The Three Kinds of Friendship

In his Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle distinguishes roughly three kinds of friendship:

1) Those based on pleasure.

2) Those based on usefulness.

3) Those based on themselves.

1) We all have experienced friendships based on pleasure.

These are the friends that are fun to hang with. We go to parties with these kinds of friends. We play fun games with these kinds of friends. We enjoy sex with these kinds of friends.

These are the partiers, the gamers, the friends with benefits. And we also know a critical truth about these kinds of friendships:

For friendships based on pleasure,
once the pleasure ends,
the friendship ends.

When we no longer party in the same way, or play the same games, or we lose interest in the sex, more often than not, these friendships end.

Why?

Because the primary purpose of the friendship has ended—its pleasure.

These friendships are not necessarily bad. They can help people learn and grow, and pass the time. But rightly or wrongly:

Friendships based on pleasure
are means to an end,
not an end in themselves.

2) We all have also experienced friendships based on usefulness.

These are the friends we have at the office or at work. These are the friends at school. These are friends who show up at our political rallies. These are friends at the club or the association or the church where we go.

They are our coworkers, our classmates, our political allies, and our fellow club members. They are useful friendships. As long as we have common goals, related to work or politics or mutual aims, the friendship endures.

And we also know a critical truth about these kinds of friendships:

Friendships based on usefulness
are means to an end,
not an end in themselves.

Once the usefulness ends, the friendship ends.

Once we change our job or political party or religion, we may say we want to keep in touch. Perhaps we do occasionally meet and have lunch together.

But more often than not, the friendship ends.

Why?

Because the primary purpose of this friendship has ended—its usefulness.

3) Then there is the third kind of friendship, the friendship based on itself.

Some people can go their whole lives without experiencing this kind of friendship. These friendships are rare. These are the friends who, if you have them, you usually can count the number of them on one hand.

These are the friends who you just enjoy being with, and they enjoy being with you. It does not matter what you are doing, nor how pleasurable or useful it is to be together. You just feel good being with them.

These are the friends who, sometimes, you don’t see for years. And then when you are together again, it’s like no time has passed. You are right there together again.

Nothing useful or specifically pleasurable comes out of these kinds of friendships. They promise no previous obligation or future benefit.

They just are.

Friendships based on themselves
are not means to an end,
They are ends in themselves.

These are the friends that are never lost with changing jobs, locations, pleasures, or pains.

These friendships are timeless.

***

From Sex and Romance: What You Should’ve Learned as a Teen

03-Sex-res100

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One thought on “The Three Kinds of Friendship

  1. Bob McGibeny

    I find the clarification in this area liberating. Its healthy for me to see a relationship for what it is & not try to make it something else.

    Reply

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