Friendship or Love


After the foregoing a discussion of friendship will naturally follow, as it is a sort of virtue, or at least implies virtue, and is, moreover, most necessary to our life. For no one would care to live without friends, though he had all other good things. Indeed, it is when a man is rich, and has got power and authority, that he seems most of all to stand in need of friends; for what is the use of all this prosperity if he have no opportunity for benevolence, which is most frequently and most commendably displayed towards friends? or how could his position be maintained and preserved without friends? for the greater it is, the more is it exposed to danger. In poverty and all other misfortunes, again, we regard our friends as our only refuge. We need friends when we are young to keep us from error, when we get old to tend upon us and to carry out those plans which we have not strength to execute ourselves, and in the prime of life to help us in noble deeds “two together” [as Homer says]; for thus we are more efficient both in thought and in action.

Love seems to be implanted by nature in the parent towards the offspring, and in the offspring towards the parent, not only among men, but also among birds and most animals: and in those of the same race towards one another, among men especially⁠—for which reason we commend those who love their fellow-men. And when one travels one may see how man is always akin to and dear to man.

Again, it seems that friendship is the bond that holds states together, and that lawgivers are even more eager to secure it than justice. For concord bears a certain resemblance to friendship, and it is concord that they especially wish to retain, and dissension that they especially wish to banish as an enemy. If citizens be friends, they have no need of justice, but though they be just, they need friendship or love also; indeed, the completest realization of justice212 seems to be the realization of friendship or love also.

Moreover, friendship is not only an indispensable, but also a beautiful or noble thing: for we commend those who love their friends, and to have many friends is thought to be a noble thing; and some even think that a good man is the same as a friend.213

But there are not a few differences of opinion about the matter. Some hold that it is a kind of likeness, and that those who are like one another are friends, and this is the origin of “Like to like,” and “Birds of a feather flock together,”214 and other similar sayings. Others, on the contrary, say that “two of a trade never agree.”215

Others go deeper into these questions, and into the causes of the phenomena; Euripides, for instance says⁠—

“The parched earth loves the rain,
And the high heaven, with moisture laden, loves
Earthwards to fall.”

Heraclitus also says, “Opposites fit together,” and “Out of discordant elements comes the fairest harmony,” and “It is by battle that all things come into the world.” Others, and notably Empedocles, take the opposite view, and say that like desires like.

Of these difficulties, all that refer to the constitution of the universe may be dismissed (for they do not properly concern our present inquiry); but those that refer to human nature, and are intimately connected with man’s character and affections, we will discuss⁠—as, for instance, whether friendship can exist in all men, or whether it is impossible for men to be friends if they are bad, and whether there be one form of friendship or rather many. For those who suppose that there is only one kind of friendship, because it admits of degrees, go upon insufficient grounds. Things that differ in kind may differ also in degree. (But we have already spoken about this point.216)


Perhaps these difficulties will be cleared up if we first ascertain what is the nature of the lovable. For it seems that we do not love anything, but only the lovable, and that the lovable is either good or pleasant or useful. But useful would appear to mean that which helps us to get something good, or some pleasure; so that the good and the pleasant only would be loved as ends.

Now, do men love what is good, or what is good for themselves? for there is sometimes a discrepancy between these two.

The same question may be asked about the pleasant.

It seems that each man loves what is good for himself, and that, while the good is lovable in itself, that is lovable to each man which is good for him. It may be said that each man loves not what is really good for him, but what seems good for him. But this will make no difference; for the lovable we are speaking of will then be the apparently lovable.

The motives of love being thus threefold, the love of inanimate things is not called friendship. For there is no return of affection here, nor any wish for the good of the object: it would be absurd to wish well to wine, for instance; at the most, we wish that it may keep well, in order that we may have it. But it is commonly said that we must wish our friend’s good for his own sake. One who thus wishes the good of another is called a well-wisher, when the wish is not reciprocated; when the well-wishing is mutual, it is called friendship.

But ought we not to add that each must be aware of the other’s well-wishing? For a man often wishes well to those whom he has never seen, but supposes to be good or useful men; and one of these may have the same sentiments towards him. These two, then, are plainly well-wishers one of another; but how could one call them friends when each is unaware of the other’s feelings?

In order to be friends, then, they must be well-wishers one of another, i.e. must wish each other’s good from one of the three motives above mentioned, and be aware of each other’s feelings.


But these three motives are specifically different from one another; the several affections and friendships based upon them, therefore, will also be specifically different. The kinds of friendship accordingly are three, being equal in number to the motives of love; for any one of these may be the basis of a mutual affection of which each is aware.

Now, those who love one another wish each other’s good in respect of that which is the motive of their love. Those, therefore, whose love for one another is based on the useful, do not love each other for what they are, but only in so far as each gets some good from the other.

