Tag Archives: nicomachean ethics

On making friends

Nothing sinks more heavily in your stomach than the realization that someone who you thought liked you really hates you.

More and more, i’m inclined to think that making friends isn’t a matter of chance, or even of preference; it’s a matter of knowing what you want to learn, and recognizing who can help you learn those things.  Does that make friendship utilitarian?  I don’t know, but let’s take a look what Aristotle had to say on the matter:

It seems that not everything is loved, but only what is worthy of love, and this is what is good, pleasant, or useful. What is useful, however, would seem to be what is instrumental to some good or pleasure, so that what are worthy of love as ends are the good and the pleasant.  —Nicomachean Ethics, VIII. ii. p.145

So even if you’re friends with someone because he or she is “instrumental to some good or pleasure,” the end you ultimately strive for is that good or pleasure.  The bottom line is, there is some good or pleasure we desire, and we become friends with those who provide us with it.

Let’s start with the goods.  What kinds of goods do we seek?  Well, obviously they vary from individual to individual, but the one most commonly identified and discussed by philosophers is happiness.  It seems that the “small” goods we seek add up to the “big,” self-sufficient good of happiness.

Then let’s assume that we make friends because they help us attain that good of happiness.  How do my friends make me happy?  Personally, i’m happy when my friends care for me and teach me new things.  Some of my friends don’t do either of these things, and yet i call them “friends.”

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questions on the loo, issue #5: “People who know what they want.”

You see that remark everywhere.  Anywhere from job listings to online personals, people are always seeking those who know what they want.  I never quite understood what this might mean.  How could anyone not know what they want?  I know what i want, and those around me know what they want (assuming they are being honest with me).  You might not know how to get what you want, but how could you not know what you want?  It baffles me, really, and the next time i see that phrase, i am going to email whoever wrote it and ask what they mean by it.  

This is something that has been bugging for quite some time now, but i was prompted to write a post about it because this exact issue came up in my Ethics lecture the other day.  My Ethics professor, my wonderfully brilliant Ethics professor, of all people, used that seemingly meaningless phrase, “some people don’t know what they want.”  In Book I Chapter VII of Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle discusses the search for a self-sufficient good, a final end, the one thing we aim at.  His assumption is that you could be aiming at something, but not be sure what you’re aiming at.  My question is, if you don’t even see the target, how could you be aiming at it?  That would be like someone handing me a bow and arrow and telling me to shoot at the red circle when there isn’t one.  In any case, the question that naturally follows from Aristotle’s proposition that some people don’t know what they’re after is, how do you tell what you’re really after?  One way is to get it first and then figure out if that’s what you’d been wanting, he says.  The only way to know what you’re after is to blindly go after something, get it, and then see if you’re satisfied with it.  If you are, that’s what you had been wanting.  But if humanity really did function in this primitive trial and error method, we wouldn’t get so far now, would we?  

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