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Lately I’ve been thinking about Aristotle’s 3 forms of friendship… how I can see them at work in my life… and also how they apply in M/s relationships. Philosophical mutterings follow:
Aristotle’s first and lowest level of friendship is the “friendship of utility.” Both parties derive a practical benefit from one-another. When that benefit is no longer present, the basis for the friendship is gone, and the two people soon drift apart. Now, it’s important to point out that the friendship is mutually beneficial – this is not a case of one person using another. Examples are like business partners, work colleagues, or members of a band or sports team. What this brings to mind for me, personally, is any number of “gaming friends” I’ve had. What we primarily enjoyed was playing games together, and were “using” one-another for this (mutually beneficial) purpose.
The second, and higher, level is a “friendship of pleasure.” This relationship is founded on mutual enjoyment. Pleasure friends like hanging around one-another. Practical benefit doesn’t matter… and it’s not what they are doing, just that they are doing something (anything!) together.
I need to point out that Aristotle’s categories are not exclusive. A relationship can have elements of both pleasure and utility. But Aristotle argues that the core of the relationship will be primarily one or the other. You might think first of two business partners who get along very well, always laughing and joking, but after retirement they rarely ever contact one-another… and then think of partners/band members/teammates who, after retirement, still talk all the time, go fishing, go to dinner, and continue to just hang-out. While most friendships probably contain both elements of utility and pleasure, the core of the relationship will either focus around what they are doing together (utility) or just that they are together (pleasure). Gaming friends may be using one-another for pleasure… but the pleasure is being derived primarily from the game rather than the company. A second point is that, Aristotle classifies pleasure as a higher friendship b/c it’s harder to break. As we’ve said, a friendship of utility terminates fairly easily – as soon as the relationship stops being mutually useful. While friends of pleasure may drift apart (people change) it takes longer and is more difficult.
Before moving on, I want to make one more point. What about romantic relationships? Well, Aristotle classifies them as “friendships of pleasure.” Your mate may (one hopes) be thought of as the friend whose company you derive the most pleasure from… so much so that you feel compelled to live together, do most of your activities together, and spend the rest of your lives together.
The third, highest form of friendship is the “perfect friendship,” “friendship of virtue,” or “friendship of inspiration.” Remember Jack Nicholson’s line in As Good as it Gets? “You make me wish I was a better man.” That’s the idea. It is through knowing one-another that these two improve, not their lots or situation in life (utility), but their characters. They grow more virtuous together. (It needs to be quickly noted here that “virtue” for the Pagan Greeks meant something a little different from what it usually means today. Greek virtue means not just that a person is morally upright, but that he has excellence of character. Strength, courage, wisdom, will, honor, power, depth, vision…)
Aristotle believed perfect friendships lasted, essentially, forever. It can outlast any change in situation and even outlast a lack of pleasure w/ one-another. This relationship is, essentially, unbreakable, b/c it’s not a matter of mutual-benefit, but is completely self-less… b/c perfect friends cannot separate their individual fates from their mutual relationship. He described this relationship as “one soul in two bodies.”
He also believed that these friendships were extremely rare. One of his oft-quoted lines is, “A man is truly happy if he has known three true friends.” Part of the reason why this relationship was so rare is b/c, he felt only good and virtuous (we might say “noble”) people were capable of it. When I reflect on my own social life, I can see that I have a wide circle of utility friends. I have much fewer pleasure friends, but there certainly are several. And I would like to count myself among the “truly happy” b/c I think I maybe have 3 perfect friendships… but Aristotle also said it was impossible to say if a man led a happy life until he reached its end, so…
Aristotle also emphasizes that perfect friends must be equals. He explicitly denies that a master & slave, employer & employee, mentor & student, or husband & wife could be perfect friends. His reasoning is that, this form of friendship is so other-focused, that the master would instantly free his slave and the employer would make the employee his full partner. And if you look at the case of the mentor-student, while the mentor may derive certain utilities and pleasures from the relationship, it will always be uneven – by definition, the student is the primary receiver of benefit in such a relationship. In the last case, if you think about the traditional, pre-feminist view of the roles of husband & wife, this makes a little more sense and clarifies why he classified lovers as “friends of pleasure.”
Now, this set me to thinking. Here, as w/ so many other things, BDSM breaks all the rules. I agree that non-consensual Master-slaves cannot be perfect friends. And I agree that employer-employees can’t be such friends… b/c in both cases neither is able to "be all he could be." Of course the slave would rather be the master! Of course the employee would rather own the company! But in BDSM relationships the slave is consensually a slave… and feels that he can only “be all he can be” by being a slave!
Sure, most M/s and D/s couples are not perfect friends but friends of pleasure as most lovers are. But I think M/s and D/s couples are capable of being perfect friends despite the apparent inequality. In the perfect M/s relationship – one of “mutual inspiration” – the Master is inspired to be a better, more virtuous, more worthy Master… while the slave is inspired to become a better, more virtuous, more valuable slave… and both grow in strength, wisdom, courage and self-empowerment. Speaking for myself, I couldn’t be all I could be w/o being my Owner’s puppy.
(And, Ma’am… you make me wish I were a better puppy.)