Friendship in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Age: Explorations of a Fundamental Ethical Discourse by Albrecht Classen (Fundamentals of Medieval and Early Modern Culture: De Gruyter) Although it seems that erotic love generally was the prevailing topic in the medieval world and the Early Modern Age, parallel to this the Ciceronian ideal of friendship also dominated the public discourse, as this collection of essays demonstrates. Following an extensive introduction, the individual contributions explore the functions and the character of friendship from Late Antiquity (Augustine) to the 17th century. They show the spectrum of variety in which this topic appeared - not only in literature but also in politics and even in painting.
Let us begin with an intriguing and most powerful example of friendship as it was discussed and glorified in an eighteenth-century text. The famous German classicist writer, dramatist, historian, and poet Friedrich Schiller (1759-1806) is today perhaps best known for his glorious ode "An die Freude" (Ode to Joy), composed in 1785. It has become in the meantime the European hymn, adopted by the European Union and the Council of Europe as their anthem in 1972, drawing from Ludwig van Beethoven's musical anaptation in the final, or fourth, movement of his Ninth Symphony from 1824. Many other contemporary composers felt similarly inspired by Schiller's poem and set his words to music as well, such as Johann Gottlieb Naumann (1786), Christian Gottfried Korner (1786), Johann Friedrich Reichardt (1796), Johann Friedrich Hugo von Dalberg (1799), Johann Rudolf Zumsteeg (1803). Perhaps better known are Franz Schubert with his song "An die Freude" D 189 (1815), for voice and piano; Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1865) with his composition for solo singers, choir and orchestra in a Russian translation of "Seid umschlungen, MilBonen!" (1892; Be Embraced, You Millions); then a waltz by Johann Strauss II, and a composition by Z. Randall Stroope (2002), for choir and four-hand piano.'
The second stanza of the original ballad formulates in most impressive terms the ideals pursued by Schiller and many of his contemporaries from this classical period in the history of German literature, such as Johann Wolfgang Goethe and Friedrich von Kleist,' which suggests that the divine and utopian community of those who understand and share universal, cosmic, and harmonious joy are either friends, or marriage partners, and are, at any rate, intimately and closely associated with another human being, thus pursuing, similarly to the gods, the ultimate goal of all our existence, to acquire wisdom, happiness, and harmony:
Whoever has had the great fortune,
To be a friend's friend,
Whoever has won the love of a devoted wife,
Add his jubilation to our own!
Indeed, whoever can call even one soul
His own on this earth, join the chorus!
But whoever was never able to do so must tearfully
Slink away from this circle.
Further along, Schiller adds the important comment about friends that they are some of the most important partners in human life, especially when tested in and through death: Kisses she gave us, and Wine, / A friend, proven in death). Very similar to this concept, Schiller projected an example of true friendship in his ballad "Die Bilrgschaft" from 1798. Here a man called Moros tries to assassinate the tyrant Dionysius the Elder (ca. 430-367 B.C.E.), ruler of Syracuse in Sicily since 405, but the political criminal is caught just in time and immediately condemned to suffer the death penalty.' There are no comments judging the tyrant or giving reasons why his opponent tried to kill him. Before being executed, however, the assassin begs the king to grant him three days respite during which he would like to arrange his sister's marriage. The tyrant insidiously grants him this break from his death penalty, but only on the condition that he finds a friend willing to serve as his guarantor for his return. If he fails to arrive within the stipulated time, however, as the tyrant underscores, the friend would be put to death in his stead, which then would leave Moros scot-free, however deeply burdened by painful feelings of guilt. Indeed, the tyrant, true to his character, dangles the most tempting proverbial carrot in front of him, offering him the chance of life if he betrays his friend, although then it would be a life of shame and dishonor.
But Moros's friend immediately agrees to serve in this precarious function, and the erstwhile assassin rushes away to carry out his family business and to meet his obligation as his sister's authority figure. On the third day, once he has successfully accomplished his task, he makes every attempt to return home and to free his friend from the prison before the set deadline, but suddenly both nature and robbers stand in his way, challenging him at every turn of his path. Nevertheless, Moros makes every possible attempt, overcoming fear of death and all kinds of threats, and reaches the city just when his friend is about to be crucified in his place.
Despite being warned of the danger for his life and being advised to turn away and rescue himself, Moros pushes his way through the crowd and demands that the tyrant release his friend and take him instead, as would be his moral and ethical duty. The crowd is deeply amazed, if not shocked, and the news of this unheard of proof of unfailing friendship quickly reaches the tyrant. Dionysus calls these two friends to his court, stares at them in great surprise, and then suddenly changes his mind, acknowledging that these two have proven that the traditional value of friendship still holds true:
Being long silent, he, and wondering long,
Gazed on the pair - "In peace depart,
Victors, ye have subdued my heart!
