Book IX

Friendship or Love⁠—Continued


In all dissimilar friendships230 it is proportionate exchange that maintains equality and preserves the friendship (as we have already said), just as in the association of citizens, where the shoemaker, in exchange for his shoes, receives some return proportionate to his desert, and so on with the weaver and the rest.

Now, in these latter cases, a common measure is supplied by money; money is the standard to which everything is referred, and by which it is measured.

In sentimental friendships, on the other hand, the lover sometimes complains that while he loves excessively he gets no love in return, although, maybe, there is nothing lovable about him; often the beloved complains that whereas the other used to promise everything, he now performs nothing.

Complaints of this sort are wont to arise when, pleasure being the motive of the friendship with one person and profit with the other, they do not both get what they want. For the friendship, being based on these motives, is dissolved whenever they fail to obtain that for the sake of which they made friends; for it was not the other’s self that each loved, but only something which he had, and which is not apt to endure; for which reason these friendships also are not apt to endure. But friendship based on character, being pure, is likely to last, as we said.

Sometimes, again, friends quarrel when they find they are getting something different from what they want; for failing to get what you want is like getting nothing. This may be illustrated by the story of the harper: a man promised him that the better he played, the more he should receive; but when, as dawn drew near, the harper claimed the fulfilment of his promise, the other replied that he had already paid him pleasure231 for pleasure. Now, if this was what both wished, there would be nothing more to say: but if the one wanted pleasure and the other profit, and the one has what he wants, while the other has not, the bargain will not be fairly carried out; for it is what a man happens to want that he sets his heart on, and consents for the sake of it to render this particular service.

But whose business is it to fix the value of the service? his who first gives, or rather his who first receives?⁠—for he who first gives seems to leave it to the other. This, they say, was the custom of Protagoras: when he had been giving lessons in any subject, he used to tell his pupil to estimate the value of the knowledge he had acquired, and so much he would take.

Some, however, think the rule should be, “let a friend be content with his stated wage.”232

But if a man, after being paid in advance, fulfils none of his engagements, because he had promised more than he could perform, he is rightly held chargeable; for he does not fulfil his contract. But the sophists, perhaps, are compelled to adopt this plan [of payment in advance]; for otherwise no one would give anything for what they know.

He, then, who fails to do that for which he has already been paid, is rightly chargeable. But when there is no express agreement about the service rendered, (a) when one voluntarily helps another for that other’s sake, no accusation can arise, as we said: for this is the nature of friendship based on virtue. The return must here be regulated by the purpose of him who renders the first service; for it is purpose that makes both friend and virtue. The same rule would seem to apply also to the relations of a philosopher and his disciples; for desert cannot here be measured in money, and no honour that could be paid him would be an adequate return; but, nevertheless, as in our relations to gods and parents, the possible is accepted as sufficient. (b) If however, the first gift has been made, not in this spirit, but on the understanding that there shall be some return, the return should, if possible, be such as both deem proportionate to desert: but if this cannot be, it would seem to be not only necessary, but just, that the recipient of the first benefit should assess it; for whatever be the amount of the advantage he has received, or whatever he would have been willing to give for the pleasure, the other, in receiving the same amount, will receive as much as is due from him. For even in sales this is plainly what takes place; and in some states there is no recovery by law in voluntary contracts, as it is held that when you have given a man credit, you must conclude your bargain with him in the same spirit in which you began it. It is held to be fairer that the service should be valued by him who is trusted than by him who trusts. For most things are differently valued by those who have them and by those who wish to get them: what belongs to us, and what we give away, always seems very precious to us. Nevertheless, the return to be made must be measured by the value which is set upon the service by the receiver. But perhaps he ought to put it, not at what it seems to be worth when he has got it, but at the value he set upon it before he had it.


There are some further questions that here suggest themselves, such as whether the father’s claims to service ought to be unlimited, and the son should obey him in everything, or whether in sickness he should obey the physician, and in the election of a general should choose him who is skilled in war; and, similarly, whether one ought to help one’s friend rather than a good man, and repay a benefactor rather than make a present to a comrade, if one cannot do both.

We may, perhaps, say that to lay down precise rules for all such cases is scarcely possible; for the different cases differ in all sorts of ways, according to the importance or unimportance, the nobility or necessity of the act. But it is tolerably evident that no single person’s claims can override all others; and that, as a general rule, we ought to repay benefits received before we do a favour to a comrade⁠—just as, if we had borrowed money, we ought to pay our creditors before we make presents to our comrades.

