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Another debated question is whether friends are necessary or not for happiness. People say that the supremely happy are self-sufficing, and so have no need of friends: for they have the good things of life already, and therefore, being complete in themselves, require nothing further; whereas the function of a friend, who is a second self, is to supply things we cannot procure for ourselves. Hence the saying1 “ When fortune favors us, what need of friends?

” [2]

But it seems strange that if we attribute all good things to the happy man we should not assign him friends, which we consider the greatest of external goods. Also if it be more the mark of a friend to give than to receive benefits, and if beneficence is a function of the good man and of virtue, and it is is nobler to benefit friends than strangers, the good man will need friends as the objects of his beneficence.Hence the further question is asked: Are friends more needed in prosperity or in adversity? It is argued that the unfortunate need people to be kind to them, but also that the prosperous need people to whom they may be kind. [3]

Also perhaps it would be strange to represent the supremely happy man as a recluse. Nobody would choose to have all possible good things on the condition that he must enjoy them alone; for man is a social being,2 and designed by nature to live with others; accordingly the happy man must have society, for he has everything that is naturally good. And it is obviously preferable to associate with friends and with good men than with strangers and chance companions. Therefore the happy man requires friends. [4]

What then do the upholders of the former view mean, and in what sense is it true? Perhaps the explanation of it is that most men think of friends as being people who are useful to us. Now it is true that the supremely happy man will have no need of friends of that kind, inasmuch as he is supplied with good things already. Nor yet will he want friends of the pleasant sort, or only to a very small extent, for his life is intrinsically pleasant and has no need of adventitious pleasure. And as he does not need useful or pleasant friends, it is assumed that he does not require friends at all. [5]

But perhaps this inference is really untrue. For as we said at the beginning,3 happiness is a form of activity, and an activity clearly is something that comes into being, not a thing that we possess all the time, like a piece of property. But if happiness consists in life and activity, and the activity of a good man, as was said at the beginning,4 is good and so pleasant in itself, and if the sense that a thing is our own is also pleasant, yet we are better able to contemplate our neighbors than ourselves, and their actions than our own, and thus good men find pleasure in the actions of other good men who are their friends, since those actions possess both these essentially pleasant qualities,5 it therefore follows that the supremely happy man will require good friends, insomuch as he desires to contemplate actions that are good and that are his own, and the actions of a good man that is his friend are such. Also men think that the life of the happy man ought to be pleasant. Now a solitary man has a hard life, for it is not easy to keep up continuous activity by oneself; it is easier to do so with the aid of and in relation to other people. [6] The good man's activity therefore, which is pleasant in itself, will be more continuous if practised with friends6; and the life of the supremely happy should be continuously pleasant7 (for a good man, in virtue of his goodness, enjoys actions that conform with virtue and dislikes those that spring from wickedness, just as a skilled musician is pleased by good music and pained by bad). [7] Moreover the society of the good may supply a sort of training in goodness, as Theognis8 remarks.

Again, if we examine the matter more fundamentally, it appears that a virtuous friend is essentially desirable for a virtuous man. For as has been said above, that which is essentially good is good and pleasing in itself to the virtuous man. And life is defined, in the case of animals, by the capacity for sensation; in the case of man, by the capacity for sensation and thought. But a capacity is referred to its activity, and in this its full reality consists. It appears therefore that life in the full sense is sensation or thought.But life is a thing good and pleasant in itself, for it is definite, and definiteness is a part of the essence of goodness, and what is essentially good is good for the good man, and hence appears to be pleasant to all men. [8] We must not argue from a vicious and corrupt life, or one that is painful, for such a life is indefinite, like its attributes.9 (The point as to pain will be clearer in the sequel.10) [9] But if life itself is good and pleasant (as it appears to be, because all men desire it, and virtuous and supremely happy men most of all, since their way of life is most desirable and their existence the most blissful) ; and if one who sees is conscious11 that he sees, one who hears that he hears, one who walks that he walks, and similarly for all the other human activities there is a faculty that is conscious of their exercise, so that whenever we perceive, we are conscious that we perceive, and whenever we think, we are conscious that we think, and to be conscious that we are perceiving or thinking is to be conscious that we exist (for existence, as we saw, is sense-perception or thought); and if to be conscious one is alive is a pleasant thing in itself (for life is a thing essentially good, and to be conscious that one possesses a good thing is pleasant) ; and if life is desirable, and especially so for good men, because existence is good for them, and so pleasant (because they are pleased by the perception of what is intrinsically good) ; [10] and if the virtuous man feels towards his friend in the same way as he feels towards himself (for his friend is a second self) —then, just as a man's own existence is desirable for him, so, or nearly so, is his friend's existence also desirable. But, as we saw, it is the consciousness of oneself as good12 that makes existence desirable, and such consciousness is pleasant in itself. Therefore a man ought also to share his friend's consciousness of his existence, and this is attained by their living together and by conversing and communicating their thoughts to each other; for this is the meaning of living together as applied to human beings, it does not mean merely feeding in the same place, as it does when applied to cattle.

If then to the supremely happy man existence is desirable in itself, being good and pleasant essentially, and if his friend's existence is almost equally desirable to him, it follows that a friend is one of the things to be desired. But that which is desirable for him he is bound to have, or else his condition will be incomplete in that particular. Therefore to be happy a man needs virtuous friends.

1 Eur. Orest. 665.

2 See 1.7.6, note.

3 1.7.15. The argument for friendship from the definition of happiness as virtuous and therefore pleasant activity is threefold: ( α) the virtuous actions of our friends give us (by sympathy) the same pleasure as our own; ( β) good activities (e.g. study) can be carried on longer (because less liable to fatigue) ; ( γ) virtuous friends increase our own virtue (as we unconsciously imitate their acts). Hence friends useful and pleasant because virtuous (though not useful or pleasant friends in the ordinary sense) are necessary adjuncts of happiness.

4 1.8.13.

5 i.e., they are good, and they are their own, i.e. like their own.

6 The last four words are implied by the context.

7 This parenthesis comes better in 9.5 above, after the words, ‘the activity of a good man . . . is good and pleasant in itself.’

8 Theognis 35 ἐσθλῶν μὲν γὰρ ἄπ᾽ ἐσθλὰ μαθήσεαι.

9 i.e., vice and pain.

10 Bk. 10.1-5.

11 αἰσθάνεσθαι is used throughout to denote ‘consciousness’ (as well as, where needed, ‘sensation). At 1170b 11 συναισθάνεσθαι expresses sympathetic consciousness of another's thoughts and feelings; it is probable therefore that in l.4 the compound verb is a copyist's mistake.

12 Perhaps to be emended ‘of its goodness,’ cf. l. 5 of the Greek. It is consciousness of life as good that makes it pleasant and desirable.

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  • Cross-references in notes from this page (1):
    • Euripides, Orestes, 665
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