The Philosophy of Friendship
“It is not in human nature to be indifferent to political power; and if the price men have to pay for it is the sacrifice of friendship, they think their treason will be thrown into the shade by the magnitude of the reward. A man, then, who has shown a firm, unshaken, and unvarying friendship…we must reckon as one of a class the rarest in the world, and all but superhuman.”
– Cicero, De Amicitia, Ch. 17
“God is supremely lovable in Himself, in as much as He is the object of happiness. But He is not supremely lovable to us in this way, on account of the inclination of our appetite towards visible goods. Hence it is evident that for us to love God above all things in this way, it is necessary that charity be infused into our hearts.”
– St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II Q. 24 A. 2.
While today the vague term “friendship” has been largely relegated to the confines of positive psychology, it was once a weighty subject considered by the most incisive and influential minds in history. Before sociologists invented the study of “interpersonal relations” and business gurus contrived the skill of “networking,” philosophers pondered the intrinsic significance of having friends. Aristotle, Cicero, and Saint Thomas Aquinas, for example, contemplated how friendships can exist to make life more pleasant, sometimes to serve our interests, and, most importantly, to nurture the soul. Even in our everyday lives, we can sense that friendship is more than a product of similar interests or common opinions. There is something special about our best friends, and our desire to find such trusting relationships is rooted in the profoundly social nature of the soul. Our real friends are sometimes those who provide the least material advantage to us; indeed, their fidelity and moral like-mindedness can produce the most enduring and satisfying friendships.
Our attitude towards friendship affects the culture and political environment in which we live-how do we choose our friends? Do we keep them for long? How loyal are we to them? These are all questions that ultimately shape our views regarding the aims of our public and private lives. Are we alone together, living for ourselves while building transient networks of contacts that can help us, quid pro quo, to get where we want to be as individuals? Or is there something inherently valuable about a friendship that makes a social life worth living for its own sake?
Aristotle, Cicero, and Aquinas meditate on such queries, and each proffers his own unique answer. The following essay provides an analysis of each thinker’s views on friendship, and how these theories on friendship have evolved. We will move from an examination of the concord in Aristotle, to the potentially insidious common friendship in Cicero, culminating in a discussion of the supreme friendship of caritas in Aquinas. My aim is not to treat exhaustively the issue of friendship, but to demonstrate the moral seriousness of discussing friendship, and how pursuing friends in virtue and infusing our friendships with caritas can profoundly affect political life.
Let us begin with Aristotle, who devoted more time on friendship in his Nicomachean Ethics than any other subject, and clearly influenced both Cicero and St. Thomas.
Aristotle and the Establishment of Friendship Through Justice
Aristotle extols the great value of friendship in society, arguing that it is “especially necessary for living” (1155a4-17) and is “the greatest of external goods” (1169b8-10). However, to facilitate our discussion of friendship in politics, we should recognize that Aristotle differentiates between “perfect friendship” founded on virtue (1156b8-9), and relatively inferior forms of friendship that more commonly exist. The latter include friendship for the sake of pleasure and friendship for the sake of utility (1157a30-1157b5). The objects of these types of friendship do not exactly involve the other individual, but rather the “incidental” (1156a10-19) pleasure or utility that that person can offer. This contrasts with the object of true friendship, which is loving the other person for “what he is” (1156a10-19); it is for the sake of his or her virtue (1157a30-1157b5). Therefore, utilitarian and pleasuring friendships are not friendships in an “absolute sense” (1157a30-1157b5). Yet they are still friendships for Aristotle because they “resemble” true friendship (1157a30-1157b5). As in the case of virtuous friendship, each party seeks what it believes to be a “good” from the other person. In addition, true friendship also possesses both utility and pleasure although they are derived from virtue in its case (1158b4-11).