But it may be that even this rule will not hold good in all cases; for instance, if a man has been ransomed from a band of brigands, ought he in turn to ransom his ransomer, whoever he may be, or repay him when he demands it, even though he be not captured, in preference to ransoming his father? For it would seem that a man ought to ransom his father even before himself.

As we said then, generally speaking, we should repay what we owe: but if giving [instead of repaying] be more noble or meet a more pressing need, it is right to incline in this direction; for sometimes it is not even fair to repay the original service, e.g. when one man has helped another, knowing him to be a good man, while the latter in repaying him would be helping one whom he believes to be a bad man. And so a man is sometimes not bound to lend in turn to one who has lent him money: A may have lent to B in full expectation of being repaid, as B is an honourable man; but B may have no hope of being repaid by A, who is a rascal. If this be the real state of the case, the demand for a loan in return is not fair; but even if the facts be otherwise, yet, if they think thus of each other, their conduct would be regarded as natural.

As we have often said, statements concerning human affections and actions must share the indefiniteness of their subject.

It is tolerably plain, then, that, on the one hand, the claims of all men are not the same, but that, on the other hand, the father’s claims do not override all others, just as Zeus does not receive all our sacrifices; the claims of parents, brothers, comrades, and benefactors are all different, and to each must be rendered that which is his own and his due.

And this is the way in which men appear to act: to a wedding they invite their kinsfolk; for they have a share in the family, and therefore in all acts relating thereto: and for the same reason it is held that kinsfolk have more claim than any others to be invited to funerals.

Parents would seem to have a special claim upon us for sustenance, as we owe it them, and as it is nobler to preserve the life of those to whom we are indebted for our own than to preserve ourselves.

Honour, also, we should pay to our parents, as to the gods; but not all honour: for the honour due to a father is not the same as that due to a mother; nor do we owe them the honour due to a wise man or a good general, but that which is due to a father and that which is due to a mother.

To all our elders, again, we should pay the honour due to their age, by rising up at their approach and by giving them the place of honour at the table, and so forth. But between comrades and brothers there should be freedom of speech and community in everything. And to kinsfolk and fellow-tribesmen and fellow-citizens, and all other persons, we should always try to give their due, and to assign to each what properly belongs to him, according to the closeness of his connection with us, and his goodness or usefulness. When the persons are of one kind this assignment is comparatively easy, but when they are of different kinds it is more difficult. We must not, however, on this account shirk the difficulty, but must distinguish as best we can.


Another difficult question is, whether we should or should not break off friendship with those who have ceased to be what they were.

We may, perhaps, say that those whose friendship is based on profit or pleasure naturally part when these cease; for it was these that they loved: when these are gone, therefore, it is to be expected that the love goes too. But complaints would be likely to arise if a man who loved another for profit or pleasure’s sake pretended to love him for his character; for, as we said at the outset, quarrels between friends very frequently arise from a difference between the real and the supposed motives of the friendship. If, then, a man deceives himself, and supposes that he is beloved for his character, though the other’s behaviour gives no ground for the supposition, he has only himself to blame; but if he is deceived by the other’s pretence, then there is a fair ground of complaint against such an impostor, even more than against those who counterfeit the coinage, inasmuch as it is a more precious thing that is tampered with.

But if a man admit another to his friendship as a good man, and he becomes and shows himself to be a bad man, is he still to be loved? Perhaps we may answer that it is impossible, as it is not everything that is lovable, but only the good. A bad man, then, is not lovable, and ought not to be loved: for we ought not to love what is bad, nor to make ourselves like what is worthless; but, as we said before, it is like that makes friends with like.

Is the friendship, then, to be immediately broken off? Perhaps not in all cases, but only in the case of those who are incurably bad: when their reformation is possible, we are more bound to help them in their character than their fortune, inasmuch as character is a nobler thing, and has more to do with friendship than fortune has. But a man who withdraws his friendship in such a case, would seem to do nothing unnatural; for it was not with such a man that he made friends: his friend has become another man, and as he cannot restore him, he stands aloof from him.

But suppose that the one remains what he was while the other gets better and becomes far superior in virtue: is the latter still to treat the former as a friend? Perhaps it is hardly possible that he should do so. We see this most plainly if the interval between the two be very considerable. Take, for instance, a boyish friendship: if one of the two remains a child in understanding, while the other has become a man in the fullest sense of the word, how can they any longer be friends, now that the things that will please them, and the sources of their joys and sorrows, are no longer the same? for not even in regard to each other’s character will their tastes agree, and without this, we found, people cannot be friends, since they cannot live together. (But this point has been already discussed.)

