Study Guide

The Nicomachean Ethics Book 8, Chapter 13 (1162a35-1163a23)

By Aristotle

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Book 8, Chapter 13 (1162a35-1163a23)

  • Friendships based only on usefulness run into problems. Friends may accuse each other of not pulling their weight in the relationship if expectations aren't met.
  • This is different than friendships between good people. These friends almost compete to do good turns for each other. They're never disappointed in what their friend brings to the table.
  • Friendships of pleasure also have high satisfaction ratings, since it's literally all sunshine and giggles (until it isn't).
  • But friendships of utility always see someone whining because they didn't get what they wanted out of the relationship.
  • Aristotle says that there are two types of friendship based on usefulness: the moral and the legal.
  • The legal type deals with financial transactions, complete with contracted terms of payment.
  • "Friendship" arises here when the person owed extends the payment deadline because he trusts that his debtor—uh, "friend"—is good for it.
  • The moral type doesn't involve contracts or payments. Instead, it's more of a reciprocal gift-giving situation. One person gives something to his friend, seeing it as a loan.
  • The recipient thinks it's a gift, but the giver really expects to receive something equally good in return.
  • Problems happen when the giver doesn't get what he wants or expects in return.
  • Aristotle cautions us to make sure we give back an equal amount in all such relationships—and to do it voluntarily—to avoid ill will.
  • But sometimes, it's hard to measure the worth of a gift in order to make a return that's equal.
  • Is it determined by the actual value of the gift itself, or by how much it's helped the person who received it?
  • This is slippery, since the recipient would naturally value the gift lower, so that his repayment would be less painful.
  • Aristotle concludes that we have to work with how much the receiver has benefitted. He should repay that plus more, just to show that he is the bigger person.
  • Your best bet? Only get involved in friendships based on virtue. No dissatisfaction there.

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