Three Kinds Of Friendships

Aristotle was a Greek polymath, and philosopher (David). He lived between 384 BC and 322 BC, and made many academic contributions on different topics. Having been a student of Plato, Aristotle became one of the renowned Western philosophers, along with others like Plato, his teacher, and Socrates, another Plato’s student (David, Price). He made many ethical contributions during his time and through his writings. Among the issues that he developed was the ethical aspects that people should hold in order to coexist with friends and neighbors. He was believed to have practical ethics that were easy to relate with, and most of his ethical works were written in his Nicomachean Ethics (Unwin). In the outline on the ethics, Aristotle stated that ethics was the main ingredient in the quest to improve lives and eventually ensure that the general well-being of humankind remained good. He, like other philosophers like Plato and Socrates, showed that ethical virtues were very important for the well-being of human race (Price). Some of these ethical virtues are courage, temperance, and justice.

However, he refutes Plato’s teachings of metaphysics and science being the main components of proper understanding of our own good (David). He argued that people need to have a good upbringing that creates habits and eventually character. Consequently, the character would help us be able to understand why we should make certain decisions by determining whether the decisions we make would be worthwhile or not, giving supportive reasons on why we decide to make these decisions. One of the main virtues that Aristotle outlined is the virtue of friendship. He stated that friendships would be vital in ensuring that people relate well within different occasions. According to him, friendship and hence interpersonal relations within a given society determines the harmony and understanding within that social milieu (Price).

According to Aristotle, friendship is a relationship that both parties get a reciprocated goodwill (Unwin). This was a slightly different definition put forth by Plato; according to him it is the circular that is usually based on mutual factors, and different gains by the parties involved. Aristotle stated that no one can chose to live without friends as they are the ones who fill one`s character with happiness that at all other social goods cannot bring forth. Friendship is a very valuable asset that does not count whether someone is poor or prosperous, young or aged etc. In the end, Aristotle stated that it is the greatest good that one can be able to express externally. However, its efficiency and realization is only seen when good and decent people are committed to keep it moving. It is the opposite of enmity. In his categories, Aristotle assumes that friendship is a simple virtue that can be categorized based on particular aspects such as the ones that he used. However, it is known that the society is very dynamic and extremely complex to be able to define friendship in such small issues as mutuality, gains and goodness (Stern-Gillet).

In all cases, friendship encompasses mutual usefulness and even goodness; many other factors play a big role in the process of making and retaining friends. This is a very important aspect because all known friendships derive pleasure. It is therefore unlikely that there are good people who make friendship with evil people; this is an issue which raises the question of mutuality. One may wonder why this could happen, yet there may be little that these people can share. One notable thing in both Plato’s and Aristotle’s works is that there is no concrete definition of friendship.

Apart from the simple definitions mentioned above, there is no concrete explanation. They both try to define friendship through people who engage in it (Stern-Gillet). With the idea that people are very different, it would be very difficult to clearly define the reasons why a person opts to become friends with one person and not another. People may have similar characters and share the same environment, yet they do not share all their friends. This is a more complex issue that the two philosophers fail to delve deeper into. Instead they opt to stick with a few variables that may not practically determine and define friendship conclusively (Stern-Gillet). There remain a lot more that could be factored in the definition and classification of friendships, which could even give rise to new classes and kinds of friendship. Plato is even more vague that Aristotle, while
Aristotle is shallow and hard to examine comprehensively using his variables. However, it would be mean not to give credit to Aristotle for the work he did on the philosophy of friendships. Plato developed no specific kinds of friendship that could exist between people, but only gave two classifications of friendship, that is friendship for good and friendship for bad. On the other hand, Aristotle developed three main kinds of friendship that exist between people within a society. According to Pakaluk (1998), these include:

  • Friendships based on utility
  • Friendships based on pleasure
  • Friendships based on goodness of the friends

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On top of companionship, friends shape up each other`s acts, while ensuring that they retain the desirable part of themselves (Stern-Gillet). Some modern day people state that friends are a reflection of yourself, indicating that there is a high possibility that friends have a lot in common. This translates into a belief that people of the same social class and other social aspects are more likely to become friends than those from different classes. At the same time, Aristotle appreciates that there are different sources of friendship, some being created while others being natural and need proper management for them to last (Pakaluk). He indicates that apart from just being necessary, friendship is also noble thus inevitable in any society. Some of the friendships that need no cultivation to develop are mainly family friendships, such as parents and their children, while others that require tending are those between people from different races, among others. Friendships help in achieving certain goals and aims, as per the aspirations of the friends. The process of becoming friends is also long, starting with identifying the right person that one should relate with. Secondly, one spends time with another person and then gets an understanding over the behavior and character of that person. Once the understanding is clear, they subconsciously form a type of relationship, which they develop into friendship.