Shall we, then, simply say that the latter should regard the former as no more a stranger than if he had never been his friend? Perhaps we may go further than this, and say that he should not entirely forget their former intercourse, and that just as we hold that we ought to serve friends before strangers, so former friends have some claims upon us on the ground of past friendship, unless extraordinary depravity were the cause of our parting.


Friendly relations to others, and all the characteristics by which friendship is defined, seem to be derived from our relations towards ourselves. A friend is sometimes described as one who wishes and does to another what is good or seems good for that other’s sake, or as one who wishes his friend to exist and to live for his (the friend’s) sake. (This is what mothers feel towards their children, and what friends who have had a difference feel for one another.) Others describe a friend as one who lives with another and chooses what he chooses, or as one who sympathizes with the griefs and joys of his friend. (This, also, is especially the case with mothers.) And, similarly, friendship is usually defined by some one or other of these characteristics.

Now, every one of these characteristics we find in the good man’s relations to himself (and in other men just so far as they suppose themselves to be good; but it seems, as we have said, that virtue and the good man are in everything the standard): for the good man is of one mind with himself, and desires the same things with all his soul, and wishes for himself what both is and seems good, and does that (for it is characteristic of him to work out that which is good) for his own sake⁠—for the sake, that is to say, of the rational part of him, which seems to be a man’s self. And he wishes his self to live and be preserved, and especially that part of his self by which he thinks: for existence is good to the good man. But it is for himself that each wishes the good; no one would choose to have all that is good (as e.g. God is in complete possession of the good) on condition of becoming someone else, but only on condition of still being just himself.233 But his reason would seem to be a man’s self, or, at least, to be so in a truer sense than any other of his faculties.

Such a man also wishes to live with himself; for his own company is pleasant to him. The memory of his past life is sweet, and for the future he has good hopes; and such hopes are pleasant. His mind, moreover, is well stored with matter for contemplation: and he sympathizes with himself in sorrow and in joy; for at all seasons the same things give him pain and pleasure, not this thing now, and then another thing⁠—for he is, so to speak, not apt to change his mind.

Since, then, all these characteristics are found in the good man’s relations to himself, and since his relations to his friend are the same as his relations to himself (for his friend is his second self), friendship is described by one or other of these characteristics, and those are called friends in whom these characteristics are found.

The question whether friendship towards one’s self is or is not possible may be dismissed at present; but that it is possible so far as one has two or more selves would seem to follow from what has been already said, and also from the fact that the extreme of friendship for another is likened to friendship for one’s self.

But the characteristics we have mentioned appear to be found in the generality of men, though they are not good.234 Perhaps we may say that so far as they are agreeable to themselves, and believe they are good, so far do they share these characteristics. People who are utterly worthless and impious never have them, nor do they even seem to have them. But we might almost say roundly that they are wanting in all who are not good; for such men are not at one with themselves: they desire one thing while they wish another, as the incontinent do, for instance (for, instead of what they hold to be good, they choose what is pleasant though injurious). Others, again, through cowardice or laziness, shrink from doing that which they believe is the best for them; while those who have done many terrible things out of wickedness, hate life, and wish to get rid of it, and sometimes actually destroy themselves.

Bad men try to find people with whom to spend their time, and eschew their own company; for there is much that is painful in the past on which they look back and in the future to which they look forward when they are by themselves, but the company of others diverts them from these thoughts. As there is nothing lovable in them, they have no friendly feelings towards themselves.

He who is not good, then, cannot sympathize with himself in joy or sorrow; for his soul is divided against itself: one part of him, by reason of its viciousness, is pained at being deprived of something, while another part of him is pleased; one part pulls this way, another that, tearing him to pieces, as it were, between them. Or if it be impossible to be pained and pleased at the same time, yet, at any rate, after a short interval he is pained that he was pleased, and wishes that he had never partaken of this pleasure; for those who are not good are full of remorse.

Thus we may say roundly that he who is not good has no friendly feelings even for himself, as there is nothing lovable in him. If, then, to be in this state is utterly miserable, we ought to strain every nerve to avoid vice, and try to be good; for thus we may be friendly disposed towards ourselves, and make friends with others.


Well-wishing seems to be friendly, but is not friendship: for we may wish well to those who are unknown to us, and who are not aware that we wish them well; but there can be no friendship in such cases. But this we have already said.

Neither is well-wishing the same as love; for it has none of the intense emotion and the desire which accompany love.

