Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Looking Forward; Aristotle to Today

Mazie Preite

Response Paper 1

February 18, 2019

Throughout the readings on Plato and Aristotle’s ideas about friendship, it becomes clear that the two classical philosophers had a great deal of differences in their thoughts on the topic. This is bound to happen when two people are trying to break such an abstract concept into intricate mechanisms. However, one thing that they do seem to both agree on is the important role friendship could, and most definitely should, play in how societies are run. In the eighth chapter of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, he writes that “friendship would seem to hold cities together” and that is why politicians and legislators should pay special attention to promoting friendship throughout their time of service (119). Plato also talks in length specifically about civic friendship and the power it can play to create unity and general ease in policy run environments.

Although they share this overarching agreement on the importance of friendship, these philosophers varied on what they focused on to emphasize this importance. For example, in his work Lysis, Plato accents friendships important ability to pass knowledge onto others. In fact, a whole section of dialogue in his work is dedicated to Socrates telling his young student that “‘your father doesn’t love you, nor yet anyone else love anyone else, in so far as that other is useless’” and that only when he gains wisdom and knowledge will he be able to be loved and considered friends by even his own parents let alone anyone else he meets (Carr, 20). It is well known that gaining knowledge is a good goal for societies hoping to advance and to continue to prosper so therefore by highlighting friendship’s crucial role in the passage of knowledge, Plato is advocating for a higher value of friendship in society as a whole.

Even some of the topics that are more heavily discussed by one philosopher can be found in small traces in the others writing. For example, Aristotle believes greatly in the value of self efficiency, especially with the topic of cities. This value has not survived into today’s common view, as seen by the fact that the United States alone imports roughly 2.4 trillion dollars worth of goods (Amadeo), but nonetheless hints of it can also be found in Plato’s ideas of friendship. In Lysis, Socrates states that “like cannot be friend to like, nor unlike to unlike” but “‘good’ is befriended by ‘what is neither good nor bad’” emphasizing the need for diverse people with particular skills to work together and support each other in harmony if a city is to achieve self sufficiency (Carr, 22). Although the ideas of these two philosophers are not exactly the same, they can be used to compliment each other nicely.

While he does not necessarily go against some of Plato’s ideas, Aristotle uses the capability for a person to be a friend to identify good human values and characteristics that are often not in agreement with our human instincts. In fact, they both align with something similar to the belief that “friendship is said to be reciprocated goodwill” between two friends that are aware of each other will look after each other (Aristotle, 121). This is very important to Aristotle’s political philosophy because he is essentially saying that to be a good friend is to be a good member of society. Although this thought may seem straightforward and perhaps even obvious to some, it sheds light on how incredibly useful friendship can be as a source of motivation to be a good civilian. As stated earlier, many of the traits of a good friend are not natural human instincts but it is also true that humans are naturally social animals that need a number of quality relationships with other humans to survive and most definitely to live a happy and successful life. Because of this need for people, individuals are more likely to try to achieve greater friendships and consequently become better participants in their society. On top of this, it is also argued that friends allow friends to see themselves as others see them which can help the person in question to judge their actions better and potentially make choices that are more beneficial to those around them and their city overall.

Aristotle stretches this idea further to even state that “if people are friends, they have no need of justice” (Aristotle, 120). This is such a startling statement to read because, especially in the United States but also globally, justice is such a highly valued thing and we are taught to value those who fight for it and even often encouraged to defend it ourselves from a young age. It is seen as the most precious thing to achieve when in fact, at least in Aristotle’s mind, friendship is even more powerful that it can take away our need for justice. Sadly, this higher value of friendship over justice has been switched overtime but with recent advances such as the appointment of the Minister of Loneliness in the United Kingdom happening, it seems that, if not switching back, the value of friendship is starting to rise again in political spheres.

Overall, when reading Plato and Aristotle’s works on friendship, it becomes clear how very important it can be for politics and how much our societies could benefit from a higher value of friendship specifically in the world of political policy making but also more generally as well. For this reason, it can be discouraging to read these encouraging ideas of friendship from a time when it was valued much more than it is today. In fact, when you look up most varieties of a google search similar to “new political policies on friendship,” most of what pops up are articles encouraging you to end friendships with people who have opposing political values. These articles are not exactly in line with Aristotle’s views of friendship. However dreary this current state might be, it is at least hopefully to think something as universal and historically relevant as friendship could be the answer to our global struggles of achieving unity and acceptance.

Word count: 1,016

Works Cited


Amadeo, Kimberly. “What Does the United States Trade With Foreign Countries?” The Balance, The Balance,

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics. Oxford: Oxford World Classics.

Carr, Brian, “Friendship in Plato’s Lysis.” Leaman, Oliver ed. 1996. Friendship East and West: A Philosophical Perspective. Richmond, UK: Curzon Press.

Geggel, Laura. “Why the UK Just Appointed a Minister of Loneliness,” Live Science, January 18, 2018. [Online].

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