessive number of friends?
To friends made with a view to utility this saying would seem
thoroughly applicable; for to do services to many people in return is
a laborious task and life is not long enough for its performance.
Therefore friends in excess of those who are sufficient for our own
life are superfluous, and hindrances to the noble life; so that we
have no need of them. Of friends made with a view to pleasure, also,
few are enough, as a little seasoning in food is enough.
But as regards good friends, should we have as many as possible, or is
there a limit to the number of one's friends, as there is to the size
of a city? You cannot make a city of ten men, and if there are a
hundred thousand it is a city no longer. But the proper number is
presumably not a single number, but anything that falls between
certain fixed points. So for friends too there is a fixed number
perhaps the largest number with whom one can live together (for that,
we found, thought to be very characteristic of friendship); and that
one cannot live with many people and divide oneself up among them is
plain. Further, they too must be friends of one another, if they are
all to spend their days together; and it is a hard business for this
condition to be fulfilled with a large number. It is found difficult,
too, to rejoice and to grieve in an intimate way with many people, for
it may likely happen that one has at once to be happy with one friend
and to mourn with another. Presumably, then, it is well not to seek to
have as many friends as possible, but as many as are enough for the
purpose of living together; for it would seem actually impossible to
be a great friend to many people. This is why one cannot love several
people; love is ideally a sort of excess of friendship, and that can
only be felt towards one person; therefore great friendship too can
only be felt towards a few people. This seems to be confirmed in
practice; for we do not find many people who are friends in the
comradely way of friendship, and the famous friendships of this sort
are always between two people. Those who have many friends and mix
intimately with them all are thought to be no one's friend, except in
the way proper to fellow-citizens, and such people are also called
obsequious. In the way proper to fellow-citizens, indeed, it is
possible to be the friend of many and yet not be obsequious but a
genuinely good man; but one cannot have with many people the
friendship based on virtue and on the character of our friends
themselves, and we must be content if we find even a few such.
Do we need friends more in good fortune or in bad? They are sought
after in both; for while men in adversity need help, in prosperity
they need people to live with and to make the objects of their
beneficence; for they wish to do well by others. Friendship, then, is

Previous | Next
Site Search