Aristotle noted that many people get into relationships, as a result of prevailing circumstances. These circumstances guide them and delegate their movements and the people they relate with. Eventually, they end up picking up certain people to help them get through the stage and they develop a relationship that is usually referred to as friendship (Pakaluk). This form of friendship is very common in certain stages of life, especially during the early years, when they need each other’s help in class and generally throughout any stage in life.

Further, Aristotle has drawn a relationship between friendship and justice in the society. While some of the important aspects of friendship and justice are well pointed out, a close comparison by the philosopher tends to suggest that friendship is more important in the society than justice. A society filled with friendship would be healthier than that filled with justice.

The work of two philosophers could be vital in the examination of the virtue of friendship, when and why it would appear to work well among some people, while others walk out of the relationship disgruntled and furious about other parties. This is despite being very close for a long time, sharing a lot of mutual benefits and then giving up everything to go out and look for other friends. The performance of friendships and deficiencies of three classifications will be examined briefly, and examples of different situations that can best explain each of the types of friendship will be provided.

Types of Friendships

Utility – Based Friendship

This is a relationship that develops between people due to the circumstances they face (Waddell). In most cases, this friendship does not last long and often stops to exist after the circumstances that surround these people disappear or cease to exist. Many people fall under this category of friendship. Aristotle terms it as an unequal friendship. This is because it is not based on similar ideals, or goals, but on the gains each party is getting from another party. The imperfectness is made clearer by the fact that there is a huge difference between the individuals who become friends. For instance, a child and a parent would become friends because they need each other.

Aristotle’s argument about the development of friendship is first to stay together, and understand each other before they decide on whether to make friends or not. In imperfect relations and friendships, there are constant quarrels and little trust, and the friendship could easily break off. When there is little time spent together and a good mutual understanding, both in social standings and in personal understandings is not created, the friendship is highly likely to break off. People in this kind of friendship do not count their friends as highly significant in their lives and could even break up with each other (Waddell). The social equity is also very vital in developing a friendship. Young people, for instance, would not easily become friends with older people because the latter would consistently take charge of different situations and dominate the scene, making the friendship skew (Waddell). This is not a perfect friendship.

Friendship based on utility falls squarely upon this. Taking the example of a family set up, children are faced with circumstances that they cannot ignore or do away with. They need their parents for upbringing, as well as their character development. This is a very important aspect of this form of friendship because there is little that children can do on their own, yet their parents may not need them. However, parents, in many cases, use their children to create their niche in their society. In this case, they would be regarded as important people in the society, based on the kind of children they brought up. They are therefore required by the society to bring up children. In the process of raising the family, parents are forced to assume certain roles and create a close relationship with their children. It should however be noted that not all families are happy. In big families, for instance, there are many issues that arise ranging from favoritism and hate between siblings or between siblings and their parents. Eventually, a rift develops within the family. Despite the rift, the family stays together, seemingly in harmony, but actually most of the members would be willing to leave it. This is common but circumstances keep the family together. Siblings are afraid that they might not make it to raise themselves on their own, while parents keep the children to show their responsibility for the care and upbringing of their children. This is a good example of friendship based on utility.

Another practical example of this form of friendship is that based on business (Suzanne). Business mergers are common in the present world. When two businesses within the same industry merge to create a bigger brand and intensify their marketing strategies, they often get into a relationship. The business owners are usually held together by the mutual belief and understanding that they need each other for their development and eventual profit making. During the initial stages of the relationship, they are usually comfortable, especially when they make mistakes and they need to address the issues affecting them and their business (Suzanne). They walk together and work closely together. However, such relationships are very dangerous when the business starts to flourish and the profits increase. Trust starts to reduce and one party could start feeling that they were giving more to the company than their partners.

