Source: p 22, Philosophy: A Complete Introduction (2012) by Prof Sharon Kaye (MA PhD in Philosophy, U. Toronto)

The doctrine of the golden mean is supported by Aristotle's theory of friendship. Whereas Plato regarded justice as the highest good, [1.] Aristotle puts friendship [of virtue] above justice, pointing out [2.] that those who are friends have no need of justice
while those who are just still need friends.

Abbreviate FoV as Friends or Friendship of Virtue.

Why does Aristotle put FoV above justice, per 1? How is 2 true?
For example, justice is really needed for FoV (and not the inferior classes of Friends of Utility or of Pleasure) who desire to cause evil and injustice (eg: pollute the environment).

  • What has your research uncovered so far? What exactly are you hoping for someone to explain to you?
    – Joseph Weissman
    Mar 2, 2016 at 20:58

3 Answers 3


Aristotle is well aware that one can act justly towards those with whom one is not friends, even to one's worst enemies. But why should friends not need justice ? Surely I can cheat a friend ? Don't I need justice to check my bad tendencies even towards friends ?


We need to make two moves to understand Aristotle's views on justice and friendship. The first is that he distinguishes between three kinds of friendship (Nicomachean Ethics,VIII, 1156a7, 1157b) : (1) friendships of pleasure where someone's company - witty, generous, indulgent - is merely but genuinely enjoyable and satisfying; (2) friendships of advantage where an easy relationship is based on mutual advantage as in certain business ties; (3) friendships of virtue where a person is appreciated, valued, and their company sought because one recognises their moral goodness. A person is fine and admirable, a model of good living, and for this reason one wants to be with them and to enjoy them.

It is only to the third kind of friendship that the idea that friends have no need of justice applies. More specifically, it is friendship where there is a mutual recognition of moral goodness.

This is not to say that the third kind of friendship is without pleasure - very far from it. But it does not arise for the sake of pleasure as the first kind of friendship does and it does not produce pleasant incidentally as does the second.


If Aristotle is focusing on friendships based on mutual recognition of moral goodness, it is fairly clear that, in such friendships, restraint from harm is inapplicable since there is no inclination to harm that needs to be restrained or checked. This is brought out in the following passage from John Cooper :

...justice can exist perfectly well among those who care nothing for one another and who would not lift a finger to help any one else, except insofar as rules of justice might require. The sense of justice, understood as respect for fairness and legality, is compatible with a suspicious, narrow, hard, and unsympathetic character. Hence, as Aristotle says (1155a26-27), those who are merely just in their mutual relations have need also of friendship, whereas those who are friends do not need to become just in addition: since, as friends, they already feel a lively concern for one another's welfare, they already acknowledge reasons not to harm or work to disadvantage and can be expected to reach an accommodation without having to invoke strict rules of justice. Those who are truly friends will not wrong one another, not, however, out of love of justice and legality, but from love of one another. (J.M. Cooper, 'Aristotle on the Forms of Friendship', The Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 30, No. 4 (Jun., 1977), 646.)


Though friends have no need of friendship, Aristotle adds that when a relationship goes wrong and one does act unjustly towards a friend, the injustice is more serious: Cooper, 647.


Much of Aristotle's language suggests that all three kinds of relationship based respectively on pleasure, utility, and mutual recognition of moral goodness are forms of friendship. But there is at least one passage in the Nicomachean Ethics which suggests that only the third kind is genuine friendship while the others are only approximations to it or similar to it : Nicomachean Ethics, VIII, 1158a19.

  • Though friends have no need of friendship, Aristotle adds that when a relationship goes wrong and one does act unjustly towards a friend, the injustice : Cooper, 647 Is there a back half to this sentence?
    – Canyon
    Mar 3, 2018 at 22:53
  • I see your point ! I'll complete the text. Thanks for pointing out the error. Best - Geoff
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Mar 4, 2018 at 10:17

The quote from your book refers to

[...] and when men are friends they have no need of justice, while when they are just they need friendship as well, and the truest form of justice is thought to be a friendly quality. (Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics, VIII1155a26f)

Aristotle conceives that citizens can become friends (philoi) of each other, hence live peaceful, and do not need further regulations by law (justice = dikaiosynae).


Consider something like an absolute consensus process. (Best elaborated by Quakers, incidentally know as the Society of Friends.)

In such systems, fairness matters less than making peace between those involved. If one can always reach consensus, one never needs arbitration or an abstract definition of justice through law or moral code.

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