Book 9: Friendship or Love—Continued.
Another difficult question is, whether we should or should not break off friendship with those who have ceased to be what they were.
We may, perhaps, say that those whose friendship is based on profit or pleasure naturally part when these cease; for it was these that they loved: when these are gone, therefore, it is to be expected that the love goes too. But complaints would be likely to arise if a man who loved another for profit or pleasure’s sake pretended to love him for his character; for, as we said at the outset, quarrels between friends very frequently arise from a difference between the real and the supposed motives of the friendship. If, then, a man deceives himself, and supposes that he is beloved for his character, though the other’s behaviour gives no ground for the supposition, he has only himself to blame; but if he is deceived by the other’s pretence, then there is a fair ground of complaint against such an impostor, even more than against those who counterfeit the coinage, inasmuch as it is a more precious thing that is tampered with.
But if a man admit another to his friendship as a good man, and he becomes and shows himself to be a bad man, is he still to be loved? Perhaps we may answer that it is impossible, as it is not everything that is lovable, but only the good. A bad man, then, is not lovable, and ought not to be loved: for we ought not to love what is bad, nor to make ourselves like what is worthless; but, as we said before, it is like that makes friends with like.
Is the friendship, then, to be immediately broken off? Perhaps not in all cases, but only in the case of those who are incurably bad: when their reformation is possible, we are more bound to help them in their character than their fortune, inasmuch as character is a nobler thing, and has more to do with friendship than fortune has. But a man who withdraws his friendship in such a case, would seem to do nothing unnatural; for it was not with such a man that he made friends: his friend has become another man, and as he cannot restore him, he stands aloof from him.
But suppose that the one remains what he was while the other gets better and becomes far superior in virtue: is the latter still to treat the former as a friend? Perhaps it is hardly possible that he should do so. We see this most plainly if the interval between the two be very considerable. Take, for instance, a boyish friendship: if one of the two remains a child in understanding, while the other has become a man in the fullest sense of the word, how can they any longer be friends, now that the things that will please them, and the sources of their joys and sorrows, are no longer the same? for not even in regard to each other’s character will their tastes agree, and without this, we found, people cannot be friends, since they cannot live together. (But this point has been already discussed.)
Shall we, then, simply say that the latter should regard the former as no more a stranger than if he had never been his friend? Perhaps we may go further than this, and say that he should not entirely forget their former intercourse, and that just as we hold that we ought to serve friends before strangers, so former friends have some claims upon us on the ground of past friendship, unless extraordinary depravity were the cause of our parting.