. 10
( 12)


to understand, a desire that prescribes an unrelenting exploration, the tracing of one™s
own path of inquiry and not the acquiescence to friends and teachers “ a desire that,
therefore, not only may but almost inevitably does lead to trajectories in tension with
each other, when not altogether incompatible. Yet these paths that may not agree and, at
the limit, not even intersect, are drawn in response to a shared, common compulsion.
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Theta to Kappa
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functional relationships, satisfaction of conventional requirements, and
ful¬llment of given roles “ beyond the highly codi¬ed civic-political inter-
In this way, the Aristotelian re¬‚ection cannot simply be interpreted
and expounded in terms of the historical/cultural context it re¬‚ects and
out of which it develops. Aristotle™s understanding of friendship cannot
be said purely to pertain to relationships between and among free male
adults or, more precisely, between and among citizens belonging to the
dominant class “ the only ones living a life of political engagement and
leisure. While, to be sure, in the context Aristotle lived in only free men,
emancipated from the strictures of necessity, would be in the position of
experiencing the bond of friendship in its accomplished sense, Aristo-
tle™s thinking is not merely delimited by such a framework. Irreducible
to the historically determined relational/communal shapes whose mark
it nevertheless bears, Aristotle™s thinking envisions friendship as the ter-
rain most conducive to human growth and development, as the relational
engagement above all and most fully promoting the unfolding of human
possibility and, hence, displaying the human being in its structural open-
ness, caught in the in(de)¬nite task of becoming toward the good. Far
from being a matter of self-identity or sameness, of identi¬cation with and
belonging in a certain class or clan, friendship, precisely in casting light
on the experience of excess, calls identity into question in its very possi-
bility, whether at the level of conceptual determinacy, categorial stability,
or socio-cultural taxonomy. Friendship rests on sameness (of desire) not
de¬ned in its whatness, on a sameness that cannot be resolved into con-
formity. It is in this perspective that Aristotle™s analysis remains alive and
vibrant, well beyond considerations of historiographic, archeological, or
antiquarian tenor.
Similarly, it should be pointed out that, in the reading here proposed,
friendship cannot be understood in terms of competition, as if it were a
matter of noble rivalry.7 Sharing the love of the good can by no means sig-
nify competing for the exclusive favors of a beloved, engaging in the ag¯n o
whose prize would be the conquest of the desired one to the detriment
of the other contender: the good, in the sense of living well and striving
toward self-realization, can hardly be a matter of scarcity and hence of
exclusion, of an attainment necessarily restricted to one or few. Rather,
the good names the task of excellent self-accomplishment that pertains

7 See Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Qu™est-ce que la philosophie? (Paris: Les editions de
Minuit, 1991), Introduction.
Perfection of Friendship 273

to each being in its becoming “ a task for which friendship provides elan
and inspiration. For friendship indicates encountering and interacting
with another, catching sight of the good in and as the other, being drawn
and open to the other in his or her openness to the good, and ¬nding
oneself in such an undergoing and attraction.

2.2. The First Friend
As was anticipated, in loving a friend one loves oneself. In this sense, Aris-
totle states that “being disposed toward a friend is like being disposed
to oneself (for a friend is another self)” (1166a31“2).8 This echoes the
Platonic intimations both in the Phaedrus and in the Republic. In accord
with oneself and harboring the love elicited by happiness (the love of
the good), as if over¬‚owing, one loves outside oneself, wishing the good
of another and actively pursuing it (1166a1“14). Indeed, because the
traits of such a bearing belong to “someone good [–pieike±] in relation
to him- or herself . . . friendship too seems to be some of these features,
and friends seem to be those who have them” (1166a30“3). Friendship is
thought to originate from one™s disposition toward oneself (1166a1“2),
and hence to re¬‚ect and resemble it: “the excess of friendship [Ëper-
bolŸ t¦v fil©av] is similar [¾moio“tai] to that [sentiment] toward oneself ”
Thus, being one™s own friend by no means signi¬es being a self-
enclosed harmony, but rather points to the harmonious movement of
a love that over¬‚ows, connects, and attunes. Again, friendship with one-
self hardly bespeaks self-identity: it rather indicates the love and pursuit of
that which exceeds. In turn, friendship with another cannot be reduced to
a process of appropriation assimilating the friend (the other) to struc-
tures of identity. The friend as “another self ” cannot signify that I bring
the other back to myself, but that I am toward the other and the other
pervades me ab origine ; that I am thus deprived of (self-)possession and
control; that alterity, not even anthropologically reducible, is constitutive
of me and I am always already late with respect to such constitution.
Experiencing oneself in such a relation to oneself that cannot be a
matter of self-possession or self-knowledge unquali¬ed, one is in the con-
dition of loving, outside oneself, those who are similarly harboring and
enacting the good “ those similarly living toward the good or longing for

8 Porphyry attributes to Pythagoras the view of the friend as an alter ego (Vita Pythagorae
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Theta to Kappa
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an attunement to it.9 It is in this sense that, as we said in the beginning,
friendship occurs for the sake of and thanks to the good. It is in this
sense that, as we have suggested, the good elicits friendship and, there-
fore, that friendship or love is of and for the good. The love of another
is folded into the shared love of the altogether other designated as the
good. Taking it with utmost caution, we may in this regard recall Plato™s
understanding of the good, in the Lysis, as pr¯ton philon, “the ¬rst friend,”
or friend in the primary sense.
Of course we should also, concomitantly, recall that the highest good
is perceived by a power that exceeds logos, as we have seen especially in
Aristotle™s remarks on nous and sophia. The good, indeed, is perceived by
a power that exceeds discourse, demonstration, and argument, let alone
contention. Aristotle, as we read in Nicomachean Ethics Alpha, suggests
that ethics-politics, the “most architectonic” discourse, is not geometry:
the construction that ethics-politics is takes place with no knowledge of
the principle (the good, happiness) guiding it. The construction of ethics-
politics is architecture without geometry. Even in the Metaphysics, at the
culmination of the discourse of ¬rst philosophy, the highest good (god,
nous) is not an object of knowledge but the er¯menos, beloved. In the
Platonic texts themselves (most notably the Republic, Timaeus, and Phile-
bus), the good is consistently highlighted in its excess vis-` -vis the order
of being and, hence, of knowledge. Strictly speaking, there is no logos, no
proper discourse of the good or the god, and, hence, no theology: only a

9 In L™anima alle soglie del pensiero nella ¬loso¬a greca (Naples: Bibliopolis, 1988), Hans Georg
Gadamer focuses on the connection between friendship and self-knowledge (93“109)
and, most notably, on the question of philautia in Aristotle. The Platonic legacy can
be discerned in the view that friendship with another requires friendship with oneself
(101). Yet, Gadamer maintains, such a condition of friendship entails neither the priority
nor the autarchy of the contemplative moment, whether knowledge or self-knowledge
(103). This is evident from the determination of the human being obtained through the
contrast to the gods, a contrast putting human limits and ¬nitude into relief. According
to Aristotle, Gadamer argues, humans may not know themselves without quali¬cation,
let alone know themselves prior to and aside from their involvement with others. Indeed,
precisely because they are not gods, humans may know (and hence be friends with) others
to a higher degree than they know themselves; most notably, they may know, ¬nd access
to themselves, only thanks to the detour through others (103“9). Aristotle recognizes the
prescription of self-knowledge (Magna moralia 1213a13“26). Yet while the god cannot
think the other than itself (its simplicity and completeness prevent that), the human can
elucidate itself to itself only through the exposure to and elucidation of the other. The very
capacity of the human for realizing difference and effecting integration is distinctive of the
human vis-` -vis the divine. That one mirrors oneself in the friend (Phaedrus 255d) means
that one comes to oneself through the other, thanks to “being-with” (suz¯n). Gadamer™s
argumentation is also supported by Eudemian Ethics 1245b16“19.
Perfection of Friendship 275

“likely discourse” (eikos logos) or muthos. Thus, in Plato as well as Aristotle,
the centrality and encompassing character of the good cannot be seen in
the perspective of a reductio ad bonum, as a subordination of friendship (of
practical matters broadly) to the good as an over-arching metaphysical
principle, that is, a principle both intelligible and granting intelligibility.
Far from performing such an operation, the Platonic-Aristotelian dis-
courses reveal the good in its radical elusiveness and the investigations of
¬rst philosophy as resting on the pathos of love.
Thus, the good seems to elude knowledge, the most representative
virtue of logos, of reason in the strict sense. Indeed, it may be only in
virtue of wisdom, sophia, that the human being gains an insight into the
good, if not knowledge understood in the narrow sense. And it is wis-
dom that holds logos in check, restraining this both remarkable and dan-
gerous “possession” of human beings, this potentially destructive ability
of discourse to alienate itself from its living evidence. It is wisdom that
articulates the desire for the good and recognizes an orientation to it,
while keeping such longing thrust rooted in life. On the one hand, as
we saw, wisdom situates the human in the beyond-human, explicating
the human by reference to what envelops, pervades, and exceeds it. On
the other hand, precisely in this in¬nite thrust, wisdom maintains a vital
link with intuitive understanding and nourishes awareness with experi-
ence. In this sense, we can glimpse at the connection between wisdom
and friendship, contemplation and relatedness, insight and love “ we can
glimpse at friendship, paradigmatically exposing the human being in its
shared search for the good, as the privileged space for the exercise and
cultivation of wisdom. The discussion of friendship seems to be vitally
linked to ¬rst philosophy and the contemplative enactment no less than
to politics.

