As Aristotle said:
To each is pleasant of which he is said to be fond: a horse, for instance, to him who is fond of horses, and a sight to him who is fond of sights: and so in like manner just acts to him who is fond of justice. So then their life has no need of pleasure as a kind of additional appendage, but involves pleasure in itself.
Aristotle considers the highest human pleasure lies in contemplation. I’m with him there. A life of thought is a pleasant life for me. But no man is an island, everyone needs friends.
Indeed Aristotle spends a full fifth of his Nicomachean Ethics in defining and describing the nature, types and specificities of friendship, and points out:
“No one would choose a friendless existence on condition of having all the other things in the world.”
For Aristotle, there are transactional friendships and friendships for fun and frivolity. But the highest form of friends – are friends in contemplation.
These are friends whose excellence of thought and deed and sheer interestingness in what they have to say, draw us to them. And the same attributes in ourselves draw them to us.
We all care about our friends, but Aristotle shows that our ‘highest order’ friendships define us, enrich us and enable us to engage in that very highest of human pleasures – contemplation.
As a very fine ‘friend in contemplation’ told me, the great American, Thomas Jefferson, would always ensure he had his truest friends no more than an hour’s horse ride away. Thanks to Aristotle I know why.
For Aristotle, the central point of life is to find and nurture the best of friends. Friends who care for our virtue and excellence, as we care for theirs. The best of friends are both the means and end of it all. But the best friends aren’t always the oldest or the ones we have know longest – they are the ones with the most ‘relevant complexity’.
And this means three more good reasons to invest in our own ‘relevant complexity’:
1) More subjects for joyful contemplation, in more interesting conversations with the friends we already have.
2) The discovery of new grounds for deepening those friendship and
3) The potential for interesting new friends, as we discover subjects we can explore and share with many others.
Friends in contemplation are always eager to open a new chapter.
If I still haven’t persuaded you to read some Aristotle, read this free SparkNotes summary – Arete beats Akrasia every time…
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