These various forms of friendship manifest themselves in dramatically different ways, and each consequently has a unique effect on politics. We ought to focus first on utilitarian friendships, which most pertain to the daily operation of the state. According to Aristotle, friendships for utility exist between those who “seek what is to their advantage” (1156a26-30), and when the advantage ceases, so does the friendship. This makes utilitarian friendships capable of change and rapid disintegration. Such friendships are not destined to last long and are sometimes “easily dissolved’ (1156a19-24) because one does not have an infinite ability to offer one’s usefulness. Since the personal element is not a fixture of this friendship, companionship and even “agreeability” can be extracted from the relationship (1156a26-30). There is something distinctly callous about this form of friendship, since it does not require treating our fellow men with kindness, as long as mutual advantage is ensured. Indeed, utilitarian friendships do not require the virtue of amiability.
Despite its shortcomings, utilitarian friendship has much to offer politics. A political alliance between states, for example, is a fundamental part of international relations (1157a20-30). Politicians often ally to exchange votes, as well. For instance, a representative from Idaho might receive a yea vote for a potato farming subsidy from a California congressman who would receive a vote for his coastal environment bill in return. Such friendships may exist for a very brief time period, and can have little to do with a personal relationship. Friendliness between the congressmen may increase the likelihood of an alliance, but it is not necessary. If the California representative had to pass the environment bill for his constituents, and it required the Idaho congressman’s vote, the man from California would proffer a friendship of utility. The lack of a requirement for amiability allows for a utilitarian friendship between good and bad men (1157a16-20) who might not otherwise get along. Indeed, the object of the strictly useful relationship has little to do with the individuals themselves.
Political friendships for utility are not only possible between exchange-seekers, but they also exist between those who have an agreement of interests. In Aristotle’s theory, this is called concord (1167a26-29), which is an especially political classification of friendship. He says that the “citizens of a state are in concord when they agree on what is useful and vote for the same measures, and work together to achieve them” (1167a26-29). All of Aristotle’s examples of concord pertain to politics, such as the agreement of citizens that “public officials should be elected, or that they should become allies of the Spartans” (1167a29-1167b2). These cases do not regard the personal virtue of the Spartan leaders, and it is unclear how there is any personal involvement in the concord of support for popular election. Evidently, the utilitarian, political friendship of concord can still retain an impersonal character.
Even in the first chapter of Book VIII, Aristotle mentions the political significance of concord in one of the most important passages on friendship and politics in the Ethics. He argues that “states, it seems, are maintained by friendship; and legislators are more zealous about it than about justice” (1155a22-26). However, the friendship to which Aristotle is referring in the passage is not the perfect friendship of virtue (which is strikingly rare (1156b24-25)). Instead, it is concord, which can be encouraged and spread throughout the polity. He further confirms that “legislators most of all wish to encourage concord and to expel discord as an enemy of the state” (1155a22-26). Thus, concord is an important form of friendship that facilitates the operation of politics and “maintains” the polity.
Aristotle’s statement, cited earlier, about friendship’s relationship to justice is somewhat surprising, since friendship seems too personal a matter for a public government to support more strongly than justice. Yet as we have seen, concord and utilitarian friendship do not require a harmony of personal qualities or pleasantness, as virtuous friendship does (1157b33-1158a1). The state would simply be encouraging individuals to compromise and agree on matters useful to their existence. It is important to note that after abstracting friendship from personal considerations, Aristotle brings friendship under the purview of politics. We see this in the examples of utilitarian friendships of exchange (state alliances, political deals) and through concord-neither type needs companionship or even amiability. It is worth mentioning that if men sustained the non-essential virtue of amiability in utilitarian friendships, vicious discord would be less likely to emerge. A prior habit of agreeableness would be averse to great contention. In this manner, friendliness can assist politics. However, political matters alone do not appear to promote a lofty sort of friendship.
