Can people be compelled to be virtuous?
Can Bad People Be Friends? Aristotle's ethical consideration of friendship
1 Melanie Altanian Can bad people be friends? Aristotle's ethical consideration of friendship 1 Introduction: Aristotle on the vital necessity of friendship Hardly anyone would deny it: Friendship is something beautiful. Yes, knowing that you are in a good friendship can enrich life to the greatest extent. But why actually? What does it mean to have a boyfriend and why is it beautiful? And what is a good friendship anyway? Are there other types of friendships, such as bad friendships, or only apparent friendships? These are just a few of the many questions one can ask about friendship. In the eighth and ninth books of his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle wants to get to the bottom of the concept of friendship. Indeed, he sees friendship not only as a virtue or connected with virtue, but also as vital for human beings. 1 He even goes so far as to say that friendship is the most necessary good not only for the individual but also for the state: for unity is evidently related to it, and this is the main focus of the rulers of the state, while they are the Discord is most endeavored to banish enmity. 2 Now the assumption that friendship is a virtue or is linked to virtue would mean that only virtuous, that is, good people are capable of friendship. So the legitimate question arises: what does it take for a true friendship? Can't bad people be friends too? If we look at the world, we would say: Yes, friendship occurs among all people! But are all friendly relationships real, true friendships in the sense of the true meaning of friendship? For Aristotle, the real meaning of friendship is not one that can be found just about anywhere. Because a good friendship is not easy, it is exhausting and time-consuming, sometimes very rare. There are several types of friendly relationships, but only one is truly perfect: the virtuous one. In the following essay I would like to show how Aristotle tries to distance virtuous friendship from other types of friendship and why, in his opinion, bad people cannot be good friends. In order to understand this, it is necessary to begin with an introduction to Aristotle's doctrine of virtues. 1 Aristoteles, Nicomachean Ethics, Hamburg: Meiner , S; here S ibid. 182
2 Can Bad People Be Friends? 2 The Aristotelian Doctrine of Virtue Virtue ethics is based on the assumption that morality should be derived from a person's character and not from their actions. That is, what kind of person I should be is much more important than what kind of action I should be doing. Thus, the primary focus of virtue ethics is on the excellence of character. Here, terms such as just, brave and prudent (as virtuous character traits) are more essential than so-called deontic terms such as obligation, permission or prohibition, which amount to determining principles for the correctness of our actions. This action-relatedness can be found, for example, in Kant's theory of morally right action and his categorical imperative. But virtue ethics does not want to judge actions per se, rather it assumes that the way in which we develop our character plays the decisive role for the moral goodness and correctness of our actions. But in order to even find out who you should be, you need other people who can serve as role models for us. Aristotle calls them phronimoi, i.e. virtuous actors who serve us as models. Examples include Mother Theresa (charity, mercy) or Martin Luther King (moral courage, justice). Thus an action is correct if a phronimos would do it, i.e. a virtuous actor, and not if it has been determined as ought according to a moral principle of action. But what exactly is such a virtue? A virtue can be defined as a relatively stable trait that usually implies dispositions to judge, feel, and act. Thus, these character traits are considered the primary basis for judging moral goodness or the worth of people. So again: It is not the act itself that is evaluated, but the character of the person who performed it because the character (ēthikē) determines the act and not some moral principle that one obeys. In the following sections it will be shown why, according to Aristotle, virtues are worth striving for and how we can acquire them. Aristotle: About friendship. 2.1 eudaimonia: Happiness as the highest good In the following, Aristotle's argument 3 will be dealt with, as he justifies the relationship between the highest good, or eudaimonia and virtue. First of all, he describes a good as that which everything strives for; it is a goal, so to speak. There is a first distinction here: There are activities (energeia) as goals in themselves, or products of the activities (ergon) that are striven for. According to Aristotle, the highest good (aristhon) or the highest goal is that which we strive for for its own sake. 4 3 Aristoteles, Nikomachische Ethik, Reinbek: Rowohlt , S (translation by Ursula Wolf) 4 Ibid. 43f.