They start feeling that the business is performing better because of their input and they could make better profits if they started to act alone. If one of the parties contributed more in financial terms to the business, yet the other contributed expertise and made less monetary contribution, there is a high likelihood that the partnership would not last. The brain contributor may argue that money without brain is wasted, while another person who contributed more money may feel that ideas without capital are dead. When the two parties start feeling that the success of the business owes them more, they develop mistrust, jealousy and always wish that the partnership was broken. When this happens, a critical imbalance is created and it would be hard for any team to bridge that gap. There are less consultations and the friendship starts to fall. Moreover, the friendship could fall and crumble if the business started to fall, after a spell of failure to take off. Partners get disappointed with their partners and they are unable to achieve their goals. The business might crumble and fall, either in the initial stages of the merger, or later during its operations. If such an event happens, the friendship between the business proprietors is usually broken due to the fall of the factor that held them together. Aristotle notes that unstable relations are easily broken by the withdrawal of the pillar that held them together.

Friendship Based on Pleasure

In his work, Aristotle developed another kind of friendship that is based on pleasure that the friends get from each other (Suzanne). He describes this kind of friendship as incomplete, just like the friendship based on utility. In this kind of friendship, one is always keen to get pleasure from another person. For example, friends may remain together for a long time just because one friend is a joker and his or her presence calms down another person or cheers him/her up during difficult moments. This friendship is easily formed between people, and can be developed only a few hours after the meeting. It is usually contingent and may develop even by accident, since the requirements are simple and easy to articulate.

This form of friendship is often short-lived and unsustainable. This happens after friends get used to each other and no longer need pleasure from each other. Further, its base is very weak and none of the friends feels obliged to keep the friendship strong and moving (Jennifer). When a pleasure-creating person is out with this, the friendship is usually weak and can no longer be sustained. Further, pleasure is usually derived at certain periods. When one is distressed and there is no one to bring some comfort, it is easy to find pleasure from a stranger who is sensible and comforting. A pleasure-creating person is very important at that point and friendship can become very strong. When the spell of distress is over and life gets back to normal, it is easy for the friendship to weather away because the pleasure is no longer needed. A good example is a wife who might get separated from her husband, after she learns that he has been cheating on her. At this point, the wife can easily meet a stranger and start a relationship because she needs companion and wants the completeness of having a man by her side. She would therefore become friends with another man easily. However, when the husband gets her back and they end their separation, the newly formed friendship would easily crumble and fall because there would be no more pleasure that is needed from the new friend. The weakness of the new friendship is therefore exposed and the sustainability is very uncertain.

Further, friendships based on pleasure are easily taken away by new events. When a friendship is based on jokes of one person, another person with better jokes may emerge. Since the pleasure followed is usually dependant on who brings more happiness, one would easily drop the earlier friend and follow the new one with more comical jokes. Friendship based on pleasure is mainly found in sexual relationships between young people, and when they reach the peak, the young couple gets married to continue enjoying each other’s company and pleasure. However, the pleasure later dies away especially as they get older and become less sexually active. When pleasure is little, the couple breaks up and looks up for another source of sexual pleasure, thus they start cheating on each other. All this is done in search for pleasure because no one can be able to give pleasure for a lifetime, but there comes a point in time when the good feeling they brought is gone and the friendship crumbles and falls.

In most cases, friendship based on pleasure has a lot of challenges. First, only one person is expected to keep the friendship going (Jennifer). They might at some point feel that they are being misused and that they are looked down upon. They may even develop a feeling of dislike because they feel enslaved to make another person happy. At this point, they could refuse to continue providing their services and would not appreciate the friendship any more. At the same time, this friendship requires that there is a lot of contact and time spent together. This is usually not easy to sustain because there are many commitments. Since the pillar on which the friendship is created is only pleasure, lack of the contact leads to little commitment and reduced benefits of the friendship. It eventually crumbles.

Friendships based on pleasure are usually created on the basis of what one person gets from another (Unwin, 1985). As stated earlier, it can be easily formed and is not guaranteed that it will last long. During its formation, there is no mutual understanding of the personalities of the participants, as they may not have spent enough time together. As a result, they only enjoy the good side of each other and this would mean that they may not be comfortable when they face issues that deeply involve them. They are not ready to carry each other’s burdens and rarely understand the dark side of their friends.

Naturally, a good friendship is supposed to thrive both in good and bad times. This form of friendship is not easy to work in that manner because there is little that connects the partners (Eugene). At the same time, there is the danger of two people being able to realize the different side of their partners. Naturally, human beings are not perfect in character and an important recipe in friendship is being able to identify weaknesses and understand how well people should co-exist. Friendship based on pleasure lacks this part and people are not able to live together when they know that they cannot live with other people, when they know a part of them that may not be pleasant. For instance, one may end up a friendship that is based on sexual pleasure when they realize that another person had been earlier having a similar relationship with their friend. This leaves this kind of friendship very risky to live in and in most cases hard to keep alive for a long time. According to Aristotle, its unpredictability and lack of mutual understanding result into its imperfectness.

