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Edmund Husserl On Common Sense

In Special Topic on August 16, 2012 at 7:08 am

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It would seem that everyone has “common sense” and that a philosophical consideration of the term has no purpose.  The term itself, “common sense” doesn’t seem to mean anything specific, but rather just a vague term about some sort of “common knowledge.”  However, when one considers the term more closely as the founder of phenomenology Edmund Husserl did, one might ask, “How would one define such term for obvious knowledge?”  It seems to be a fairly vague, even a subjective term almost, that never seems to get explained but people agree to know what each other is meaning when something is referred to as “common sense.”  Well, if common sense is so obvious, what is its definition?  Also, how is it that it is said that some people don’t have “common sense”?  If this is so, but “common sense” is what is ‘common to all,’ how is it that some people do not have it? And, how are we better off for having “common sense” as opposed to esoteric or elite knowledge that makes some people “special” or experts, do they not have common sense anymore? There seems to be a certain unappealing, very basic sort of “lowest common denominator” connotation to “common sense” that makes it almost embarrassing for anyone to claim to know it with any sort of pride.  Why is that?

In his book The Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology (Trans. David Carr, Northwestern University Press: Evanston, 1970), Edmund Husserl makes some interesting statements about common knowledge.   He says, “Along with his [man’s] growing, more and more perfect cognitive power over the universe, man also gains an ever more perfect mastery over his practical surrounding world, one which expands in an unending progression.  This also involves a mastery over mankind as belonging to the real surrounding world, i.e., mastery over himself and his fellow man, an ever greater power over his fate, and thus an ever fuller “happiness” —“happiness” as rationally conceivable for man.  (p.66)  Here, one might think that this is a Renaissance humanistic type of attitude, even Machiavellian, that man is ever the master of nature through education, science and technology.  However, Husserl is probably making a different point here, that as man grows experientially by dint of his education, and the progress of science and technology, he makes sense of his own world better and then the world or universe better, thus growing in the horizon of the possibility of more happiness.  In other words, one could say that common sense is necessary for happiness because of the plain fact that you know more. At the same time, one needs to understand subjectively how the objective life-world works for oneself experientially for this to happen.  The informal, non-institutional, pedagogy of “life-experience” which taken aggregately amounts to what we call “common sense,” dispels the confusion about how life works over time, how one’s own micro-societies work (family and friends), and how one functions within different societal institutions and even in the global society at large.  Using quotidian terms, we can think of “common sense” as the difference between being “book smart,” only having theoretical knowledge, as opposed to “street smarts” or “worldly-wisdom,” having experiential knowledge.  For growth in happiness, one should have both worldly-wisdom or “common sense” and “artful” education or theoretical knowledge. Aristotle makes a similar epistemological distinction in his Metaphysics using the example of the experienced doctor as the most preferred option for a patient, because he or she has the combination of theoretical and experiential knowledge, but the experienced nurse is still preferred to the inexperienced doctor.