According to Aristotle, friendship requires politics because it cannot arise without the prior foundation of justice. At the beginning of his treatise on friendship, Aristotle directly addresses the relationship of justice to friendship. He argues that “if people are friends there is no need of justice” (1155a26-28). This indicates that justice precedes friendship- as long as friendship exists, justice does as well. This explains Aristotle’s next statement, in which he observes that “what is just seems to be especially favorable to friendship” (1155a26-28). Later in Book VIII Aristotle reinforces the argument that friendship is founded upon justice. He states that “to ask how…friends in general…ought to live together is the same as to ask how they ought to be just” (1162a29-33). Justice sustains friendship by advising the ways in which it is practiced. So in order to have friends, we must understand justice and how to establish it; otherwise, besides our emotions, we will not have a guide to how we should act as a friend. Therefore, justice is a prerequisite of friendship. This is why friendship cannot exist in tyrannies-“where there is little justice, so there is little friendship” (1161a30-31). Insofar as politics helps to establish justice, politics makes friendship (even the virtuous sort) possible.
Yet Aristotle still insists that justice alone is not enough to satisfy the needs of mankind. Indeed, “just men need friendship” (1155a26-28), which is the “greatest of external goods” (1169b8-10). Even men who are completely content with their virtue still require a friend. This need appears to derive from the social nature of mankind (1169b16-22), and the urge to share one’s “goods of fortune” with one’s friends (1155a4-17). This sort of friendship goes further than the mere need for justice in any friendship-it is for the sake of the virtue in each person and involves friendliness and mutual affection. This most excellent friendship may originate through justice, but it moves beyond politics in its existence. Aristotle also argues that the virtuous want to learn from other virtuous men to further perfect their own virtue (1169b28-1170a4). Aristotle applauds the value of a community of good men who can together satisfy the need for social interaction, virtue, justice, and friendship.
This is a way in which Aristotle’s “perfect friendship” can influence the polity. Virtuous individuals can congregate to improve one another’s virtue and this will not only provide for a more united virtuous state, but it will facilitate friendship. It certainly does not mean that each man will be friends with every other man or that they will hold things in common. Indeed, those “who have a host of friends… seem to be real friends of no one” (1171a13-17). But it means that more men of virtue will attain the greatest of goods, contributing to their happiness. This community of virtue and friendship acts as a model for the rest of society that observes the acquisition of such happiness and looks to have it for itself through virtue.
For our later comparison with Aquinas, we should note that Aristotle imposes a condition that even the most virtuous of men in this community cannot be friends with God. This is because friendship ought to be founded on a “kind of equality” (1157b33-1158a1). Although this equality can be proportional, friends cannot be so separated in virtue that they have little in common and do not come to love each other because one significantly lacks virtue (11589a33-36). Aristotle believes that man’s separation from God is too excessive for any friendship to exist between them-the gods “greatly exceed men in good things” (1158a36-1159a3). Even if men wanted to be friends with God, they would not even expect to do so; God would not want to be friends with them due to their “great difference in virtue” (1158a36-1159a3).
As a result of this analysis, we can see that Aristotle closely entwines the spread of justice with the acquisition of an even more important good: friendship. He considers common friendships, such as concord or utilitarian friendships, to be highly beneficial for the maintenance of the polity. However, they lack a standard of intimacy, as friendliness is not even required for political friendships. Nevertheless, amiability can contribute to more lasting concord and civic friendship. The ideal for Aristotle is virtuous friendship, which involves forces that transcend politics and justice, such as mutual affection. Aristotle also suggests that the virtuous learn from other virtuous men and perfect their own virtue by their friend’s example. Such a community of virtue can have a highly beneficial effect on the polity.
Cicero and The Problem of Politics for Friendship
In De Amicitia, Cicero describes two primary types of friendship-“common friendship,” and “true and complete friendship” (De Amicitia 6). Cicero begins his treatise by discussing true friendship, which he defines as between “good men” (5) who are in “complete accord on all subjects human and divine, joined with mutual good will and affection” (6). This sort of harmony of interests may remind us of Aristotle’s concord, although for Cicero true friendship is a concord of virtue; it is not an agreement on a political agenda. Cicero comments on the importance of virtue, saying that without it, “friendship is impossible” (27). Thus, true friendship is similar to Aristotle’s description of perfect friendship, which exists between virtuous equals.
