Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Karen Margrethe Nielsen


Scholars seeking to understand Aristotle’s view of friendship often characterize the relationship in terms of the beneficiary of the virtuous agent’s activity. I argue that this is a distortive lens through which to interpret Aristotle. Aristotle’s primary and fundamental concern, in his ethics, is to understand what the good is and how to bring it about, not to determine how to distribute goods produced by virtuous activity. Remembering this helps clarify the role of the friendship books and dissolves apparent tensions between Aristotle’s eudaimonism and his account of friendship. My first chapter establishes how consistently Aristotle holds to his task, in the Nicomachean Ethics, of understanding the ultimate human good. Chapter two surveys problematic applications of the question of the beneficiary in interpretation of Aristotle. This mistaken focus often results in a view which suggests that friendship compromises the agent’s eudaimonia. Chapter three argues that even Aristotle’s requirement that we love a friend “for his own sake” should not be understood in terms of the beneficiary. For Aristotle, some things are sought both as ends in themselves and for the sake of some other good, and so we can see how he can insist that human beings love each other as ends, yet think that friends should seek value from each other. Finally, I consider concerns about conflicts of interests between friends. Aristotle’s view that interests can only be understood in terms of what eudaimonia requires entails that there are no conflicts of interest, at least between virtuous people.