Aristotle differentiated friendships of pleasure from friendships of utility by virtue of the fact that the former are based on preferences and shared interests whereas the latter are based on specific needs that exist irrespective of preferences and interests. For example, the friendship between shopkeepers and their customers is based on a reciprocal need: the shopkeeper has a need for the patronage of the customer to support himself and the customer has a need for the goods sold by the shopkeeper. In most cases, neither of those individuals has any choice or control over the need that generates the friendship. Conversely, in friendships of pleasure, the individuals involved typically choose their respective interests that they share with their counterparts in the friendship and that form the basis of that relationship (Magill & McGreal, 1981).
Whereas Aristotle characterizes friendships of utility as most natural among the elderly, he suggested that friendships of pleasure are most natural to young people. While the first suggestion may or may not be entirely accurate, one could easily conclude that the second suggestion is extremely accurate, even today (or, perhaps, especially today). For example, children typically form friendships based on nothing more than the physical proximity of their homes or their attendance of the same classes. Childhood friendships are largely identical even among many different pairs of friends and they are relatively easily formed and terminated, such as by relocation of transfers to new schools. Likewise, teenagers often form friendships and select their friends from their many acquaintances based on superficialities such as appreciation for similar music or sports interests.
Aristotle argues that, as a result, friendships of pleasure are equally superficial and, much like friendships of utility, are formed and ended quickly, and they are relatively easily exchanged (Magill & McGreal, 1981). Aristotle's views of friendships of pleasure would also appear to be highly applicable to contemporary friendships among individuals whose principal motivation or inspiration for friendship is a shared interest in an external pursuit or recreational activity. In that regard, it differs from friendship of utility only in the former reflects a mutual satisfaction of a need that is not necessarily chosen by the individuals while the latter often reflects autonomous choice in the specific interest shared by the friends. It may be the source of significant joy and may certainly be the source of much needed companionship, it is, nevertheless, a superficial form of friendship precisely because it reflects an arbitrary external commonality.
Friendship of Virtue
According to Aristotle, a friendship of virtue represents the most significant friendship relationship and one in which the individuals contribute and derive the greatest possible benefit of human friendships (Hursthouse, 1999; Magill & McGreal, 1981). That is because, unlike friendships of utility or pleasure, the predominant source and inspiration of friendships of virtue is the shared philosophical, ethical, or religious basis of the relationship. Whereas friendships or utility and pleasure are dependent on superficial or arbitrarily chosen commonalities, friendships of virtue necessarily derive directly from that which is most important to the respective individuals on a fundamental or spiritual level. Therefore, whereas friendships based on superficialities are formed and often easily substituted or abruptly terminated, friendships of virtue grow more slowly and much more difficult to exchange for comparable friendships, and they do not often end abruptly (Magill & McGreal, 1981; Rosenstand, 2008).
They provide the greatest value to the individuals involved because they are based in the substantive beliefs and values of the individuals rather than on superficial circumstances such as external needs or arbitrary choices of pleasures (Magill & McGreal, 1981). The contemporary equivalent of Aristotle's friendships of virtue would be friendships generated by shared values, such as political or religious philosophies or mutual commitments to other shared core values and belief systems that are integral parts of the respective individual's lives.
Egner, R.E. And Denonn, L.E. (1961). The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Hursthouse, R. (1999). On Virtue Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Magill, F.N. And McGreal, I.P. (1981). Masterpieces of World Philosophy in Summary