This complete friendship is extremely rare and is sparked by a “natural impulse,” or an “inclination of the heart combined with a certain instinctive feeling of love” (8). This appears to be a more powerful version of Aristotle’s “goodwill,” which he considers to be the “beginning of friendship,” although not friendship itself (1167a3-12). The natural inclination does not derive from a utilitarian calculation about the goods which one can receive from one’s friend. Indeed, the hidden gift of friendship is that if one does not desire the innumerable benefits accrued through friendship, and simply loves the friend for his own sake, he will attain the greatest good in the friendship itself and in its incidental advantages. Like Aristotle, Cicero observes that friendships founded on utility do not last long, since the end of that benefit would dissolve them.
Cicero makes no mention of justice in the initial formation of true friendship. It is more of a “natural” tie of virtue between two individuals that is mutually recognized. However, Cicero introduces a “preliminary trial” (17) stage in the formation of a friendship. While friendship originates with a natural impulse, it must be sealed by judging the virtue in one’s friend. This judgment is obtained by testing a friend’s “firmness, stability, and constancy” (17) of virtue. While we may see virtue in them, it may not last for very long and so we must establish a “tentative friendship” (17). It seems almost contradictory that Cicero states later in De Amicitia that we “must satisfy [our] judgment before engaging [our] affections” (22). What happened to the natural ties of affection that create friendships? Cicero stipulates that while the natural impulse should begin a friendship, we can only fully commit our affection and become friends when the trial period is complete. It is important to note that this stage is not meant to be a calculation of virtue in the other person. It is instead a confirmation of virtue. This means that in the natural impulse stage we can instinctively love at least some virtues in another person. Cicero beautifully describes this process: “when Virtue has reared her head and shown the light of her countenance, and seen and recognized the same light in another, she gravitates towards it, and in turn welcomes that which the other has to show” (27). Again, despite some striking similarities in De Amicitia to Aristotle’s Ethics, justice is not first calculated to determine what is due to a friend. We are instead intuitively drawn to the light of virtue in another person, without politics.
Although politics is not necessary for Cicero’s friendship, as it is in Aristotle’s theory, it still provides a useful test of virtue in the confirmation stage of friendship. Indeed, the effects of politics at least in part provoke Cicero’s doubts about complete friendship. He observes that “true and complete friendship… [has] existed between a select few who are known to fame” (6) and that “in all history there are scarcely three or four pairs of friends on record” (4). The greatest temptation to disintegrate a friendship is likely responsible for the rarity of true friendship: the desire for political office. Cicero recognizes the deep hunger for power that lies within each individual:
It is not in human nature to be indifferent to political power; and if the price men have to pay for it is the sacrifice of friendship, they think their treason will be thrown into the shade by the magnitude of the reward. This is why true friendship is very difficult to find among those who engage in politics and the contest for office (17).
Cicero mentions earlier that men undergo a transformation upon entry to political office-they “despise their old friends: devote themselves to new” (15). Friendships disappear and new ones are made for the sake of the advantage they give the politician. Party politics, to take another example, produces an “alienation of feeling” and tends to break down friendship (21). In the “best men” the most “fatal blow to friendship… was a rivalry for office and reputation” (10). Politics simply tends to produce animosity between individuals. The rarity of those who can avoid this is evident in Cicero’s question: “where can you find the man to prefer his friend’s advancement to his own?” (17). A person who can do so is “one of a class the rarest in the world, and all but superhuman” (17). Clearly Cicero does not consider politics to facilitate friendship; instead, it tends to ruin them.
Even some of the friendships that exist in politics are harmful to the state. These sort of friendships fall under the heading of “common friendship,” which can be a source of “pleasure and profit” (6). They are not founded on virtue, as this classification is similar to a combination of Aristotle’s types of friendship for utility and pleasure. Indeed, as in Aristotle’s description of utilitarian friendship, bad men can be commonplace friends (12). Good men can certainly participate in “ordinary friendships” (21), but politics threatens the stability of them, as well. Common friendship is not sustainable and can even come to harm the polity. Indeed, friends are necessary in order for conspiracies or any other wicked scheme to be put in motion (12). In this sense, friendship in the form of collusion can be a vehicle of evil that brings down the republic.