3 Melanie Altanian Such a good is eudaimonia (bliss): It is the highest of all goods attainable through action. 5 He comes to this conclusion, among other things, by distinguishing between praiseworthy and highly valued things: Everything that is praised seems to be praised because it is of a certain kind or because it relates in a certain way to something else; for we praise the righteous, the brave, and in general the good and the goodness on the basis of actions (praxis) and works (ergon), and we praise the strong because they are of a certain kind and in a certain way become something good and excellent behaves. 6 So praise is always related to something. Therefore, according to Aristotle, there can be no praise as the final goal for the best since it stands for itself, but only something bigger and better. For Aristotle, bliss is therefore one of the most valued things. This also seems to be the case because it is a principle [of action], according to Aristotle. 7 Eudaimonia is therefore the only principle of action that Aristotle establishes in his doctrine of virtues. Thus it [eudaimonia] is an end (i) for which all other ends are ultimately pursued, (ii) pursued for its own sake, (iii) never pursued as a means to any other end, (iv) that is absolutely complete and (v) self-sufficient (you don't need anything else). 8 That is, if someone were to say I am striving for happiness !, nobody would ask why they are doing this. It is the highest good, and is striven for as a good in itself, and not in order to achieve something else. Thus, happiness meets the criteria for the best good. In his Ergon argument, Aristotle then tries to determine more precisely what eudaimonia consists of. This answer depends essentially on what makes us humans as beings, which indicates a naturalistic point of view. This is how we understand the nature of a thing when we grasp its actual function or purpose. 9 The function of a knife is, for example, to cut well. So (i) people's highest good concerns their purpose or function. In order to determine the highest good for people, those characteristics of people should then be sought that make up their humanity. Thus (ii) the purpose or function of people relates to what distinguishes them as distinct. We have a vegetative life in the sense of nutrition and reproduction, perception and exercise in common with animals. What distinguishes people as unique, on the other hand, is their rationality: they are able to be active (energeia) according to their reason. So (iii) rationality is the defining characteristic of man and its exercise is central to his function. From (i) to (iii) one can now conclude: The highest human good is the rational activity of the soul. 53f. 9 Ibid. Ibid. 56
4 Can Bad People Be Friends? The energeia thus denotes the active life of that part of the soul that has reason. So much for Aristotle's theory of the soul. Now it is the case that the function of a thing can be fulfilled more or less well: a sharpened knife is better able to cut something than a blunt knife, which can possibly no longer fulfill its function at all. It would be a bad knife because it doesn't do the job. So (iv) the goodness (aretē) of a thing lies in performing its function well and appropriately. For humans this means: to be rationally active, in accordance with virtue. 11 Virtue comes into play here because a person can determine his activities perfectly rationally without being good and appropriate. According to Aristotle, this is not a desirable use of rationality. But virtue is always good and appropriate. Thus the final conclusion: The highest good (eudaimonia) of human beings is a life in rational activity of the soul according to goodness or virtue. 12 So virtue not only includes the attitude towards it, but it is also important to be active accordingly. This is the only way to ultimately become blissful. But how do virtues arise in the first place, and how can we accept virtue? This is explained in more detail in the next section. 2.2 Virtue as a condition for achieving eudaimonia According to Aristotle, there are two types of virtues: On the one hand, the virtues of thinking (diano ēthikē), which arise or grow through instruction and therefore require experience and time. These are, for example, virtues such as wisdom, understanding and prudence (phronesis). Then there are the virtues of character (aretē ēthikē) such as generosity and temperance. These are controllable by reason and are not given to us by nature, but arise through habit. 13 While, according to Aristotle, we first have the ability to do what is naturally given to us and only later express the corresponding activity, it is different with virtues: we acquire the ability to be virtuous by exercising it beforehand, because what we first have to learn in order to do it, we learn by doing it. 14 We become righteous, for example, by doing righteousness and in order to achieve this we orientate ourselves on a corresponding phronimos. The question that could justifiably be asked here is: How can one become good without already being one? Don't you have to be good-natured from the outset to even have the need to be good? To this Aristotle replies that the agent must be in a certain state of mind in order to promote the action that leads to proper habituation, i.e. to virtuous 11 Ibid. 56f. 12 Ibid Ibid Ibid. 74