It is the same also with those whose affection is based on pleasure; people care for a wit, for instance, not for what he is, but as the source of pleasure to themselves.

Those, then, whose love is based on the useful care for each other on the ground of their own good, and those whose love is based on pleasure care for each other on the ground of what is pleasant to themselves, each loving the other, not as being what he is, but as useful or pleasant.

These friendships, then, are “accidental;” for the object of affection is loved, not as being the person or character that he is, but as the source of some good or some pleasure. Friendships of this kind, therefore, are easily dissolved, as the persons do not continue unchanged; for if they cease to be pleasant or useful to one another, their love ceases. But the useful is nothing permanent, but varies from time to time. On the disappearance, therefore, of that which was the motive of their friendship, the friendship itself is dissolved, since it existed solely with a view to that.

Friendship of this kind seems especially to be found among elderly men (for at that time of life men pursue the useful rather than the pleasant) and those middle-aged and young men who have a keen eye to what is profitable. But friends of this kind do not generally even live together; for sometimes they are by no means pleasant (nor indeed do they want such constant intercourse with others, unless they are useful); for they make themselves pleasant only just so far as they have hopes of getting something good thereby.

With these friendships is generally classed the kind of friendship that exists between host and guest.217

The friendship of young men is thought to be based on pleasure; for young men live by impulse, and, for the most part, pursue what is pleasant to themselves and what is immediately present. But the things in which they take pleasure change as they advance in years. They are quick to make friendships, therefore, and quick to drop them; for their friendship changes as the object which pleases them changes; and pleasure of this kind is liable to rapid alteration.

Moreover, young men are apt to fall in love; for love is, for the most part, a matter of impulse and based on pleasure: so they fall in love, and again soon cease to love, passing from one state to the other many times in one day.

Friends of this kind wish to spend their time together and to live together; for thus they attain the object of their friendship.

But the perfect kind of friendship is that of good men who resemble one another in virtue. For they both alike wish well to one another as good men, and it is their essential character to be good men. And those who wish well to their friends for the friends’ sake are friends in the truest sense; for they have these sentiments towards each other as being what they are, and not in an accidental way: their friendship, therefore, lasts as long as their virtue, and that is a lasting thing.

Again, each is both good simply and good to his friend; for it is true of good men that they are both good simply and also useful to one another.

In like manner they are pleasant too; for good men are both pleasant in themselves and pleasant to one another: for every kind of character takes delight in the acts that are proper to it and those that resemble these; but the acts of good men are the same or similar.

This kind of friendship, then, is lasting, as we might expect, since it unites in itself all the conditions of true friendship. For every friendship has for its motive some good or some pleasure (whether it be such in itself or relatively to the person who loves), and is founded upon some similarity: but in this case all the requisite characteristics belong to the friends in their own nature; for here there is similarity and the rest, viz. what is good simply and pleasant simply, and these are the most lovable things: and so it is between persons of this sort that the truest and best love and friendship is found.

It is but natural that such friendships should be uncommon, as such people are rare. Such a friendship, moreover, requires long and familiar intercourse. For, as the proverb says, it is impossible for people to know one another till they have consumed the requisite quantity of salt together. Nor can they accept one another as friends, or be friends, till each show and approve himself to the other as worthy to be loved. Those who quickly come to treat one another like friends may wish to be friends, but are not really friends, unless they not only are lovable, but know each other to be so; a wish to be friends may be of rapid growth, but not friendship.

This kind of friendship, then, is complete in respect of duration and in all other points, and that which each gets from the other is in all respects identical or similar, as should be the case with friends.


The friendship of which pleasure is the motive bears some resemblance to the foregoing; for good men, too, are pleasant to each other. So also does that of which the useful is the motive; for good men are useful also to one another. And in these cases, too, the friendship is most likely to endure when that which each gets from the other is the same (e.g. pleasure), and not only the same, but arising from the same source⁠—a friendship between two wits, for instance, rather than one between a lover and his beloved. For the source of pleasure in the latter case is not the same for both: the lover delights to look upon his beloved, the beloved likes to have attentions paid him; but when the bloom of youth is gone, the friendship sometimes vanishes also; for the one misses the beauty that used to please him, the other misses the attentions. But, on the other hand, they frequently continue friends, i.e. when their intercourse has brought them to care for each other’s characters, and they are similar in character.

Those who in matters of love exchange not pleasure but profit, are less truly and less permanently friends. The friendship whose motive is profit ceases when the advantage ceases; for it was not one another that they loved, but the profit.

For pleasure, then, or for profit it is possible even for bad men to be friends with one another, and good men with bad, and those who are neither with people of any kind, but it is evident that the friendship in which each loves the other for himself is only possible between good men; for bad men take no delight in each other unless some advantage is to be gained.

