Maggie: You have talked a lot about friendship, but do we really need friends to be happy?
John: Yes, I think so. We are, after all, naturally political animals, which means we naturally seek relationships with other people.
As political beings, friends are important for three reasons: (i) friends are our greatest external good; (ii) friends give us an opportunity to express good character; and, (iii) friendships form the foundation of a good society. Let me see if I can explain this more clearly.
(i) Greatest external good: To be happy, we need some external goods. Not a lot, but some. For example, we need food to eat, clothes to keep us warm, and a place to sleep at night. We do not need expensive food or fancy clothes or a large house with a swimming pool, but we do need some minimal level of these and other goods.
The greatest external good that we need, however, is friendship. Friends are another self and supply what our own efforts cannot supply. For example, friends are a refuge for the temporarily poor, those down on their luck, or people experiencing hard times. Young people need friends to help keep them from error. Middle aged people need friends for companionship and to help them do good works. Some elderly folks need friends due to developing weaknesses.
To state it another way, in good fortune we need friends to benefit. In ill fortune we needs friends to benefit us. By having friends, our lives are much more pleasant, safe, and happy.
(ii) An outlet for the expression of virtue: Good character does not exist in isolation of acts that express that character. In other words, we only have a virtue to the extent that we exhibit that particular virtue in our actions. We need friends—including utility, pleasure, and complete friends—so that we can actively express our virtues.
For example, we need friends so that we can express generosity, by giving of our time and resources to those friends in need. We need friends to express kindness by conveying an encouraging word or sending an uplifting card. We need friends to express joy by making them laugh or providing them mirth; and, we need friends so we can express our love for them, simply because we love them. In short, we are happiest when expressing our virtues, and friendship helps us do so.
(iii) The foundation of strong families and stable societies: Friendship is not simply for the sake of individual friends, however. It has an even greater role than this to play. According to Aristotle, friendship forms the basis for and foundation of a strong marriage, a supportive family, and an excellent society.
If you recall our previous discussions, in a complete friendship you love your friend for her own sake, not for your own sake. And she, in return, loves you for your own sake. This reciprocal caring forms the basis for more than a complete friendship, but for a strong marriage relationship also. Indeed, while there are plenty of continuing relationships built upon utility or pleasure, the strongest marriages are those built upon a foundation of reciprocal caring and love.
Strong marriage relationships then form the foundation for supportive families: exhibiting selfless love to children; teaching mutual respect between partners; and, illustrating reciprocal caring for one-another. Supportive families then come together to form the foundation for strong and stable political entities, such as communities, cities and states. In short, marriages, families, and political entities built on complete friendship are the strongest and most excellent types of relationships, because their foundation is the good of the other person or persons in the relationship.
(iv) Conclusion: So yes, I do think we need friends. My hope for you is that in your time of need you will have friends to support you; and, more importantly, in their time of need, you will support them.