5 Melanie Altanian Action: he must (i) be knowing, (ii) willful for the sake of the action and (iii) act out of a fixed, unchangeable disposition. 15 One is not yet righteous if one acts righteously, but also does so as righteous people do according to the phronimos. 16 Aristotle's doctrine of mesotes is essential for the further determination of goodness (aretē): virtue, or the goodness of character, aims at what is mean in relation to us, i.e. the middle between two vices, one of which is based on excess, the other on lack . 17 By the middle in relation to us, Aristotle means what is neither too much nor too little; this is not one, and it is not the same for all. Of course, there are exceptions to this: there are actions that are intrinsically bad, such as envy, theft or murder. These do not allow anything in between. Therefore, one can never find the right thing in these things, but always go wrong. 18 But in relation to virtuous actions this means: bravery as the middle between fear and courage, temperance as the middle between pleasure and displeasure, generosity as the middle between waste and avarice, pride as the middle between vanity and faintheartedness, friendliness as the middle between popularity or flattery and contention to name just a few. 19 So virtue is particularly aimed at moderate behavior. In relation to pleasure and displeasure, for example, reason is there to correct them by making us feel pleasure in the right things in the right measure. So it is not maximization that is good, but appropriateness. In summary, virtues are those character traits that people, as they are by nature, need for their eudaimonia (happiness) and thus for their living well. In Aristotle's words: Virtue is thus a disposition that is expressed in intentions, whereby it lies in a middle, namely the middle in relation to us, which is determined by deliberation, that is, like the wise one (phronimos) she would determine. 20 According to Aristotle, the possession of one virtue presupposes the possession of other virtues. For example, a righteous person can only be righteous if they are also level-headed, brave, etc. This also applies to friendship: this virtue can only be realized if virtues such as prudence, justice and prudence have already been realized. As mentioned above, these are the virtues of thought. But certain character virtues must also be assumed: for example, generosity and moderation. Whoever realizes these virtues is able to enter into a virtuous and thus perfect friendship. In the following, the concept of friendship will be discussed in more detail. 15 Ibid Ibid. 17 Ibid Ibid Ibid. 86ff. 20 Ibid. 85
6 Can Bad People Be Friends? 3 Conditions for friendship To determine the conditions for friendship, according to Aristotle, it is helpful to first define what is lovable, because not everything is loved and is therefore the object of friendship, only what is lovable. 21 So basically love is the main condition of friendship. So what does man love? He either loves the good, the pleasurable or the useful. But since we consider that what brings us a good or pleasure as useful, only the good and the pleasure are endowed, that is, in themselves lovable. I. Condition for friendship: the lovable as an object But how does friendship come about? After all, we can also love inanimate things, but we wouldn't seriously want to say: My computer is my friend! And even if that person actually has no friends, we would find them a tragic figure in that he is not sure what constitutes friendship. According to Aristotle, friendship also includes reciprocal love and mutual benevolence. You can be benevolent to an object, for example by taking care of your computer to keep it as long as possible, but this is only so that you can use it yourself, so it gives me an advantage. But it is said that you have to wish your friend the best for your own sake. 22 In addition, the computer doesn't really care how much I take care of it or whether I am harmed if one of its functional parts goes out of business. So he doesn't try to work perfectly for me because he loves me. In the case of the computer, there is neither reciprocity nor benevolence for its own sake. But even if this benevolence is directed towards a person, friendship only arises through mutual benevolence. Because if this reciprocity did not exist, there would be the danger of getting into an unhealthy relationship of exploitation, which would not speak for a good friendship. II. Condition for friendship: mutual love III. Condition for friendship: Mutual benevolence for one's own sake This attitude of mutual benevolence must also be visible to the other, i.e. I have to know about the benevolence of the other towards me. After all, I can be benevolent to a stranger because I adore certain character traits in them. This can be benevolent towards me on the basis of this. Nevertheless, one would not speak of friendship here. With Aristotle it is not entirely clear why this visibility is needed. Is it perhaps just an assurance that two people are in a friendly relationship? Or about avoiding the risk of abuse of trust. 21 Aristotle, Nikomachische Ethik, Hamburg: Meiner , S Ibid.