2.3. Finite Conditions of an In¬nite Thrust
Insisting on the measurelessness (indeterminability) characterizing the
similarity as well as reciprocity of friends aims at underlining the critique,
implicit in the Aristotelian discussion, of identity structures. If we neglect
such imperviousness to measurement (to determination), we can hardly
avoid interpreting similarity in terms of equal political-economic status
and reciprocity in terms of any marketplace transaction. Aristotle™s entire
line of thinking would wither into conventionalism, mere celebration of
the political-cultural formations of its time. This much is at stake in the
interpretation of similarity and reciprocity.
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In light of such measurelessness and incommensurability, friendship
cannot exhaust itself in an enclosed relationship between two (or among
few). Rather, it always involves the sense of belonging together in that
which exceeds both, in that which exceeds the human as such and can,
thus, be designated as inhuman. I am attracted to another because in him
or her I perceive the same propulsion toward a common end: because
we love the same, which is beyond (not “the” beyond).
And yet Aristotle is also acutely aware that such an in¬nite movement
beyond rests on altogether ¬nite conditions: that the experience of such a
driving relatedness cannot be lived with in¬nitely and indifferently many
others; that, on the contrary, friendship in this sense is a rare occurrence.
It is at this juncture that the connection is drawn between friendship as
the relation that can be experienced only with a few others and friendship
gathering human beings as such, in the polis and beyond. As we shall see,
Aristotle™s remarks on eunoia, the attitude of benevolence that remains
latent, not actualized in a relationship, provide a trait d™union between
friendship in its irreducible uniqueness and friendship in its political
valence (homonoia). However, to begin with, let us consider the ¬nitude
characterizing the occurrence of “perfect” friendship “ a ¬nitude that
cannot be explained simply by reference to the rarity of excellent human
In friendship, in the kinds of friendship one experiences, it is possi-
ble to seize the manifestation of the psukh¯. One reveals oneself in one™s
relations: relationships image inner relations. Whether at stake are indi-
vidual human beings or communities, an isomorphism holds between
inside and outside, between implicit, implicated, intra-psychic dynamics
and explicit, outward, worldly relationships. Let us consider the following
passage, in which Aristotle examines friendship in the complete sense:

Such friendships are likely to be rare indeed, for few can be such friends. Further,
such friendships require time and familiarity [sunhqe©av]; for, as the proverb says, it
is impossible for human beings to know each other well until “they have consumed
together much salt,” nor can they accept each other and be friends until each
has shown him- or herself dear [filht»v] and trustworthy to the other. Those
who quickly show the marks of friendship [t‡ filik†] toward each other wish to
be friends indeed but are not, unless both are dear to each other and also have
come to know this; for while a wish for friendship may arise quickly, friendship
does not come to be quickly. (1156b25“33)

Aristotle emphasizes the importance of actually sharing experiences and
of time lived together. We will shortly turn to this and to the broader
considerations on the temporality of friendship. However, let us ¬rst note
Perfection of Friendship 277

how the relationship of friendship is said to make manifest the character
of the friends. Friendship lays one bare, shows in action the psychological
structures of the human beings involved. A further passage is illuminating
in this regard:

It is evident that only good human beings can be friends because of what they are
in themselves, for bad human beings do not enjoy each other™s company unless
some bene¬t is exchanged. Again, only the friendship of good human beings
cannot be harmed by slander; for it is not easy for a good person to trust what
anyone says about his or her good friend who has stood the test of time. And it
is among the good that trust and unwillingness to act unjustly and whatever else
belongs to true friendship are expected without question, while in the other kinds
of friendship nothing prevents those things from taking place. (1157a18“26)

It becomes evident that friendship not only reveals character, but also, in
its perfection, unfailingly indicates and further encourages excellence.
Only in the context of this relationship does the expectation arise con-
cerning the most beautiful way of living and acting, the fullest way of
being human.
When discussing friendship without quali¬cation, Aristotle also em-
phasizes the factor of stability. Friendship, we are told, is not easily shaken.
It tends to the radiant endurance it loves:

Now those who wish the good [things] of their friends for the sake of their friends
are friends in the highest degree; for they comport themselves thus in virtue of
themselves and not according to an attribute. Accordingly, their friendship lasts
as long as they are good, and virtue is something abiding. And each friend is good
without quali¬cation and also good to his or her friends; for good human beings
are good without quali¬cation as well as bene¬cial to each other. And they are
similarly pleasant, since good human beings are pleasant without quali¬cation
and also pleasant to each other; for one™s own actions and the actions which are
similar to them are pleasant to oneself, and the actions of good human beings
are the same or similar [aÉtaª £ ‚moiai]. (1156b10“17)

The element of stability is granted precisely by reference to the ground
of virtue, of excellence in habituation. Likewise, as anticipated, Aristotle
underscores the importance of shared time. Spending time together is
essential to the coming to be of friendship in its most accomplished
enactment. As Aristotle repeats shortly thereafter, “distances [places] do
not break up a friendship entirely but only the exercise [–n”rgeian] of it.
But if friends are apart from each other for a long time, this seems to
make them forget [lžqhn poie±n] their friendship; hence the saying ˜lack
of conversation has broken many a friendship™” (1157b10“13).
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At the same time, however, in the passages just considered Aristotle
intimates that temporality poses limits on the number of friendships that
one can form in one™s allotted time. One may cultivate a kind disposition
or benevolence (eunoia) toward others: the pathos of eunoia may be mani-
fest or latent (lanthan¯ ) to the one to whom it is directed, may or may not
be reciprocated, and may be undergone with respect to inde¬nitely many
others held to be good, whether known or unknown (1155b32“1156a5).
However, friendships in the sense of lived relationship, intimate frequen-
tation, and shared experience are as numerically limited as human life
and scope are ¬nite.10 While, through friendship, human life crucially
opens itself up to in¬nity, human beings™ ¬nitude in space, time, and
resources quantitatively delimits the realization or actualization (energeia)
of friendship. Humans possess neither the endurance nor the energy to
sustain love toward indifferently many others:

It is impossible to be a friend to many in a perfect friendship, just as it is impossible
to love [–rŽn] many persons at the same time (for love is like an excess [Ëperbolž],
and such excess is by nature felt toward one), and it is not easy for many people
to satisfy very much the same person at the same time, or perhaps for many to be
good at the same time. (1158a10“14)

Here Aristotle™s re¬‚ection is twofold. In the ¬rst place, because of the
intensity characteristic of friendship as well as love, one can envision
only a limited number of such experiences. The hyperbolic character of
friendship can be sustained only according to a certain measure. Shar-
ing widely and indiscriminately with many such a condition seems to
be out of the question: “the actual community of sensibility” (energeia t¯s e
sunaisth¯se¯s), Aristotle af¬rms, “is necessarily in a small group” (Eudemian
Ethics 1245b23“4). Second, because of the structure of what is, of com-
munities as we know them, it may indeed be impossible for many to be
good, and therefore this would automatically limit the possibility of per-
fect friendship. Again, this is apparent to the extent that friendship is
understood as a concrete, lived practice.11

10 Unlike the Stoics, Aristotle emphasizes friendship as “loving exchange,” as a matter of
pathos, of affection in the broadest sense of the term. Luigi Pizzolato draws the contrast
between, on the one hand, the friendship that is shared and reciprocated virtue and,
on the other hand, the “cold” disposition of benevolence, which is non-affective, unidi-
rectional, not reciprocated (L™idea di amicizia nel mondo antico classico e cristiano [Turin:
Einaudi, 1993], 53).
11 In this connection, consider also Politics 1328a36“b2, displaying the tension between
goodness as that which can be shared in varying degrees (“by some but not others or
only a little”) and goodness as that which can be pursued “in different ways.”
Perfection of Friendship 279

However, there seem to be further concerns that Aristotle is attempt-
ing to articulate in this regard. In particular, the question stands out
regarding what is proper and proportionate to the human condition.
Connected with this is the problematic non-coincidence of what is pos-
sible in principle, abstractly, and what is practicable, actually realizable.
Broadly speaking, at stake are the issues of measure and sustainability.12
The question thus broached regards the metron properly de¬ning the
human, letting the human become de¬nite and manifest as such, in its
integrity and distinctive outline, at its best. Aristotle wonders:

