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Gerardo Castillo Ceballos, , Professor Emeritus of the School of Education and Psychology of the University of Navarra.

Would Aristotle approve of virtual friendships?

Mon, 11 Jan 2016 15:02:00 +0000 Published in El Comercio

Virtual friendships are all the rage. Several advantages are attributed to them compared to real friendships: it is easier to contact new "friends", open up to them and disconnect when you want to; they are much more numerous and come from all over the world. 

Some disadvantages are also recognized: the lack of physical presence makes it impossible to perform some typical functions of friendship (listening, understanding, sharing, helping when the other needs it); there is less involvement staff, knowledge of friends and deepening of feelings.

Social networks alone are not capable of forging and maintaining a true friendship consolidated by virtue; that is why their function cannot be to replace the family and social environment, but only to be complementary to both.

A humorous cartoon shows a wake where there are only two people standing next to the coffin of the deceased. One of them says to the other, "He had over 3,000 friends on Facebook - don't you think there should be more people here?"

Since the networks convinced us that we had thousands of friends, the concept of friendship and the experience of it have been progressively trivialized and devalued. It was not until 2010 that the British anthropologist Robin Dunbar published a book in which he argued that the limit of people with whom our brain can maintain a stable relationship is 150, and from that moment on we could better distinguish between "friends" and "contactees".

Nowadays, "friendship" in the networks causes a mutation of its meaning. It is intended to be reduced to a virtual relationship. The terms "friendship" and "friend" are so broad that they are producing a lot of confusion. Friendship is conceived as a simple projection of one's own desires from an individualistic and narcissistic attitude. With friends one seeks only immediate gratification. The supposed "friend" can be a stranger at the service of one's own ego. 

Friendship between strangers who do not even see each other's faces is being sold to us as a consumer article . Friendship would have ceased to be what it was to become an impersonal, fleeting, frivolous and distant relationship. I believe, therefore, that it is necessary to resort to its main source, that of Aristotle, with the purpose to know if he approves or not virtual friendships. The Stagirite's answers to the following four questions related to this problem come from his Nicomachean Ethics, written in the 4th century BC.

With the advent of the Internet, the idea of friendship has broadened a lot, with the consequent confusion. Do you see it that way?

In order to prevent possible misinterpretations, I distinguished from the outset between perfect friendship and friendship by accident (apparent friendship). The former is characterized by disinterested affection, reciprocal benevolence and communication for the mutual good of the friends. In it there is a mutual financial aid for the betterment staff. The friend is loved for himself after having known him through attention staff . In apparent friendship, on the other hand, friends act on the basis of interest, utility or pleasure; they do not love each other for their own sake, but insofar as they benefit from each other. 

Is having a good time with your friend among the acceptable types of friendship?

True friendship involves more than mere enjoyment or mutual benefit. While the desire for friendship is easily conceived, friendship itself is not.

Some people say that they have the friendships that suit them. Is that approach acceptable?

Those who are friends because of convenience cease to be so when that convenience disappears, because the friendship was not due to reciprocity, but was oriented to an occasional advantage.

With an opposite criterion to the way of making friends of the "non-digital" generations, in social networks it is considered that the more friends you have, the better. What is the right thing to do?

Friends are limited in number and it is probable that the greatest issue corresponds to those with whom one can live together, and this seems to be the optimum of friendship. It is not possible to live with many, nor to share among many; and it is also difficult to intimately share joys and sorrows with the majority of one's friends, because at the same time one must rejoice with some and grieve with others. Perhaps it is good not to seek many friends, but only those necessary for attention. Those who have many friends and treat everyone familiarly, give the impression of not being friends with anyone.