Just viewing the world as a physical object full of other physical objects, we take for granted as a given, all of the physical objects as part of the life-world in which we operate.  In an essay that covers this topic more extensively in the Cambridge Companion to Husserl (“Common Sense” eds. Barry Smith and David Woodruff Smith. University of Cambridge Press: 1995), the author appears to say that Husserl claims that common sense world is real and reality is organized around things and have networks of causal dependence (p. 398).  In other words, people make sense of the world by constantly inducing the causes of things in an attempt to understand the operation of the system in which they find themselves.  In other words, “common sense” is knowing “the that” but not “the why” of a system of knowledge.  Common sense requires experience of the life-world, from experiential knowledge the abstract universal is induced thence deducing the cause of the experience.  Scientific knowledge or skilled theoretical knowledge is specific knowledge of the causes of things in a system.  Husserl uses regularly throughout The Crisis the examples of geometry and mathematics as sources of objectively known knowledge of the world that are consistently true with precision and commonly held to be universally true knowledge about the pre-given, extra-scientific real world which is the ultimate test case system of theoretical truths for any scientist and the non-scientist assumes knowledge of this knowledge of geometric shapes all of the time.  One might say, “If it doesn’t work out there (the real world), it doesn’t work in here (meaning on the chalkboard or whiteboard or one’s own head).” It seems that someone who lacks common sense is someone who is so engrossed in his or her own head that they lose touch with the life-world, in certain circumstances, such as the “absent minded professor” (or anyone wearing earphones). The absent minded professor finds himself or herself contemplating his or her subjective-relative world of knowledge disproportionately to the way in which the life-world is presenting itself to him or her in his present.  So, an absent minded professor walking down a busy street, may be dangerous to himself or others because he is not paying attention to the other system (transportation system of cars and people) in which he traverses down the street, but is more focused on the life of his thoughts and his own world.  As a consequence, one might say, “That professor lacks ‘common sense’ as he walks down the street,” in that, this imbalance of undue attention to his own thought-world in the wrong context (the system of transportation) rather than in the right context (the academic system, in his office, for example) is a hazard to his physical self and others because of his lack of “presence of mind” to be consistent with the metaphysical realities of the objectively real life-world of cars, buses, trains and persons bustling up and down city streets.  The sauntering professor probably lacks “common sense” whereas a fast-paced taxi driver going down the same street probably does not.

“Common sense” or “worldliness” or “knowledge of the world” is important for happiness but not necessarily being “of the world.” Husserl says, “For he [man] can also know what is true in itself about values and goods.  All this lies within the horizon of this rationalism as its obvious consequence for man.  Man is thus truly an image of God.” In other words, what perhaps Husserl is saying here is that as “truly an image of God” man has a special likeness to God, and as such, just as he uses his rational nature to make sense of the physical world’s order put there by God (whom he calls “Absolute Being”), then man can also make use of his rationality to “know what is true in itself about values and goods” in the world of morality and the function of things put there by God. In other words, man can personally discover experientially the essential worth of things, in and of themselves.  What Husserl may mean here is that not only can persons use their rationality to grow in “common sense” cosmologically but also cosmogonically, thereby glimpsing the transcendental meaning of being.