In the case of virtuous human beings, should there be as many friends as possible,
or is there, as in the case of a city, a certain limit [m”tron] of them? For neither
would ten human beings make a city, nor will it remain a city if increased to
one hundred thousand human beings. Perhaps a plurality has no unity unless it
falls between certain limits [Þrism”nwn]. So in the case of friends, too, there is
a limited plurality, and perhaps there is an upper limit of those with whom one
could live together; for, as we remarked, this is thought to be friendship at its best
[filikÛtaton]. It is clear, then, that one cannot live together with many friends
and attend to all of them in turn. (1170b30“1171a4)

We cannot fail to notice Aristotle™s tentativeness in drawing these conclu-
sions (his repeated “perhaps,” his appeal to what “is thought”). And yet,
experience provides compelling evidence: “It is dif¬cult, too, to share the
joys and sorrows in an intimate way with a great number of friends; for it
is quite likely that at the same time one will be sharing pleasures with one
of them but grieving with another” (1171a6“8). There seems to be an
insurmountable dif¬culty concerning the indeterminate extension and
extendibility of actually lived friendship. As was observed above, the cause
of this is the ¬nite (or, we could say, aspectival) character of the human
being, of each discrete human venture. Such is the restraining condition
of a being whose power, potency, or potentiality, if not unquali¬edly deter-
minate, remains far from all-encompassing, in¬nite, and absolute. The
experience of friendship in the perfect sense entails thrusting oneself
to and being traversed by the incalculable or measureless. In being thus
projected and traversed, the human being as such undergoes measure: it
undergoes measure as its own, indeed, obtains the measure it requires
in order to be. The human being is itself the phenomenon of such a
measure taking place. This becomes most perspicuous in the experience

12 As Aristotle points out, the question of the measure, metron, of the human may be framed
by reference to the excellent human being (1166a13).
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Theta to Kappa
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of friendship, for it is in such a pathos of excess that the human being is
disclosed as structurally incapable of in¬nite undergoing.
The thrust beyond and the being traversed (which de¬ne friendship)
imply the limit they transgress; in transgressing such a limit or measure
they also, at once, reinstate it. This means: one will experience the huper-
bol¯ of friendship perhaps once, twice, at most very few times in one™s
life. Again, these remarks on friendship reveal Aristotle™s clear distinction
between, on the one hand, a posture or sentiment of benevolence, eunoia,
possibly toward each and every other, and, on the other hand, friendship
in its actuality and embodiment. The former feeling is no mere formal-
ity. It is not nothing. However, the emphasis here is on friendship in its
embodied being at work.
The following passage elaborates this point further, differentiating
friendship in its practical unfolding from the not necessarily enacted
inclination toward someone. The latter may be seen as the incipit of
friendship, incipient friendship:

Benevolence, then, is like the beginning [ˆrcž] of friendship, just like the plea-
sure of being in love with another by sight; for no one is in love if he or she
has not ¬rst been pleased by the look [«d”a„] [of the beloved], and the one who
enjoys the form of a person is not by this alone in love, unless he or she also
longs for that person when absent and desires that person™s presence. So, too,
people cannot be friends unless they have ¬rst become well disposed [eÎnouv]
toward each other, but those who are well disposed are not by this alone friends;
for they only wish what is good for those toward whom they are well disposed but
would neither participate in any actions with them nor trouble themselves for
them. Thus one might say, metaphorically, that benevolence is untilled [ˆrgžn]
friendship; and it is when benevolence is prolonged and reaches the point of
familiarity [sunžqeian] that it becomes friendship, not the friendship for the sake
of usefulness or pleasure, for no benevolence arises in these. (1167a3“14)

Thus, the posture of kindness toward others is seen as the precursor of
friendship, indeed, as the condition for its possibility. However, if not
temporally developing and resulting in practical community, it remains
uncultivated friendship, friendship suffering from argia (a-ergia), that is,
not working, inoperative. Action constitutes the cultivation, the setting-
to-work (energeia), even the re¬nement of friendship. As we shall see, the
enactment distinctive of friendship is driven and sustained by love.

2.4. Loving
Such a friendship as the friendship for the sake of the good does
not exclude, but rather encompasses, pleasure and usefulness. On the
Perfection of Friendship 281

contrary, pleasure and usefulness narrowly construed do exclude the
good without quali¬cation, for they fall short of it. Along with the inclu-
siveness and completeness of the good as the principle motivating friend-
ship in the perfect sense, Aristotle also greatly emphasizes the priority and
dignity of loving over being loved. This is an issue he repeatedly returns
to, but let it suf¬ce to mention the following passage:

Since friendship depends more on loving [file±n] [than being loved], and since
it is those who love their friends [filof©lwn] who are praised, loving [file±n]
[rather than being loved] seems to be the virtue of a friend [f©lwn], and so it is
those displaying this [feeling or disposition] according to merit who endure as
friends and who have an enduring friendship. And such is the manner in which
unequals can be friends in the highest degree, for in this way they are made equal.
Friendship [fil»thv] is equality [«s»thv] and similarity [¾moi»thv], and especially
similarity in virtue. For the virtuous, being steadfast in themselves [in view of their
virtue], remain steadfast toward each other also, and they neither ask others to do
what is bad nor do they themselves do such things for others, but one might say
that they even prevent such things from being done; for good human beings as
such neither err nor allow their friends to fall into error. Wicked human beings,
on the other hand, have nothing to be certain about, for they do not even remain
alike [in their feelings and actions]; they become friends but for a short time,
enjoying each other™s evil habits. (1159a33“1159b11)

Here, again, the association should be noted between wickedness and
instability or uncertainty. In contrast, perfect friendship is outlined in
terms of the stability afforded by excellence. But what crucially emerges
is the privileged status accorded to loving, to the actuality of love. Loving a
friend means enacting and actively demanding a certain ¯thos. However,
such an activity as loving can hardly be understood as the act carried
out by a self-determining agent, aside from the moment of passivity and
receptivity. For loving means being taken, being enraptured by the other,
undergoing a motion that is neither rationally nor autonomously deter-
mined (desire, orexis, remains a crucial feature of friendship proper). As
we saw above, “being enraptured by the other” means both that the lover
is drawn to the friend in virtue of their sharing the same longing (the
same disposition toward the good) and that the lover is carried away by
the good itself. A two-fold rapture is at stake here, a rapture irreducible to
being drawn toward another human being. For this reciprocated being
drawn to the other, this being drawn one to another, is in turn enraptured
by the good, which, in fact, envelops this relationship and calls forth the
friends involved.
According to Aristotle, what is revealing about one is not the fact of
being loved, but the ability to love and the condition of loving. The ability
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Theta to Kappa
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to love constitutes the site of one™s dignity and superiority. Thus, here
we have a certain reversal of the logic well known to us, according to
which being loved would be more desirable “ indeed, desirable even to
the point of obscuring the beauty of loving. Following that logic, in fact,
receiving love would be preferable, for this would provide a con¬rmation
of one™s worth, desirability, and so on. But loving responds to an inner
exigency and makes manifest who one is, discloses one in one™s complete
and genuinely singular activation: in this way, it is easy to perceive its
fundamental character. Compelled and responsive, the lover responds
to that which enlivens him or her, giving him- or herself over to the
in¬nite task of living most fully, of completion. Such a task is taken up
through the exercise of solicitude and care for the beloved (euergein,
The superior worth of enacting love over against being the recipient
thereof is also decisive in addressing the vexata quaestio of the autonomy,
or even the autarchy, of the good human being. Are friends necessary to
such a being (1169b3ff.)? Let us simply note, at this juncture, that the
superiority of loving may not simply be a matter of comparative worth vis-
a-vis being loved. The experience of over¬‚owing characteristic of friend-
ship, of the superabundance taking one beyond oneself, may at once be
distinctive of the excellent human being as such. The desire to share, to
(give) love, to enact love toward an other may constitute the cipher of
goodness itself. In Magna moralia we read that someone “having [›cwn] all
good things” would need a friend “most of all” (malista). For, the author
wonders, “to whom will one do good [e” poižsei]?” (1212b31). The mark
of human excellence will have been not so much a matter of “having” but
a thrust to giving.13

3. again on friendship and justice
A few considerations are in order regarding the elaboration of friend-
ship analyzed thus far. As we have seen, benevolence (eunoia), albeit not
friendship in its accomplished sense, is said to be the origin, arkh¯, of
friendship. Benevolence is teleia philia without shared time and experi-
ence, neither enacted, exercised, nor cultivated: it is “perfect” friendship