Friendship of Goodness

Aristotle noted that this is a perfect friendship among all kinds of friendship. He says that the friendship based on a clear understanding of each other`s character and needs is the most ethical and desirable form of friendship. It is the friendship of virtue. Aristotle developed five things that people in a complete friendship should do. He used an example of friendship between person X and person Y. If their friendship is complete, first, X should always wish and do good deeds to Y, and all these good deeds should be for the good of Y. The same should apply to X. Secondly, X should always wish that they existed for the sake of Y, and the same should apply to X. Thirdly, X should always spend time with Y, similar to Y. The fourth deed that the two friends should have is that X should make choices that are similar to Y, and finally X should be willing to solemnly share both good and bad moments with Y. When all these deeds are complete, the friendship is perfect and based on virtues.

The deeds put forward by Aristotle are a good measure of friendship, stating that the first is the best measure to determine the kind of relationship that exists between two people. Wishing people good for their own sake is the most vital deed.

Aristotle also developed features that are analogous to the relationship of any good person to himself/herself (David). First, a good person is always willing to improve his/her well being and flourish in life. They also want to live a long life, and thirdly, they always want to spend time alone and reflect, and not always spend time with other people. Fourthly, Aristotle noted that a good person should be able to make his/her own decisions that are undivided, and should perceive pain and pleasure of similar things. He should be able to endure any misgivings virtuously. Ethics should always be the leading factor of a good person.

With these factors, Aristotle brings a perception that friendship with other people should only be perfect if they develop similar feelings with others, as they would feel about themselves (David, 2009). This way, they would not feel bad when another person makes an achievement, and they would always be willing to help their friends without expecting anything in return. They would sacrifice a lot of personal gains for the sake of their friends, without any limitations or hard feelings or being forced, either by circumstances or by the society (Karen, 2009). Despite the attractiveness and definition of friendship, Aristotle’s line of argument is always criticized by people because it tends to disregard humanity. A friendship or relationship with other people cannot be compared to the inner relation of a person, or their ego.

This is because it would mean that people would treat others as part of their selves, which is almost impractical in a normal world. Further, it would be hard to express one`s friendship or attraction with their inner selves. Aristotle further compares self-love to perfect friendship (Eugene). On the same note, he defines self-love as that which is guided by a reason and not merely by feelings, and also guided by the desire of what is right and not simply by what gives an advantage. Despite the critics, David supports Aristotle’s argument. It is also supported by Richard, who argues that similar to Aristotle’s point of view, it would be possible for a person to act for the sake of him-/herself, while at the same time for the sake of their friends.

From this argument, it is clear that a relationship of goodness can only be realized between people who are full of virtues. When the virtues are not present, an imbalance is created and the friendship would no longer be perfect. In most cases, greed and egocentrism at some point of a relationship leads to the end of a friendship (Karen). Decent or good people are guided by the virtues that ensure that they remain in concord within themselves and other people. This harmony, both within themselves and their friends, allows them to be able to have similar minds with their friends, and also make stable and reasonable decisions (David). Therefore, it is hard for people to get into a stable friendship because very few are in concord enough to create a friendship. A common mob is therefore not able to create friendships as they always look for relationships that give them pleasure and which require little commitments from them.

When a relationship is based on virtues of people involved, this friendship is possibly the strongest and would last the longest, because virtues cannot be easily changed. The goodness of friends makes the relationship not only full of pleasure, but it is also beneficial to all. Unlike other two types of friendship that were based on a single aspect each, friendship based on goodness is based on three reasons.

This friendship is however hard to develop because it requires a lot of commitment and understanding. For it to flourish, people involved should spend time together and develope their virtues that should be similar or those that can be maintained to give similar feelings. They should be interchangeable and should be acceptable to each other. Aristotle notes that while distances between people may impede the exercise of friendship, it does not break it. He notes that long distances are not healthy to any friendship, but would not kill a friendship based on good. This kind of friendship is common among older people. Young people as most people are not able to find time to spend with others to become friends. Most people are too busy to develop this form of friendship, thus it remains uncommon among people to date. Though it is good and beneficial to have these friends, the price of developing and maintaining it remains a mirage to many. Aristotle said that one would be lucky to have a couple of these true friends, who do not do good expecting to get good, but just to make sure that another person is at ease with his/her life.