This analysis illustrates the importance of true friendship, which is founded beyond politics and through virtue. If a virtuous friendship is to survive, it must be superior to the deleterious effects of politics and so strong in its virtuous foundations that no quest for power can destroy it. In other words, the finest form of friendship must reside independent of political forces, and remain free from its vicissitudes. Of course, virtuous friends can still engage in the affairs of the state and impress their union of virtue upon the polity. They can also act as a guiding example of virtue for others. But politics does not produce this friendship, virtue does.
Cicero is clear that friendship is consequent to virtue. He mentions this several times, including twice in his conclusion: “it is virtue, virtue, which both creates and preserves friendship…Make up your minds to this: Virtue (without which friendship is impossible) is first; but next to it, and to it alone, the greatest of all things is Friendship” (27). The failure of virtue allows politics to corrupt friendships. Virtue is not vibrant enough when conspiracies are able to doom the life of the republic. When virtue survives, friendship survives. The virtuous respond so well to seeing virtue in one another that according to Cicero they are naturally attracted. Thus virtue is the last best hope for mankind in politics, and in Cicero’s words, “next to it, and to it alone,” is friendship.
Aquinas and Caritas: The Answer to Cicero and Aristotle
Aquinas develops three primary types of friendship in his theory-affabilitas, virtuous friendship, and caritas. Virtuous friendship receives a conspicuously scant treatment in Aquinas’ writing, especially if we compare it to the treatises of Aristotle and Cicero. This is likely due to Aquinas’ discovery of the even greater friendship of man for God. Unlike any other form of friendship, charity acts as a central influence upon friendship, politics, and virtue.
In Cicero’s estimation, the predicaments of politics made virtuous friendship extremely tenuous and rare. We concluded in our analysis of De Amicitia that for such true friendship to exist, the virtue established between friends must transcend politics in order to be insusceptible to its temptations. But Cicero does give us an example of such transcendent virtue, he merely encourages “firmness, stability, constancy” of virtue in general (17). His comment that true friendship can only survive if friends are “all but superhuman” appears to be an admission that he cannot provide the complete formula for maintaining true friendship. This need for an “almost divine” friend appears to presage Aquinas’ caritas as a solution for the fragility of friendship. Indeed, caritas is distinctly above politics in its origin, as it is a “friendship of man for God” (23.1). This powerful relationship unites us to His happiness (23.1, 23.3) and is the most excellent of all the virtues (23.6). As we will discover, caritas provides the missing element of Cicero’s virtuous friendship.
Through addressing Cicero’s concerns with caritas, Aquinas also solves one of Aristotle’s prevailing uncertainties. As James V. Schall argues, Aristotle was unsatisfied with the conclusion that gods cannot have friends. Schall explains that “if friendship is in fact the highest perfection of the rational creature, then it makes the First Mover something less exalted if it cannot have this perfection” (Schall 1989). He observes that Aristotle leaves “the question unresolved, thinking the problem insoluble” (Schall 1989). But Aquinas enables the friendship of man for God with the Thomistic conception of grace. Aquinas agrees with Aristotle that friendship with God “surpasses our natural faculties” (24.2) as humans. Indeed, men possess a natural limitation on their ability to love God “on account of the inclination of our appetite towards visible goods” (24.2). This is not due to our “perfect nature” as created by God, but “corrupted nature,” by which man tends to follow his “private good” rather than to love God (I-II 109.3). Aquinas maintains his consistency with Aristotle’s reasoning about our natural capacity: “it is evident that the act of charity surpasses the nature of the power of the will” (II-II 23.2). However, Christian theology gives us an opportunity to become friends with God. Thomas argues that a power “superadded to the natural power” is necessary for friendship (23.2). This additional force must derive from God because caritas brings us to the everlasting happiness that only God can give us. It is an “infinite effect” (23.2) and so must come from an infinite power. This is why Aquinas calls Him the “author of charity” (23.2).