The friendship of good men, again, is the only one that can defy calumny; for people are not ready to accept the testimony of anyone else against him whom themselves have tested. Such friendship also implies mutual trust, and the certainty that neither would ever wrong the other, and all else that is implied in true friendship; while in other friendships there is no such security.

For since men also apply the term friends to those who love one another for profit’s sake, as happens with states (for expediency is thought to be the ground on which states make alliances), and also to those who love one another for pleasure’s sake, as children do, perhaps we too ought to apply the name to such people, and to speak of several kinds of friendship⁠—firstly, in the primary and strict sense of the word, the friendship of good men as such; secondly, the other kinds that are so called because of a resemblance to this: for these other people are called friends in so far as their relation involves some element of good, which constitutes a resemblance; for the pleasant, too, is good to those who love pleasant things. But these two latter kinds are not apt to coincide, nor do the same people become friends for the sake both of profit and pleasure; for such accidental properties are not apt to be combined in one subject.

Now that we have distinguished these several kinds of friendship, we may say that bad men will be friends for the sake of pleasure or profit, resembling one another in this respect, while good men, when they are friends, love each other for what they are, i.e. as good men. These, then, we say, are friends simply; the others are friends accidentally and so far as they resemble these.


But just as with regard to the virtues we distinguish excellence of character or faculty from excellence manifested, so is it also with friendship: when friends are living together, they take pleasure in, and do good to, each other; when they are asleep or at a distance from one another, they are not acting as friends, but they have the disposition which, if manifested, issues in friendly acts; for distance does not destroy friendship simply, but the manifestation of friendship. But if the absence be prolonged, it is thought to obliterate even friendship; whence the saying⁠—

“Full many a friendship hath ere now been loosed
By lack of converse.”

Old men do not seem apt to make friends, nor morose men; for there is little in them that can give pleasure: but no one can pass his days in intercourse with what is painful or not pleasant; for our nature seems, above all things, to shun the painful and seek the pleasant.

Those who accept each other’s company, but do not live together, seem to be rather well-wishers than friends. For there is nothing so characteristic of friendship as living together:218 those who need help seek it thus, but even those who are happy desire company; for a solitary life suits them least of all men. But people cannot live together unless they are pleasant to each other, nor unless they take delight in the same things, which seems to be a necessary condition of comradeship.

The truest friendship, then, is that which exists between good men, as we have said again and again. For that, it seems, is lovable and desirable which is good or pleasant in itself, but to each man that which is good or pleasant to him; and the friendship of good men for one another rests on both these grounds.

But it seems that while love is a feeling, friendship is a habit or trained faculty. For inanimate things can equally well be the object of love, but the love of friends for one another implies purpose, and purpose proceeds from a habit or trained faculty. And in wishing well for their sakes to those they love, they are swayed not by feeling, but by habit. Again, in loving a friend they love what is good for themselves; for he who gains a good man for his friend gains something that is good for himself. Each then, loves what is good for himself, and what he gives in good wishes and pleasure is equal to what he gets; for love and equality, which are joined in the popular saying φιλότης ἰσότης, are found in the highest degree in the friendship of good men.


Morose men and elderly men are less apt to make friends in proportion as they are harsher in temper, and take less pleasure in society; for delight in society seems to be, more than anything else, characteristic of friendship and productive of it. So young men are quick to make friends, but not old men (for people do not make friends with those who do not please them), nor morose men. Such people may, indeed, be well-wishers, for they wish each other good and help each other in need; but they are by no means friends, since they do not live with nor delight in each other, which things are thought to be, more than anything else characteristic of friendship.

It is impossible to have friendship, in the full sense of the word, for many people at the same time, just as it is impossible to be in love with many persons at once (for it seems to be something intense, but intense feeling implies a single object); and it is not easy for one man to find at one time many very agreeable persons, perhaps not many good ones. Moreover, they must have tested and become accustomed to each other, which is a matter of great difficulty. But in the way of profit or pleasure, it is quite possible to find many219 agreeable persons; for such people are not rare, and their services can be rendered in a short time.

Of these other kinds, that which more nearly resembles true friendship is that whose motive is pleasure, when each renders the same service to the other, and both take pleasure in one another, or in the same things, such as young men’s friendships are wont to be; for a generous spirit is commoner in them than in others. But the friendship whose motive is utility is the friendship of sordid souls. Those who are happy do not need useful, but pleasant friends; it is people to live with that they want, and though they may for a short time put up with what is painful, yet no one could endure anything continually, not even the good itself, if it were painful to him; so they require that their friends shall be pleasant. But they ought, we may say, to require that they shall be good as well as pleasant, and good for them; then all the characteristics of a friend will be combined.