Husserl makes a similar “common-sensical” distinction about the two types of knowledge that man can acquire, (experiential and theoretical).  He says, “The sciences build upon the life-world as taken for granted in that they make use of whatever in it happens to be necessary for their particular ends.  But to use the life-world in this way is not to know it scientifically in its own manner of being.”(p.125)  He goes on here to give an example that even Einstein’s knowledge took for granted everything required for his predecessor Michelson’s experiments to be true, such as the measurements, the scales, the room in the institution where the investigations were carried out, the people involved and many other variables which could be studied in and of themselves.  In other words, the “common sense” here is the life-world, or the world which we all take for granted when investigating something specific out of necessity.  It is the mental bracketing or phenomenological reduction which Husserl calls the “subjective-relative” knowledge in one’s own head that one must do in order to gain knowledge about something specific, the objective life-world must be taken for granted at that moment.  This is common sense, the knowledge of the existence of the rest of the world outside of one’s own subjective-relative analysis of it.  Husserl says, “The idea of objective truth is predetermined in its whole meaning by the contrast with the idea of the truth in pre- and extra scientific life.  This latter truth has its ultimate and deepest source of verification in experience which is “pure”…in all its modes of perception, memory, etc.” (p. 124) In other words, this truth about the knowledge of the world which is full of stuff, in which we find ourselves, is the experiential aspect of life that everyone comes to know for and by themselves sensorily and metaphysically from conception in the womb.  Husserl says, “What is actually first is the ‘merely subjective-relative’ intuition of prescientific world-life.”(p.125) So, before any scientist does any science, he or she has all of his previous experiential knowledge of his or her own life already in his or her disposal in mind and already knows it to be objective and true because it is the stuff that he or she comes to the laboratory table already knowing prior to any theoretical analysis.  It is this pre-scientific knowledge that Husserl is calling “pure” because it is known for sure by this individual person personally about the world and is affirmed in his or her own mind as true.  In other words, it is this subjective knowledge that is personally verifiable above and beyond the theoretical truths that scientists have to believe as true knowledge from their intellectual predecessors while having no certainty now or in the future whether or not a Kuhnian style paradigmatic shift could debunk what they currently hold as true since a new discovery, technological advancement or scientific insight could deem their current knowledge as the “old science” which is no longer true.  One of the points of Husserl’s book is that the European scientists have a significant crisis on their hands because they are constantly groping to say something objective about the world but are unwilling to affirm anything in the mind as true and coming to be affirmed with and from the objective world (whereas Modern philosophers have no problem making such claims).  This is why Husserl says, “The disdain with which everything ‘merely subjective relative’ is treated by those scientists who pursue the modern ideal of objectivity changes nothing of its own manner of being, just as it does not change the fact that the scientist himself must be satisfied with this realm whenever he has recourse, as he unavoidably must have recourse, to it.”(p.125)  Things as simple as knowing one’s own name, or knowing who one’s parents are, or knowing when one is hungry or tired, or aware of one’s own feelings or mood et cetera, all very personal knowledge, all “pure” “common sense” knowledge that each and every scientist already knows as true and pre-given as true for himself or herself or personally a priori.  It is this sort of “common sense” intuitive knowledge of the pre-scientific world-life that we know to be true experientially and bring to all theoretical inquiry before any subjective-relative inquiry takes place.  Husserl’s point seems to be that it is this sort of “common sense” knowledge that needs analysis the most by academia because it is the most taken for granted by the sciences as already known to be true, which is why he is proposing transcendental phenomenology as a solution.

