Book 8: Friendship or Love.

Chapter 14: Of the same in unequal friendships.

Quarrels occur also in unequal friendships; for sometimes each claims the larger share, but when this happens the friendship is dissolved. For instance, the better of the two thinks he ought to have the larger share; “the good man’s share is larger,” he says: the more useful of the two makes the same claim; “it is allowed,” he says, “that a useless person should not share equally; for friendship degenerates into gratuitous service unless that which each receives from the friendship be proportionate to the value of what he does.” For such people fancy that the same rule should hold in friendship as in a commercial partnership, where those who put in more take a larger share.

The needy man and the inferior man argue in the contrary way; “it is the office of a good friend,” they say, “to help you when you are in need; for what is the use of being friends with a good man or a powerful man, if you are to get nothing by it?”

It seems that the claims of both are right, and that each ought to receive a larger share than the other, but not of the same things—the superior more honour, the needy man more profit; for honour is the tribute due to virtue and benevolence, while want receives its due succour in the pecuniary gain.

This seems to be recognized in constitutions too: no honour is paid to him who contributes nothing to the common stock of good; the common stock is distributed among those who benefit the community, and of this common stock honour is a part. For he who makes money out of the community must not expect to be honoured by the community also; and no one is content to receive a smaller share in everything. To him, then, who spends money on public objects we pay due honour, and money to him whose services can be paid in money; for, by giving to each what is in proportion to his merit, equality is effected and friendship preserved, as we said before.

The same principles, then, must regulate the intercourse of individuals who are unequal; and he who is benefited by another in his purse or in his character, must give honour in return, making repayment in that which he can command. For friendship exacts what is possible rather than what is due: what is due is sometimes impossible, as, for instance, in the case of the honour due to the gods and to parents; for no one could ever pay all his debt to them; but he who gives them such service as he can command is held to fulfil his obligation.

For this reason it would seem that a man may not disown his father, though a father may disown his son; for he who owes must pay: but whatever a son may do he can never make a full return for what he has received, so that he is always in debt. But the creditor is at liberty to cast off the debtor; a father, therefore, is at liberty to cast off his son. But, at the same time, it is not likely that any one would ever disown a son, unless he were a very great scoundrel; for, natural affection apart, it is but human not to thrust away the support that a son would give. But to the son, if he be a scoundrel, assisting his father is a thing that he wishes to avoid, or at least is not eager to undertake; for the generality of men wish to receive benefits, but avoid doing them as unprofitable. So much, then, for these questions.


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