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Getting Closer: Greek Philosophers Take on Friendships   

April 22, 2022

Throughout the day, we interact with multiple people, some of whom we already know and are friendly with, others whom we might have just met, and others whom we already share a close bond with.

Personal relationships require sensitivity, vulnerability, and a base of trust to open-up and reach a point of familiarity. Everyday encounters tend to urge our basic self to appear. Discussions are centred on general topics such as preferences, catch-ups, breaking news, the weather, etc, however few are the ones who gain insight on our personal issues.

Greek philosophers have left their mark on multiple subjects society can reflect on today and apply to their own life, one of them being friendship. They place it within a structure of ‘eudaimonism’ which means happiness sustained through virtue. In Aristotle’s works, eudaimonia was the term symbolizing the highest human good.

Friendships blossom on the basis of having similar ideas, tastes, and outlook on life with the other person. Photo by Gaelle Marcel via Unsplash

Aristotle described friendship as one of the greatest joys of life, and he felt that a life well-lived had to be constructed around such companionship. In his own words, “In poverty as well as in other misfortunes, people suppose that friends are their only refuge. And friendship is a help to the young, in saving them from error, just as it is also to the old, with a view to the care they require and their diminished capacity for action stemming from their weakness; it is a help also to those in their prime in performing noble actions, for ‘two going together’ are better able to think and to act.”

Pythagoras of Samos, an ancient Ionian philosopher, was inspired by a similar mindset saying, “friends are as companions on a journey, who ought to aid each other to persevere in the road to a happier life.” Euripides, a tragedian of classical Athens noted, “friends show their love in times of trouble, not in happiness.”

Forming friendships is at the epicenter of human connections. Everyone has the need to have people around them with which they are comfortable in sharing anything, having a shoulder to cry on when things go wrong, and celebrating life through adventures. Discovering such unique bonds may be a challenge for some, as personality plays a big role in how people approach friendships. Someone who is more outgoing will make a friend more easily than someone who is shy.

Maintaining friendships may be the most difficult task to accomplish. This comes along with multiple questions and concerns, such as how to strengthen a connection. What happens when a friend moves far away, and most importantly how do we make it last? The simplest answer to this question is prioritizing and investing time in that relationship.

Forming friendships are in the epicenter of human connections. Photo by Taylor Smith via Unsplash

In Aristotle’s world, an act of friendship is undertaken both for the good of one’s friend and for the good of one’s self, and there is no reason to think that the one prevents the other. Having a perfect friend is like having “another self.” This parallelism arises since perfect friends tend to make the same choices, and each one’s happiness adds to that of the other under this way of thinking. Yet, the number of people with whom we can maintain a perfect friendship is small, mainly because reason and virtue are not to be found in everyone, and because a perfect friendship can only be formed and sustained if a pair of friends spend a good amount of exclusive quality time together.

The question however remains, can only people with similar characters constitute so-called perfect friendships, or can this still exist when people have different outlooks on life?




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