Just as there really is precision and unity in science, Husserl discusses geometry’s predictability mathematically and the use of things having shape which confirms our knowledge of objects in the world, so too in the infinite variety of phenomenological reductions possible by all persons, there exists a common sense morality of values and the good of goods for each and every situation that the person finds himself or herself. This is where it is up to the free will of the person to judge the transcendental value of things and persons or to deny their value by saying either nothing in the mind is true or nothing in the world is true, and common sense tells us that such a denial is not true experientially in either way.  However, such a denial is convenient for epistemological particularists who sometimes extend such a relativist principle to the realm of morality. The issue here maybe that such an extension is a universal claim, that particularism in quantum physics coincides with moral particularism, however such a claim proves universals and is a logical fallacy, to argue from particular to particular.  One possible example might be, that just as Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle suggests that the precise location of a certain particle of matter may not be known exactly, there still exists a range of its location or activity.  Analogously, in a Husserlian sense, just as the quantum physicist could say that there is a range of the physical location of the particle (a common sense of the particle, so to speak), so too is there a range of the best possible of actions and reactions by persons who could affirm universal moral values given the particular contingencies of every moment and circumstance of every unique and unrepeatable human life while also considering the whole range of possible human behaviors if the person denies those universally held values as well.  This is “common sense.”  Just as according to the Heisenbergian principle that the exact location of the quantum particle is not now able to be measured, this doesn’t preclude that in the future it may be known precisely and exactly with the possibility of a new technology or means of measuring or scientific discovery.  So, given this current uncertainty and future uncertainty of the locate-ability of the quantum particle which is a fundamental theorem of physics, the individual physicist still knows better his or her subjective-relative knowledge in his or her own mind about himself or herself which he knows from life experience to be true (such as one’s own ability to see, or hear or touch and knowing that it is himself or herself, seeing, touching or hearing but also morally, he or she knows many standards of cultural and moral behaviors such as appropriate behavior in the laboratory, common professional courtesy for the sake of cooperation in research, or a childhood memory, all of which are a priori sources of knowledge and extra-scientific for each physicist yet more certain than the objective knowability of a particles location now or in the future).  In other words, just as there is a range of behavior of the particle there is a range of behavior for the person with one very significant difference, the particle must follow the laws of physics, like Brownian motion, whereas the person has innumerably more freedoms when behaving in the life-world in each of the contingencies of life, physically, emotionally, rationally, dispositionally and spiritually.  Consequently, because of this vast panoply of options man must use all of his creativity, all of his intellect and his experience to its highest degree to act most morally in every circumstance of life, unlike the deterministically led particle that must follow the sometimes ambiguous “laws” of physics.  There couldn’t be a greater metaphysical gulf between the value of a particle and the infinite intrinsic value of the person, to compare the two beings couldn’t be more philosophically erroneous. It does not follow that uncertainty about the location of a particle, and therefore the constitution of all matter, that therefore, there is uncertainty in all of morality.  Saint Augustine says in the City of God that God allows for order and chaos in nature but there is always order in morality.  Even what Augustine called “chaos” in nature we know now that there is an abundance of calculable order in all of nature, it is just that following the causes of things quickly becomes a reductio ad absurdum because of the seemingly infinite regression of causes of things, the dynamic of the present and the unknown future of matter, but one can rely on the omniscience of God to know all of these things.  Still, Husserl’s point is that there are many unknowns and uncertainties and disputations over many foundational principles in the “hard sciences” at the highest levels.  Take the Higgs boson, the best physicists in the world using the most highly advanced nuclear accelerator in the entire world can track the existence of the particle’s existence for a billion of a billionth of a second.  How many of these particles have existed in the history of the universe, the present and future of the universe?  Again, Husserl’s point, “The sciences build upon the life-world as taken for granted in that they make use of whatever in it happens to be necessary for their particular ends…The contrast between the subjectivity of the life-world and the “objective,” the “true” world, lies in the fact that the latter is a theoretical-logical substruction, the substruction of something that is in principle not perceivable, in principle not experienceable in its own proper being, whereas the subjective, in the life-world, is distinguished in all respects precisely by its being actually experienceable.” (p.128)  This doesn’t mean that everything true is in our head, but that, “The life-world is a realm of original self-evidences.”  In that, that stuff in the life-world has a “life” of its own.  He continues, “That which is self-evidently given is, in perception, experienced ‘the thing itself,’ in immediate presence, or, in memory, remembered as the thing itself; and every other manner of intuition is a presentification of the thing itself…All conceivable verification leads back to these modes of self-evidences because the “thing itself” (in the particular mode) lies in these intuitions themselves as that which is actually, intersubjectively experienceable and verifiable and is not a substruction of thought; whereas such a substruction, insofar as it makes a claim to truth, can have actual truth only by being related back to such self-evidences.”  Husserl is not saying that the world outside our head doesn’t exist or we can’t know it for sure, or that it should be doubted incessantly, rather it seems that what he is perhaps saying is that knowledge that we commonly sense “has the sense of an induction of something intuitable,” and that when we perceive things all of the time in the world, we do so prescientifically and naturally categorize them abstracting what we can about its knowability and make a judgment about the thing intuitively.  In other words, we get the form of the thing in our head as presented to us from the senses from the life-world and it is “that form of the thing in our head” which is from the self-evidencing of the “thing itself” on its own in the life-world which is real, which is then intersubjectively knowable, and is metaphysically verifiable back in the life-world.  Husserl is serious when he says, “It is of course itself a highly important task, for the scientific opening-up of the life-world, to bring to recognition the primal validity of these self-evidences and indeed their higher diginity in the grounding of knowledge compared to that of the objective-logical self-evidences.  One must fully clarify, i.e., bring to ultimate self-evidence, how all of the self-evidence of objective-logical accomplishments, through which objective theory (thus mathematical and natural-scientific theory) is grounded in respect of form and content, has its hidden sources of grounding in the ultimately accomplishing life, the life in which the self-evident givenness of the life-world has, has attained, and attains anew its prescientific ontic meaning.”(p.128)  In other words, laden within the objective theories of science is a more substantial truth about the world that the “self-evidence of things in the world” to our mind is much more true to us because we are constantly personally sensing the entire gamut of life-world “self-evidences” of things.  We always have lived in the life-world, always have and always will live in the life-world where we constantly know and test our knowledge personally and make judgments about it constantly, this is “common sense.” It is this pre-scientific “common sense” that is self-evidentially knowable to each person about the life-world which has the most truth ontically, more true than any theoretical postulate because all theoretical postulates refer back to the prescientific knowledge of the life-world we all already know to be true in our head, scientific theorems are substructions of that stuff that we know for sure: this is the true test of any theorem, if what Husserl is saying is here understood accurately .

