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Aristotle says that friendship makes life worth living, but despite being a central feature of daily life for almost every human being who has ever lived, friendship seems curiously absent from many philosophies of education. Aristotle, however, reminds us that education should focus on what is central to a flourishing life, and so it must include attention to friendship, though education must approach friendship in an indirect manner by focusing on virtue.

Aristotle thinks that the paradigm of friendship is adults of similar socioeconomic status who mutually want each other to possess all the virtues of character and intellect in a life of leisure. Children, however, begin far off from this ideal because, according to Aristotle, “Friendship between young people seems to be because of pleasure” (Nicomachean Ethics 1156a32.) A central task of educators, then, is to teach their young students to understand the nature of genuine friendship and to redirect their original impulse to base their friendships on pleasure. As students develop virtue, they likewise must come to recognize that the proper basis for friendship is not their own pleasure but the desire for themselves and their friends to be virtuous and good. Furthermore, Aristotle observes that genuine friendship requires friends at some point to share life together (Nicomachean Ethics 1157b19 and 1170b11–19). If educators want their students to develop genuine friendship, they must provide ways for students to do this; the necessity of this means that any kind of education that does not bring fellow students together physically will always, at best, be second-best.

When given its central place in education, the subject of friendship has a way of revealing inadequate philosophies of education, which often are preoccupied with the formal education of children and young adults. However, the education that takes place up to the age of twenty-one is, from a certain point of view, only preparation for the education that takes place informally after that through music, friendship, and, if all goes well, philosophy. Those who educate in formal settings should not presume that they are putting the finishing touches on their students. As much as possible in this world full of exile and solitude, teachers should seek to make their students ready to develop genuine friendships, for only fully educated friends with wisdom as their ally will conquer illiberality and ignorance.

The excerpt adapted for publication here is taken from Aristotle: Education for Virtue and Leisure  by Gary Hartenburg, published by Classical Academic Press. © Classical Academic Press® 2022. All rights reserved. Used by permission. It is also available for purchase on Amazon.com.

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