Aristotle analyzed friendship from its definition where he stated that it was a matter of goodwill towards another person that is known as friendship. When people come together with a mutual benefit, they would be termed as friends as long as they have each other’s well being in their hearts. He stated that when two people have a relationship that is reciprocated and one wishes good to another person, they are said to be in a perfect relationship. The goodwill should be unbeatable and these people should have developed the relationship over time. He then argued that the goodwill should be based on virtues and wishing good to each other. This is important and he gave the reasons that goodwill should be pegged as pleasure, goodness and advantage. Therefore, when two people wish others good and allow goodness amongst themselves, no matter what they wish to achieve from the friendship, they can be said to be friends.

Further, in his work, Aristotle came up with two main classes of friendship, one that is based on understanding of the common good of two individuals, and another that is based on the gains that each party is getting from their friends. He lauds the friendship that is based on goodness of the participants, saying that it is perfect and is always hard to create. In one of his arguments, he states that some friends keep friendly relations only to gain and not take care of the welfare of another person. In this case, he notes that one person may be helping another, looking forward for the same, but not because he/she likes that person. When this happens, Aristotle tends to say that this may not even be a friendship, but when one person expects an action to be reciprocated with another action, this person is not a friend to another person.

Therefore, when people are stuck together, not because they like each other even though they know they have different personalities, but due to the gains they get from each other, they are actually not friends. This contradicts with his two main classifications of friendships that include friendship based on mutual benefits and that based on pleasure on one hand, and another type of friendship based on goodness on the other hand. This leaves his definition of friendship being very unclear, because according this statement, coupled by his assertion that friendships based on goodness are rare, there are very few friendships especially among young people (Julia, 1977). This line or argument almost drives towards stating that the only friendship that exists is that between people who are together out of their goodness. This thought is derived from Aristotle’s argument that one would even be lucky to make friends based on their goodness.

Aristotle also creates a relationship between friendship and justice (Unwin). Evidently, only those that have a good relationship can be able to develop it into a real or perfect friendship. In all cases, he has clearly noted that friendship has to be created between people who have good feelings about each other. He noted that there must be a positive outcome in any relationship, whether perfect or imperfect. Talking about a utility- based friendship, Aristotle brings a clear picture in mind that it mainly exists between people working in the business world (Julia). This relationship ends after the benefits obtained by either one or both parties are diminished. The same case applies to relationships based on pleasure. In this case also, there must be some selfish gains, either from one or both persons in the relationship. The third type of relationship is the most efficient and most reliable, where none of the parties tries to selfishly gain from the relationship. Everything is supposed to benefit all, or the act of one person should benefit another. Aristotle noted that while it is possible for wicked men to sustain both the first and the second kinds of friendship, it was not equally possible to have the third friendship. Wicked people are always out to gain from a relationship and usually have short-lived relationships, which are both inapplicable to a perfect friendship (Unwin).

Aristotle notes that while unity and application of all virtues in a society bring justice, it may be different with friendship, which takes a stride further in the virtues and their execution (Unwin, 1985). Friendship is therefore more intense than justice because justice is inapplicable in places where true and perfect friendship exists. On the other hand, while justice can be developed between people who are not friends, friendship cannot thrive among people who are not just to each other. This leaves friendship as a more important social aspect than justice.


Friendship is a very vital social aspect. It should be upheld at all times in order to create a better society. People should use all means possible to ensure that they create perfect friendships, guided by morality and virtues, and not strive to get friendships anchored by the gains they obtain from these relationships. However, since the society is full of people who are not virtuous and would not appreciate a friendship that does not benefit them, it is children who should be taught on how to create long-lasting friendships for the good of the society. After this, it would guarantee a future generation that would value friendship more and one that would appreciate friendship that is long lasting and not necessarily beneficial to them.

The society should develop systems that would ensure a more robust friendship-based relationship, other than one that is based on justice. This is because justice can be substituted with friendship, while the same cannot be done to friendship. This places justice lower as a requirement of the society as compared to friendship. However, justice may be a way to create friendship because it would create a level ground for people to develop relationships that could become perfect friendships.

Leaders, parents and all people who are socially placed higher should embrace friendship as a primary virtue. This would create a relationship between them and other people as a very serene and good relationship, whether at work or elsewhere. This would eventually create a better society that is full of love and understanding, a society that would embrace helping one another as a primary goal. People would develop all those around them, eventually creating a comfortable society for everyone. Generations that appreciate each other as well as enhanced justice within the society would be created, both for the present era and the future.

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