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Comedian Stephen Fry gets 20 plus “friend requests” an hour on Facebook; but no stable friendship without confidence, and confidence comes with time

Posted by gasweek on 26 September, 2007

According to Heather Brooke, news that the comedian, Stephen Fry has been forced to hire an assistant to manage his online social networking makes one wonder what Aristotle would make of Facebook. The great thinker had a lot to say about friendship that is relevant with the rise of such networking sites. The founding father of the scientific method, Western philosophy and logic would probably have hundreds clamouring to join his Facebook friends list. Perhaps he might even rival Fry’s reported 20-plus friend requests an hour, wrote Brookes in The Australian Financial Review, (22/9/2007, p.35).

Friend of Friends: Fry has decided to set up a separate friendship group for strangers who would like to be his friend. Aristotle’s findings on friendship outlined in Eudemian Ethics would make a useful FAQ for those coming to Facebook for the first time. He began his analysis with close observation, which led him to conclude there were three types of friendship: based on utility, pleasure and goodness;

• Utility is the most common basis of friendship, he observed, and exists between two people who are mutually useful to each other. Indeed, Aristotle thought the primary goal of political science was to make citizens useful to each other and so plant the seeds of friendship and goodwill: “While the moral friendship is more noble, utility is more necessary.”

• The friendship he put above all others is that based on goodness, where the balance sheet of reciprocity is thrown away and each provides affection and support without expectation of payback. Yet, in a lifetime, a person can find only a handful of such friends. “There is no stable friendship without confidence, and confidence only comes with time,” he wrote.

Where recriminations arise: Friendships need to be tested and one would have to live with many people to test their character. There simply isn’t enough time or opportunity. So don’t expect your Facebook friends to rush to your aid in time of tragedy. Recriminations arise most often when we mistake friendships based on utility or pleasure for those based on goodness. Thus Aristotle advises that friendships should have a legal basis to avoid misunderstanding. Time for a Facebook friendship contract perhaps?

The Australian Financial Review, 22/9/2007, p. 35

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