Confucius and Aristotle on friendship: A comparative study

Abstract

Before and during the times of Confucius and Aristotle, the concept of friendship had very different implications. This paper compares Confucius’ with Aristotle’s thoughts on friendship from two perspectives: xin 信 (fidelity, faithfulness) and le 乐 (joy). The Analects emphasizes the xin as the basis of friendship. Aristotle holds that there are three kinds of friends and corresponding to them are three types of friendship. In the friendship for the sake of pleasure, there is no xin; in the legal form of friendship for the sake of utility, xin is guaranteed by law; and in the moral form of friendship for the sake of utility, xin is guaranteed by morality; in the friendship for the sake of virtue, xin is an indispensable part. Both thinkers believe friends can bring joy to human life. According to Confucius, it is the joy of rendao 仁道 (benevolence), whereas for Aristotle, it is the joy of Reason. There are many commonalities and differences between the two. The commonalities reveal some inner links between Confucian rendao and Aristotelian Reason. It seems that the differences between rendao and Reason are the differences between moral reason and logical reason. The comparative study is helpful for us to understand the two masters’ ethics, politics and philosophy.

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Correspondence to Yuanguo He.

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Translated from Lunlixue Yanjiu 伦理学研究 (Research in Ethics), 2006, (1): 47–52

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He, Y. Confucius and Aristotle on friendship: A comparative study. Front. Philos. China 2, 291–307 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11466-007-0019-x

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Keywords

  • comparative philosophy
  • Confucius
  • Aristotle
  • friend
  • you
  • ren
  • Philia