13 In this regard, see, e.g., J. C. Fraisse, “Phil©a”: la notion d™amiti´ dans la philosophie antique
(Paris: J. Vrin, 1974). Fraisse emphasizes the essential contribution of friendship to the
attainment of happiness, to the extent that the latter is a matter of activation and activity,
and friendship supports and encourages the active exercise of being (238“46, 275).
Again on Friendship and Justice 283

but arg¯, deprived of its manifestation in ergon and of the condition of
energeia. It could be said that benevolence is friendship not taking place,
friendship in principle. In the other I intuit a possibility, a possible open-
ing, the development of a possible interaction “ though I may not (do
not, will not) act on it.
In the Nicomachean Ethics (1166b30“1167b16) and Eudemian Ethics
(1241a1“34) alike, the phenomena of benevolence, eunoia, and con-
cord, or like-mindedness, homonoia, are treated concomitantly and never
sharply separated. We encountered the latter already at the very outset
of the discussion of friendship (1155a21ff.), where Aristotle employed
it to describe the sense of accord among voyagers. At that juncture we
pointed out that homonoia, even before granting the unity and coherence
of a political organism, thus being functionally equivalent with justice,
indicates the elementary feeling of bonding, solidarity, and recognition “
a feeling characterizing less the political aggregation in contraposition
to other poleis than the human community as such.
In the later elaborations, homonoia is said to designate community of
intent, shared vision regarding practical and political matters. It is what
Aristotle calls “political friendship,” politik¯ philia (1167b2, 1241a33).
While eunoia and homonoia do not exactly overlap, they similarly refer
to a bond that can potentially be extended inde¬nitely, even to people
far and unknown. Benevolence, eunoia, the friendship that remains “in
principle,” seems to provide the middle term between “perfect” friend-
ship, of which it constitutes the origin, and the political bond, homonoia. In
fact, eunoia, the basic awareness that there are others with whom I belong
and, consequently, a common good with which I am concerned, casts
light on the fact that the experience of friendship, which cannot be lived
inde¬nitely many times, can nevertheless be universalized “ transposed
into the experience of shared ¬nality and political accord, homonoia. It
can be universalized without thereby turning into mere abstraction, for
it rests on the primordial pathos of commonality and attraction. In this
sense, the phenomenon of homonoia, like-mindedness regarding politi-
cal deliberation, remains signi¬cantly bound to the matrix (the arkh¯ ) ofe
friendship as each time unique, lived, and hyperbolic.
While refusing the con¬‚ation of “perfect” and “political” friendship,
Aristotle no less resists the simple disjunction thereof. Divining the conti-
guity and continuity of these phenomena and the importance of thinking
them jointly, he explores the continuum of friendship, ultimately referring
the political relation back to the experience of friendship between excel-
lent human beings (the in¬nite thrust through ¬nite conditions). Such
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Theta to Kappa
o o

an experience remains for Aristotle the root and “measure” of the mani-
fold phenomenology of friendship.
To corroborate this point further, we should underline that homonoia
is itself conceived of by reference to excellence. Indeed,

[s]uch concord is in good human beings [–n to±v –pieik”sin], for these have the
same thoughts [¾monoo“si] in themselves as well as in relation to one another,
resting upon the same [ground], so to speak; for the things wished by such human
beings are constant and do not ebb and ¬‚ow like the water in the straight of
Euripus, and they also wish things just and conducive, and these are the things
they aim at in common. Bad human beings, on the other hand, cannot have the
same thoughts except to a small extent, just as they cannot be friends. (1167b5“

In the Eudemian Ethics, Aristotle is even more decisive in capturing the
dependence of homonoia on excellence or goodness: “Concord,” he states,
“occurs in the case of good human beings [–pª t¤n ˆgaq¤n]” (1241a22).
Furthermore, because “it seems that, like friendship, concord cannot be
said simply,” it follows that “the primary and natural [prÛth kaª f…sei]
manifestation of it is good [spouda©a], so that it is not the case that those
who are bad can concur [¾monoe±n] in that way” (1241a23“6). Not only,
then, does Aristotle not oppose “perfect” friendship, understood as a pri-
vate affair, and “political” friendship, understood as the alliance through
dogmatic or ideological identi¬cation for the sake of public prosper-
ity. Quite outstandingly, Aristotle is intimating that political friendship
should be disclosed by reference to the basic phenomenon of individual
friendship “ to that relationship in the context of which most of all individ-
uals can become themselves and exercise, magnify, and further cultivate
excellence or goodness. Political aggregation should be disclosed by ref-
erence to this basic experience “ even as, in its hyperbolic character, such
an experience can hardly provide a calculable paradigm for the erection
of ideological programs.14

14 The view of the political as resting on the elementary experience of friendship, albeit
in its minimalistic version as solidarity, is at odds with Carl Schmitt™s theorization of
radical enmity as the condition for the possibility of the political, motivating the consti-
tution of the political as such. It is equally at odds with his treatment of friendship as a
mere factor of political cohesion, somehow derivative vis-` -vis the primordiality of con-
¬‚ict. While this exceeds the scope of the present work, it would be relevant to disallow
the Schmittian claims to a Greek ancestry and retrieve, most evidently in the Platonic-
Aristotelian lineage, a quite different perspective on the question of the origin of the
political. Such an inquiry would call into question the construal of political friendship
as purely ancillary to programmatic politics and separate from the loving relation. At
the inception of the founding discourse in Plato™s Republic, the arkh¯ of the polis is not
Again on Friendship and Justice 285

The question of communal togetherness is approached on the ground
of the lived, radically singular experience of friendship. The embodied
uniqueness of each friendship can provide no pattern, no principle on
which to structure political interaction, and yet the political seems to rest
on the universality of such a radically unique vicissitude. It presupposes
that the experience of friendship, if in each case different, is precisely
as such shared in common, available to human beings as such. It pre-
supposes, furthermore, that the feeling of sympathy and affection, if not
possibly enacted ad in¬nitum, is in principle in¬nitely extendible.
Thus, political friendship should not be construed merely in terms of
computation and strategic alignment. First and foremost, political friend-
ship refers to and reveals the possibility, in principle, of being together
and sharing kindness and projects in common. We have already pointed
out that friendship, even in its political sense, does and does not coincide
with justice: to the extent that justice is understood as legality, friendship
clearly exceeds its scope; however, to the extent that justice is understood
as excessive vis-` -vis the texts of the law, it indicates in a certain sense

said to be the establishment of a common identity over against the enemy outside “ i.e.,
the establishment of the bond of friendship among those akin and identical, committed
to one another and to the defense of their own. In this context, the bond of friendship
for the sake of self-defense against the common enemy comes into play only later: war is
secondary to political founding, not equiprimordial with it. Rather, what is constitutive
of the political is the fact that, as Plato has Socrates say, each one is in need of much and
is not self-suf¬cient (369b). Human beings come together out of need, on the ground
of the implicit recognition of a shared condition, and with the awareness, however neb-
ulous, that they may grow together. One of the tasks taken up in the conversation is
indeed bringing the “community of pleasures and pains” more incisively to conscious-
ness (464a). An articulate consideration of this dialogue in light of the present concerns
would have to take into account the progression from Book II to Book V: the peace-
ful city, peacefully interacting with other cities, is superseded, and war is introduced,
because the growth of appetites in the city requires more resources and they must be
acquired by conquering neighboring land (373d“e); the city/soul is established in its
threefold structure, according to the logic of friendship/identity inside and war against
the enemy/other outside (Books II“V); all the while, the disruption and devaluation of
the institution of the family/clan in the city tends to take the issue of identi¬cation on
a level other than tribal/conventional, a psychological/biological level whose workings
will not be mastered in the end (Book VIII); ultimately, the logic on which this city rests
is overcome: the citizens of other poleis are not for the most part enemies: those “men,
women, and children” are “friendly,” only a few among them are to be held responsible,
and therefore destruction of war must be avoided (471a“b). The community in which
one belongs becomes increasingly inclusive. This broadening of the political organism
culminates in the “cosmopolitan dream” of the ending myth: the ¬gure of Er points to
a human being so unique as to be pamphulos, “of all tribes,” irreducible to any political,
tribal, territorial identi¬cation (614b). See my Of Myth, Life, and War in Plato™s Republic
(Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2002).
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Theta to Kappa
o o

friendship itself. Whether elaborated in terms of friendship or of jus-
tice, ultimately homonoia indicates a togetherness that cannot simply be
brought back to prescriptive regulations, codi¬cation of duty, the econ-
omy of quanti¬able giving and taking. An element of excess, even in
terms of gratuitous generosity, is the mark not only of “perfect” friendship
(consider the enactment of loving bene¬cence, euergein, characteristic of
friendship, or the impulse to eu poiein in Magna moralia 1212b31), but, as
was observed earlier on, also of justice itself. Itself irreducible to the obli-
gation “to return a service to one who has shown grace,” justice may in
principle involve the excessive giving that is the “proper mark of grace”:
the initiative “to show grace” to begin with, in a gesture of unsolicited
giving (1133a3“5).
Thus, when af¬rming that, if human beings were friends, justice
(as juridical normativity) would be super¬‚uous, Aristotle is envisioning
friendship as the end or destination of politics: as the highest conceivable
accomplishment of politics, or even politics™ own self-overcoming. In this
sense, friendship would mark the overcoming of politics as mere policy,
as the work of instituting extrinsic rules of coexistence. It would mark the
perfection of politics to come “ the harmonization of the many, gathered
beyond legal prescriptions. The vision of such an open teleology discloses
the domain of becoming as the possibility of formation, growth, and evo-
lution. The orientation to such a completion and accomplishment would
be announced precisely in friendship (in politics) as homonoia: the prox-
imity with others and awareness of belonging together (as in the course of
a voyage), of common circumstances, of mutual implication and depen-
In the folds of such a vision of the possible lies the insight that the end
of politics is neither mere expediency nor the structuring, ordering, and
coordination of civil coexistence. As is the case with friendship, rather,
politics aims at happiness, at living well, at the ¬‚owering of life in its
manifold potential. In the strand of his analysis confronting the issue of
friendship between unequals (vertical relationships), Aristotle touches
on these issues with further suggestions.