Love, moreover implies intimate acquaintance, while well-wishing may spring up in a moment; it does so, for instance, when athletes are competing for a prize: we may wish well to a competitor, and be eager for his success, though we would not do anything to help him; for, as we said, we suddenly become well-wishers and conceive a sort of superficial affection in such cases.

The truth seems to be that well-wishing is the germ of friendship, in the same way as pleasure in the sight of a person is the germ of love: for no one falls in love unless he is first pleased by visible beauty; but he who delights in the beauty of a person is not one whit in love on that account, unless he also feels the absence and desires the presence of that person. Just so it is impossible for people to be friends unless they first become well-wishers, but people who wish each other well are not a whit on that account friends; for they merely wish good to those whose well-wishers they are, but would never help them in any enterprise, or put themselves out for them. One might say, then⁠—extending the meaning of the term⁠—that well-wishing is an undeveloped friendship, which with time and intimate acquaintance may become friendship proper⁠—not that friendship whose motive is profit, nor that whose motive is pleasure; for well-wishing is no element in them. He who has received a benefit does indeed give his good wishes in return to his benefactor, and it is but just that he should; but he who wishes that another may prosper, in the hope of good things to be got by his means, does not seem really to wish well to the other, but rather to himself, just as he is not really a friend if he serves him with an eye to profit.

But, generally speaking, well-wishing is grounded upon some kind of excellence or goodness, and arises when a person seems to us beautiful or brave, or endowed with some other good quality, as we said in the case of the athletes.


Unanimity [or unity of sentiment] also seems to be an element in friendship; and this shows that it is not mere agreement in opinion, for that is possible even between people who know nothing of each other.

Nor do we apply the term to those who agree in judgment upon any kind of subject, e.g. upon astronomy (for being of one mind in these matters has nothing to do with friendship); but we say that unanimity prevails in a state when the citizens agree in their judgments about what is for the common interest, and choose the same course, and carry out the decision of the community. It is with regard to practical matters, therefore, that people are said to be of one mind, especially with regard to matters of importance and things that may be given to both persons, or to all the persons concerned; for instance, a state is said to be of one mind when all the citizens are agreed that the magistracies shall be elective, or that an alliance be made with Sparta, or that Pittacus be governor, Pittacus himself being willing to accept the office. But when each wishes the government for himself, like the brothers in the Phœnissae of Euripides, then they are at discord: for being of one mind means that each not merely thinks of the same thing (whatever it be), but thinks of it under the same conditions⁠—as, for instance, if both the populace and the upper classes agree that the best men shall govern: for thus they all get what they want.

Unanimity, then, seems to be, as it is called, the kind of friendship that prevails in states; for it has to do with what is for the common interest, and with things that have a considerable influence upon life.

This kind of unanimity is found in good men; for they are of one mind with themselves and with each other, standing, so to speak, always on the same ground: for the wishes of such people are constant, and do not ebb and flow like the Euripus; they wish what is just and for the common interest, and make united efforts to attain it. But people who are not good cannot be of one mind, just as they cannot be friends except for a little space or to a slight extent, as they strive for more than their share of profit, but take less than their share of labours and public services: but every man, while wishing to do this himself, keeps a sharp eye upon his neighbour, and prevents him from doing it; for if they are not thus on their guard, the community is ruined. The result is that they are at discord, striving to compel one another to do what is just, but not willing to do it themselves.


Benefactors seem to love those whom they have benefited more than those who have received benefits love those who have conferred them; and as this appears irrational, people seek for the cause of this phenomenon.

Most people think the reason is that the one is in the position of a debtor, the other in the position of a creditor; and that, therefore, just as in the case of a loan the debtor wishes his creditor were out of the way, while the lender, on the other hand, is anxious that his debtor may be preserved, so here the benefactor desires the existence of him whom he has benefited in hopes of receiving favours in return, while the other is not at all anxious to repay.

Epicharmus, indeed, might perhaps say that this is only the view of “those who have bad places at the play,”235 but it seems to be true to life; for the generality of men have short memories, and are more eager to receive benefits than to confer them.

But it would seem that the real cause is something that lies deeper in the nature of things, and that the case of creditors does not even resemble this: for creditors have no real affection for their debtors, but only a wish that they may be preserved in order that they may repay; but those who have conferred benefits have a real love and affection for those whom they have benefited, even though they are not, and are never likely to be, of any service.

