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Comparison on Friendship Between Aristotle, Epicurus and Martin Luther King Jr.

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Comparison on Friendship Between Aristotle, Epicurus and Martin Luther King Jr.

Friendship is a special relationship a person can have with any number of acquaintances. It is a fortuitous happenstance that occurs in varying levels of intensity between two people. Aristotle and Epicurus believe friendship is a rare commodity as friendship is a treasured bond of trust that has been proven throughout trials which create and strengthen those bonds. However Martin Luther King Jr. believes that everybody should treat everybody and anybody in a neighbourly fashion, a neighbour not only being one who lives near or next to another, but a fellow human. King claims a person should not merely care about one person, or a dozen people, but every person, for humans as a whole are neighbours to one another in this shrinking world. King uses the Bible and the parable Jesus tells of the Good Samaritan as an example of his idea of being a good neighbour. After examination of these articles one needs to ask the questions: How is the view on friendship of Aristotle and Epicurus different from neighbourliness as shown in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s article? Should we, as responsible moral agents, focus our energies on a few good friends, or be neighbours to all in need that we encounter? What then, is the moral difference in how we should treat friends and strangers?

The Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.) who studied with Plato wrote a series of books he titled Nicomachean Ethics. From these, the subject of Book VIII is Friendship. Aristotle believes that friends are a necessity of life. People need to have friends. A person with power and wealth needs friends in order to use his wealth for benevolent means. Even so, one needs friends in order to keep them in power. In contrast, a poor person needs a friend to give them a helping hand. When one is young, a friend will keep one from making mistakes, and when old, friends will be there to lend aid when one cannot even perform the most mundane of tasks, and when one is at the pinnacle of life, a person needs friends to help them do noble deeds. Truly even society favours concord/agreement which is itself akin to friendship. “If citizens be friends, they have no need of justice… the completest realization of justice seems to be the realization of friendship or love also.” (55) Aristotle writes of three types of friendship: 1) the love is based upon the usefulness of the other. 2) The love stems from a supposed personal quality of the other person which gives one pleasure such as wittiness or beauty. 3) the final type of friendship is between those that are virtuous. Good people find other good people to be pleasant company. The third type of friendship is the longest lasting, however takes time and development, as the virtuous nature must be recognized. One cannot merely treat others as friends to accomplish this, but must also prove themselves as “worthy to be loved” (57). This friendship, once established, is strong, since a mutual trust is formed. Aristotle does go on to mention that distance which alone does not hurt a friendship does stop the manifestations of friendship. While love is a feeling, for Aristotle, friendship is a habit that underlies a purpose. For these reasons Aristotle stresses the importance of true friends being so rare and worthy.

Epicurus (342-270 B.C.E) was a stoic man with a view of friendship somewhat akin to Aristotle’s. For Epicurus, friendship is a means as it gives one comfort, delight, security and pleasures. But one must only choose friends who are simple, honest, active seekers of truth, complacent, and hopeful. One does not want friends who might give one reason to fear or want, it is most rational for a person to attain friendships which will soothe and bait one’s mind in pleasing manners. However, when one chooses a friend, one must be very cautious as one does not wish to befriend a loner, rather one that will give fruitful conversation. Friends will inevitably share and share alike. For this reason one must be careful of the motives of poorer people befriending the rich. Is this merely for their possessions? This seed of doubt in friendship would inevitably prevent any sort of friendship to occur. Common people without knowledge or understanding cannot possibly fathom the intricate depths of true friendship, for though they may be able to talk freely, truly understanding the private or public matters, or the difference between good or bad manners is beyond their scope of reason. Thus only those who are wise can be friends. The wise person can truly understand the other, and in doing so, can love the friend as they might love themselves, and be willing to sacrifice their possessions or even their life, for a friend.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), a winner of the Nobel Peace Price emphasizes the importance of being neighbourly non-racially based in his 1963 work Strength to Love.

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