3.1. Beyond Perfection and Imperfection
In its secondary or imperfect sense, friendship is for the sake of usefulness
or pleasures “ bodily, worldly, material. Such a friendship entails inequal-
ity, lack of reciprocity, asymmetry, as in the case of the bond between
lover and beloved, or the agreement contracted by rich and poor. Yet
Again on Friendship and Justice 287

we should point out that inequality and asymmetry are not necessarily
symptomatic of friendship as incomplete, imperfect, or derivative, that is,
merely driven by appetite or self-interest. As we saw, Aristotle suggests that,
in the broadest sense, friendship informs every relation, every gathering
of human beings. In this perspective, friendship is akin to justice, if irre-
ducible to legality. Both friendship and justice name those proportionate
and harmonious bonds, those harmonized and equalizing exchanges that
keep the polis together. Friendship understood along these lines may not
be the same as friendship unquali¬ed and perfect. However, although
entailing inequality and asymmetry, friendship as justice is just as much
irreducible to friendship “in virtue of an attribute,” that is, the friendship
promoting trivial advantages, the “fallen” or minor version of the perfect
bond. As the articulation of community, friendship demands to be viewed
beyond the polarity of perfection and imperfection.
Thus far, we severally pointed out Aristotle™s oscillation regarding
whether or not friendship and justice may coincide. The ambiguity
regarding this point signals, yet again, Aristotle™s responsiveness to the
motility of signi¬cation, to the many ways in which dikaiosun¯ no lesse
than philia can be said. The following passage provides an elaboration of
friendship as an expression of justice and should be considered at length.
It begins with a compendium of issues by now familiar to us:

In every association there seems to be both something which is just and also friend-
ship. At least, human beings address their fellow-voyagers and fellow-soldiers as
friends also, and similarly with those in any of the other associations. Friendship
goes as far as the members associate with each other; for what is just goes as far
also. And it has been rightly said, “to friends all things are common”; for friend-
ship is in association. Now brothers [ˆdelfo±v] and comrades [—ta©roiv] have all
things in common, but others have only certain things in common, some more,
some fewer; for of friendships, too, some are to a higher degree but others to a
lower degree. Just things, too, differ; for the things that are just for parents toward
their children are not the same as those between brothers, nor are those between
comrades the same as those between citizens, and similarly with the other [kinds
of ] friendships. Accordingly, unjust things toward human beings are different
also; and they become increasingly unjust by being directed toward the more
friendly, e.g., it is more terrible [dein»teron] to defraud a comrade than a citizen,
or to refuse help to a brother than to a stranger, or to strike a father than anyone
else. What is just, too, increases by nature simultaneously with friendship, since
they are in the same beings and extend equally. (1159b27“1160a8)

In this strand of the Aristotelian discourse, friendship comes to be indis-
cernible from the dynamics of political coexistence and, by the same
token, of familial bonds. Friendship and justice are viewed as concomitant
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Theta to Kappa
o o

ingredients of every association and seem to carry the same meaning
and implications. Of course, saying that every association, every commu-
nal gathering, is structured not without the essential element of friend-
ship implies that polis and philia similarly aim at happiness. Just like
friendship, the political association aims at the highest good as well
as at the proper positioning of the human good with respect to the
non-human (such would be the work of wisdom, ¬rst philosophy). It
is essential to underline that the end of the polis itself is irreducible to
In this discussion we come to appreciate the tension due to a shift in
emphasis from friendship as based on similarity and equality to friend-
ship as a relation between beings of unequal stature. In the former case,
inequality bespeaks imperfection, the derivative character of friendships
for the sake of partial ends. In the latter case, the unequal is that which
friendship (as justice) at once preserves as such and amalgamates. The
second half of Book Theta is devoted to a treatment of friendship espe-
cially in terms of verticality “ as the vertical relation holding beings
together that are heterogeneous and in¬nitely uneven in their power
and worth.
As we shall see, what comes to be illuminated in this way is the rela-
tion between humans (mortals) and gods (immortals) and, at the same
time, the relation between humans and nature as such. Again, at stake
here is the disclosure of the end of the polis, the end of community or
communal gathering, as exceeding mere convenience. The good, which
is incommensurably beyond utility, is the end of the political organism
as well. In this perspective, friendship is taken to be essential to commu-
nal constitution, to lie at the very heart of the phenomenon of politics.
Aristotle addresses this cluster of issues in the following re¬‚ection:

Now all associations are like parts of the political association [t¦v politik¦v];
for people come together for the sake of something expedient [sumf”ronti] and
bring along something which contributes to life. The political association itself
seems to have originated and to continue to exist for the sake of expediency; for
the law-givers, too, are aiming at this and say that what is commonly expedient is
just. The other associations, then, are aiming at some part of what is expedient;
e.g., sailors undertake a voyage for the sake of making money or some other such
thing, fellow-soldiers go to war for the sake of spoils or victory or [capturing] a
city, and similarly for the members of a tribe or of a town. (1160a8“19)

At ¬rst, Aristotle seems to understand political ¬nality in terms of con-
duciveness to common advantage. However, he immediately adds that
Again on Friendship and Justice 289

advantage must be conceived in the most encompassing sense, as tran-
scending partial, ephemeral, or myopic preoccupations:

Again, some associations seem to be formed for the sake of pleasure, e.g., con-
fraternities [qiaswt¤n] and social circles [–ranist¤n], for these are formed for
the sake of sacri¬ce and being together, respectively. All these, however, seem
to come under the political association, for the aim of the political association
seems not to be limited to the expediency of the moment but to extend to life as
a whole. (1160a19“23)

We should note the over¬‚owing richness with which the theme of polit-
ical association is laid out. The prominence initially accorded to expe-
diency may not be altogether dropped or set aside. Nevertheless, and
perhaps more signi¬cantly, the language of the advantageous, while pre-
served, undergoes a semantic recon¬guration, even a trans¬guration.
Extended to “life as a whole,” contemplating the human venture in the
long term, advantage may no longer signify immediate grati¬cation, let
alone the privilege of narrow-minded or one-sided pursuits. Thus under-
stood, advantage comes to embrace the highest, in the sense of most
inclusive, ¬nality. The trajectory of this discourse illuminates political
association as that network of relationships and relational structures in
virtue of which the whole of life may be contemplated in its scansion and
Such a position is exposed even more incisively in the Politics, where
Aristotle repeatedly states that political aggregation is ultimately oriented
to living well (eu z¯n, z¯¯ teleia, z¯n eudaimon¯s kai kal¯s, z¯¯ arist¯ ) and sub-
e oe e o o oe e
sists for the sake of this (1280a32, 1280b34, 1281a2, 1281a3, 1328a37),
whereas exchanges, shared place, and defense against aggression by oth-
ers cannot alone account for the coming to be of the polis (1280a32“9,
1280b30“5). Of particular interest in the development of the passage
presently under consideration, however, is the powerful synthetic ges-
ture with which Aristotle connects the issue of political ¬nality to matters
regarding the divine and nature. The various associations “coming under”
the comprehensive political organism, Aristotle continues,

make sacri¬ces and arrange gatherings for these, pay honors to the gods, and
provide pleasant relaxations for their members. For the ancient sacri¬ces and
gatherings appear to have occurred after the harvest as a sort of ¬rst-fruits, since
it is at that time that human beings had most leisure. (1160a23“8)

The practice of the sacri¬ces to the gods, that is, the bond between the
human sphere and the divine, is aligned with the bond between humans
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Theta to Kappa
o o

and nature. This meditation draws together the rhythms of nature as well
as those of human beings, the cycles of fruit-bearing and barren seasons
as well as the cycles of human effort and leisure. It presents nature as the
theater of divine manifestation as well as dictating the times of human
gathering, celebration, and ritual. Intimated here is the convergence,
if not simplistically the identity, of the relation to the natural and the
relation to the divine.15