The force that is “superadded” to our nature to give us caritas is the grace of God by the “infusion of the Holy Ghost” (24.2). Such an infusion is a “gratuitous gift” (24.2) from God, and so charity depends on the “will of the Holy Ghost” (24.3). However, the Holy Ghost is not able to simply make us love God (23.2). Charity is a voluntary action, which is partly what makes it so “meritorious” (23.2). We must choose caritas out of our own desire to love God. Thus, caritas requires the deliberate exercise of one’s will in conjunction with the infusion of the Holy Ghost to perfect the nature of one’s love for God.
Before discussing its relation to virtuous friendship, we should identify how the virtues relate to caritas. Aquinas considers charity itself to be “more excellent than all the other virtues” (23.6). It is even superior to faith and hope, which aim to receive something from God, rather than to actually “rest in Him” (23.6). Caritas gives us the “ultimate and principal good for man” (23.7)-the goodness of God and everlasting happiness (23.6). Since “virtue is ordered to the good,” for a virtue to be “true” it must be ordered to a “true” good, such as the “welfare of the state” (23.8). But even a “true virtue,” considered for only earthly objectives, is “imperfect” as it is not “referred to the final and perfect good” that is charity (23.8). This is the reason Aquinas calls caritas the form and the end of other virtues- it “directs all other virtues to its own end” (II-II 23.8). Thus the virtues become manifestations of the pursuit of charity, since they are directed to caritas.
Consequently, caritas is crucial for the pursuit of virtuous friendship. Unless one desires a friendship founded on “imperfect” virtue, one should have a friendship for God and order one’s virtues to that ultimate good. Virtues are indeed “informed” by caritas and “draw their sustenance and nourishment” from it (23.8). Therefore, a virtuous friendship is nurtured and strengthened by caritas, the greatest virtue that perfects all other virtues. Even justice must be considered with caritas as an end for it to be “true justice” (23.7). Thus virtuous friendship ought to be infused with caritas to bring it closer to “true” friendship.
Aquinas implicitly demonstrates this connection between virtuous friendship and caritas. In fact, he analogizes what was once perceived as the greatest friendship (by Aristotle and Cicero) to man’s friendship for God (23.1). He writes that friendship must be founded on a communication between the two friends. Since there is a communication between God and man, “inasmuch as he communicates His happiness to us,” we can be friends with God (23.1). The mere association of virtuous friendship with caritas implies Aquinas’ esteem for earthly friendship in virtue. Aquinas also analogizes the scope of both forms of friendship. He argues that just as someone ought to love all those belonging to his friend (23.1), that person also should love all those belonging to God, which is a feature of caritas. Perhaps these analogies demonstrate Aquinas’ understanding that the virtue of caritas already lies within that “perfect friendship” (114.1) between humans.
In turn, caritas endows a great benefit upon friendship, strengthening its bonds with the infusion of the Holy Spirit. As we have seen, corrupted nature gives man an “appetite towards visible goods” (24.2) and private interest (I-II 109.3). Cicero recognized that this problem was prevalent in politics and found no specific remedy to mend the friendships dissolved by it. But Aquinas provides the solution in caritas. The grace that enables the friendship of man for God “cures” the desire for private advantage (109.3). And when such caritas is “infused into our hearts,” our corrupted proclivity for visible goods fades away (II-II 24.2). When we experience the greatest good for man in the enjoyment of God we are not so desperate as to abandon it for inferior earthly gains. Charity perpetuates itself. Once we have it, out of our love for God we want others to have charity as well and experience a love and friendship for God (25.1-2). As long one still has caritas, it is difficult for a friendship to end. Thus, caritas purifies the virtue in virtuous friendship, and disables the political temptations that can provoke its destruction.
Caritas not only maintains friendships, but it also helps create them. Indeed, our love for God can manifest itself in our love for our neighbors, even sinners (25.1), who we love for God’s sake (23.2). In a significant change, Aquinas extends Aristotle’s definition of virtuous friendship to include all those who “belong” to our virtuous friend (23.1). This network of friendship was not a part of Cicero’s or Aristotle’s theory. It is apparently an effect of caritas’ example on our earthly relations. If we view our fellow-men, who “belong to God” (23.1) as friends for the sake of our friendship with God, we should love our personal friends’ associates, as well. It would be highly beneficial for society’s cultivation of virtuous friendship if men have this mentality. It not only spreads virtue in the polity, but it also increases the concentration of happiness as friendship proliferates.