So, when the smallest particle of matter bounces around, it still follows the laws of physics unautonomously, although the person inheres in a physical body, he autonomously choses how to react to all moments and circumstances of his life psychically, rationally, artfully, virtuously and spiritually, all of these multifarious freedoms bespeak of supernatural order, morality, human dignity and ultimately, hope.

Finally, a definition of “common sense” might be, “the balanced conscious awareness of the subjective-relative world of one’s own mind with the objective reality of the life-world coupled with the constant ability to learn and operate within each and between the two while always considering the transcendent meaningfulness of all things and all persons,” or just “naturalness.”

Is there an “Order to Love”? Personalist Philosopher Max Scheler Thought So…(Part 1)

In Dignity of the Person on August 16, 2012 at 7:02 am










It would seem that maybe one of the last things in the world that anyone would want in love, is order.  The idea of “order in love” seems to connote “routine,” “lack of spontaneity,” “predictablity,” “dispassionate,” “uncreative,” just plain “boring.”  So, why would Max Scheler, known as the founder of personalism and an expert on the philosophy of emotions and feelings propose that there is an “order to love” (“ordo amoris”), a sort of rationalism for the emotions?  Plus, even if this “order to love” did exist, as Scheler suggests, what good would it be even if one did come to learn what Scheler meant by it?

Well, according to Scheler, the ordo amoris is the root of all ethics.  Scheler says that “The study of this formation belongs to the most important problems of an intensive study of the moral being ‘man.'” [Selected Philosophical Essays Max Scheler. Ed. John Wild et al., Northwestern University Press: 1973, p.102]  In other words, the most important philosophizing  that the world needs to engage in is the ordo amoris.  Scheler says because, “…the highest thing of which a man is capable is to love things as much as possible as God loves them…”  This is the loftiest possible standard of love: infinite love.  He says, “the concept of ordo amoris…is the means whereby we can discover, behind the initially confusing facts of man’s morally relevant actions, behind his expressions, his wishes, customs, needs and spiritual achievements, the simplest structure of the most fundamental goals of the goal-directed core of the person, the basic ethical formula, so to speak, by which he exists and lives morally.”(p.102)  This “order of the heart” is the window into the soul of the person.

What Scheler says is a radical break from the trends of rationalism, empiricism and pragmatism of modern philosophy.  He says, “…[the] heart deserves to be called the core of man as a spiritual being much more than knowing and willing do.”(p.102)  This is very different from what other very important philosophers have said about man.  We can think of Aristotle’s statement that man is a “rational animal,” implying that it is his knowledge, his learnedness, his capacity for abstracting the universal from the particular that makes him a person.  However, according to Scheler, this is not the core or root of man’s being.  Rather, he says it isn’t knowing that is at the root of man’s being, but rather that the person“has a spiritual model of the primary source which secretly nourishes everything emanating from this man.”(p.102)  In other words, one might say that the person’s heart, his “order of love,” is the formal cause of his spirituality, therefore his personhood, directed toward the Final Cause which is also the First Cause.