Truth is no dream! - its power is strong.
Give grace to him who owns his wrong!
'Tis mine your suppliant now to be,
Ah, let the band of love - be three
Schiller freely drew from a long tradition on this literary motif that has attracted writers and poets since Greek and Roman antiquity — the first one to work with this motif seems to have been Aristoxeno (b. 370 B.C.E.), later followed by numerous other classical writers, who all delighted in elaborating on the idea of friendship that is being proven in such an almost tragic context, such as Gaius Iulius Hyginus (d. 10 C.E.) — and then throughout the entire Middle Ages and beyond.' And although he projected a particularly 'classical' ideal of friendship, the importance and recognition of his exploration of this ethical value has not faded ever since. After all, the "Ode to Joy" continues to enthrall people in emotional, ethical, political, and sociological terms, and the ideals concerning friendship contained in this and many of Schiller's other poems have not lost their relevance at all, despite much criticism and serious challenges.'
The purpose of our volume, however, is directed at exploring the treatment and evaluation of friendship in the Middle Ages and the early modern age, for which, of course, Schiller's poem proves to be an excellent segue, as an endpoint, as a sounding board, so to speak, and as foil against which we can easily judge previous approaches to friendship. His ode to joy glorified the traditional values of love, happiness, and friendship, just shortly before the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789. Schiller's poem is a remarkably late and yet enduring testimony of the ideology grounded in the Enlightenment with its almost willful neglect of the political machinations and manipulations, power structures and subjugation mechanisms, projecting, one last time, it seems, the dream of a friendship that might overcome all social class differences and create a community of ideally minded friends!' Perhaps Schiller's friendship with his contemporary, the literary and intellectual giant Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749-1832), might have properly underscored the enormous appeal of the Greek ideal on the entire generation of classical and Romanticist writers.'
To explore the theme of friendship in the Middle Ages and the early modem age requires that we acknowledge its essential, though certainly not unchangeable or always identical, value in humanistic terms and its foundation in the humanities in virtually all cultures and in all periods!' Already in ancient Greek culture friendship played a central role in public and private life; structured by the principle of reciprocity and agonality!' We would be hard pressed to identify any ancient Greek or Roman philosopher and writer who would not have approached the topic of friendship in one way or the other, since it was regarded with so much admiration and respect, providing the essential cohesion that held those societies together, whether we think of Heliod, Sappho, Aristotle, the Stoics, the Pythagoreans, Cicero, and many others.'
Political behavior and concepts of justice were determined by the ideals of friendship, that is, to assist the friend under almost any circumstances to the best of one's means, as Schiller was later to discuss in his ode (see above), though without neglecting the principles of honor and morality. Friendship was almost of greater significance than family relationships, as long as it was predicated on equality and mutuality. Friends proved themselves above all in emergencies and dangers, demonstrating their loyalty and trust, assuming the role of defenders before the court and pursuing the friend's enemies in other cases. Friends were also supposed to assist each other in material terms, and gained great honor through their constancy and reliability practically under all circumstances. Friendship was often carried over to the next generation when fathers or brothers married their daughters or sisters respectively to their friends. Friendship also often turned into political partnerships, which found their public expressions in symposia, or festive dinners, hunting parties, or political collaboration. In Hellenistic Greece friends of the rulers often assumed or were assigned important official roles, and similar situations can also found in many other periods and cultures.
Ancient philosophers regularly focused on 'friendship' as the essential bond among people, as the foundation for social communities, and as the basis for the public development of virtuous behavior. Plato, for instance, discussing friendship in his dialogue Lysis, emphasizes that a person can be friends only if s/he is a friend with oneself at first. Friendship is focused on creating a proton philon, the public good. Aristotle developed this fragmentary concept further in his Nicomachean Ethics (VIII—IX), recognizing three levels of friendship, the first based on utility, or personal profit, that is, material gains; the second on joyfulness or emotional delight, that is, sexual lust, and the third on the good in abstract terms.' Only the latter type of friendship will be long- or everlasting because it is built upon mutuality in will and desire for the good.' The true friend emerges as an alternative self, or as an alter ego, who is only interested in creating goodness and happiness in and for the friend. Complete and entirely fulfilled friendship leads to Eudaimonia, insofar as the human creature cannot achieve absolute happiness by and through him/herself.