The same phenomenon may be observed in craftsmen; for every craftsman loves the work of his own hands more than it would love him if it came to life. But perhaps poets carry it furthest; for they love their own poems to excess, and are as fond of them as if they were their children.

Now, the case of the benefactors seems to resemble theirs; those whom they have benefited they have made, so to speak: that which they have made, then, they love more than the work loves its maker. And the reason of this is that we all desire existence and love it: but it is in the exercise of our faculties, or in the realization of ourselves, that our existence lies (for it lies in living and doing): but236 that which a man makes is, in a way, a realization of his self; therefore he loves it, because he loves existence.

But this is in accordance with the nature of things; for it is a law of nature that what a thing is as yet potentially is exhibited in realization by that which it makes or does.

Moreover, the manifestation of his action is beautiful to the benefactor, so that he delights in the person that makes it manifest; but to him who has received the benefit there is nothing beautiful in the benefactor, but at the most something useful; and such an object is less pleasing and less lovable.

Again, we take pleasure in realizing ourselves in the present, in hopes for the future, and in memories of the past; but that in which we are realizing ourselves is the most pleasant, and likewise the most lovable. Now, for the benefactor what he has done endures (for that which is beautiful is lasting), while for him who has received the benefit the advantage soon passes away.

Again, the memory of beautiful deeds is pleasant, of profitable actions not at all pleasant, or not so pleasant; but with expectation the reverse seems to be the case.

Again, loving seems like doing something, being loved like having something done to you: but those who have the better part in the transaction naturally feel and show more love.

Again, we all have more affection for what we have achieved with toil, as those who have made money love it more than those who have inherited it; but receiving a benefit seems to involve no labour, while conferring one seems to be troublesome. And for this reason mothers have more affection for their children than fathers; for they have more trouble in giving them birth, and fuller assurance that they are their own. But this would seem to be a characteristic of benefactors also.


Another question which is raised is, whether we ought most to love ourselves or others.

We blame, it is said, those who love themselves most, and apply the term self-loving to them as a term of reproach: and, again, he who is not good is thought to have regard to himself in everything that he does, and the more so the worse he is; and so we accuse him of doing nothing disinterestedly. The good man on the other hand, it is thought, takes what is noble as his motive, and the better he is the more is he guided by this motive, and by regard for his friend, neglecting his own interest.

But this theory disagrees with facts, nor is it surprising that it should. For it is allowed that we ought to love him most who is most truly a friend, and that he is most truly a friend who, in wishing well to another, wishes well to him for his (the other’s) sake, and even though no one should ever know. But all these characteristics, and all the others which go to make up the definition of a friend, are found in the highest degree in a man’s relations to himself; for we have already seen how it is from our relations to ourselves that all our friendly relations to others are derived. Moreover, all the proverbs point to the same conclusion⁠—such as “Friends have one soul,” “Friends have all things in common,” “Equality makes friendship,” “The knee is nearer than the shin.” All these characteristics are found in the highest degree in a man’s relations to himself; for he is his own best friend: and so he must love himself better than anyone else.

People not unnaturally are puzzled to know which of these two statements to adopt, since both appeal to them. Perhaps the best method of dealing with conflicting statements of this kind is first to make out the difference between them, and then to determine how far and in what sense each is right. So here, if we first ascertain what self-loving means in each statement, the difficulty will perhaps be cleared up.

Those who use self-loving as a term of reproach apply the name to those who take more than their due of money, and honour, and bodily pleasures; for the generality of men desire these things, and set their hearts upon them as the best things in the world, so that they are keenly competed for. Those, then, who grasp at more than their share of these things indulge their animal appetites and their passions generally⁠—in a word, the irrational part of their nature. But this is the character of the generality of men; and hence the term self-loving has come to be used in this bad sense from the fact that the greater part of mankind are not good. It is with justice, then, that we reproach those who are self-loving in this sense.

That it really is to those who take more than their due of these things that the term is usually applied by the generality of men, may easily be shown; for if what a man always set his heart upon were that he, rather than another, should do what is just or temperate, or in any other way virtuous⁠—if, in a word, he were always claiming the noble course of conduct, no one would call him self-loving and no one would reproach him.

And yet such a man would seem to be more truly self-loving. At least, he takes for himself that which is noblest and most truly good, and gratifies the ruling power in himself, and in all things obeys it. But just as the ruling part in a state or in any other system seems, more than any other part, to be the state or the system, so also the ruling part of a man seems to be most truly the man’s self. He therefore who loves and gratifies this part of himself is most truly self-loving.

