Between Advantage and Virtue: Aristotle’s Theory of Political Friendship
Aristotle devotes wide space to the issue of friendship in the Nicomachean Ethics, and tries to place the discussion of its various aspects within the framework of human happiness and ethical virtue. At NE VIII, 1155b18-9 he introduces the distinction between three different objects of love: the good (to agathon), the pleasant (hç hçdonç) and the useful (to chrçsimon), to which three different kinds of friendship will correspond: friendship based on virtue, friendship based on pleasure and friendship based on utility. How does the Aristotelian account of friendship contribute to an understanding of the notion of politikç philia? The aim of this paper is to sketch out a general description of political friendship, and define its boundaries through the analysis of resemblances to and differences from both friendship according ethical excellence and friendship grounded in mere utility. I propose that political friendship is a kind of advantage-friendship sui generis, where the search for utility must be conducted according to at least some degree of ethical virtue. Other-regarding qualities like cooperation, trust and loyalty (which are typical of friendship according to ethical virtue) need to be instantiated in a virtuous polis, even though, as a matter of fact, not all the fellow-citizens will know each other and establish the same, intimate friendship typical of virtuous people. My suggestion is that activity according to justice may replace the form of mutual and intimate love that should subsist in a friendship based on ethical virtue. I claim that Aristotle’s main interest is not so much in looking for an intimate friendship between fellow-citizens as in looking form of justice which, if possessed by each citizen, would be capable of ensuring a lasting stability and inner harmony in the polis.