3.2. Friendship with the Gods
It is in the context of these observations that we should situate Aristotle™s
hierarchy of relational forms and corresponding forms of government.
In the Nicomachean Ethics, this discussion takes place at 1160a30“1161a9,
but can be rendered here only most schematically. Let us simply recall,
in order of rank, the relational and political typologies. First, Aristotle
mentions the relation of father to children, corresponding to the form
of government of kingdom. Second, the relation of husband to wife,
corresponding to aristocracy. Third, the relation among brothers, cor-
responding to timocracy. Fourth, d¯mokratia (occasionally translated as
“mob rule,” but meaning no more and no less than “democracy,” albeit in
its degeneracy), representing a corruption of the relation among broth-
ers and hence of timocracy.16 Fifth, oligarchy, representing a corruption
of the husband-wife relation and hence of aristocracy. Finally, the relation
between master and slave, corresponding to tyranny and representing a
perversion of the father-children relation and of kingdom. The tension
should be noticed between the previous emphasis on the highest friend-
ship as occurring between equals and the positive devaluation, in this
passage, of such a friendship (the relation between or among brothers).
Indeed, brotherhood, the fraternal, horizontal relation among peers,
whether timocratic or democratic, does not enjoy any privilege in this

15 A moment in the Protreptic, addressing the question of contemplation, actually suggests
the identity of nature and the divine as that from which humankind is generated: “The
most noble animal down here is the human being, hence it is clear that it was generated
by nature and in conformity with nature. What could, then, be the end in view of which
nature and god generated us? Questioned about this, Pythagoras answered: ˜looking at
the sky,™ and he used to say that he was one who speculates on nature and that in view of
this end he was born” (fr.11 Ross). See also Eudemian Ethics 1216a11“16.
16 Regarding the four forms of democracy, see Politics 1291b30“1292a17.
Again on Friendship and Justice 291

It seems important to highlight the signi¬cance of this transition. The
hypothesis pursued here is that, in such a move, Aristotle is attempting to
cast light on the limits of the brotherly relation as a paradigm of human
community. Such a con¬guration, based on the equal standing, if not the
identity, of its members, may involve a certain severance from otherness
and its asperity “ a remoteness from the radically and irreducibly het-
erogeneous. It may induce a perception of human togetherness both as
relatively homogeneous in composition and, most importantly, as a self-
contained and self-referential domain, marked by the oblivion of its own
non-human conditions, severed from the higher and the lower, from
that which precedes and that which follows, source and offshoot. The
humanity solely resolving itself into horizontality, after the ¬gure of the
brotherly bond, may be disinclined to interrogate itself concerning its
own origin and end “ incapable of wonder vis-` -vis the past, ancestry in
the broadest sense, and the future, the openness of the present thrust.
At this juncture, Aristotle™s emphasis on unequal, indeed, asymmetrical
relations may function as a reminder of the human procession from and
dependence on the inhuman “ nature or god. It may remind us of the
human as natural/divine child.
The discussion of these relations in the Eudemian Ethics con¬rms,
from the outset, this hypothesis. The introduction of the theme of
friendship between unequals, whether political (ruler/ruled) or familial
(parent/child), at once evokes relations exceeding the human domain
(god/human being). Here Aristotle resorts again to the language of
excess, huperbol¯, but the issue in this case is not so much the rapture char-
acterizing “perfect” friendship, but rather the exceeding unevenness of
the relationships under consideration. In these cases the heterogeneity
of those involved and of their respective ways of loving is so unbridge-
able that reciprocity becomes unthinkable, not only incalculable (as was
the case with “perfect” friendship). Paradigmatically illuminated by ref-
erence to the love “of god for human being,” such friendships take place
“according to excess,” kath™huperbol¯n: they cross utter discontinuity, estab-
lish a bond between the radically foreign (1238b18“23).
But let us follow the development of this analysis in the Nicomachean
Ethics. While considering the relation between sovereign and subjects,
Aristotle notes:

Such, too, is the friendship of a father toward his children (although it differs
in the magnitude of good services [–uergethm†twn]; for he is the cause of their
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Theta to Kappa
o o

being, which seems to be the greatest [good], and also of their nurture and
education; these things apply to ancestors also); for the relation of a father to his
sons or of ancestors to descendants or of a king to his subjects is by nature that of
a ruler [to those ruled]. And these are friendships by virtue of superiority; hence
parents are also honored. Accordingly, also what is just in those friendships is not
the same for the two parties but is according to merit; for friendship, too, is in
this manner. (1161a16“22)

Underlined here is the archic character of the parent or, broadly speak-
ing, of the ancestors with regard to their children and subsequent lin-
eages. The father and the ancestor are rulers precisely because they are
the causes of the coming into being of what follows “ because they engen-
der and inform. The community of brothers should be referred back to
such a primal scene: in this perspective alone can it be adequately under-
stood and understand itself. Thus, the development, in Book Theta, from
friendship requiring equality to friendship entailing radical asymmetry
can be seen as Aristotle™s attempt at a critique of the strictures of the
horizontal relation.17
The relationship among brothers, in its relatively self-enclosed char-
acter, tends to be forgetful of its links to the other: of all manners of
non-conformity and of its own involvement with it. Above all, the bond
among peers tends to be oblivious of vertical relationality, thus con¬n-
ing such friends to the condition of orphans, of parentless children. The
brothers™ oblivion, their absorption in the brotherly bond, reveals human
beings uprooted from nature, cut off from the gods, deprived of source
and orientation. It reveals humanity unable even to sustain the question
regarding its own parents and offspring, endowment and fruits “ the
beginning and destination of humankind as such, that is, the situation
and belonging of the human in the inhuman (nature or divinity). In
intimating this limit in the love between equals, Aristotle is encouraging
a disruption of horizontality: a love opening up to the in¬nite, open-
ing up to that which cannot be horizontally embraced, which abides

17 The relation between adults and children (as well as, more broadly, vertical friendship)
paradigmatically reveals friendship as a bond extending beyond the community of those
who “have” reason, who humanly share in reason “ extending to living beings not yet
human or not even on the way to becoming human, not tending to the human because
unfolding otherwise. In his fascinating study Il coltello e lo stilo (Milan: Il Saggiatore,
1979), Mario Vegetti discusses the philosopher and the sovereign, the child and the
slave, as ¬gures exceeding the political-anthropological range (whether in the direction
of divinity or of animality), marking (or confusing) its con¬nes (177). Of particular
interest is the re¬‚ection on the child and on that peculiar kind of child that is the slave
Again on Friendship and Justice 293

vertiginously excessive and impervious to reciprocation. Eventually, the
¬gure of asymmetrical relationships is strategically conducive to a vision
surpassing the relations among human beings as such and, by the same
token, the relations exclusively involving thinking male adults “ thus
exposing the irreducibility of humankind as such to the community of
the same (brothers, peers, equally privileged citizens). Aristotle seems to
point to the relation between the human and the non-human, at once in
the direction of the gods or nature.18
At this point, friendship comes to signify a bond of cosmic unity, very
much in line with pre-Socratic insights from various sources, Pythagorean
as well as Empedoclean. In the context of such a vision of the kosmos
should be situated the considerations concerning polis as well as anthr¯pos.
As Aristotle makes explicit, the insistence on human genealogy is ulti-
mately meant to puncture the exclusively human horizon: “The friend-
ship of children toward parents, and of human beings toward gods, is one
toward the good and superior [ˆgaq¼n kaª Ëper”con]; for parents have
done the greatest of goods [e” g‡r pepoižkasi t‡ m”gista], since they are
the causes of the being and nurture of their children and then of their
education” (1162a4“7). At stake is not only the birth of children, but
also that of humankind as such; not only the verticality of physiological
procreation, but also the verticality of the fabric into which the human is
woven; not only origin understood as beginning, but also origin under-
stood as continuing sustenance and guidance, as informing principle at
work in its propulsion. The focus on the ¬gures of the parents, forefa-
thers, kings, and gods signals the urgency of the interrogation regarding
human provenance and ambiance.
Love on the part of the higher being takes on the form of granting,
protecting, and furthering. In turn, love on the part of the more vulner-
able being takes on the form of desiring the other, stretching beyond
oneself in order to become more comprehensive, to embrace and be
traversed, to let the other in and be opened by it. This structure of
love on the part of the more vulnerable being illustrates the condition
of human beings with regard to what transcends them, to what consti-
tutes their own condition “ most notably, to the divine that comes to be
identi¬ed with the good (Eudemian Ethics 1249b14“15). This love entails

