Posted by: Tony Carson | 26 July, 2007

Friends: you have three types

Tim Madigan ponders the mysteries of friendship, from Philosophy Now.

Aristotle categorizes three different types of friendship In Book VIII of his Nichomachean Ethics:
• friendships of utility
• friendships of pleasure
• friendships of the good

Friendships of utility are those where people are on cordial terms primarily because each person benefits from the other in some way. Business partnerships, relationships among co-workers, and classmate connections are examples.

Friendships of pleasure are those where individuals seek out each other’s company because of the joy it brings. Passionate love affairs, people associating with each other due to belonging to the same hobby organization, and fishing buddies fall into this category.

Most important of all are friendships of the good. These are friendships based upon mutual respect, admiration for each other’s virtues, and a strong desire to aid and assist the other person because one recognizes their essential goodness.

The first two types of friendship are relatively fragile. When the purpose for which the relationship is formed somehow changes, then these friendships tend to end. For instance, if the business partnership is dissolved, or if you take another job, or graduate from school, it is more than likely that no ties will be maintained with the former friend of utility. Likewise, once the love affair cools, or you take up a new hobby or give up fishing, the friends of pleasure will go their own ways.

However, friendships of the good tend to be lifelong, are often formed in childhood or adolescence, and will exist so long as the friends continue to remain virtuous in each other’s eyes.

To have more than a handful of such friends of the good, Aristotle states, is indeed a fortunate thing. Rare indeed are such friendships, for people of this kind are rare. Or as my mother used to say, “Make new friends but keep the old, for one is silver and the other is gold.”

Such friendships of the good require time and intimacy – to truly know people’s finest qualities you must have deep experiences with them, and close connections. “Many a friendship doth want of intercourse destroy,” Aristotle warns us.


  1. […] I recently learned about Aristotle’s 3 types of friends. I found it profoundly helpful in distinguishing the different types of friends that we have. Aristotle thought that there were three types of friendship: those of pleasure, those of usefulness, and true friendship. In friendships of pleasure, “it is not for their character that men love ready-witted people, but because they find them pleasant.” In the latter, “those who love each other for their utility do not love each other for themselves but in virtue of some good which they get from each other.” … What the rise of recent public rhetoric and practice has accomplished is to cast the first two in economic terms while forgetting about the third. source […]

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  8. […] Aristotle figured there were three kinds of friendships: […]

  9. […] Aristotle figured there were three kinds of friendships: […]

  10. […] Aristotle figured there were three kinds of friendships: […]

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