The Greek philosopher Aristotle and John Stuart Mill agreed that the objective of morality was the pursuit of general happiness and the good life in society and in the individual. But they deviated in the concept of, and the manner of arriving at, "the right thing to do," especially in reference to friendships. Mill held that actions are right in the proportion that they tend to promote that happiness and wrong, as they tend to promote unhappiness. He advocated the action/rule-based type of morality, which determined the goodness of an act according to the consequences of that act and independently of the doer's virtues or character traits (Fieser). This type directly opposes the virtue-based morality propounded by Aristotle, who believed that happiness as the ultimate end of existence that is sought for itself and not for any other end.
Aristotle contended that friendship is the greatest external good and a necessity because of the function of beneficence a person shows his friends. Rich or poor, strong or weak, everyone everywhere needs friends to help and to support them. He argued that friendships develop from the simplest species of life, in the family, groups to cities and the world and these provide the basis for justice and equality (Irwin, trans 1998).
In Book VIII (Irwin, trans 1998), Aristotle discusses the three different kinds of friendship, based on the purposes for which they are formed. The first kind builds friendship out of goodwill or the good or virtues the friend possesses and practices. It is pursued for its own sake and lasts as long as virtue lasts. The second kind forges friendship for some useful purpose or end and the friendship remains for as long as one party continues to serve that or another useful purpose. And the third kind creates friendship for pleasure, whereby one is pleasant or pleases the other. Like the second kind, the friendship remains as long as the pleasure exists and disappears when the pleasure ceases in either side (Irwin p 122).
Of the three types of friends, the first is the most lovable and loving and the best and the most in life is found in such a friend (Irwin p 123). This friend is virtuous and pursues the practice of virtue as an end in itself. The friendship one forms with him or her is immune to slander and trust exists between him and his friend. He is, therefore, a good in himself to his friend and each repays the other in equal measure of goodness. In this condition of friendship, equality evolves, wherein each side gets the same goodness and wish and will the same goodness or exchange pleasure for benefit. This condition is exclusive to the first type or kind of friendship. In the two other kinds, friendship is developed or maintained only for a selfish purpose and only on account of some benefit derived from it. It is not sought as an end itself and serves one's self-interest regardless of the welfare of the other, oftentimes, against that welfare or interest.
This first type of friendship, though the best and the only lasting one, is difficult to cultivate and maintain. It needs time and character to make the friendship endure. The parties or sides must first get accustomed to each other until they accept each other as they are, until they appear lovable to each other and gains each other's confidence (Irwin p 123). Such friends and friendships are few and rare and only persons with genuine goodwill can be true friends and develop such friendships with those like themselves. Though few and rare, they are the only people who, in Aristotle's eyes, can be true equals, as equality is possible only in such friendships (Irwin p 125).
In real life, many people are incline to form friendly groups and alliances and to be friendly with one another for some useful purpose. Friendliness is a useful and pleasant trait but friendliness does not always establish lasting friendships or assure that the friendly person is lovable in himself. In the second kind, this friendly person has meaning only insofar as he serves one's interests. And under the third kind, the friendly person remains friendly as long as the other party is pleasing to him or remains as friendly. When the utility is filled or the desire to please wanes, the presumed friendship also disappears. Aristotle notes that a person who holds power over another cannot be a genuine friend because equality does not exist between them, unless both of them are virtuous and desire each other's virtuousness as their end in itself. If they do, then Aristotle considers them excellent persons who are not only genuinely good friends to each other but are also useful and pleasant because of the virtues or goodness they inherently possess, practice and wish or will for one another (Irwin p 126).
But because it takes much time, effort and concerted wills to develop this first kind, they are few and rare. Only their kind can attain to the goodness and happiness, which all people want. Selfish or bad people cannot come to that level because their enjoyment is limited to their purposes, rather than perpetuated by a good that goes beyond these purposes (Irwin p 123).
In Aristotle's view, the first type of friend is good because he is a self-actualized person (Irwin p 145), who is a benefactor who can well afford to be generous even to others who do not deserve or know about his goodness or generosity. That generosity or goodness in itself is his actualization and he is as generous as he loves his own being. The more he expresses that generosity or goodness, the deeper his love for his own being goes. Because he loves and pursues goodness for its own sake and not for any worldly purpose or end, it does not require honor, wealth or praise from the beneficiary or the world. This friend's generosity is complete, unqualified and needs nothing.
The difference between this first type of friend and a selfish person is that the selfish person pursues an end based on feeling or raw inclination. The first type of friend, on the other hand, uses reason in pursuing something. This first type desires what is fine, while the selfish person desires what is advantageous (Irwin p 147).
Aristotle sees the excellent person as performing fine actions that contributing to the common good. Through this series of fine actions, every individual in society will receive the greatest possible good from this practice of virtue and fine actions. Every excellent person will thus favor another excellent person, a friend who is like him, because they have an identical and united pursuit. Either of them will invest time, money, honor and other resources, even life itself, if the welfare or the good of that friend requires them. The excellent person aims at the fine thing at the expense of everything else because goodness in oneself or an excellent friend is the highest good, and that excellent friend, the greatest external good, worthier than life itself. Aristotle, however, asserts that the common good is superior to individual good or welfare.
On the other hand, JS Mill insists that goodness in nature stands separately and previously to human action and intervention. He maintains that a person can behave or act only according to that nature that is already in existence in him and not in observance of an external, categorical and immutable imperative. He does not see man as acting or desiring anything beyond what nature allows and requires him. He can only, and should, improve on the course of events, rather than obey pre-stated laws or Law. Mill states that moral rules should be drawn from specific and empirical circumstances and that an action is morally good only in proportion to the beneficial consequences it has in society and the individual. He, therefore, sees this as the only moral act, the right thing to do, and which every man must place above himself and his relationships and friendships.
JS Mill rejects Aristotle's a priori concept of goodness as the basis of an excellent person and the primary of friendship with such a person. Rather, Mills poses that the most useful to the greatest number of people at the longest time possible should be the pursuit of every excellent person. To him, this is the only rational and moral function of man, not leaving to a pre-existing and supernatural Law the production of goodness or simply letting natural phenomena take their course in human lives. He points to the human capability and responsibility to subvert nature for the greatest possible benefit of the individual and his society, and this cannot happen if the individual seeks some intrinsic goodness in friends or within himself.
Both Aristotle and Mill place the common welfare above individual benefit and this is agreeable. But Aristotle assumes a pre-existing categorical Law already at work and guiding…
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