Again, we call a man continent or incontinent,237 according as his reason has or has not the mastery, implying that his reason is his self; and when a man has acted under the guidance of his reason he is thought, in the fullest sense, to have done the deed himself, and of his own will.

It is plain, then, that this part of us is our self, or is most truly our self, and that the good man more than any other loves this part of himself. He, then, more than any other, will be self-loving, in another sense than the man whom we reproach as self-loving, differing from him by all the difference that exists between living according to reason and living according to passion, between desiring what is noble and desiring what appears to be profitable.

Those who beyond other men set their hearts on noble deeds are welcomed and praised by all; but if all men were vieing with each other in the pursuit of what is noble, and were straining every nerve to act in the noblest possible manner, the result would be that both the wants of the community would be perfectly satisfied, and at the same time each individually would win the greatest of all good things⁠—for virtue is that.

The good man, therefore, ought to be self-loving; for by doing what is noble he will at once benefit himself and assist others: but the bad man ought not; for he will injure both himself and his neighbours by following passions that are not good.

Thus, with the bad man there is a discrepancy between what he ought to do and what he does: but with the good man what he ought to do is what he does; for reason always chooses that which is best for itself; and the good man obeys the voice of reason.

Again, it is quite true to say of the good man that he does many things for the sake of his friends and of his country, and will, if need be, even die for them. He will throw away money and honour, and, in a word, all the good things for which men compete, claiming for himself that which is noble; for he will prefer a brief period of intense pleasure to a long period of mild pleasure, one year of noble life to many years of ordinary life, one great and noble action to many little ones. This, we may perhaps say, is what he gets who gives his life for others: and so he chooses for himself something that is noble on a grand scale.

Such a man will surrender wealth to enrich his friend: for while his friend gets the money, he gets what is noble; so he takes the greater good for himself.

His conduct will be the same with regard to honours and offices: he will give up all to his friend; for this he deems noble and praiseworthy.

Such a man, then, is not unreasonably considered good, as he chooses what is noble in preference to everything else.

But, again, it is possible to give up to your friend an opportunity for action, and it may be nobler to cause your friend to do a deed than to do it yourself.

It is plain, then, that in all cases in which he is praised the good man takes for himself a larger share of what is noble. And in this sense, as we have said, a man ought to be self-loving, but not in the sense in which the generality of men are self-loving.


Another disputed question is whether a happy man needs friends or not.

It is said that those who are blessed and self-sufficient have no need of friends; for they are already supplied with good things: as self-sufficient, then they need nothing more, while a friend is an alter ego who procures for you what you cannot procure yourself; whence the saying⁠—

“When the god favours you, what need of friends?”

But it seems strange, while endowing the happy man with all good things, to deny him friends, which are thought to be the greatest of all external goods.

And if it is more characteristic of a friend to confer than to receive benefits, and if it is characteristic of a good man and a virtuous character to do good to others, and if it is nobler to confer benefits on friends than on strangers, the good man will need friends to receive benefits from him.

And so people ask whether friends are more needed in prosperity or adversity, considering that in adversity we want someone to help us, and in prosperity someone that we may help.

Again, it is surely absurd to make the happy man a solitary being: for no one would choose to have all conceivable good things on condition of being alone; for man is a social being, and by nature adapted to share his life with others. The happy man, then, must have this good, since he has whatever is naturally good for man. But it is obvious that it is better to live with friends and good people, than with strangers and casual persons. The happy man, then, must have friends.

What, then, do those who maintain the former opinion mean? and in what sense are they right? Is it that the generality of men think that friends means useful people? Friends in this sense certainly the happy or blessed man will not need, as he already has whatever is good. And, again, he will have no need, or but little need, of the friendship that is based on pleasure; for his life is pleasant and does not require adventitious pleasure. Because he does not need this kind of friends then, people come to think he does not need friends at all.

But I think we may say that this opinion is not true. For we said at the outset that happiness is a certain exercise of our faculties; but the exercise of our faculties plainly comes to be in time, and is not like a piece of property acquired once for all. But if happiness consists in living and exercising our faculties; and if the exercise of the good man’s faculties is good and pleasant in itself, as we said at the outset; and if the sense that a thing belongs to us is also a source of pleasure, but it is easier to contemplate others than ourselves, and others’ acts than our own⁠—then238 the acts of the good men who are his friends are pleasant to the good man (for both the natural sources of pleasure are united in them),239 The happy or blessed man, therefore, will need such friends, since he desires to contemplate acts that are good and belong to him, and such are the acts of a good man who is his friend.

