Why are we hungry for friendship?

It seems every day more and more people are feeling lonely and part of this emptiness is caused by our shallow and thick relationships, one of them in friendship. The internet and Social Media have failed its main promises to connect people and bring us closer together since the evidence shows people are now more lonely and depressed than ever. A study published in PLOS One found that going on Facebook made users feel less satisfied with their daily lives and less happy from moment to moment. Basically, logging onto Facebook made them pretty immediately sad. Another study from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found that the more young people used social media, the more depressed they became. The explanation for this can be traced thousands of years ago. It’s impossible to think about friendship without looking back at Aristotle and how he described the types of friendships and their effects in our lives. In Book VIII of “The Nichomachean Ethics”, Aristotle makes reference to three kinds of friendship that can still be applied today:

The Death of Socrates. Painting by Jacques-Louis David

The Death of Socrates. Painting by Jacques-Louis David

FRIENDSHIP BASED ON UTILITY: WHERE BOTH PEOPLE DERIVE SOME BENEFIT FROM EACH OTHER.

Aristotle describes a friendship of utility as shallow, “easily dissolved” or for the old. He views them as such because this type of friendship is easily broken and based on something that is brought to the relationship by the other person. Aristotle uses the example of trade and argues that friendships of utility are often between opposite people, in order to maximize this trade. In other words, in this kind of friendship people are together for the sake of benefiting from each other.

This kind of friendship may seem out of date, but it continuous to be as true as it was back then, not in a diabolical or Machiavellian strategy to profit from another person as you might think, but it exists in simple daily activities, for example, being friends of someone else only because of their connections, circle of friends, their jobs or for their money. It’s easy to see how this type of friendships is not strong in the test of time.

FRIENDSHIP BASED ON PLEASURE: WHERE BOTH PEOPLE ARE DRAWN TO THE OTHER’S WIT, GOOD LOOKS, OR OTHER PLEASANT QUALITIES.

The second is friendship base on pleasure. Aristotle says that friendship of pleasure is normally built between the young as passions and pleasures are great influences in their lives. This type of relationship is characterized by such feelings as the passion between lovers, or the feeling of belonging among a like-minded group of friends. It differs from the friendship of utility in that those who seek utility friendships are looking for a business deal or a long-term benefit, whereas the friendship of pleasure Aristotle describes is where one seeks something which is pleasant to them presently.

This is very common among young adults when you have friends because they are fun, or they like to go out to parties together. They may not have a single thing in common but they find amusing to go out together since they have such a good time. The point made by Aristotle is that immediate pleasure (in this case having a good time) is temporary and eventually ends and that is why this kind of friendship is shallow and easy to be dissolved.

In addition, friendship based on utility or pleasure are two kinds of friendship that according to Aristotle are only accidental, because in these cases friends are motivated by their own utility and pleasure, not by anything essential to the nature of the friend. Both of these kinds of friendship are short-lived because one’s needs and pleasures are apt to change over time.

FRIENDSHIP BASED ON GOODNESS (VIRTUE): WHERE BOTH PEOPLE ADMIRE THE OTHER’S GOODNESS AND HELP ONE ANOTHER STRIVE FOR GOODNESS.

Friendships of the good (or Virtue) are ones where both friends enjoy each other’s characters. Aristotle calls it a “…complete sort of friendship between people who are good and alike in virtue…” This is the highest level of Philia, (φιλία), often translated “brotherly love”, and one of the highest forms of Love in Aristotle´s “Nichomachean Ethics”.

Those involved in a friendship of the good must be able to value loving over being loved and as such, their relationship will be based more around loving the other person and wanting what is good for them. Goodness is an enduring quality, so friendships based on goodness tend to be long-lasting. This friendship encompasses the other two, as good friends are useful to one another and please one another. Such friendship is rare and takes time to develop, but it is the best kind.

As well, Aristotle believes that it is through friendship that cities are held together. Those with the moral virtue to enter virtuous relationships are a major part of this but friendships of utility and pleasure are also needed as friendships of virtue are severely limited in number. It is the friendships of utility and pleasure that keep the city together, however, it takes the character of those in the virtuous friendship for a solid community to exist.

Aristotle states in Book VIII, Chapter 1:

“Between friends there is no need for justice, but people who are just still need the quality of friendship; and indeed friendliness is considered to be justice in the fullest sense. It is not only a necessary thing but a splendid one”.

Aristotle bases his conception of justice on a conception of fair exchange, and does the same for friendship. Friendships are balanced by the fact that each friend gives as much as receives. Hence, justice and friendship are closely connected.

I hope we all think about friendship as Aristotle did, as the founding stone or our society and our communities, because only by meaningful, true, good and selfless relations we might find the overwhelming fullness of joy we are looking for.