Book 9: Friendship or Love—Continued.
Another disputed question is whether a happy man needs friends or not.
It is said that those who are blessed and self-sufficient have no need of friends; for they are already supplied with good things: as self-sufficient, then they need nothing more, while a friend is an alter ego who procures for you what you cannot procure yourself; whence the saying—
“When the god favours you, what need of friends?”
But it seems strange, while endowing the happy man with all good things, to deny him friends, which are thought to be the greatest of all external goods.
And if it is more characteristic of a friend to confer than to receive benefits, and if it is characteristic of a good man and a virtuous character to do good to others, and if it is nobler to confer benefits on friends than on strangers, the good man will need friends to receive benefits from him.
And so people ask whether friends are more needed in prosperity or adversity, considering that in adversity we want some one to help us, and in prosperity some one that we may help.
Again, it is surely absurd to make the happy man a solitary being: for no one would choose to have all conceivable good things on condition of being alone; for man is a social being, and by nature adapted to share his life with others. The happy man, then, must have this good, since he has whatever is naturally good for man. But it is obvious that it is better to live with friends and good people, than with strangers and casual persons. The happy man, then, must have friends.
What, then, do those who maintain the former opinion mean? and in what sense are they right? Is it that the generality of men think that friends means useful people? Friends in this sense certainly the happy or blessed man will not need, as he already has whatever is good. And, again, he will have no need, or but little need, of the friendship that is based on pleasure; for his life is pleasant and does not require adventitious pleasure. Because he does not need these kind of friends then, people come to think he does not need friends at all.
But I think we may say that this opinion is not true. For we said at the outset that happiness is a certain exercise of our faculties; but the exercise of our faculties plainly comes to be in time, and is not like a piece of property acquired once for all. But if happiness consists in living and exercising our faculties; and if the exercise of the good man’s faculties is good and pleasant in itself, as we said at the outset; and if the sense that a thing belongs to us is also a source of pleasure, but it is easier to contemplate others than ourselves, and others’ acts than our own—then the acts of the good men who are his friends are pleasant to the good man (for both the natural sources of pleasure are united in them). The happy or blessed man, therefore, will need such friends, since he desires to contemplate acts that are good and belong to him, and such are the acts of a good man who is his friend.
Again, it is thought that the happy man’s life must be pleasant. Now, if he is solitary, life is hard for him; for it is very difficult to be continuously active by one’s self, but not so difficult along with Peters1893: IX. 9, 6others, and in relation to others. With friends, then, the exercise of his faculties will be more continuous, being pleasant in itself. And this is what ought to be the case with the blessed man; for the good man, as such, delights in acts of virtue and is vexed by acts of vice, just as a musician is pleased by good music and pained by bad.
Again, he would get a sort of practice in virtue by living with good men, as Theognis says.
But if we look a little deeper into the nature of things, a good friend appears to be naturally desirable to the good man:—
What is naturally good, we have already said, is good and pleasant in itself to the good man.
Now, life is defined in the case of animals by the power of feeling, in the case of man by the power of feeling or thought: but the power involves reference to its exercise; and it is in this exercise that the reality lies: life, then, in its reality, seems to be feeling or thinking.
Life, again, is one of the things that are good and pleasant in themselves; for it is determinate or formed, and the determinate or formed is of the nature of the good; but that which is naturally [or in itself] good is good to the good man. (And hence life Peters1893: IX. 9, 8seems to be pleasant to all men. But by life we must not understand a bad or corrupt life, or a life of pain; for such a life is formless, as are all its constituents. We shall endeavour, presently, to throw some light on the nature of pain.)
Life itself, then, is good and pleasant (as appears also from the fact that all desire it, and especially the good and the blessed; for life is most desirable to them, and their life is the most blessed).
But he who sees feels that he sees, and he who hears feels that he hears, and he who walks feels that he walks; and similarly, whatever else we do, there is something that perceives that we are putting forth power, so that whether we feel or think, we must be conscious of feeling or thinking.
But to be conscious of feeling or thinking is to be conscious of existence; for our existence, we found, is feeling or thinking.
But consciousness of life is a thing that is pleasant in itself; for life is naturally good, and to be conscious of the presence of a good thing is pleasant.
Life, then, is desirable, and most of all desirable to the good man, because his existence is good to him, and pleasant; for he is pleased by the consciousness of that which is good in itself.
But the good man stands in the same relation to his friend as to himself, for his friend is another self: just as his own existence, then, is desirable to each, so, or nearly so, is his friend’s existence desirable.
But existence, we found, is desirable because of the consciousness that one’s self is good, such a consciousness being pleasant in itself.
The good man, then, should be conscious of the existence of his friend also, and this consciousness will be given by living with him and by rational converse with him (for this would seem to be the proper meaning of living together, when applied to man, and not merely feeding in the same place, which it means when applied to beasts).
Putting all this together, then, if his own existence is desirable in itself to the good man, being naturally good and pleasant, and if his friend’s existence is also desirable to him in nearly the same way, it follows that a friend is a desirable thing for him. But that which is desirable for him he ought to have, or in that respect he will be incomplete. Our conclusion, therefore, is that he who is to be happy must have good friends.