This ordo amor is also a radical break from the German Romantic philosophers of the late Nineteenth Century and early Twentieth Century who advocated a sort of mythical, nature-based spiritedness, a “will to power,” for example, the will, was the focal point of man’s personhood for many of them in this life, only.  Whereas, Scheler is not saying “spiritedness” in their sense at all, but instead he says, “The idea of a correct and true ordo amoris is, for us the idea of a strictly objective realm independent of man, the objective order of what is worthy of love in all things, something we can only recognize, but cannot “posit,” produce or make…It is not something we have to posit, but something we have to recognize.” (p.103)  This point that Scheler makes is important because what is inherent yet hidden and awaiting discovery in all things and in all persons is the moral order.  With this value ranking man is obliged to recognize its value, not posit, produce or make (because he cannot).  Such a value ranking, an inherentness of being, is something that persons need to recognize subjectively, individually.  This subjective aspect of the ordo amoris can be misled, disordered or confused by a person, which would need to be corrected and restored.  Well, how can it become disordered?

According to Scheler, a confused conception of the ordo amoris can come about when someone over emphasizes a “love of the self” over and above the “love for one’s own salvation.”(p.102)  He says that the disorder comes about when “we purposely see everything, even ourselves, through our ‘own’ yes only.  We refer every datum, even ourselves, to our sensuous states of feeling, without having a distinct and clear awareness that this is what we are doing.  Thus, we can, in clinging to these states of feeling, make even our highest spiritual capacities…the slaves of our body and its conditions.” (p.107)  In this way, Scheler states that “The sensualist is struck by the way the pleasure he gets from the objects of his enjoyment gives him less and less satisfaction while his driving impulse stays the same or itself increases as he flies more and more rapidly from one object to the next…”  He quotes Pascal who said that “Our heart is too spacious,” (p.102) meaning that although the person’s body and spirit both have the desire for the infinite, only the spirit has the capacity for this infinity.  A disordered ordo amoris can arise and frustrate the intemperate person’s heart because his pursuit of infinite bodily experiences cannot possibly be satisfied.  The consequence of this is devastating, Scheler says, “Our spirit finds itself in ‘metaphysical confusion’ when an object which belongs among those in any way and in any degree value-relative is loved in the manner appropriate only to objects of absolute value; that is when a man identifies the value of his spiritual personal core with the value of such an object to the extent that he stands to it basically in the relation of faith and worship, and thus falsely deifies it, or rather idolizes it.”(p.124)  For Scheler, a person that perceives a thing as value relative is the person who correctly perceives a thing according to its rank as a being and he understands the love due to that thing, its ordo amoris.  Whereas, the person who perceives a thing incorrectly metaphysically attributes ultimate, absolute value, to a thing that does not merit absolute value (such as a person who fanatically desires his team to win the World Cup in soccer).  As a consequence, this person incorrectly attributes too much value to a thing that is not its due while omitting the recognition and appreciation of what does have absolute value, such as God.

Whereas, when the ordo amoris is correctly perceived, Scheler maintains that the spiritual life is very different in the effects it receives from the pursuit of spiritual things correctly.  He says, “…the satisfaction of one who loves spiritual objects, whether things or persons, is always holding out new promise of satisfaction…In the highest case, that of love for a person, this movement develops the beloved person in the direction of ideality and perfection appropriate to him and does so, in principle, beyond limits.”(p.109)  He says this because “Every love is love for God, still incomplete, often slumbering or self-infatuated, often stopping, as it were on its way.”(p.109) He continues, “If a man loves a thing or a value…if he loves this or that formation in nature, if he loves a man as a friend…It means that in and through the action of this unity he joins the other object in affirming its tendency toward its proper perfection that he is active in assisting it, promoting it, blessing it.”(p.109)  In other words, the person contributes to the achievement of the destiny of all things and of all persons, which is to be united with God.  Just as the saying goes “Charity starts at home,” charity or love, begins with the obvious persons with whom we already live, those for whom we are most indebted for their agapeic love, our parents, or our spouse or children, family and friends.  This ordo amoris as charity properly ordered, is a self-donation of one’s true self  to others that doesn’t confuse or delude oneself or others about the a priori hierarchy of love in being and in the dignity of the person.

