C.S. Lewis and Aristotle: On Friendship

In the book Surprised by Joy Lewis tells the following:

Many chapters ago I mentioned a boy who lived near us and who had tried, quite unsuccessfully, to make friends with my brother and myself. His name was Arthur and he was my brother’s exact contemporary; he and I had been at Campbell together though we never met. I think it was shortly before the beginning of my last term at Wyvern that I received a message saying that Arthur was in bed, convalescent, and would welcome a visit. I can’t remember what led me to accept this invitation, but from some reason I did.

I found Arthur sitting up in bed. On the table besid him lay a copy of Myths of Norsemen.

Do you like that? said I.

Do you like that? said he.

Next moment the book was in our hands, our heads were bent close together, we were pointing, quoting, talking–soon almost shouting–discovering in a torrent of questions that we liked not only the same thing, but the same parts of it and in the same way; that both knew the stab of joy and that, for both, the arrow was shot from the North.

Many thousands of people have had the experience of finding the first friend, and it is none the less a wonder; as great a wonder…as first love, or even a greater. I had been so far from thinking such a friend possible that I had never even longed for one; no more than I longed to be King of England. If I had found that Arthur had independently built up an exact replica of the Boxonian world I should not really have been much more surprised. Nothing, I suspect, is more astonishing in any man’s life than the discovery that there do exist people very, very like himself

-C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy p. 130-131.

Often friendship is taken for granted. Many might even think of friendship as something to just expect in life. “Love” is a divine, but friendship? It is something one “needs” but not too often is one seriously attempted to worship ‘friendship.’ But, love is constantly something that people tend to worship and people even go as far turning the idea that God is love, in to Love is God.

Yet, the truth of the matter is that friendship is a divine and heavenly gift, especially when one has friends that are based around pursuing that which is good, true, and beautiful.

Lewis communicates this deep and significant truth in the above quote from Surprised by Joy. He makes an astonishing claim that friendship is a great a wonder as falling in love!

In my pursuit and oft-idealization of “falling in love” I fail to forget God’s grace in granting me friends whom I can love, prayer for, and, ultimately grow in righteousness and holiness together. I fail to forget the wonder and beauty that friendship offers

How are we to pursue and view friendship?

Aristotle famously distinguished between three types of friendship. Each friendship is distinguished based on the motive for which they were formed.

They whose motive is utility have no friendship for one another really, but only in so far as some good arises to them from one another. And those whose motive is pleasure are in like case: I mean, they have friendship for men of easy peasantry, not because they are of a given character but because they are pleasant to themselves. So then they whose motive to friendship is utility love their friends for what is good to themselves; those whose motive is pleasure do so for what is pleasurable to themselves: that is to say, not in so far as the friend beloved is but in so far as he is useful or pleasurable…Now it is the nature of utility not to be permanent but constantly varying: so, of course, when the motive which made them friends is vanished, the friendship likewise dissolves; since it existed only relatively to those circumstances…. That then is perfect friendship which subsists between those who are good and whose similarity consists in their goodness: for these men wish one another’s good in similar ways; in so far as they are good (and good they are in themselves): and those are specially friends who wish good to their friends for their sakes, because they feel thus towards them on their own account and not as mere matter of result; so the friendship between these men continues to subsist so long as they are good; and goodness, we know, has in it a principle of permanence.” – Nicomachean Ethics.

In summary, Aristotle believes the only true or lasting form of friendship is that friendship which consists in the person’s motive being for the good of the other. This type of friendship is only possible when the person is himself good because being good themselves is the only way one can understand the very goodness of good. In this experience of the good, they long to share it.

Earlier, Aristotle spoke of men being attracted to that which they are like. Lewis also gives an example of this above. If we take this principle as true then within the friendships that are based on goodness it can also be said that they are mutually pleasurable and useful because each man finds pleasure in that which has a likeness to his own nature, and, in general, good people are useful to others.

So the third form of friendship Aristotle distinguishes is by definition the best kind of friendship because it combines all the types of friendship.

So what must one do to have the best kind of friendship? One must first become good themselves. Becoming good allows one to see the ‘goodness of good’ and to then desire to give good to another.

Sometimes we tend to think that our becoming good is an isolated event that has no direct impact on the lives of those around us. Yet, it should be understood that one’s becoming good actually has an effect on others; for in so far as this happens it is likely that one is actually desiring and helping those around him to experience goodness. This effect is grounded by the fact that man by virtue of being man desires friendship, and will, whether good or bad, pursue friends and impact others.

It’s a great to know that by pursuing the good in life, I can myself become a better friend to my roommates and others around me. Through seeking to know God and understanding His character I am also simultaneously helping my friends and working toward their good.

One response to “C.S. Lewis and Aristotle: On Friendship

  1. Pingback: Eudamonia « Eudamoniac·

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