According to Epicure, all philosophical activities were predicated on and consisted of friendship. Friendship disregards all social and gender differences and can even include slaves. Friendship procures safety and absence of fear, and thus produces the basis upon which wisdom and happiness can be achieved. Friendship results in virtue and agreement among the individuals, which in turn leads to peace and harmony within the social community?
In ancient Rome, Cicero picked up many of the Greek ideas about friendship, most poignantly expressed in his truly famous and by now practically timeless dialogue treatise Laelius, or De amicitia. For him, friends must agree in moral and ethical terms and share in fundamental values of human life, as manifested in good deeds done for the other out of sheer friendliness. Virtue dominates friendship in Cicero's philosophy. We will come back to his treatise below, but let us first trace the development of the historical discourse on friendship ever since. Seneca, for instance, perceived friendship as a motivational force leading to the self-fulfillment of the individual, relying on the model of an educational project involving both friends at the same time.
Only when an individual can share virtue, knowledge, and any other ethical good with a friend, does this translate into public joy. Many other Roman philosophers, such as Lucian, Plutarch, Maximos of Thyros, and Libanios, also examined and discussed friendship as a central ideal and value, offering approval of and additions to the ancient Greek concepts.
In late antiquity, Christian thinkers such as St. Ambrose, John Chrysostom, Jerome, Paulinus of Nola, and St. Augustine, that is, the Church Fathers and others, continued with the examination of friendship and translated that secular concept into a religious one, yet they still insisted on the practical application of this ideal and often began to neglect it even once they had turned to religious asceticism!' I will return to some of their teachings below. After all, they all relied consistently in one way or the other on the teachings developed by Cicero in his famous De amicitia. written in 44 B.C.E. during Cicero's retirement, after the death of Julius Caesar and before the conflict with Antony. This highly influential treatise was designed as a dialogue, very much in the tradition of Socrates. "The work is written as a dialogue between prominent figures of the Middle Roman republic and is set after the death of the younger Scipio Africanus (otherwise known as Scipio Aemilianus, Scipio Africanus Minor, or Scipio the Younger) in 129 B.C.
The interlocutors of the dialogue chosen by Cicero are Gaius Laelius, a close friend of the late statesman, and Laelius's two sons-in-law, Gaius Fanruius and Quintus Mucius Scaevola. Interestingly, Scaevola himself was mentor and teacher to Cicero, who probably heard his teacher's reminiscences about these conversations first-hand."
As has become quite apparent throughout our Introduction, despite a certain decline in the philosophical discussions, the discourse on friendship has continued, and there are countless leads from the late antiquity through the Middle Ages and far beyond focusing on the ethical, moral, religious, and philosophical significance of friendship. After all, the ideal of friendship belongs to one of the fundamental values in human life and has therefore regularly attracted far-reaching and ponderous philosophical ruminations. Whether friendship continues to hold the same value today would have to be the topic of other investigations, though I am certain that the modern/postmodern world has moved considerably beyond the traditional value system, including friendship, as embraced by intellectuals throughout antiquity and the Middle Ages.
Altogether, we can conclude that friendship belongs to the central human values, and this throughout times in virtually all cultures, languages, and religions, serving as an extraordinarily rich and complex framework of a communicative community. Friendship has specifically always been a mirror of Western culture — and probably Eastern as well—until today. Virtually every major thinker, writer, artist, or composer has accepted the supreme importance of friendship for human life. Of course, each age has pursued a somewhat different approach to this central concept, and by tracing those variances, individual positions, and the global discourse we can safely assume that we will gain thereby a major foothold in the exploration of the course of Western civilization, both in the secular and the religious domain. Friendship has commonly served as the platform for political relationships, both in the Middle Ages and today.'
It was the medium for philosophical exchanges, for religious conversations, for artistic discussions, and yet it has also always been a most personal, intimate, yet powerful and confidence building aspect in human existence. Perhaps not surprisingly, as we have seen above, already as early as in late antiquity individuals enjoyed a form of friendship with animals, both pets and wild beasts, 1 which signals to us that the concept of friendship really could express itself in 4 variety of manifestations and that friendship could be directed both to people and animals.
Losing a real friend can be as devastating as winning a new friend can elevate one to a higher level of happiness, even in a philosophical and religious sense. Through friendship people have discovered their own spirit, and at times even found their way to God. No friendship is like any other, and yet they all share central elements and key values. We can define the character of individuals arid of societies by investigating their approach to and evaluation of friendship.296 Whereas courtly love has traditionally been identified as the bedrock of medieval courtly society, we are now in a good position to add friendship as the most important, somehow complementary value determining all social relationships during that period. Friendship continued to enjoy great significance in subsequent centuries as well, but, as a number of the contributors to this volume note, problems, forms of abuse, lack of true adherence to the ideal, and other issues became more and more noticeable. We are still talking about friendship and embrace our friends, but in a way the link to the schools of thought advocated by Aristotle, Cicero, and Aelred, for instance, seems to be somehow broken.'
