Do You Have True Friendships? Aristotle Thinks You Don't

Name your five closest friends, I’ll wait. Think of the people you can talk to about anything, the ones you’ve known for a while, the ones you can always call. Now, think of how many people on Facebook you can really say are anything like that group. We all still have a guy from high school on our Facebook that we don’t think about until his birthday.

Dunbar’s number, the supposed maximum number of meaningful social relationships you can have, is 150. The median Facebook user has a much higher number of friends than that, how many of them are really people you still know? How many of them are people who you would want to see for no other reason than that you enjoy their presence?

How many of your friends are really your “friends”? How can you know the difference? What is that difference?

In his ethical masterpiece The Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle turns his brilliant mind to the problem of what friendship actually is. Aristotle views the good life as requiring not only virtue, an internal good that you are largely responsible for; but also requiring external goods which facilitate virtue and are enjoyable in themselves. Such things include being Greek, male, well-off financially, educated, reasonably healthy, having decent luck, and having good friends. The question of what a friend is takes on a new importance for him...more