18 Again, the question of sophia, of human beings looking at the sky, lifting their gaze beyond
their most immediate and exiguous preoccupations, ¬nding attunement and insight in
this contact with radiant nature/divinity. It would be fruitful to pursue this Aristotelian
motif along with analogous Platonic formulations, most notably in the Timaeus, Philebus,
and, once more, in the myth concluding the Republic.
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Theta to Kappa
o o

the desire that takes one outside oneself, in a movement of striving and

3.3. Interdependence
What comes to be delineated through these various (and not always
easily cohabiting) discussions of friendship is the ¬gure of interde-
pendence. Indeed, such a ¬gure emerges both horizontally, in intra-
human (whether intra- or inter-communal) relations, and vertically, in
the human exchanges with the non-human. In the context of intra-human
relations and interactions, whether within a polis or among poleis, the
prominence of the dialectical practice highlights the salience of dialogue:
of communing and communication, of the unending work of negotia-
tion and transmission animating togetherness. Certainly, dialogue may
be understood here not as a rhetorical, let alone contentious, compe-
tition, but rather as the conversation whose premise and condition is
the attitude of friendship. However, since the phenomenon of interde-
pendence is not con¬ned to the human horizon, we are compelled to
consider the issue of communication further, beyond strictly human con-
versation and language(s). More broadly, we are encouraged to focus
on the patient work of mediation, engagement, and exchange with the
other-than-human domains “ the work of communing and communica-
tion exceeding human dialectic and always already taking place, albeit for
the most part unconsciously. How can we begin to hear and practice the
many languages of friendship “ the languages, manners of communica-
tion and of living, which may do justice to the fact of interdependence?
In what way, other than ordering, disposing, plundering, objectifying,
can we interact with the surroundings (the forms of life all around us,
above and below)? How can we take in that which surrounds us and act
responsively, that is, adequately, out of such a reception?
Aristotle does not offer a compilation of precepts to this end. As
we have variously noted from the outset, he restlessly underlines the
importance of evaluations adhering to the unique traits of each circum-
stance, responding most perceptively to the singular demands each time
in play. Far from signaling the limit of ethico-political re¬‚ection (ethics
being bound, as is often said, to contingent details and falling short of
geometrical/conceptual clarity), this way of proceeding reveals supreme
precision, subtlety, and re¬nement. The architecture without geometry
that ethics/politics names displays a sensitivity to proliferating difference,
a capacity to work with all that “admits of being otherwise,” which is alto-
gether inaccessible to conceptual modes of inquiry. Again, this marks less
On Happiness or the Good 295

the shortcoming of ethics than the coarseness of the concept, impover-
ished in its unmoving abstractness and in its interpretation of clarity as
simplicity/simpli¬cation. There is indeed a crucial difference between
geometrical precision and precision as wakeful adhesion to in¬nite
Thus, for Aristotle particular dispositions or comportments may or
may not be desirable, depending on the particular con¬guration of space
and time “ not absolutely.19 The good and the privation thereof may not
be ¬xed, inherent properties of any separate being or typology of com-
portment, but rather emerge out of a comprehensive, ¬‚uctuating rela-
tional environment. What is af¬rmed in an absolute sense is the meta-
disposition or, if you like, the over-arching disposition enabling one, in
each case, to reckon with circumstances in a balanced and healthy way, in
a way that furthers well-being as inclusively as possible. However, reckon-
ing with circumstances in such a way as to be guided by the encompass-
ing ¬nality of well-being entails always keeping in mind the complexity
of interaction, holding it in care and attention, remaining mindful of
the whole context of interrelation, intersection, and mutual implication.
Implied in such a posture is the discernment and acceptance, at some
level, of a rule of harmony and proportion governing togetherness, gov-
erning the manifold of all that belongs together. Responding and corre-
sponding to such a rule is perhaps what lies at the heart of friendship,
broadly understood as harmonizing relatedness (horizontal as well as ver-
tical, among humans as well as gathering the human and non-human):
friendship grants ¬‚uidity in the exchanges among (the) many, balanced
interspersion of the differing. It is only in lack of friendship that one
resorts to justice “ or, more precisely, to its various ministers and admin-
istrators, judges et al.

4. on happiness or the good
We conclude with a brief re¬‚ection on the discussion in Book Kappa,
concerning happiness or the good. This discussion is a prelude to the
Politics. It is a prelude to politics understood as the continuation and

19 In The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics, Martha Nussbaum proposes:
“we may say that excellent ethical choice cannot be captured completely in general rules
because “ like medicine “ it is a matter of ¬tting one™s choice to the complex requirements
of a concrete situation, taking all of its contextual features into account.” “In the context
of love and friendship,” she adds, “it is possible that Aristotle may recognize particularity
in a yet stronger sense, recognizing that some valuable forms of ethical attention and
care are not even in principle universalizable” (67).
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Theta to Kappa
o o

highest accomplishment of ethics. Happiness and politics: once again we
must underline their conjunction. Indeed, as Aristotle said in Book Alpha
concerning the pursuit of the good, “even if this end be the same for an
individual as for the polis, nevertheless the end of the polis appears to be
greater and more complete to attain and to preserve; for though this end
is dear also to a single individual, it appears to be more beautiful and more
divine to a race [›qnei] or to a polis” (1094b8“11). Moreover, as pointed
out during the discussion on friendship, though the human being may
experience the compulsion and urgency of biological reproduction as
the most primordial condition, prior even to political life stricto sensu, the
political dimension of life appears most choice-worthy “ both because of
the honor and beauty inherent in public involvement and because even
the activities that are theoretical in character are made possible by the
leisure only political coexistence affords. Says Aristotle:

The friendship between husband and wife seems to be by nature; for human
beings by nature tend to form couples more than to be political, and they do this
to the extent that a household is prior and more necessary than a polis and that
reproduction [teknopoi©a] is more common to animals. Accordingly, associations
in the other animals exist only to that extent, but human beings live together not
only for the sake of reproduction but for other things in life as well. (1162a16“22)

As observed already, it is in and through life in the polis that the human
being can develop into what it is to be “ that the human being can realize
its inherent potential, including the capacity for contemplation. Contem-
plation, let it be repeated again, is an activity, in the sense of actualization,
activation, being-at-work; Aristotle views it as the worthiest, most distinc-
tive mode of human enactment. Moreover, we noted already that such
an activity, energeia, should be understood in terms of action: thinking as
such, with no further “practical application,” is a matter of praxis (Politics
1325b16“24). Book Kappa corroborates this crucial point on numerous
occasions, as we shall see.

4.1. Pleasure
It could be said that the discussion in Book Kappa casts light on the
intimacy between a soul that knows (a soul absorbed in contemplative
endeavors) and a polis that thrives. In this Book, which lies at the con-
junction of the ethical treatise proper and the Politics, we catch a glimpse
of the closeness of (1) the psychological involvement in the¯rein, said to
be the highest good, and (2) a polis constituted in such a way as to excel.
On Happiness or the Good 297

The Book progresses from a discussion of pleasure to the examination
of contemplation, to the issue of political poi¯sis. Again, the discussion of
contemplation appears to be a preface, indeed the preface, to political
study and, even more importantly, to political activity.
With this in mind, let us turn to examine Aristotle™s treatment of plea-
sure at this juncture.20 It would seem that, in its fullest achievement,
activity is always accompanied by pleasure. Of course, asserting the con-
comitance of pleasure and the most accomplished enactment, actualiza-
tion, or being-at-work, means asserting the concomitance of pleasure and
happiness or the good itself. The passages pointing in this direction are
numerous, but let us examine the following exemplary statement:

Now, since living itself is good and pleasant (and this seems to be the case since
all desire it, and especially those who are good [–pieike±v] and blessed; for it is
to these that life [b©ov] is most choice-worthy, and the most blessed life [zwž]
belongs to them), and since one who sees senses [a«sq†netai] that he or she sees,
one who hears senses that he or she hears, one who walks senses that he or she
walks, and similarly in the other cases, there is something in us which senses that
we are in activity, and so we would be sensing that we are sensing and we would be
thinking that we are thinking. But [to be aware] that we are sensing or thinking
[is to be aware] that we are (for to be [for human beings] was stated to be sensing
or thinking), and sensing that one lives is in itself one of the things which are
pleasant (for life is by nature good, and to sense that the good belongs to oneself is
pleasant). Now living is choice-worthy, and especially by those who are good, since
being to them is good and pleasant (for they are pleased by sensing that which is in
itself good). (1170a27“1170b5; emphasis added)

Here, besides the repeatedly mentioned concurrence of pleasure and
happiness or the good, we should note the intertwinement of the motifs
of the good and aliveness. Aliveness, being alive, signi¬es self-enactment,
the proper domain of self-realization and accomplishment. Accordingly,
perceiving the good is a matter of perceiving oneself live.21 Above all, how-
ever, we are struck by the Aristotelian terminology at this point: perceiving
the good, that is, perceiving oneself in one™s aliveness is, more precisely, a
matter of sensing, aisthanesthai, of feeling oneself be or become. At stake
in the awareness of the good is the capacity for sensing oneself in act, in
activity, in the course of being.22 In other words, being aware of the good

20 See A. J. Festugi` re™s analysis of the discussions of pleasure in Book Eta 11“14 and Book
Kappa 1“5, in Aristote: le plaisir (Paris: J. Vrin, 1936).
21 In the earlier discussion of friendship, see the pertinent remarks at 1166a11“29.
22 On the inseparability of sensing and the sensed (of actual sensing and what enacts itself ),
i.e., on the concomitance of affection and activity, see De anima 425b26“426a12.
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Theta to Kappa
o o

means sensing that one is alive, the felt awareness that one is at work, in
deed: that one is, is there, in action.
Aristotle sharpens his remarks on the pleasure accompanying such a
sensing, such a being aware of the good, of the aliveness that is said to be
good and seems to coincide with the good. Indeed, he notes, “living and
pleasure appear to go together and not to admit separation; for there
can be no pleasure without activity, and pleasure perfects every activity”
(1175a19“21). Pleasure is presented as the genuine culmination of any
activity, as the crowning moment in which an activity is ful¬lled, that is to
say, perfected and completed. Any such ful¬llment would by de¬nition
be marked by pleasure. But Aristotle takes the issue even further, pointing
to pleasure as a kind of surplus, as an excess of the activity or, indeed, as
an excess to the activity “ as that which would bring the activity beyond
itself. This gesture indicates a different kind of completion, a different
sense of perfection of an activity:

(It is clear that pleasure arises with respect to each [faculty of] sensation, for we
speak of sights and of things heard as being pleasant. It is also clear that these
activities are most pleasant whenever both the sensation is at its best and its activity
is directed toward its best corresponding object; and if both the object sensed and
the one who senses it are such, there will always be pleasure provided both the
one acting [poižsontov] and that which is acted upon [peisom”nou] are present.)
But pleasure perfects the activity not as a habit inhering in the one acting but as
an end which supervenes like the bloom of youth to those in their prime of life.