People in exalted positions seem to make distinct classes of friends. They have some who are useful, and others who are pleasant, but seldom any that unite both these qualities; for they do not seek for people who are at once agreeable and virtuous, or people who can be useful to them in noble actions, but they seek for witty persons to satisfy their craving for pleasure, while for other purposes they choose men who are clever at carrying out their instructions: but these two qualities are seldom united in one person.

The good man, indeed, as we have already said, is both pleasant and useful; but such a man does not make friends with a man in a superior station, unless he allows himself inferior in virtue:220 only thus does he meet the good man on equal terms, being inferior in one respect in the same ratio as he is superior in another. But great men are by no means wont to behave in this manner.

In the friendships hitherto spoken of the persons are equal, for they do the same and wish the same for each other, or else exchange equal quantities of different things, as pleasure for profit. (We have already explained that the latter less deserve the name of friendship, and are less lasting than the former kind. We may even say that, being at once both like it and unlike it, they seem both to be and not to be friendships. On the ground of their resemblance to the friendship that is based on virtue, they seem to be friendships; for one involves pleasure, the other profit, both of which belong to true friendship; but, again, inasmuch as it is beyond calumny and is lasting, while they are liable to rapid change and different in many other respects, they seem not to be friendships because of their unlikeness to it.)


But, besides these, there is another kind of friendship, in which the persons are unequal, as that of a father for a son, and generally of an elder for a younger person, or of a man for a woman, or of a ruler of any kind for a subject.

These also are different from one another; for that of parent for child is not the same as that of ruler for subject, nor even that of father for son the same as that of son for father, nor that of man for woman the same as that of woman for man. For each of these classes has a different excellence and a different function, and the grounds of their affection are different; therefore their love and their friendship also are different. What each does for the other, then, is not the same, nor should they expect it to be the same; but when children give to their parents what they owe to those who begat them, and parents on their part give what they owe to their children, then each friendship will be lasting, and what it ought to be. But in all friendships based on inequality, the love on either side should be proportional⁠—I mean that the better of the two (and the more useful, and so on in each case) should receive more love than he gives; for when love is proportioned to desert, then there is established a sort of equality, which seems to be a necessary condition of friendship.

But there seems to be a difference between the equality that prevails in the sphere of justice and that which prevails in friendship: for in the sphere of justice the primary sense of “equal” [or “fair,” ἴσον] is “proportionate to merit,” and “equal in quantity” is only the secondary sense; but in friendship “equal in quantity” is the primary, and “proportionate to merit” the secondary sense.221

This is plainly seen in cases where there comes to be a great distance between the persons in virtue, or vice, or wealth, or in any other respect; for they no longer are, nor expect to be, friends. It is most plainly seen in the case of the gods; for they have the greatest superiority in all good things. But it is seen also in the case of princes; for here also those who are greatly inferior do not claim their friendship; nor do people of no consideration expect to be friends with the best and wisest in the state. It is impossible accurately to determine the limits within which friendship may subsist in such cases: many things may be taken away, and it may remain; but again, if a person be very far removed, as God is, it can no longer be.

This has suggested the objection that, after all, a friend does not wish his friend the greatest of all goods, that he should become a god; for then he would lose a friend⁠—that is, a good; for a friend is a good thing. If then we were right in saying that a friend wishes good to his friend for his (the friend’s) sake, we must add, “the friend remaining what he is:” so far as is compatible with his being a man, he will wish him the greatest good⁠—but perhaps not everything that is good; for every man wishes good most of all to himself.


Most people seem, from a desire for honour, to wish to be loved rather than to love, and on this account most men are fond of flatterers; for a flatterer is an inferior friend, or pretends to be so and to love more than he is loved: but being loved is thought to come near to being honoured, and that most men strive for.

But they seem to desire honour not for its own sake, but accidentally: it is expectation that makes most men delight in being honoured by those in authority; for they hope to get from them anything they may want: they delight in this honour, therefore, as a token of good things to come. On the other hand, those who desire the honour or respect of good men and men who know, are anxious to confirm their own opinion of themselves; they rejoice, therefore, in the assurance of their worth which they gain from confidence in the judgment of those who declare it.

But men delight in being loved for its own sake; wherefore it would seem that being loved is better than being honoured, and that friendship is desirable for its own sake.

Friendship, however, seems to lie in the loving, rather than in the being loved. This is shown by the delight that mothers take in loving; for some give their children to others to rear, and love them since they know them, but do not look for love in return, if it be impossible to have both, being content to see their children doing well, and loving them, though they receive from them, in their ignorance, nothing of what is due to a mother.

Since friendship lies more in loving [than in being loved], and since we praise those who love their friends, it would seem that the virtue of a friend is to love, so that when people love each other in proportion to their worth, they are lasting friends, and theirs is a lasting friendship.