Again, it is thought that the happy man’s life must be pleasant. Now, if he is solitary, life is hard for him; for it is very difficult to be continuously active by one’s self, but not so difficult along with others, and in relation to others. With friends, then, the exercise of his faculties will be more continuous, being pleasant in itself. And this is what ought to be the case with the blessed man; for the good man, as such, delights in acts of virtue and is vexed by acts of vice, just as a musician is pleased by good music and pained by bad.

Again, he would get a sort of practice in virtue by living with good men, as Theognis says.240

But if we look a little deeper into the nature of things, a good friend appears to be naturally desirable to the good man:⁠—

What is naturally good, we have already said, is good and pleasant in itself to the good man.

Now, life is defined in the case of animals by the power of feeling, in the case of man by the power of feeling or thought: but the power involves reference to its exercise; and it is in this exercise that the reality lies: life, then, in its reality, seems to be feeling or thinking.

Life, again, is one of the things that are good and pleasant in themselves; for it is determinate or formed, and the determinate or formed is of the nature of the good; but that which is naturally [or in itself] good is good to the good man. (And hence life seems to be pleasant to all men. But by life we must not understand a bad or corrupt life, or a life of pain; for such a life is formless, as are all its constituents. We shall endeavour, presently, to throw some light on the nature of pain.)

Life itself, then, is good and pleasant (as appears also from the fact that all desire it, and especially the good and the blessed; for life is most desirable to them, and their life is the most blessed).

But he who sees feels that he sees, and he who hears feels that he hears, and he who walks feels that he walks; and similarly, whatever else we do, there is something that perceives that we are putting forth power, so that whether we feel or think, we must be conscious of feeling or thinking.

But to be conscious of feeling or thinking is to be conscious of existence; for our existence, we found, is feeling or thinking.

But consciousness of life is a thing that is pleasant in itself; for life is naturally good, and to be conscious of the presence of a good thing is pleasant.

Life, then, is desirable, and most of all desirable to the good man, because his existence is good to him, and pleasant; for he is pleased by the consciousness of that which is good in itself.

But the good man stands in the same relation to his friend as to himself, for his friend is another self: just as his own existence, then, is desirable to each, so, or nearly so, is his friend’s existence desirable.

But existence, we found, is desirable because of the consciousness that one’s self is good, such a consciousness being pleasant in itself.

The good man, then, should be conscious of the existence of his friend also, and this consciousness will be given by living with him and by rational converse with him (for this would seem to be the proper meaning of living together, when applied to man, and not merely feeding in the same place, which it means when applied to beasts).

Putting all this together, then, if his own existence is desirable in itself to the good man, being naturally good and pleasant, and if his friend’s existence is also desirable to him in nearly the same way, it follows that a friend is a desirable thing for him. But that which is desirable for him he ought to have, or in that respect he will be incomplete. Our conclusion, therefore, is that he who is to be happy must have good friends.


Are we to make as many friends as possible? or, as in the case of guest-friendship241 we approve of the saying, “neither a host of guest-friends nor yet none,” shall we say that in the case of friendship also it is best neither to be friendless nor yet to have too many friends?

With regard to friends who are chosen with a view to being useful, the saying would seem to be perfectly appropriate; for it would be troublesome to repay the services of a large number, and indeed life is not long enough to enable us to do it. Of such friends, therefore, a larger number than is sufficient for one’s own life would be superfluous and a hindrance to noble living; so we do not want more than that number.

Again, of friends chosen with a view to pleasure a small number is enough, as a small proportion of sweets is enough in our diet.

But are we to have as many good men for friends as we can, or is there any limit of numbers in friendship, as there is in a state? for you could not make a state out of ten men, and if you had a hundred thousand your state would cease to be a state. But perhaps the right number of citizens is not one fixed number, but any number within certain limits. And so with friends there is a limit to their number, and that is, we may say, the largest number that one can live with (for living together is, as we saw, one of the most essential characteristics of friendship); but it is quite evident that it is impossible to live with and spread one’s self abroad among a large number.

Moreover, a man’s friends must be friends with one another, if all are to spend their time together; but this is difficult with a large number.

Again, it becomes hard for him to sympathize duly with the joys and sorrows of a large number; for then he is likely to have at the same time to rejoice with one and to grieve with another. Perhaps, then, the best plan is not to try to have as many friends as possible, but so many as are sufficient for a life in common; and indeed it would be impossible to have an ardent friendship with a great number.