The subsequent articles in this volume will investigate the entire history of Western intellectual life from late antiquity to the eighteenth century in light of the theme of friendship because most human relationships draw from and have been inspired by the concept of friendship, if present, available, or realizable. Apart from erotic love, there seems to be hardly anything else more important in human lives than to enjoy the friendship with a like-minded person.298 Many theologians throughout the ages have thus understandably correlated friendship between people with the much more profound concept of friendship between a human here with what we started with, quoting Friedrich Schiller's famous and certainly most beautiful verses in his "Ode to Joy" one more time to underscore in summary what the central intent of this volume is to accomplish: ',whoever has had the great fortune, / To be a friend's friend." As we know both from the subsequent lines in Schiller's text and from the wealth of classical-antique, medieval, and early modern literature, the triumph of establishing true pond profound friendship gives cause for jubilation. Blessed is the one who can Claim one friend in his/her life. In Don Juan Manuel's Conde Lucanor we learned that even to have found half a friend constituted an incredible accomplishment and treasure because most people prove to be untrustworthy and unreliable, selfish and hostile. Erasmus Widmarm (1572-1634) questioned the entire notion of friendship, casting it as an ideal from the past with no validity at his time because of people's selfishness. The countless friendship albums from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries indicated, in fact, how much the inflation of friendship declarations had already undermined the entire value system, although we can always identify individual voices to the contrary, such as the Baroque poet Simon Dach (1605-1659) with his "Lied der Freundschaft" (before 1640) in which he created a remarkable paean on the ideal of friendship. The title in Latin reflects a sense of triumphancy: but it seems to be the only one where he truly addresses friendship all by itself. His position was to identify friendship as the one value that is the most essential one in human life, reflecting his most inner noble character: There is nothing so intimate for man, there is nothing so appropriate proof but to show loyalty and keep friendship). Friedrich Schiller, of course, also still believed in true friendship as one of humanity's best, most glorious plishments, rare but highly powerful, and, once achieved, of eternal value and relevance.
True friendship, according to him and many medieval precursors, amounts to to a spiritual experience, even to an epiphany. What intellectual, mystic, artist, or writer would have resisted the allure exerted by a phenomenon that earl bond us all, even in a most hostile world, if the right circumstances and personal configurations exist?"
We have to keep in mind, sort of as an afterthought, that friendship can find expression in a myriad of media and forms, that is, in personal contacts, in letters, in paintings, in musical compositions, in performances and rituals, in gestures, in contracts, in treatises, and so forth.' Today the internet, with e-mails, Facebook Twitter, Skype, etc., has substituted for many traditional media of friendship, but the attempt to find friends and to keep them continues to be essential for all of us. This also means that a proper, thorough, and comprehensive investigation of this institution or sentiment requires as much of an interdisciplinary approach as possible. We must understand the history of friendship, the discourse itself, and the modes of expression of friendship in order to sustain that quasi-religious human quest for a friend.
The present volume combines a wide range of scholarly approaches, and yet, alas, still lacks a number of others, such as sociology or music. Nevertheless, we hope that the subsequent collection of articles will offer a far-reaching scope of individual perspectives extending from the time of Augustine to the late seventeenth century. As has been customary in all previous volumes published in our series "Fundamentals of Medieval and Early Modern Culture," here I would like to offer subsequently critical summaries of each individual contribution and to examine at the same time how the specific analysis helps us to grasp the central and decisive philosophical, theological, ethical, and moral implications of that discourse on friendship throughout the ages.
There is no doubt that friendship itself proves to be equally, if not even more, important as the discourse on erotic love. Our collective effort is consequently at revealing how much this topic actually occupied the intellectuals' minds and dominated public culture throughout the Middle Ages and far beyond. We can be certain that the ideal of friendship has continued to occupy the minds of most leading intellectuals and so deserves to be investigated in a specialized volume focusing on the premodern world." Of course, once we turn to the intellectual and literary history since the eighteenth century, we open a whole floodgate for further discussions of friendship since it has never lost any of its critical impetus and appeal; in fact, it seems that friendship constitutes, perhaps more than ever before, a core value of our society, whether it is truly practiced or not, whether people distrust it or not."
