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Philia (; Ancient Greek: ), often translated "highest form of love", is one of the four ancient Greek words for love: philia, storge, agape and eros. In Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, philia is usually translated as "friendship" or affection. The complete opposite is called a phobia.
As Gerard Hughes points out, in Books VIII and IX of his Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle gives examples of philia including:
All of these different relationships involve getting on well with someone, though Aristotle at times implies that something more like actual liking is required. When he is talking about the character or disposition that falls between obsequiousness or flattery on the one hand and surliness or quarrelsomeness on the other, he says that this state:
This passage indicates also that, though broad, the notion of philia must be mutual, and thus excludes relationships with inanimate objects, though philia with animals, such as pets, is allowed for (see 1155b27–31).
In his Rhetoric, Aristotle defines the activity involved in philia ( ) as:
John M. Cooper argues that this indicates:
Aristotle takes philia to be both necessary as a means to happiness ("no one would choose to live without friends even if he had all the other goods" [1155a5–6]) and noble or fine () in itself.
Aristotle divides friendships into three types, based on the motive for forming them: friendships of utility, friendships of pleasure and friendships of the good.
Friendships of utility are relationships formed without regard to the other person at all. Buying merchandise, for example, may require meeting another person but usually needs only a very shallow relationship between the buyer and seller. In modern English, people in such a relationship would not even be called friends, but acquaintances (if they even remembered each other afterwards). The only reason these people are communicating is in order to buy or sell things, which is not a bad thing, but as soon as that motivation is gone, so goes the relationship between the two people unless another motivation is found. Complaints and quarrels generally only arise in this type of friendship.
At the next level, friendships of pleasure are based on pure delight in the company of other people. People who drink together or share a hobby may have such friendships. However, these friends may also part--in this case if they no longer enjoy the shared activity, or can no longer participate in it together.
Friendships of the good are ones where both friends enjoy each other's characters. As long as both friends keep similar characters, the relationship will endure since the motive behind it is care for the friend. This is the highest level of philia, and in modern English might be called true friendship.
Not all bonds of philia involves reciprocity Aristotle notes. Some examples of these might include love of father to son, elder to younger or ruler to subject. Generally though, the bonds of philia are symmetrical.
If philia is a type of love, Thomas Jay Oord has argued that it must be defined so as not to contradict love. Oord defines philia as an intentional response to promote well-being when cooperating with or befriending others. And his philia is not only that meaning. The philia also gives humans authentic friendship.
Aristotle recognizes that there is an apparent conflict between what he says about philia and what he says elsewhere (and what is widely held at the time) about the self-sufficient nature of the fulfilled life:
He offers various answers. The first is based on the inherent goodness of acting for and being concerned for others ("the excellent person labours for his friends and for his native country, and will die for them if he must" [1169a19–20]); thus, being a wholly virtuous and fulfilled person necessarily involves having others for whom one is concerned—without them, one's life is incomplete:
Aristotle's second answer is: "good people's life together allows the cultivation of virtue" (1170a12). Finally, he argues that one's friend is "another oneself," and so the pleasure that the virtuous person gets from his own life is also found in the life of another virtuous person. "Anyone who is to be happy, then, must have excellent friends" (1170b19).
For Aristotle, in order to feel the highest form of philia for another, one must feel it for oneself; the object of philia is, after all, "another oneself." This alone does not commit Aristotle to egoism, of course. Not only is self-love not incompatible with love of others, but Aristotle is careful to distinguish the sort of self-love that is condemned (ascribed to "those who award the biggest share in money, honours, and bodily pleasures to themselves. For these are the goods desired and eagerly pursued by the many on the assumption that they are best" [1168b17–19]) from that which should be admired (ascribed to one who "is always eager above all to perform just or temperate actions or any other actions in accord with the virtues, and in general always gains for himself what is fine [noble, good]" [1168b25–27]). In fact:
Aristotle also holds, though, that, as Hughes puts it: "[t]he only ultimately justifiable reason for doing anything is that acting in that way will contribute to a fulfilled life." Thus acts of philia might seem to be essentially egoistic, performed apparently to help others, but in fact intended to increase the agent's happiness. This, however, confuses the nature of the action with its motivation; the good person doesn't perform an action to help a friend because it will give her fulfillment; she performs it in order to help the friend, and in performing it makes both her friend and herself happy. The action is thus good both in itself and for the effect it has on the agent's happiness.