The following paper will explain how friendship and virtue are two elements of the good life for human beings. First, it will discuss Aristotle and Augustine’s perspectives on friendship and then will discuss Plato, Confucius, and Seneca’s perspectives on virtue. Aristotle describes three kinds of friendships and I think Augustine would agree with him based on his experience with his teenage friends who pulled him away from God. While Socrates argues that virtue is something we get from God, Confucius would say that there are six essential virtues, including ren. Even though Seneca does not define virtue in the book, I think he would say that virtue helps people to spend their lives wisely. I believe that these two elements are sufficient for me to have a good life even during difficult times.
I think Aristotle believes that friendship is essential to the good life. He described three kinds of friendships. First, there are friendships based on mutual utility, which are the kind of friendship that tends to be short and easily dissolved when the needs of one or both parties change. Second, there are friendships based on mutual pleasure, which are most common in general social relationships and among the young. They are easily dissolved and happen when two people are friends because they can be useful to each other in some way. Third, there are friendships between good men of similar virtue, which are the most perfect and stable kind of friendship. This kind of friendship is different because intimacy is required as well as mutual respect. Aristotle said, “Now those who wish well to their friends for their sake are most truly friends; for they do this by reason of their own nature and not incidentally; therefore their friendship lasts as long as they are good and goodness is an enduring thing” (1156b, 10, 8.3). In other words, Aristotle says that friendship of virtue is specifically the kind of friendship for the good life since these friends would love each other for their own sake and they wish the best for each other.
In Book Two of Confessions, Augustine talked about the role of friendship when he entered what he considered the most sinful period of his life, in which he was wild and fell out of favor in God’s sight. For example, he described the time he stole pears with his friends from a store and he argued that it came out of no personal desire. He blamed peer pressure for his actions and claimed that “friendship can be a dangerous enemy, a seduction of the mind lying beyond the reach of investigation” (34). In other words, Augustine explained that he would not have committed the crime of stealing the pears if his friends were not around. For Augustine, the supreme good is when he “enters into the joy of the Lord” and good friends play an essential role in preparing him for the perfect relationship with God (34). While friendship can lead us to the supreme good through God, being friends with the wrong people can take us away from God. I agree with Augustine that friends can encourage us to do things that we should not do but we also have the choice to act. I believe that friendship can be an element of a good life when we have good friends who respect us; consequently, Augustine would agree with Aristotle that friendship based on virtues, which lasts long, is the perfect friendship to have a good life.
In Plato’s book “Meno,” Socrates argues that virtue is wisdom that is a result of a true belief and in the end, he concludes that virtue is neither something innate nor can be taught. However, it is related to the gods. He said, “…neither innate nor earned. It is something that comes to those who possess it as a free gift from the gods- with understanding not included” (35). I agree with Socrates that for religious people, virtue is something we get from God who is seen as the most perfect for them. However, I think nonreligious people would disagree with him and say that virtue is a state of moral excellence that people can achieve by being good to others and living according to high moral standards. I think that humans are sinful and they can never be virtuous. However, humans know what it means to be virtuous and try to become virtuous by doing good to others.
On the other hand, Confucius argues that virtue is important to guide people throughout the world and that there are six essential virtues, including ren. The concept of ren is based on sacrifices, selflessness, empowerment, and royalty. For example, in Book Six Chapter Twenty-Two, Confucius said, “people who are ren are first to shoulder difficulties and last to reap towards. This may be called ren” (Confucius). In other words, ren is when people do not expect anything in return, so people are not sacrificing for material gain but as a requirement to what a person should do. Also, ren is when people gain the power to help others achieve their success in life. In Book Six Chapter Thirty, Confucius said, “…wishing himself to have access to the powerful, archives access for others. To be able to proceed by analyzing form what lies nearest by, that may be termed the formula ren.” Finally, Confucius explains that ren is when people treat their guests like royalty and honor them. If people are treated badly that does not mean that they should treat others badly as well. In Book Twelve Chapter Two, Confucius said, “…do so though officiating at a great ritual sacrifice. Do not do to others what you would not wish done to you.” I do agree with Confucius that these are some of the values that can make us virtuous and I do agree with him that being virtuous requires a person to have several good values rather than one.
Even though Seneca does not directly talk about virtue in the book On the Shortness of Life, I think he would say that virtue allows us to distinguish between people who are truly living along virtuous life compared to people who think they are living a short life. People are not virtuous when they focus on achievement and ambition but when they realize that time is limited and spend their time wisely. For example, Seneca explains that people who make time within their leisure for philosophy are those who are truly alive but those who place too much value in the external goods, such as appearance, drinking, and luxury are called “preoccupied” and think that life is short (17). I agree with Seneca that reading philosophy is wise since philosophy can provide people with knowledge of logic that can help them to improve their critical thinking, which may lead them to do virtuous acts, such as caring, courageous, and generous. Again, based on this chapter, I think Seneca would argue that being virtuous means living life wisely by reading philosophy and investing in virtuous practices.
Overall, I think that friendship is essential to have a good life because we are social beings and need friends so we can share our thoughts with them and learn from their experiences. For example, every morning, I like to have breakfast with my roommates before I head to class. They make me laugh and I get their advice through sharing my thoughts. I agree that having friends who respect and support me will make me happy even during the difficult times. As a Christian, I agree with Socrates that virtue is a gift from God because God is the most perfect. For example, reading the scripture and learning about Jesus reminds me about the virtues, such as taking care of my parents and helping the poor. Also, I think ren can guide people by using their skills and wealth for good, like donating to charities. Life does not feel short if we are making the best of it. I think friendship and virtue are not the only elements of a good life but are sufficient.
Aristotle, and Terence Irwin. Nicomachean Ethics. Hackett Pub. Co., 1999.
Augustine. St. Augustine Confessions. Classic Books America, 2009.
Confucius. Analects of Confucius. 2015.
Plato. Plato – Five Dialogues: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Meno, Phaedo. LG Classics,
Seneca, Lucius Annaeus. On the Shortness of Life. Benediction Classics, 2018.