Monday, October 5, 2009

Nicomachean Ethics - Justice and Friendship

The last two topics in Nicomachean Ethics are regarding justice and friendship.
What does it mean to be just? How does a just person act? Aristotle explains that justice is the greatest virtue which also encompasses all other virtues. The opposite, injustice, is making gains from vices (cowardliness, self-indulgence, adultery). Justice is a mean between having too much and having too little - people should have what they deserve. If you are rewarded too well you are being unjust; if you are not rewarded enough then you are being unjustly treated. Unfortunately you cannot tell if a man is just by looking at them, you have to see them in action. Sometimes we can only see a person's true character when they have power or money as "rule will show the man" (Aristotle).

"With out friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods" (Aristotle)
What is friendship? Do like attract like or do opposites attract? Aristotle quotes Heraclitus in saying that "it is what opposes that helps" but he also says that friends are alike in virtue. Aristotle describes three kinds of friendship, those based on utility, pleasure or goodness. Friends of the first two sorts are only filling a need between the two parties and these friendships do not last. You may want a friend for conversation, playing a game, sharing an experience or camaraderie- but as soon as you do not need this, the friendship will dissolve.

Friendships that last are those based on a love of character in the other person. True friends help each other in all conditions and genuinely care for each other, but do not require anything in return. Friends do not give each other every honor, only the honor they deserve based on their status, age and relation. Finally, to be a friend you must love yourself. If you seek what is best for you and are virtuous, then you will seek the best for your friend as well.

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