This is also the way in which persons who are unequal can be most truly friends; for thus they will make themselves equal: but equality and similarity tend to friendship, and most of all the similarity of those who resemble each other in virtue; for such men, being little liable to change, continue as they were in themselves and to one another, and do not ask anything unworthy of one another, or do anything unworthy for one another⁠—nay, rather restrain one another from anything of the sort; for it is characteristic of a good man neither to go wrong himself, nor to let his friend go wrong.

Bad men on the other hand [as friends] have no stability: for they do not even continue like themselves; but for a short space they become friends, rejoicing in each other’s wickedness.

Those, however, who are useful and agreeable to one another continue friends longer, i.e. so long as they continue to furnish pleasure or profit.

The friendship whose motive is utility seems, more than any other kind, to be a union of opposites, as of rich and poor, ignorant and learned; for when a man wants a thing, in his desire to get it he will give something else in exchange. And perhaps we might include the lover and his beloved, the beautiful and the ugly person, in this class. And this is the reason why lovers often make themselves ridiculous by claiming to be loved as they love; if they were equally lovable they might perhaps claim it, but when there is nothing lovable about them the claim is absurd.

But perhaps nothing desires its opposite as such but only accidentally, the desire being really for the mean which is between the two; for this is good. For the dry, for instance, it is good not to become wet, but to come to the intermediate state, and so with the hot, and with the rest of these opposites. But we may dismiss these questions; for, indeed, they are somewhat foreign to our present purpose.


It seems, as we said at the outset, that the subject-matter and occasion of friendship and of justice are the same. Every community or association, it is thought, gives some occasion for justice, and also for friendship; at least, people address as friends their partners in a voyage or campaign, and so on with other associations. To what extent soever they are partners, to that extent is there occasion for friendship; for to that extent is there occasion for justice.

Moreover, “friends’ goods are common property,” says the proverb rightly; for friendship implies community. Brothers, indeed, and comrades have all things in common: other friends have certain definite things in common, some more and some less; for friendships also differ in degree. But what justice requires is also different in different cases; it does not require from parents towards children, for instance, the same as from brothers towards one another, nor from comrades the same as from fellow-citizens, and so on through the other kinds of friendship.

Injustice also assumes different forms in these several relations, and increases according to the degree of friendship; e.g. it is a grosser wrong to rob a comrade than a fellow-citizen, and to refuse help to a brother than to a stranger, and to strike one’s father than to strike any other man. The claims of justice, in fact, are such as to increase as friendship increases, both having the same field and growing pari passu.

But all kinds of association or community seem to be, as it were, parts of the political community or association of citizens. For in all of them men join together with a view to some common interest, and in pursuit of some one or other of the things they need for their life. But the association of citizens seems both originally to have been instituted and to continue for the sake of common interests; for this is what legislators aim at, and that which is for the common interest of all is said to be just.

Thus all other associations seem to aim at some particular advantage, e.g. sailors work together for a successful voyage, with a view to making money or something of that sort; soldiers for a successful campaign, whether their ulterior end be riches, or victory, or the founding of a state; and so it is with the members of a tribe or a deme. Some associations, again, seem to have pleasure for their object, as when men join together for a feast or a club dinner; for the object here is feasting and company. But all these associations seem to be subordinate to the association of citizens; for the association of citizens seems to have for its aim, not the interests of the moment, but the interests of our whole life, even when its members celebrate festivals and hold gatherings on such occasions, and render honour to the gods, and provide recreation and amusement for themselves.222 For the ancient festivals and assemblies seem to take place after the gathering in of the harvest, being of the nature of a dedication of the first-fruits, as it was at these seasons that people had most leisure.

All associations, then, seem to be parts of the association of citizens; and the several kinds of friendship will correspond to the several kinds of association.


Now, of constitutions there are three kinds, and an equal number of perverted forms, which are, so to speak, corruptions of these. Constitutions proper are kingly government and aristocracy; and, thirdly, there is a form of government based upon an assessment of property, which should strictly be called timocracy, though most people are wont to speak of it as constitutional government simply.

Of these, kingly government is the best and timocracy the worst. The perversion of kingly government is tyranny: both are monarchies, but there is a vast difference between them; for the tyrant seeks his own interest, the king seeks the interest of his subjects. For he is not properly a king who is not self-sufficient and superabundantly furnished with all that is good; such a man wants nothing more; his own advantage, then, will not be his aim, but that of his subjects. A man of another character than this could only be the sort of king that is chosen by lot.223

Tyranny is the opposite of kingly rule, because the tyrant seeks his own good; and of this government it is quite obvious224 that it is the worst of all: we may add that the opposite of the best must be the worst.

