January 24, 2018

The Nicomachean Ethics of Friendship


The Nicomachean Ethics of Friendship

Last week, two of my oldest and dearest friends each had a double mastectomy as a result of breast cancer.  I was feeling so many emotions – anxiety, worry, anger – to name a few.  I felt helpless, yet remained in faith trusting that all would be well.  Thankfully, both are home and recovering as well as can be expected.   As I waited patiently to hear from their families as to the progress on the day of each surgery, I began to consider friendships and how ethics plays a role in these relationships.  Inherently, each connection with another person is rooted in some desire, pleasure, or goodness. I researched and read about The Nicomachean Ethics of Friendship.

In Book VIII of “The Nichomachean Ethics”, Aristotle discusses Three Types of Friendship.

  1. The Nicomachean Ethics of Friendship based on Utility: In this first level of friendship, people expect to derive some benefit from each other. According to Aristotle, these are “shallow” and “easily dissolved” because individuals are seeking to essentially barter and trade a product, service, connection, or other useful thing.  Or, rather, it just seems important and essential at the time.  But, our desires change and, thus, these first-level friendships ultimately do not last.
  2. The Nicomachean Ethics of Friendship based on pleasure: Relationships where people are attracted to one another because of their appearance, humor, or other extrinsic and “pleasant” quality.  When we are young, we think we “want” to be with another person because they are fun, or popular or a good athlete.  My daughter is on a school basketball team and so many of the girls are “friends” as they spend a large amount of time together in practice, traveling to games, and during and after the games.  The joint activity and like-mindedness leads to simple friendships based on pleasure.  But, these second-level friendships also can easily end when the activity or specific quality no longer is attractive or gives that same pleasure at it used to.
  3. The Nicomachean Ethics of Friendship based on goodness: This type of friendship emerges when both people see the good in each other.  As we get older, we learn about each other’s foundational beliefs, moral compass, dedication to issues, commitment to family, social and political outlooks, and desire to help others.  We learn about the other person’s character.  This type of friendship is considered to the highest level of “brotherly love” according to Aristotle.  In this highest level of friendship, there is no desire to get anything or seek any response from the other.  Rather, the focus is on what can one do to help the other person and make the other happy.  What is good for them?

Aristotle said “What is a friend?  A single soul dwelling in two bodies.”   I am blessed to call many in my life true third-level friends.  I believe investing in our relationships matters.  Because ask yourself this question – why else are we living if not to create meaningful connections with others and help each other?  These two ladies who endured so much pain and suffering last week are two of the strongest women I know.  They are mothers, daughters, sisters, friends, partners, professionals, community activists, athletes, and more.  I am proud to call them my friends.  What I know for sure is that when I was in the middle of my federal investigation and case, and ultimately was sentenced to prison, these two friends were there for me all the way.  There were among the soul-sisters that lifted me up and supported me.  They loved me.  They cried and laughed with me.  And they prayed for me.  They helped my children and family when I was not here. They welcomed me with open arms when I returned.  And now, I am grateful to be able to be there for them as they experience their own struggles in life.

Friendship is about loving each other and supporting one another through the good and the bad.  When goodness and, thus ethical principles, guide our motivations, then we are honored with incredible and lifelong friendships.  Thank you to all the remarkable individuals who continue to support me and believe in me, no matter what.  True ethical vigilance can be found in our relationships and connections.


Rashmi Airan‘s mission is to share the need for ethical vigilance and to inspire you to make good ethical choices in all areas of your life. Rashmi is an ethics speaker and consultant fighting to create a culture of conversation and bring ethical issues in business to light, to promote integrity, to enhance commitment to fiduciary duty, to build ethical leadership, and to shift the paradigm of ethics standards through ethics training.

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