Defining friendship by SNC (and Aristotle)

Adding to our term one discussions around the concept of friendship, in Tuesday’s philosophy circle, the ‘Descartes’ philosophy group were introduced to the philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BC). Students were intrigued to discover that philosophers have done a lot of work around definitions and defining big concepts. In this session, we looked at Aristotle’s way of defining ‘true friendship’ and how this was presented as a crucial part of existence in order to live a happy life.

Aristotle’s definition, states that to be friends, one needs:

  1. Good will towards the other person that is reciprocated
  2. Friendship that is produced as a result of any one of the three motives – usefulness, pleasure or moral goodness, and that,
  3. Each person knows that the other person has good will towards them.

Students were asked to write if they agree, disagree or have questions and counterexamples for Aristotle.


Students also worked out the percentage of their friendships that were based on ‘usefulness’, ‘pleasure’ or ‘moral goodness’. You may like to try this at home – very interesting and sure to promote lively discussions! As always, student were encouraged to agree, disagree, ‘build upon’ ideas. Here were some of their astute observations:

‘I believe you can’t define friendship in any way. If you define it, as Aristotle says, it could work, like it does work as one way that you could build a relationship. But people are different, and they could still not be friends but have good will towards each other, or show enjoyment, or moral goodness, or usefulness, – so theres no real way to define friendship’ (Roma)

‘I think you need to show you are helpful, for example if you were playing with someone and they fell over and broke their leg, and you don’t help them, then you would not be friends, you’re not helping them’ (Fraser)

‘Defining friendship really depends on the relationship of the friends, and if there’s two people, or three people’ (Bintu)

‘Friendships are kind of an opinionated thing, its not your choice to define what is a friend. Some of the ideas in the definition are true – but not all’ (Gil)

‘I think this definition doesn’t work, because you cant be friends just because of someone elses opinion on it’ (Seb)

‘I agree. Just say this definition becomes a rule that defines friendship, then you would feel pressure, like youd have to stop the relationship. Its an opinion only (Bintu)

‘I kind of disagree. Like I have friends – some for different reasons, but all of them have Aristotle’s definitions. I have a friend who has all aspects of this’ (Ted C)

‘That’s true, Aristotle’s definition covers a lot of things. Those things are quite broad, so if they were headings, like ‘moral goodness’, ‘usefulness’, like they are very broad, so lots of things can come under them. Its pretty good but I still think we cant really define it. And people don’t need to have friendship, and you cant really judge what other peoples values are and other people friends can have or be’ (Roma)

‘Lots of friendships will have an element of these, but not all. e.g a cat or a dog could be a ‘friend’, but they might make you happy in other ways. They might be useful too. (Lola)

‘Some friends you are friends because you’ve been through a lot with them, or you are friends because of convenience’ (Gil)

‘I agree with Gil, but some of my friends are not based on what I do. I probably have some friends in this way but not it wouldn’t be for all of them (Noah)

‘Building on this, I live in a flat, and I’ve got a friend a few doors away from me. We’re friends because we do one thing together, so it doesn’t really fit (Luke)

Friendship can start with ‘convenience’ but it can also can connect to usefulness’ or ‘pleasure’. (Bintu)

Week 8

This weeks provocation started with ‘Do we need friendship to survive?‘.

I think without friends, people might get angry, people might attack each other, there might be people who don’t forgive each other (Thomas)

Could you survive? You would still have food, water and shelter, even without friendship (Rupert)

You could probably still survive, but you probably wouldn’t be very happy (Remy)

It’s kind of like people would be a lot more protective of their property and belongings, and there would be a lot more bullying. (Bintu)

You would still have some support just not as much. It would be really hard to be alive if you didn’t have support (Roma)

Sometimes friends can annoy you and they can make you stressed. So if you don’t have any you could be calm (Xavier)

I disagree. You need friends. What about how no one would trust you if you didn’t have friends? (Fletch)

I agree. Without friends you could get really lonely. It would still get pretty stressful without friends, because you can’t really do anything (Elli)

Building on to Elli, if no one had friends, there wouldn’t be government, or fair money and war (Fraser)

Can a friendship last if it’s just based on ‘usefulness’ or ‘pleasure?

A friendship with just ‘usefulness’ can’t last forever for example – money. If you gave each other money for a while, but then it cant bring you everything (Noah)

It reminded me of the movie ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’. When the auntie died, they got a letter that Ricky had to go back, so him and his uncle, they ran away and had to find food, so their friendship was based on ‘usefulness’ (Horatio)

We were thinking that a relationship would last based on ‘enjoyment’ rather than ‘usefulness’. You can continue to be friends, but with ‘usefulness’ it can run out (Marcus and Conrad)

It depends what you mean by ‘usefulness’. Friendships can be based on pleasure such as socialising. Friendships based on ‘usefulness’ are probably not as fun. (Ted)

‘Pleasure’ would work. For example – a 3 year old – their friendships are connected by pleasure only because they don’t know much about ‘usefulness’ or being useful. (Seb)

I think ‘moral goodness’ is the key thing here. Most friendships wouldn’t last a month or 5 months based on just usefulness or pleasure. They need moral goodness and good will. Pleasure or usefulness are not as helpful (Roma)

I think friendships should be based more upon happiness and fun than what is ‘useful’ (Lola)



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