And, for the same reason, it is impossible to be in love with many persons at once; for it seems that love is a sort of superlative friendship, and that this is only possible towards one person, and an ardent friendship towards a few only.

And this seems, in fact, to happen: we do not find a number of people bound together by the sort of friendship that exists between comrades, but the friendships that the poets celebrate are friendships of two persons. And the man of many friends, who is hail-fellow-well-met with everybody, seems to be really friends with no one (in any other way than as fellow-citizens are friends)⁠—I mean the man whom we call obsequious.

After the manner of fellow-citizens, indeed, it is possible to be friends with a great number, and yet not to be obsequious, but to be a truly good man; but that kind of friendship which is based on virtue and on regard for the friend’s self one cannot have for many, but must be well satisfied if one can find even a few such persons.


Is it in prosperity or adversity that we most need friends? For under both circumstances we have recourse to them: in misfortune we need help, in prosperity we need people to live with and to do good to; for we wish to do good.

In adversity, it may be answered, the need is more pressing; we then require useful friends: but friendship is a nobler thing in prosperity; we then seek out good men for friends; for it is more desirable to do good to and to live with such people.

The mere presence of friends is sweet, even in misfortune; for our grief is lightened when our friends share it. And so it might be asked whether they literally take a share of it as of a weight, or whether it is not so, but rather that their presence, which is sweet, and the consciousness of their sympathy, make our grief less. But whether this or something else be the cause of the relief, we need not farther inquire; the fact is evidently as we said.

But their presence seems to be complex in its effects. On the one hand, the mere sight of friends is pleasant, especially when we are in adversity, and contributes something to assuage our grief; for a friend can do much to comfort us both by sight and speech, if he has tact: he knows our character, and what pleases and what pains us. But, on the other hand, to see another grieving over our misfortunes is a painful thing; for everyone dislikes to be the cause of sorrow to his friends. For this reason he who is of a manly nature takes care not to impart his grief to his friends, shrinking from the pain that would give them, unless this is quite outweighed by the relief it would give him;242 and generally he does not allow others to lament with him, as he is not given to lamentations himself; but weak women and effeminate men delight in those who lament with them, and love them as friends and sympathizers. (But evidently we ought in all circumstances to take the better man for our model.)

In prosperity, again, the presence of friends not only makes the time pass pleasantly, but also brings the consciousness that our friends are pleased at our good fortune. And for this reason it would seem that we should be eager to invite our friends to share our prosperity, for it is noble to be ready to confer benefits⁠—but slow to summon them to us in adversity, for we ought to be loth to give others a share of our evil things: whence comes the saying, “That I am in sorrow is sorrow enough.” But we should be least unwilling to call them in when they will be likely to relieve us much without being greatly troubled themselves.

But, on the other hand, when our friends are in trouble, we should, I think, go to them unsummoned and readily (for it is a friend’s office to serve his friend, and especially when he is in need and does not claim assistance, for then it is nobler and pleasanter to both): when they are in prosperity, we should go readily to help them (for this is one of the uses of a friend), but not so readily to share their good things; for it is not a noble thing to be very ready to receive a benefit. But we may add that we ought to be careful that our refusal shall not seem ungracious, as sometimes happens.

The presence of friends, then, in conclusion, is manifestly desirable on all occasions.


Lovers delight above all things in the sight of each other, and prefer the gratification of this sense to that of all the others, as this sense is more concerned than any other in the being and origin of love. In like manner, we may venture to say, do friends find living together more desirable than anything else: for friendship is essentially community, and a man stands to his friend in the same relation in which he stands to himself; but with regard to himself the consciousness of existence is desirable; therefore the same consciousness with regard to his friend is desirable; but it is in a common life that they attain this consciousness; therefore they naturally desire a life in common.

Again, whatever that be which a man holds to constitute existence, or for the sake of which he chooses to live, in that he wishes to pass his time together with his friends; and thus some drink together, others gamble, others practise gymnastics, or hunt, or study philosophy together⁠—in each case spending their time together in that which they love most of all things in life; for, wishing to live in common with their friends, they do those things and take part together in those things which, as they think, constitute life in common.

Thus the friendship of those who are not good comes to be positively bad; for, having no stability of character, they confirm each other in things that are not good, and thus become positively bad as they become more like one another. But the friendship of good men is good, and grows with their intercourse; and they seem to become better as they exercise their faculties and correct each other’s deficiencies: for each moulds himself to the likeness of that which he approves in the other; whence the saying, “From good men thou shalt learn good things.”243

So much, then, for friendship. We will now pass to the consideration of pleasure.