So far we’ve talked about both romantic and playful love. Now, we’re going to talk about philia or brotherly love. Philia is the deep friendship or comradely bond that develops between coworkers, teammates, or soldiers in an army because of the shared experience that everyone has. It is the love we feel for people we strive with to achieve a shared goal – like fighting side by side on a battlefield against a common enemy. Philia is about showing loyalty, sacrificing, and sharing your emotions.
In Books VII and IX, Aristotle gave several examples of philia:
“Young lovers (1156b2), lifelong friends (1156b12), cities with one another (1157a26), political or business contacts (1158a28), parents and children (1158b20), fellow-voyagers and fellow-soldiers (1159b28), members of the same religious society (1160a19), or of the same tribe (1161b14), a cobbler and the person who buys from him (1163b35).”
In his view, philia required not only getting along well with someone, but actually liking their character and disposition. It must be mutual and excludes relationships with inanimate objects. However, philia shared with animals, such as household pets, is allowed for. Moreover, philia also requires action insofar as both your wanting good things for someone, for his or her own sake and not your own, and being inclined, so far as you can, to do such things for this person without any regard for how you might benefit from this exchange.
In this way, Aristotle divided friendship into three types, based on the motive for how they were formed: utility, pleasure, and goodwill.
Friendships of utility are more like common acquaintances. It’s a shallow association for the sole purpose of some form of mutual exchange. These aren’t bad relationships, but as soon as the initial motivation is gone (the transaction is complete), so goes the relationship.
The next level of philia is based on just enjoying someone else’s company. These are the friends that you hang out and party with or bond over a mutual interest or hobby. However, these friends may also part if they no longer enjoy or participate in the same shared activity together.
Goodwill friendship are at the highest levels of philia, both friends enjoy each other’s characters. The relationship will last as long as both parties keep similar characters as their motivation for friendship is in their desire to care for their friend, and vice versa. This is what we would call a true friendship.
“Now it is possible for bad people as well [as good] to be friends to each other for pleasure or utility, for decent people to be friends to base people, and for someone with neither character to be a friend to someone with any character. Clearly, however, only good people can be friends to each other because of the other person himself; for bad people find no enjoyment in one another if they get no benefit.” (1157a18–21)
Not every type of friendship has some sort of reciprocity involved. I have had plenty of friendships in my life where while I may have been a great and close friend from their perspective, they were not that for me and that’s okay. As a child, I found these types of relationships to be very frustrating, but now, not so much. When I feel wronged or slighted, I remind myself that while I’m all-around fucking amazing person, I’m also not so important to think that everything is about me.
Everyone has their own set of reasons for how, why, what, where, and when they choose to do things. What I perceive to be a premeditated slight designed to attack and hurt me may really, truly have little or nothing to do with me at all. I could have just gotten in the crossfire of someone else doing something for their own self-interest and that’s okay. I’m learning to become much less concerned about someone else’s actions, especially if they make me uncomfortable, and to focus more on how I can better control my experience, perception, and worldview, regardless of anyone else and our level of friendship.
I need and want friendships of utility, pleasure, and goodwill. They all will help me to become the truest version of myself and it would be an honor to have anyone of these types of relationship to help someone else along his or her path as well.
Next Week: Storge