On Truth and Friendship
This was originally posted over at my personal blog, but felt it would be relevant and interesting to post here before deciding on any potential future series posts.
“Though we love the truth and our friends, reverence is due to the truth first.”
-Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
I have been reading Aristotle’s classic work Nicomachean Ethics for my Ancient and Medieval Ethics class. This is my second time through the work, though I am getting much more out of it on this read through. Aristotle makes many important distinctions in just the first book of this work, but one sentence stood out and I decided to write a bit about it.
In context, Aristotle is talking about how to live the best sort of life. He rules out living a life for any purpose but that which you live for as an end in itself. He concludes that only self-sufficient ends (happiness, honor, and the like) are the proper purposes of a human, and not that which is sought for the sake of another good (money for the sake of purchasing or giving, health for the sake of living, etc). While pursuing how to discover what exactly the goods for themselves must be, Aristotle makes the assertion that we must respect truth over friendship.
What he says is true, but also difficult for many people to live out. Aristotle’s words are ancient, and yet our experience proves them. We can often concern ourselves with what our friends think or believe so much that we sacrifice truth. Sometimes we sacrifice the truthfulness of our actions or expressed beliefs by putting the opinions of our friends first. At other times, we sacrifice the pursuit of truth in order to avoid offending a friend. Aristotle argues that we should go against both of these practices and pursue truth before our friendships. And not only did he argue this, it appears that he lived it. In his work, he argues explicitly against Plato, who was his teacher. He does not consider this particular friendship (which I believe his relationship with Plato qualifies as, based on his own definition of the term) to be above the critical search for truth.
The point here being that friendship is a great good. However, truth is a good not worth sacrificing on the altar of friendship. True friendships built on truthfulness are far superior to friendships riddled with falsities.