7 Melanie Altanian can one avoid being sure that the other is benevolent? Unfortunately, Aristotle is very brief about this condition. IV. Condition for friendship: Visibility of benevolence In order for these conditions to be ultimately fulfilled, another important precondition must be present, namely self-love.This can easily be misunderstood: Self-love in this sense does not mean the blameworthy self-love found in the large number of people, namely those who claim too much for themselves in terms of money, honor and sensual pleasure. 23 Whoever regards these as the highest goods, is only a servant of his sensual desires and passions, or his unreasonable part of the soul. 24 According to Aristotle, these are not good properties and therefore not worth striving for, but they are strived for by the majority of people. In his opinion, these people should not have any self-love, as they will follow their bad passions and harm themselves and their surroundings. 25 When Aristotle, on the other hand, speaks of self-love, i.e. the condition of good friendship, he means that self-love in which reason prevails, or which is based on virtue. For here man strives to practice works of justice, moderation or some other virtue, and if he ever claimed morally beautiful things for himself, nobody would talk about self-love in such a man and nobody would blame him. 26 Thus the ideal of self-love is meant, which occurs among virtuous, good people, people who have self-control, because reason is only active under self-controlled people and are thus able to act appropriately. The different points of view of self-love are another criterion for distinguishing good and bad people or friendships from one another. This is discussed in more detail in the last chapter. V. Condition of friendship: self-love [of virtuous people] 4 Three types of friendship So there are three different reasons for loving something or someone, namely the useful, the pleasurable or the good. Corresponding to this threefold nature of the lovable, there are also three types of friendship, since with every lovable there is a love in return that does not remain hidden, and since the lovers want good for the sake of which they love each other. 27 The following sections explain in more detail how Aristotle defined the different types of friendship. 23 Ibid Ibid. 25 Ibid. Ibid. 27 Ibid. 184
8 Can Bad People Be Friends? 4.1 Benefit and pleasure friendship The benefit friendship is characterized by the fact that one does not love the other in himself, but rather they love each other insofar as good things happen to them from one another. The same with those who love each other for lust. So you don't love people because of their personal qualities, but because they give you pleasure. 28 Of course one could ask oneself whether it is not precisely the personal characteristics that give pleasure to the other person. But here, too, the focus is on pleasure itself. It is only when the personal qualities are capable of bringing pleasure to the other that they are lovable. Therefore it is not the personal characteristics per se, but the resulting benefit or the pleasure for me that make people lovable. Or in Aristotle's words: where love is based on utility, then it is determined by the lover's utility, and where it is based on pleasure, by the pleasure of the lover, and it does not apply to the beloved insofar as he is the beloved, but in so far as it grants benefit or pleasure. 29 Since the object of love is not the beloved in itself, but the fact that one grants the other good or pleasure, such useful or pleasure friendships are not true friendships, but only as follows: that is, the will to friendship arises from him Benefit or the pleasure that arises from it. In such a friendship, the other is instrumentalized and used for one's own benefit, instead of being valued as a person. Such friendships dissolve easily if people do not stay the same: If they are no longer pleasant or useful, one stops loving them. Benefit and pleasure are very changeable, so friendships based on them are very inconsistent or imperfect. There is only one kind of friendship that is perfect and lasting, and that is the friendship of good people and people similar in virtue to virtue friendship The hallmark of a virtuous friendship is that people equally wish each other good insofar as they are good, and they are good in themselves. They are therefore friends in the perfect sense because they have the disposition to wish the friend well for his own sake, and not consequently, that is, not because they gain an advantage from it. If people are similar in virtue, the friendship also lasts, because, according to Aristotle, virtue is a relatively constant character attitude. If two virtuous people are similar in virtue, then they are absolutely pleasant to one another, because everyone enjoys his and related behavior: but virtuous people have the same or similar behavior. 31 The next section examines the conditions of perfect friendship in more detail. 28 Ibid. 29 Ibid. 30 Ibid Ibid. 186