Pleasure is developed as that completion that supervenes despite one-
self, in a way “ as that completion taking over the being-at-work in its
unfolding, drawing it further. Pleasure supervenes, dawns on one, taking
one beyond, in delight. Thus, pleasure comes to name the beauty and
elation experienced in the unmasterable ful¬llment of activity, even of
self-activation and self-realization (1177a22“7).
Again, regarding the overall strategy of Book Kappa, we should empha-
size the coincidence of the themes of action (most notably, political)
and contemplation. As we anticipated, the Book undertakes to address
the contemplative posture as the highest human enactment and highest
good, in human terms and beyond. However, it is fascinating that Aristotle
should never leave action (let alone the world in which it unfolds) behind.
Even in its culminating moment, the¯rein does not appear to bespeak
emancipation from the world. Aristotle seems to be very careful in his
insistence that, on the one hand, this world provides the condition for
the possibility of contemplation, while, on the other hand, contemplation
On Happiness or the Good 299

may optimally guide the worldly course of a human being and community
alike. Contemplation and living well, that is, attaining a certain harmony
in action, are far from separate.23
To the extent that living well is, above all, the ¬nality of the polis (that
which the polis in¬nitely strives for and to a ¬nite extent makes possi-
ble) (again, see also Politics 1280a7“1281a10, 1328a22“b23), we may not
assume the respective autonomy of politics and contemplation. Politi-
cal action infused with a longing for the good and cultivation of human
insight into the good seem to be mutually implicating.

4.2. Contemplation
In the wake of these minimal remarks on pleasure and related matters,
let us consider the discussion of contemplation as the highest attainment
of human enactment. In the meditation on the most excellent activity
attributed to human beings, we should underline a terminological slip-
page with respect to Book Zeta: a shift from the language of logos to
the language of nous, the¯rein, and sophia (intellect or intuition, contem-
plation, and wisdom). Let us read a couple of passages that frame this
discussion. Aristotle proposes:
Since happiness is an activity according to virtue, it is reasonable that it should
be an activity according to the highest virtue; and this would be an activity of
the best [part of a human being]. So whether this be intellect or something else
which seems to rule and guide us by nature and to have comprehension [›nnoian
›cein] of beautiful and divine beings, being itself divine or else the most divine
part in us, its activity according to its proper virtue would be perfect happiness.
That this activity is contemplative [qewretikž] has already been mentioned; and
this would seem to be in agreement both with our previous remarks and with the
truth. (1177a12“20)

Aristotle seems to be distancing himself from the previous emphasis on
logos and is now identifying the most outstanding of human activities, and
perhaps the highest activity tout court, with nous, intellect or intuition.
Of course, the “comprehension of beautiful and divine beings” recalls
those beings which in Book Zeta were said to be most phenomenal, most
shining, ta phaner¯tata, and related to the virtue of sophia, wisdom. It
should also be noticed that the “comprehension of beautiful and divine

23 John L. Ackrill (Aristotle the Philosopher [Oxford: Oxford UP, 1981]) comes to a similar
position, articulating the continuity of ethics and the contemplative activity, and viewing
the exercise of excellence (action, political and otherwise) as promoting and cultivating
the contemplative moment.
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Theta to Kappa
o o

beings” is itself divine, or else that in us which is “most divine.” Aristotle is
oscillating between announcing the highest good attainable for human
beings and speaking of the highest good without quali¬cation. A few lines
down, he continues:

We think that pleasure should be intermingled with happiness; and it is agreed
that the most pleasant of our virtuous activities is the one in accordance with
wisdom. Indeed, philosophy seems to possess pleasures which are wonderful in
purity as well as in certainty, and it is reasonable for those who have understanding
[to±v e«d»si] to pass their time more pleasantly than those who [merely] inquire.

Once more, the best activity is intrinsically marked by pleasure. As full
deployment of potentiality, as ¬‚ourishing and stretching out toward ful-
¬llment, happiness would imply pleasure genuinely understood. Such
would be the expanse and expansiveness of the good.
Aristotle elaborates further on what is at stake in contemplation and,
in so doing, recalls the teleology of the good with which the Nicomachean
Ethics began. Such a comprehensive teleology is predicated on a hierar-
chical arrangement of human activities:

If, among virtuous actions, those pertaining to the polis and to war stand out
in beauty and greatness and, being toilsome, are aimed at some other end but
are not chosen for their own sake, whereas the activity of the intellect, being
theoretical, seems to be superior in seriousness and to aim at no other end besides
itself but to have its own pleasure [¡donŸn o«ke©an] (which increases that activity),
then also self-suf¬ciency and leisure and freedom from weariness, as much as are
possible for a human being, and all the other things which are attributed to a
blessed human being appear to be in this activity. This, then, would be the perfect
happiness for a human being, if extended to the full length of life, for none of
the attributes of happiness is incomplete. (1177b16“26)

The most complete enactment of the human being involves a certain over-
coming of toil and fatigue. Indeed, no one would choose an exhausting
activity for its own sake, but only for the sake of further, more desirable
ends. Thus, perfect human enactment is characterized by leisure, by the
luxury of “having” time, by that condition in which necessary matters
become less pressing and one can enjoy the possibility of passing time
without being pushed by the urgent worries of survival. In this way, one
enjoys the possibility of becoming aware of time as such, of realizing time.
We can see in such a condition an originary discovery of time, time dis-
closed in light of freedom from immediate need: time in its spaciousness
and possibility. Such a thrust beyond necessity is experienced as a priv-
ilege, indeed, as that condition suf¬cient onto itself, projected toward
On Happiness or the Good 301

no other end, marked by its own “characteristic” (oikeia) pleasure. Once
again, we are told that pleasure supervenes so as to crown and com-
plete activity, in fact, that pleasure “augments” (sunauxei ) the activity. Of
course, the privilege of such a pleasure can be tasted only thanks to the
protected condition afforded by the political bond of solidarity.
Indeed, within the structure of the polis the human being may ¬nd
not only a more expedient manner of survival, but also the possibility
of life™s fullest unfolding. Within the polis the human being may thrust
itself beyond necessary cares: ¬nd its measure as a being in(de)¬nitely
open to the measureless and excessive. Communal life (friendship as
“the deliberate choice of living together,” Politics 1280b39) is necessary
to the human being as such (even the most insular, autarchic one), to the
human pursuit of excellent self-articulation. It is necessary to a certain
overcoming of necessity, so that the possibility of freedom may be even
marginally glimpsed.
As observed more than once, Aristotle consistently con¬rms that polit-
ical action is the condition for contemplation opening beyond the polit-
ical and that, in turn, contemplation (the divine insight into the divine)
nourishes political action. At issue in such a mutual implication is the
dialectic of polis and kosmos: of human and divine, measure and excess,
institution and transgression of conventions, order and disruption “ of
human order and an order altogether other. In the Politics, Aristotle con-
trasts human and divine law or order (nomos, taxis): while, in human
affairs, beauty and order can be brought to bear only on a “limited mag-
nitude,” it is imaginable that the “work” of “divine power,” which “holds
all together,” is bringing “an excessive number” (huperball¯n arithmos) to
“partake of order” (1326a30“4). And yet, even though for human beings
the work of ordering entails delimiting, bringing into an outline, the
glimpse of the divine caught through contemplation constantly exposes
human delimiting to an excess both perturbing and demanding endless
revision, transformation, reconstitution. However intermittent, the intu-
ition of excess destabilizes human ¬nitude and compels recon¬guration.

4.3. Self-Transcendence
Returning to Book Kappa, we need to consider yet again how the (self-)
transcendence, or (self-) overcoming of the human, is implied, enfolded,
in the activity of nous. Aristotle develops the issue of contemplative enact-
ment in terms of a movement beyond: beyond the human as merely
human, beyond the limits of mortality and its concerns. Contemplation


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