Aristotle's Tense Friendships

An interpretive puzzle arises from a straightforward reading of Aristotle’s analysis of friendship. Shortly after claiming friendship involves mutually reciprocated goodwill for another’s sake, Aristotle claims those involved in friendships based on use or pleasure do not bear goodwill to their friends for their own sake, but instead only for the sake of what is – respectively - advantageous or pleasant.[1] Many proposals have been offered to ease the interpretive tension.[2] In this paper, I arbitrate between two and propose a third. The Standard Reading treats goodwill for the other’s sake as a defining feature of friendship based on virtue, with use and pleasure friendships resembling this form in other ways, but involving goodwill only for the sake of what is advantageous or pleasurable. On this reading, Aristotle either misspoke in his initial presentation of what varieties of friendship require, or – perhaps more charitably – dropped the requirement that all forms of friendship involve goodwill towards another for their own sake as he refined his characterizations of the lesser forms.[3] In contrast, the Goodwill Reading[4] treats goodwill for the other’s sake as a feature of all forms of friendship discussed by Aristotle, though they are nevertheless differentiated based on their respective objects. On this reading, Aristotle’s later remarks concerning the lesser forms of friendship are perhaps meant to merely emphasize the crucial role use and pleasure play in the corresponding forms of friendship, but were not meant to undermine each form of friendship involving goodwill towards others for their own sake. Arbitrating between these two readings stands to clarify Aristotle’s intended analysis of varieties of friendship while simultaneously providing a foundation on which alternative interpretive proposals may be evaluated. 

In Section 1, we examine Aristotle’s discussion of varieties of friendship further, extracting salient details. Here too we outline and motivate the Standard Reading of Aristotle’s discussion, and note the Standard Reading appears to treat most friendships as based entirely on egoistic motivation. These observations inspire seeking an alternative. In Section 2, we contrast the Standard Reading with the Goodwill Reading, which we also outline and motivate. We then pose several objections to the latter reading. In particular, we undermine the Goodwill Reading insofar as it relies on Aristotle’s definition of friendship from the Rhetoric, and observe this reading entails various relationships Aristotle explicitly counts as friendship fail to count as friendships. Having posed trouble for the Goodwill Reading, rather than retreat to the Standard Reading, we extract lessons from the preceding discussion and gesture at a prima facie promising synthesis of these distinct readings that provides a more nuanced solution to the interpretive puzzle than its predecessors.

[1](1156a11-3; 1164b10; 1167a14).
[2]See (Nehamas, 2010) for an overview of interpretive options. See (Whiting, 1991) among others, for more detail.
[3](Pakaluk, 2005, pg. 270-1); (Nehamas, 2010, pg. 220). The characterization of the Standard Reading here is from (Cooper, 1999), and shares much in common with the first option (Nehamas, 2010, pg. 220-1) considers as a solution to the interpretive puzzle. [4](Cooper, 1999, pgs. 312-35).