Kingly government degenerates into tyranny; for tyranny is a vicious form of monarchy: the bad king, then, becomes a tyrant.

Aristocracy degenerates into oligarchy through the vice of the rulers, who, instead of distributing public property and honours according to merit, take all or most of the good things for themselves, and give the offices always to the same people, setting the greatest store by wealth; you have, then, a small number of bad men in power, in place of the best men.

Lastly, timocracy degenerates into democracy: and indeed they border closely upon each other; for even timocracy is intended to be government by the multitude, and all those who have the property qualification are equal.

Democracy is the least bad [of the corrupt forms], for it is but a slight departure from the corresponding form of constitution.

These, then, are the ways in which the several constitutions are most apt to change; for these are the directions in which the change is slightest, and encounters the least resistance.

Likenesses of these forms of government and patterns of them, so to speak, may be found in families. For instance, the association of father and sons has the form of kingly rule; for the father cares for his children. This, also, is the reason why Homer addresses Zeus as father; for kingly government aims at being a paternal government. But in Persia the association of father and son is tyrannical; for fathers there use their sons as slaves. The association of master and slave is also tyrannical; for it is the interest of the master that is secured by it. But this seems to be a legitimate kind of tyranny, while the Persian kind seems to be wrong; for different beings require different kinds of government.

The association of man and wife seems to be aristocratic: for the husband bears rule proportionate to his worth, i.e. he rules in those matters which are his province; but he entrusts to his wife those matters that properly belong to her. But when the man lords it in all things, he perverts this relation into an oligarchical one; for he then takes rule where he is not entitled to it, and not only in those matters in which he is better. Sometimes, on the other hand, the wife rules because she is an heiress. In these cases authority is not proportionate to merit, but is given on the ground of wealth and influence, just as in oligarchies.

The association of brothers resembles a timocracy; for they are equal except in so far as they differ in age. On this account, if they differ very widely in age, their friendship can no longer be a brotherly friendship.

A democratic form of association is chiefly found in those households which have no master (for there all are on a footing of equality), or where the head of the house is weak, and everyone does what he likes.


In each of these forms of government friendship has place to the same extent as justice. In the first place, the king shows his friendship for his subjects225 by transcendent benefits; for he does good to his subjects, seeing that he is good, and tends them with a view to their welfare, as a shepherd tends his sheep⁠—whence Homer calls Agamemnon “shepherd of peoples.”

The friendship of a father for his child is of a similar kind, though the benefits conferred are still greater. For the father is the author of the child’s existence, which seems the greatest of all benefits, and of his nurture and education; and we also ascribe these to our forefathers generally: and thus it is in accordance with nature that fathers should rule their children, forefathers their descendants, kings their subjects.

These friendships involve the superiority of one side to the other; and on this account parents receive honour as well [as service].226 Moreover, what justice requires here is not the same on both sides, but that which is proportionate to their worth; for this is the rule of friendship also [as well as of justice].

The friendship, again, of man and wife is the same as that which has place in an aristocracy; for both benefit in proportion to their merit, the better getting more good, and each what is fitting; but this is the rule of justice also.

The friendship of brothers resembles that of comrades, for they are equal and of like age; but those with whom that is the case for the most part have the same feelings and character. And the friendship in a timocracy is of the same type as this; for the citizens here wish to be equal and fair; so they take office in turn, and share it equally: their friendship, then, will follow the same rule.

In the corrupt forms, as there is but little room for justice, so there is but little room for friendship, and least of all in the worst; in a tyranny there is little or no friendship. For where ruler and subject have nothing in common, there cannot be any friendship, any more than there can be any justice⁠—e.g. when the relation is that of a workman to his tools, or of the soul to the body, or of master to slave. The tools and the body and the slave are all benefited by those who use them; but our relations with inanimate objects do not admit of friendship or justice; nor our relations with a horse or an ox; nor our relations with a slave as such. For there is nothing in common between master and slave. The slave is a living tool; the tool is a lifeless slave. As a slave, then, his master’s relations with him do not admit of friendship, but as a man they may: for there seems to be room for some kind of justice in the relations of any man to anyone that can participate in law and contract⁠—and if so, then for some kind of friendship, so far, that is to say, as he deserves the name man.

And so friendships and justice are found to some small extent even in tyrannies, but to a greater extent in democracies than in any other of the corrupt forms; for there the citizens, being equal, have many things in common.


All friendship, as we have already said, implies association; but we may separate from the rest the friendship of kinsmen and that of comrades. The friendships of fellow-citizens, of fellow-tribesmen, of fellow-sailors, etc., seem, as opposed to these, to have more to do with association; for they appear to be founded upon some sort of compact. The friendship of host and guest might also be included in this class.