9 Melanie Altanian 5 Virtue as a condition for perfect friendship Aristotle admits that such friendship naturally occurs very rarely. Because the formation of a perfect friendship takes time and the habit of living together: one can only find pleasure in one another and make friends when one has proven to be lovable to one another and has proven to be worthwhile. So the decision to friendship can be made quickly, but the friendship itself only comes about after a long time, if at all. Only in virtuous friendship are these conditions perfect: thus both have the same and the same thing with regard to what is good and pleasurable, and in general it is the case that both enjoy the same thing. Only those who are similar in character attitudes can do this. In addition, there is also trust in this friendship and constant abstention from insults as well as everything else that is required for true friendship. 32 A daily community or living together is only possible among people who are pleasant to one another and who enjoy the same things . 33 Now everyone delights in what is called a lover, hence a lover of virtue delights in acts of virtue. 34 And this makes a friendship among the virtuous so perfect, because they both enjoy the absolutely good, which is why this friendship is so constant because virtuous character traits are constant, just as the good remains constant while benefit and pleasure can always vary for everyone and for them value is assigned only randomly or at will. 5.1 Impossibility of good friendship among bad people For the sake of pleasure and benefit, bad people can also be friends with one another, or good people with bad people. Such friendships arise because there is no benefit for the individual. For their own sake, only the virtuous are apparently friends with one another, since they love one another as good people. 35 For since the virtuous rejoices in good, he rejoices in good people as well. That is why good people cannot be friends with bad people in the true sense of the word: because friendship includes, as already mentioned, living together or long-term getting along with one another. You can endure an unpleasant person for a while if they prove useful to you. But in the long run you can't stand this: For a good, virtuous friendship, you look for someone who is pleasant to you and who enjoys the same: namely, the good. But what if a friend's good character changes? If the friend you made your friendship with because of your honorable character turns out to be bad, should you end the friendship? Aristotle says: one not only has no obligation to treat a bad man like a friend
10 Can Bad People Be Friends? love, you mustn't either. Because one must not be a friend of evil and one must not equate oneself with evil; But that would be done with the continuation of the friendship; because, as already said, like and like to join. 36 So if this friendship were to be continued, the bad would be compounded. So a friendship would have to end in which the other turns out to be bad over time. 5.2 Healthy versus perverted forms of self-love As already mentioned at the beginning, self-love is a condition for friendship. For Aristotle thinks that the way in which one shows love for friends and the characteristics by which one defines the concept of friendship seem to have emerged from the behavior that we observe towards ourselves. 37 It is peculiar to the virtuous that he desires good for himself and wants to realize good, for his own sake, namely for the benefit of his thinking part, which is the real self of man. It has already been explained that man's reason is his own function. Accordingly, it is also reasonable that the virtuous should regard his being as good: he takes pleasure in himself, for memories of his past are pleasant and hopes for his future are good; also he always finds material in his mind for true and useful considerations. 38 Since he is minded toward his friend as toward himself, such things are also found in friendship. The friend is then to a certain extent a second self with whom all these things can be shared that one shares with oneself. In this sense, the highest degree of friendship equals the love one has for oneself. 39 What about bad people's self-love? According to Aristotle, villains and malefactors find themselves at odds with themselves: their sensual greed for things other than their sensible will, as is the case with the unstoppable. They prefer what they consider to be good over what is pleasurable and harmful to them. 40 Since he does not use his reason, he has nothing to control him, and so he gives in to his desires without further ado, he is excessive and unrestrained. This ultimately turns him into a crime, which is why in the end there is nothing lovable about him. That is why, according to Aristotle, bad people cannot live in friendship with themselves: they then actually only flee into society to escape loneliness, since loneliness would result in many bad memories and fears. And therefore he is not able to form good friendships either. The advice Aristotle gives to such an unfortunate man is that, with all his might, flee vice and seek virtue. Then one will live in friendship with oneself and also become another friend. Ebd Ebd Ebd Ebd Ebd. 41 Ibid. 218
