With such relationships being so prolific in our lives, MacIntyre said some may be tempted to wonder what the use is of another kind of friendship after all.
In his response to this question, MacIntyre said that because human beings are dependent rational animals who need to be able to make good judgements about themselves and the world in order to flourish, a key element of true friendship then is the ability to tell one another the truth.
"Insofar as our minds are not so informed, we're liable to go astray in a variety of ways, to be victims of ignorance, arrogance, deception and self-deception. We become unable to flourish and we become unable to recognize that we are unable to flourish. We make bad decisions, for we can hope to avoid bad decision making only by deliberating in the company of a certain kind of other," he said.
This other - a true friend - must not only be a "perceptive inquirer" and "scrupulously truthful," they must "care enough about us and about our flourishing as human agents to insist on us, too, being truthful, so with their help, we may become able to correct our mistakes and to free ourselves from our illusions."
True friendships must also be uncalculating of the costs and benefits of the relationship, and must be relationships in which "each friend genuinely cares both for the other and for the good of the other and finds in this caring a sufficient reason for acting as she or he does," MacIntyre added.
St. Thomas Aquinas, MacIntyre noted, was also able to "correct" some of Aristotle's deficiencies in his definition of friendship by recognizing that people possess various virtues in varying degrees, and that grace and charity can account for some of the ways baptized persons act that go beyond either their natural inclinations towards virtue or their moral education in the virtues, which allows for a broader understanding of friendship.
"So a more recognizable portrait of humanity emerges - and one sometimes wonders how many people Aristotle had actually met," MacIntyre said.
This more recognizable view of humanity is "one in which moral education has become the work of a lifetime, and moral failure in this or that respect is a recurrent and characteristic feature of our lives. It matters, of course, that Aquinas writes as a Christian theologian and therefore is someone for whom their sinfulness is one of the key facts about human beings," he added.
This more flexible view of humanity also allows that good friendships can be schools of virtue, rather than just something that occurs between two people who have already achieved perfect virtue, because these friendships are "a means to self-knowledge. Friendships survive and flourish...only if each friend can rely on the other's truthfulness. And without the self-knowledge that is one result of such truthfulness we're all of us apt to become victims of our own self-indulgent fantasies," he said.
An additional key element of a true friendship is that it is a gift, MacIntyre said. A gift is freely given, and must be received. This means that one must be open to the possibility of friendship with others, and recognize the opportunity of friendship when it occurs.
This requires a responsiveness to others, as well as a willingness to be surprised or disappointed along the way, he noted. It means letting go of pride, or of greed or an unnecessary competitiveness with others, he added.
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"Yet what above all else stands in the way of openness to friendship is insincerity," MacIntyre said. An insincere person is an actor of sorts, he noted. An insincere person is not necessarily a liar, but they have convinced others and sometimes themselves that they are something or someone that they are not.
"An insincere person invites others to respond not to their reality, but the sometimes impressive fiction that they have constructed. So the other is put at a disadvantage and when the invitation extended to the other is or includes an offer a friendship, what is offered cannot, in fact, be friendship. For one is being invited to care for a fiction, not for a real human being," he said.
A final characteristic of a true friend is that they care not only for their friend, but for all that their friend cares about, MacIntyre said, quoting Aquinas: "When the man has friendship for someone for his sake, he loves all belonging to it, whether children, servants or related to him in any way."
"Indeed, so much do we love our friends, but for their sake we love all who belonged to them," MacIntyre said.
And so with these defining characteristics of a good friendship, they still may be difficult to find in today's world, MacIntyre said, but they are possible and necessary for human flourishing.
"Each of us needs such others if we are able to deliberate well and to make good choices. Each of us needs such others if we are to achieve the self-knowledge without which we can't flourish."