Kinsmen’s friendship seems to include several species, but to be dependent in all its forms upon the friendship of parent and child. For parents love their children as part of themselves; children love their parents as the source of their being. But parents know their children better than the children know that these are their parents, and that which gives birth is more closely attached to that which proceeds from it, than the offspring is to that which gave it life: for that which proceeds from us belongs to us, as a tooth or a hair, or anything of that sort, to its owner; but we do not belong to it at all, or belong to it in a less degree.

Again, there is a difference in respect of time; for parents love their offspring from the moment of their birth, but children love their parents only after the lapse of time, when they have acquired understanding or sense.

These considerations also show why mothers love their children more than fathers do.

Parents, then, love their children as themselves (for what proceeds from them is as it were a second self when it is severed), but children love their parents as the source of their being, and brothers love each other because they proceed from the same source: for the identity of their relation to this source constitutes an identity between them; so that they say that they are of the same blood and stock, etc. And so they are in a way identical, though they are separate persons.

But friendship between brothers is greatly furthered by common nurture and similarity of age; for those of the same age naturally love one another, as the saying is, and those who are used to one another naturally make comrades of one another, so that the friendship of brothers comes to resemble that of comrades.

Cousins and other kinsfolk become attached to each other for the same reason⁠—I mean because they come of the same stock. But the attachment is more or less close according to the nearness or remoteness of the founder of the family.

The friendship of children for their parents (like that of men for the gods) is friendship for what is good and superior to themselves, as the source of the greatest benefits, namely, of their life and nurture, and their education from their birth upwards.

Friendship of this kind brings with it more, both of pleasure and profit, than that of strangers, in proportion as there is more community of life.

The friendship of brothers has all the characteristics of the friendship of comrades, and has them in a greater degree (provided they are good and generally resemble one another) inasmuch as they belong more to one another and love each other from their birth up, and have more similarity of character, as being of the same stock and brought up together and educated alike; moreover, they have had the longest and the surest experience of one another.

In all other kinsmen’s friendships the same elements will be found in proportion to the relationship.

The friendship of man and wife seems to be natural; for human beings are by nature more apt to join together in couples than to form civil societies, inasmuch as the family is prior in time to the state and more indispensable, and the propagation of the species is a more fundamental characteristic of animal existence. The other animals associate for this purpose alone, but man and wife live together not merely for the begetting of children, but also to satisfy the needs of their life: for the functions of the man and the woman are clearly divided and distinct the one from the other; they supply each other’s wants, therefore, both contributing to the common stock. And so this sort of friendship is thought to bring with it both pleasure and profit. But it will be based on virtue, too, if they be good; for each sex has its own virtue, and both will rejoice in that which is of like nature.

Children also seem to be a bond that knits man and wife together (which is a reason why childless unions are more quickly dissolved); for children are a good which both have in common, but that which people have in common holds them together.

To ask on what terms a man should live with his wife, and generally friend with friend, seems the same as to ask what justice requires in these cases; for what is required of a man towards his friend is different from what is required of him towards a stranger, a comrade, or a fellow-student.


There are three kinds of friendship, as we said at the outset, and in each kind there are both equal and unequal friendships; I mean that sometimes two equally good persons make friends, and sometimes a better and a worse⁠—and so with those who are pleasant to one another, and with those who are friends with a view to profit⁠—sometimes rendering equal services to one another, and sometimes unequal.

Now, those who are equal should effect equality by loving one another, etc., equally, but those who are unequal should effect equality by making what each renders proportionate to the greater or less merit of the other.

But accusations and reproaches arise solely or mostly in friendships whose motive is profit, as we should expect. For those whose friendship is based on virtue are eager to do good to each other (for this is the office of virtue and friendship); and between people who are thus vieing with one another no accusations or quarrels can arise; for a man cannot be embittered against one who loves him and does him a service, but, if he be of a gracious nature, requites him with a like service. And he who renders the greater service will not reproach his friend, since he gets what he desires;227 for each desires what is good.

Such quarrels, again, are not apt to arise in friendships whose motive is pleasure; for both get at the same time that which they desire, if they delight in each other’s company; but if one were to accuse the other for not being agreeable to him, he would make himself ridiculous, seeing that he was under no compulsion to associate with him.

But the friendship whose motive is utility is fruitful in accusations; for as the friends here use each other solely with a view to their own advantage, each always wants the larger share and thinks he has less than his due, and reproaches the other with not doing for him so much as he requires and deserves; though, in truth, it is impossible for the one who is doing a service to supply all that the other wants.

But it seems that as the rules of justice are twofold, the unwritten and those that are set down in laws, so the friendship whose motive is utility is of two kinds⁠—one resting on disposition, the other on contract. And accusations are most apt to arise when the relation is understood in one sense at the commencement, and in the other sense at the conclusion.