11 Melanie Altanian There are two different ways of looking at self-love: On the one hand, there is the bad, i.e. blameworthy, which applies to those people who only follow their sensual desires, i.e. who are servants of their unreasonable part of their soul. On the other hand, there is good self-love, which is needed for friendship, or without which friendships could not arise in the first place: because someone who has self-control through rational activity is able to love himself because he strives for it To do works of justice, temperance, or any other virtue. 42 Whoever is in possession of these virtues is himself a friend and also a friend of what is similar to him, that is to what is likewise virtuous. In summary, the argument against a possible friendship among bad people can be presented roughly as follows: I. The goodness of a thing is measured by how well it fulfills its purpose. II. Man's purpose is the rational activity of the soul. III. Virtue is an activity of the rational part of the soul and always aims at what is good and appropriate. K1: The goodness of a person depends on how well he fulfills his function as a rationally thinking being in the sense of virtue. IV. He who is virtuous loves himself because he is a lover of the good. V. Those who love themselves and are friends with themselves are also able to enter into friendships with others that are pleasant to them. And those who are similar (good) to him are pleasant to him. K2: A good friendship is only possible among the virtuous, that is, a friendship for its own sake. VI. Bad people do not act according to their common sense; they are servants of their sensual desires. VII. Since bad people only act according to their sensual desires and thus contrary to what would be good for them, they have nothing lovable about them. K3: Since bad people have nothing lovable about themselves and that which is lovable is the object of friendship, they cannot be friends with themselves and thus cannot enter into friendships: because true friendship is based on the good, or virtue, and this is based on the action of reason. K4: The virtuous cannot enter into a true friendship with a bad person, since this person does not fulfill his purpose as a rational being well and is therefore unpleasant to the virtuous. 42 Ibid. 224
12 Can Bad People Be Friends? 6 Possible Objections and Final Remarks One is quickly inclined to say: The idea of such a friendship is completely utopian, because no one is completely virtuous! Such a statement is very sweeping, and I dare say that there are virtuous people and good friendships, even if they are rare. Aristotle does not even want to deny that these are very difficult to find, on the contrary, he emphasizes this. He also speaks of the large masses who let themselves be carried away by their sensual desires and succumb to an opportunity mentality in which they make friends with those people who are useful or otherwise enjoyable to them. True, good friendships that are striven for for their own sake are also rare. But that is why Aristotle also differentiates between the types of friendships: the benefit, pleasure and virtue friendship. The fact that the idea of a good friendship as permanent, based on the same interests and consisting of people with a good character can be regarded as perfect is probably just as plausible to assume as the fact that friendships based on benefits can and cannot be dissolved quickly seriously corresponds to the idea of friendship as it at least should be. Here it must be pointed out again that it is a (virtuous) ethical theory: Ethics deals with the question of which actions lead to a good life. Virtue ethics focuses on the character traits of people as constituting a good life, i.e. the possession of virtues is essential for eudaimonia, i.e. the achievement of the highest good in life, happiness. The fact that it is not often found in the real world that people have virtues and are always guided by their reason simply means that these people will not achieve eudaimonia for the rest of their lives. You can lead a dissolute life, take advantage of people and indulge in selfish greed, but this simply means that you are not leading a morally good life. Nor can one be forced to lead a morally good life. It is up to everyone which life they choose, or which life they attach more value to: whether they recognize the virtues as most valuable for themselves, or whether they find their fulfillment in excess. But from a moral point of view, the latter would be reprehensible.
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