Caritas also has a positive effect on the development of affabilitas. Indeed, the love for fellow-men is a reason for the friendliness exhibited in affability (114.2). Thomas credits Aristotle with the definition of “friendliness, which consists merely in outward words or deeds” (114.1). Aristotle in fact proposes a very similar version called “amiability,” which consists of “communicating with others in an amiable manner” (1126b28). Aristotle is careful to distinguish between actual friendship, which involves mutual love, and friendliness which can extend to those we do not love (1126b22-26). Aquinas, however, more closely associates friendliness with friendship because according to him “every man is naturally every man’s friend by a certain general love” (114.1). So friendliness is a manifestation of man’s love for fellow man. Here we see the effects of caritas on affability. The “general love” that produces friendliness is the love that comes from a friendship with God. Thus friendliness can be considered an outward expression of charity.
This caritas-influenced affability assists politics by promoting a pleasant environment that is conducive to enacting justice. It facilitates a stable order in society that is favorable to the transfer of goods to those who deserve them. Indeed, it is easier for someone to be sympathetic to giving a person his due if that person is already friendly towards him. Since friendliness is applicable to everyone, it also coordinates with justice’s objective of establishing equality amongst everyone (58.2). Thus, friendliness is advantageous for politics, in that politics pursues justice.
But in what way does politics promote friendship? In chapter seven of Book VIII of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle compares the order of equality and excellence in justice and friendship (1158a29-33). Aquinas builds on this analysis in his Commentary on the Ethics by proposing a specific relationship between justice and friendship-justice makes friendship possible. Unlike friendliness, virtuous friendship cannot exist between “widely separated persons” (CE 1632). As a result, equality, namely of virtue, is the first condition necessary for friendship (CE 1631). How can we realize this equality so we can have friendship? Thomas’ answer is through justice. Indeed, friendship must “use an equality already uniformly established… When equality exists the work of justice is done” (CE 1632). Thus, in the tradition of Aristotle, Aquinas explicitly argues that justice promotes equality, facilitating friendship between equals. This is why Thomas writes: “equality is the goal of justice and starting point of friendship” (CE 1632). Thomas also states that “political science” pertains to the justice necessary for friendship (CE 1725). Even friendliness can be assisted by justice so that we know when friendliness is due. Indeed, Thomas mentions that there are situations when it is “necessary to displease [someone] for some good purpose” (114.2). Furthermore, friendliness should not be applied equally to all people, but to “all in a fitting manner” (114.2). Justice is able to determine what is “fitting.” As mentioned above, we should acknowledge that for this justice to be “true justice,” it must be for the end of caritas. In contrast to Cicero, Aquinas observes that politics exerts a nurturing influence on both friendship and friendliness.
Thus, Aquinas addresses the uncertainties of Aristotle and Cicero with caritas, which not only becomes the most important form of friendship, but also a central inspiration for all forms of friendship and virtue. According to Aquinas, politics helps establish friendship and friendship improves politics. This relationship is propelled by the friendship of man for God. Caritas is the end of true justice, and justice allows friendship to exist. In this manner, charity ultimately enables friendship. The friendship of caritas also directly affects the state by inspiring true justice. Charity arouses affabilitas’ “general love,” which facilitates justice and the beginning of true friendship. Through friendliness, charity indirectly promotes friendship and justice. Furthermore, caritas is the end of true virtue which comprises virtuous friendship. Charity solidifies and protects virtuous friendship by tempering the insidious political forces that Cicero describes. And by suppressing the temptations of political affairs and promoting true virtue, charity directly ameliorates politics itself.
Our friendship with God originates above politics and is a central force that sustains and elevates the best pursuits of virtue, friendship, and politics. Most importantly, caritas gives us eternal happiness so that we rest in God, which is the greatest good we could ever receive.
Jordan D. Teti ’08, Editor-in-Chief, is a Government concentrator in Kirkland House.