Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Goodwill and Friendship

Says Aristotle in Nichomachean Ethics IX-5: "Goodwill is a friendly sort of relation". but not the same as friendship.  And the reason is simple.  In goodwill there is not the "intensity or desire"  that arises in "friendly feeling".  We would not necessarily "do anything with" people to whom we feel goodwill but not friendship.

You might say, he writes, that goodwill is "a beginning of friendship", for philia starts with delight in the "form of the beloved".  But delight does not mean love.  Love means a longing when the beloved is absent and a craving for his presence.  The feeling of goodwill does not encompass longing and craving.

Aristotle seems to suggest that goodwill comes close to his definition of his second-class friendship, that based on utility or pleasure, for he says "The man who has received a benefit bestows goodwill in return for what has been done to him".  Yet he denies it, saying that goodwill "does not arise on those terms", i.e., the friendship based on utility or pleasure.  That is because, he says, the exchange of benefits is "only doing what is just"; men are not friends if they cherish each other "for the sake of some use to be made of" the other.  No, Aristotle insists, "goodwill arises on account for some excellence or worth, when one man seems to another beautiful or brave".

If this is so, then Aristotle is proposing that goodwill is the flash of pleasure that, e.g., a man feels when he sees a beautiful woman across the room.  But he has already said that goodwill does not involve "intensity or desire" and that certainly gets involved in the feeling that a man has in the fleeting view of a beautiful woman.

What then does Aristotle mean?  He just wants to say that goodwill is a feeling, the precursor to friendship, a delight in the other.  But it is not, repeat not, to be dirtied with the second-class transactional friendships based on utility and pleasure.  The best friendship is about love, wanting to spend time, to live next to the other person, wanting good for the other person for their own sake, and not a utilitarian quid pro quo.

And yet surely a friendship based upon utility or pleasure could just as easily start with the goodwill that Aristotle approves of, the glance across the room, the good feeling at seeing the beautiful or brave.  We proceed to friendship, because today and tomorrow we could use a bit of beauty, or could enjoy the pleasure of being around a tasty piece of beautiful fluff.

On Aristotle's view of goodwill, his second-class friendship is not really a friendship.  Only the best kind, the friendship between equals, based on love and wanting the best for the other person on their own terms, only that is the real thing.  Goodwill is the precursor to real friendship, the frisson of attraction.  And it is not to be confused with mere pleasure or mere utility.

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