The Ethics of Friendship
At the time of writing the Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle is an elderly man, and he is writing a book entitled "The Ethics" to his son, Nicomachus. In this book are essentially instruction on how to grow up and be a good man, or, in Aristotle's words, how to live virtuously. The Nichomachean Ethics is divided in to "chapters" that are called "Books." The "Book" we are going to talk about is Chapter 8, which deals with the concept of Philia, commonly translated as brotherly love (e.g. Philadelphia - City of Brotherly Love).
Book 8, Chapter 1
AFTER what we have said, a discussion of friendship would naturally follow, since it is a virtue or implies virtue, and is besides most necessary with a view to living. For without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods; even rich men and those in possession of office and of dominating power are thought to need friends most of all; for what is the use of such prosperity without the opportunity of beneficence, which is exercised chiefly and in its most laudable form towards friends? Or how can prosperity be guarded and preserved without friends? The greater it is, the more exposed is it to risk. And in poverty and in other misfortunes men think friends are the only refuge. It helps the young, too, to keep from error; it aids older people by ministering to their needs and supplementing the activities that are failing from weakness; those in the prime of life it stimulates to noble actions -- 'two going together' -- for with friends men are more able both to think and to act. Again, parent seems by nature to feel it for offspring and offspring for parent, not only among men but among birds and among most animals; it is felt mutually by members of the same race, and especially by men, whence we praise lovers of their fellowmen. We may even in our travels how near and dear every man is to every other. Friendship seems too to hold states together, and lawgivers to care more for it than for justice; for unanimity seems to be something like friendship, and this they aim at most of all, and expel faction as their worst enemy; and when men are friends they have no need of justice, while when they are just they need friendship as well, and the truest form of justice is thought to be a friendly quality.
But it is not only necessary but also noble; for we praise those who love their friends, and it is thought to be a fine thing to have many friends; and again we think it is the same people that are good men and are friends.
Not a few things about friendship are matters of debate. Some define it as a kind of likeness and say like people are friends, whence come the sayings 'like to like', 'birds of a feather flock together', and so on; others on the contrary say 'two of a trade never agree'. On this very question they inquire for deeper and more physical causes, Euripides saying that 'parched earth loves the rain, and stately heaven when filled with rain loves to fall to earth', and Heraclitus that 'it is what opposes that helps' and 'from different tones comes the fairest tune' and 'all things are produced through strife'; while Empedocles, as well as others, expresses the opposite view that like aims at like. The physical problems we may leave alone (for they do not belong to the present inquiry); let us examine those which are human and involve character and feeling, e.g. whether friendship can arise between any two people or people cannot be friends if they are wicked, and whether there is one species of friendship or more than one. Those who think there is only one because it admits of degrees have relied on an inadequate indication; for even things different in species admit of degree. We have discussed this matter previously.
Question 1How do ancient philosophers define friendship?
As highlighted in the text, friends are defined as two people who are opposites or two people who are very much alike. Later in the Ethics, Aristotle does not hold that friends have to share interests, all that is required for two people to engage in the highest order of friendship, the friendship of the good, is that they are both moral or virtuous people. For Aristotle, being virtuous or moral are synonymous.
Question 2What evidence does Aristotle provide to consider friends not just important, but necessary to live?
Aristotle believes that friends are necessary for life because someone without friends would choose not to live even though they had everything else in the world they could possibly want. Again, later in the Ethics, Aristotle mentions that friends could be considered one soul occupying two bodies.
Question 3 According to NE Book 8, Chapter 1, would Aristotle be in favor of social networking?
According to this reading, as highlighted, yes, he would support the acquisition and constant communal with as many friends as possible. However, later in the Ethics, Aristotle divides the idea of friendship into three separate parts, and he mentions that it is impossible to have more than 2 or 3 of the highest order of friends in your entire life because of the amount of devotion required. However, you can have as many companions and acquaintances as you can manage. These two categories are the lower order of friendship as defined by Aristotle.