That which rests on contract is that in which there are specified conditions, and it is of two kinds: one is purely commercial, on the principle of cash payments; the other is less exacting in point of time, though in it also there is a specified quid pro quo.

In the latter case, what is due is evident and cannot be disputed, but there is an element of friendliness in the deferment of payment; for which reason, in some states, there is no recovery by law in such cases, but it is held that when a man has given credit he must take the consequences.

That which rests on disposition has no specified conditions, but one gives another presents (or whatever else it may be) as a friend. But afterwards he claims as much or more in return, regarding what he gave not as a gift, but as a loan. And thus, wishing to terminate the relation in a different spirit from that in which he entered upon it, he will accuse the other.228 And this is apt to happen because all or nearly all men, though they wish for what is noble, choose what is profitable; and while it is noble to do a good service without expecting a return, it is profitable to receive a benefit.

In such cases, then, we should, if we have the power, make an equivalent return for benefits received (for we must not treat a man as a friend if he does not wish it: we should consider that we made a mistake at the beginning, and received a benefit from a person from whom we ought not to have accepted it⁠—for he was not a friend and did not act disinterestedly⁠—and so we ought to terminate the relation in the same way as if we had received a service for a stipulated consideration): and the return should be what we would have agreed229 to repay if able; if we were unable, the donor would not even have expected repayment. So we may fairly say that we should repay if we have the power.

But we ought at the outset carefully to consider who it is that is doing us a service, and on what understanding, so that we may accept it on that understanding or else reject it.

It is a debatable question whether the requital is to be measured by, and to be made proportionate to, the value of the service to the recipient or to the benefactor. For the recipients are apt to say that they received what was but a small matter to their benefactors, and what they might just as well have got from others, depreciating the service done them; but the others, on the contrary, are apt to say that what they gave was the best they had, and what could not be got from anyone else, and that it was given in a time of danger or on some other pressing occasion.

Perhaps we may say that, if the friendship have profit for its motive, the benefit received should be taken as the measure; for it is the recipient who asks a service, which the other renders in expectation of an equal service in return: the amount of the assistance rendered, then, is determined by the extent to which the former is benefited, and he should repay as much as he received, or even more; for that would be the nobler course.

In friendships based on virtue, on the other hand, such accusations do not occur, but it would seem that the measure of the service is the purpose of him who does it; for virtue and moral character are determined by purpose.


Quarrels occur also in unequal friendships; for sometimes each claims the larger share, but when this happens the friendship is dissolved. For instance, the better of the two thinks he ought to have the larger share; “the good man’s share is larger,” he says: the more useful of the two makes the same claim; “it is allowed,” he says, “that a useless person should not share equally; for friendship degenerates into gratuitous service unless that which each receives from the friendship be proportionate to the value of what he does.” For such people fancy that the same rule should hold in friendship as in a commercial partnership, where those who put in more take a larger share.

The needy man and the inferior man argue in the contrary way; “it is the office of a good friend,” they say, “to help you when you are in need; for what is the use of being friends with a good man or a powerful man, if you are to get nothing by it?”

It seems that the claims of both are right, and a that each ought to receive a larger share than the other, but not of the same things⁠—the superior more honour, the needy man more profit; for honour is the tribute due to virtue and benevolence, while want receives its due succour in the pecuniary gain.

This seems to be recognized in constitutions too: no honour is paid to him who contributes nothing to the common stock of good; the common stock is distributed among those who benefit the community, and of this common stock honour is a part. For he who makes money out of the community must not expect to be honoured by the community also; and no one is content to receive a smaller share in everything. To him, then, who spends money on public objects we pay due honour, and money to him whose services can be paid in money; for, by giving to each what is in proportion to his merit, equality is effected and friendship preserved, as we said before.

The same principles, then, must regulate the intercourse of individuals who are unequal; and he who is benefited by another in his purse or in his character, must give honour in return, making repayment in that which he can command. For friendship exacts what is possible rather than what is due: what is due is sometimes impossible, as, for instance, in the case of the honour due to the gods and to parents; for no one could ever pay all his debt to them; but he who gives them such service as he can command is held to fulfil his obligation.

For this reason it would seem that a man may not disown his father, though a father may disown his son; for he who owes must pay: but whatever a son may do he can never make a full return for what he has received, so that he is always in debt. But the creditor is at liberty to cast off the debtor; a father, therefore, is at liberty to cast off his son. But, at the same time, it is not likely that anyone would ever disown a son, unless he were a very great scoundrel; for, natural affection apart, it is but human not to thrust away the support that a son would give. But to the son, if he be a scoundrel, assisting his father is a thing that he wishes to avoid, or at least is not eager to undertake; for the generality of men wish to receive benefits, but avoid doing them as unprofitable. So much, then, for these questions.