Too Many Friends? Aristotle and Aquinas on why it is actually virtuous to limit the number of your friends

In Friendship on August 15, 2012 at 5:27 am

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In the Information Age where social media thrives and the possibility of creating new connections with many people is quite easy (even automated), it might be wise perhaps to consider what Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas have said about friendship.  In Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Aquinas comments that Aristotle begins to doubt how others should be loved when Aristotle says [Book Nine, Chapter 10, 1170b 20-23, (Dumb Ox Books: Notre Dame, Indiana. 1993)] “Should a man then make as many friends as possible?…or perhaps it will be fitting in friendship that a man should be neither without friends nor with an excessive number.”  Aristotle, the classical defender of ‘common sense’ asks the very obvious, humble and practical question, whether it is good to make as many friends as one possibly can? Our pride  might say, “Of course, I want many friends in my life because this is a sign of my goodness!”  or one might equate the quantity of persons in one’s social media contact list with one’s own personal sense of self-worth and value to others, based upon the utility they provide you and you provide for them.  However, the key idea here may be Aristotle’s use of the phrase “…in friendship…”, possibly meaning that in true friendship an excess of friends or a lack of friends is not good for a person (this seems to be pointing to a definition of what Aristotle means by friendship, a concept which will be referred below).  Although, Aristotle continues, “This statement seems to be quite applicable to those who make friends for utility.  For it is burdensome to repay the services of many people and a man’s life is not long enough for the task.  Therefore, more friends than are sufficient for our own life distract us from noble living, and there is no need for them.”   Aquinas comments on this by saying, “Therefore, if a man’s useful friends are more numerous than necessary for his own life, they distract and hinder him from the blessings of a life which consists in virtuous activity.  The reason is that while a person gives extra attention to the business of others, he cannot properly care for himself.  Evidently then a man has no need of many useful friends.”  So it seems that both philosophers are here distinguishing between what is true friendship and “useful friends.”  In other words, a person doesn’t need many “useful friends” because they cause him to forget to take care of himself and his own affairs since he is spending so much time attempting to repay their favors, causing him to forget to work on growing in virtue himself and spending his time away from his true friends, his spouse and his family.  The “defender of common sense” says, “…and a man’s life is not long enough for the task.”  This is so obviously true even if we think of the multitude of benefits we receive from so many people just in a single day both directly and indirectly, let alone an entire lifetime.

So, what is Aristotle’s definition of a friend?  He says in a prior book (Book Eight, Chapter 3, 1156b911) that “…people who wish good to friends for their sake are the truest friends; they do this for the friends themselves and not for something incidental.”  Something incidental, such as, the utility a friend brings or the pleasure, such as, being funny.  In other words, a true friend wants the good of that friend as a person, and does not treat that person as a thing from whom one can receive pleasure or finds useful.

So, how does one behave like a true friend?  Aristotle says, “Perhaps then it is not well to seek as many friends as possible but as many as are sufficient for living together…Indeed love is a kind of excess of friendship, and this is possible with one person only, or with a very few.”  Aquinas comments on this very passage saying that, “…it does not seem possible for a man to be very friendly to great numbers…since achievement of the highest perfection cannot take place in most cases due to a multiplicity of defects and hindrances.”  In other words, with many people, the sheer quantity of personal defects, flaws or faults multiplies beyond one’s ability to pursue perfect friendship with the group and there are hindrances, time schedules, for example, distance, availability, preferences, among so many other possible obstacles.  In conclusion, it seems for Aristotle that actually “living together” (not on-line, not virtually) is the true test of true friendship.  If we include this idea of “living together” with the other idea of having time for one’s own self-improvement, our virtuous improvement of those with whom we live and their improvement of us, we can see readily that this is a lot of time consuming yet joyful work.  But, in reality, with whom would we prefer to do all of these things with?  Our true friends whom we love of course!