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Parallels Between the Science of Happiness and the Philosophy of Friendship

Confucius hints at the intimate relation between friendship and happiness in the opening lines of the Analects, the earliest record of his sayings:

Isn’t a pleasure to study (the Way) and, on the right occasion, practice what one learns?  Isn’t it a delight to meet a friend from afar?

 

The two thoughts here are interconnected: meeting a friend gives one the opportunity to discuss the Way, and studying the Way is best accomplished in the presence of someone who shares ones love of learning.  Mencius, Confucius’ most famous successor, lists friendship as one of the celebrated Five Relations, making it of the most valuable social relations next to family ties.

For Aristotle, friendship is one of the most important virtues in achieving the goal of eudaimonia (happiness).  While there are different kinds of friendship, the highest is one that is based on virtue (arête). This type of friendship is based on a person wishing the best for their friends regardless of utility or pleasure. Aristotle calls it a “...complete sort of friendship between people who are good and alike in virtue...” This type of friendship is long lasting and tough to obtain because these types of people are hard to come by and it takes a lot of work to have a complete virtuous friendship. Aristotle notes that one cannot have a large number of friends because of the amount of time and care that a virtuous friendship requires.  Aristotle values friendship so highly that he argues friendship supersedes justice and honour.  First of all, friendship seems to be most valued by people, so much so that no one would choose to live without friends.  People who value honour will likely seek out either flattery or those who have more power than they do, in order that they may gain through these relationships. Aristotle believes that love is greater than this because it can be enjoyed as it is. “Being loved, however, people enjoy for its own sake, and for this reason it would seem it is something better than being honoured and that friendship is chosen for its own sake.” The emphasis on enjoyment here is noteworthy: a virtuous friendship is one that is most enjoyable since it combines pleasure and virtue together, thus fulfilling our emotional and intellectual natures.