Many of the articles in this volume have been originally presented at two sessions at the Congress on Medieval Studies at the Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, MI, in 2009, organized by Albrecht Classen. A number of these, however, were also contributed later, energetically solicited by Marilyn Sandidge, once the volume took on concrete shape and then was considered for inclusion in our book series, "Fundamentals of Medieval and Early Modern Studies." Once again, scholarly authors from all over the world came forward and offered their insights as contributions, which made this volume into such an interdisciplinary, and hopefully also fundamental, academic endeavor.
There is no doubt that one could approach friendship from yet still many more perspectives, but we are truly delighted to have collected already so many diverse studies addressing the theme of friendship both in late antiquity and the Middle Ages, both in the Renaissance and in the subsequent centuries, though we decided, for many good reasons, to draw a final line with the late eighteenth century. This does not mean that friendship has no longer been discussed or dealt with since then, on the contrary. But the social, economic, cultural, philosophical, religious, and artistic conditions and framework really changed so profoundly that we cannot help but recognize a major paradigm shift radically moving Western society out of the late-medieval and early-modem world, finally constituting the basis for the modem world.
It just would not be good enough to deal with this issue by pursuing a narrow perspective chronologically limited, especially because we have certainly learned how much the Middle Ages cannot be simply limited to the time between, say, the eighth and the end of the fifteenth century.' Intellectual and cultural history always requires us to keep the enormous influence of antiquity as much in mind as the continuity of medieval concepts and ideas as shaping forces far into the seventeenth and maybe even the eighteenth centuries, hence the 'long eighteenth century.' Those who ever expressed interest in friendship would certainly have been opposed vehemently to any attempts to limit that discourse to any specific age, culture, or period. In this regard, as the subsequent specialized studies will illustrate, the exploration of friendship sheds most important light on the individual cultures, peoples, religions, ethical, and moral communities with respect to their value systems. We might resort, once again, to the old proverb, adapting it slightly for our purposes: Tell me who your friends are, and I will tell you who you are.
Friendship continues to exist, perhaps even to flourish, despite all negative comments especially since the seventeenth century. But it is changing its properties, outlook, meaning, and relevance all the time, as we do change. From 11 the time when Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle began to philosophize, they also examined the nature of friendship, and it has continued to be a high call for all of us throughout time to pursue friendship because it amounts to being philosophy in itself. As Mark Vernon concludes in his far-reaching ruminations on this topic, "The very possibility of friendship lies at the heart of philosophy. They come together partly because as Aristotle commented, 'we are better able to observe our friends than ourselves and their actions than our own'. But more so because to truly befriend others is to stare life's uncertainties, limits and ambiguities in the face. To seek friendship is to seek wisdom."'
Perhaps, however, one of the major challenges for friendship to thrive today it was perceived already in the seventeenth century at the latest, consists of people's unwillingness or inability to philosophize and to seek for inner truths of timeless value. To speak and act like a philosopher is tantamount to seeking virtue. Finding friendship in that process might be one of the most glorious experiences in human life, and this even today. To quote Vernon again, "In today's world, there is a myth of romantic love based upon the idea that two lovers become one flesh, a totalisation of life in the other, supremely enacted in sexual ecstasy which is symbolic of that union. The myth or ideal tends to exclude others, not because lovers do not want friends, but because it tells them that their friends are incidental — pleasant but non-essential adornments to the lover's life together.
If we are able to find friends and delight in the company with them, we find ourselves suddenly deeply reconnected with the Socratic ideals and medieval spirituality. However, it remains a big question if, or whether, that ideal can be sustained in the postmodern world. As we have learned by now, to enjoy life with and through friends was of utmost beauty and significance in the past, so why should this not be the case in the future as well? Nevertheless, at the moment the terms 'friend' and 'friendship' are suffering extensively from their inflationary use and shallow employment. Our social networks seem to require vast numbers of friends, but the more we can claim, the less we really seem to have.
The contributors to our volume provide a wealth of evidence regarding the growing trouble with friendship since early modernity, and yet they also complicate the critical approach to that phenomenon. The interdisciplinary method pursued in this volume will hopefully shed fundamental light on the issue and allow us to grasp some of the complexities and the profound significance of friendship as a most important aspect of the premodern world in its cultural, ethical, and moral manifestations. Friendship has always been a struggle and yet also a most rewarding experience, deeply enriching human life in ethical, moral, philosophical, and even religious terms. This observation will also indicate, once again, how much the study of the Middle Ages, here with a focus on the topic of friendship, offers most fascinating and far-reaching perspectives for an innovation of our own, post-modern world, or as a mirror of our own existence with all its challenges and difficulties.
Whether Cicero, Augustine, Aelred, Heloise, Thomas Aquinas, Christine de
all Pizan, Francis Bacon, or any other major intellectual and writer/artist, they agreed on the one critical ideal, the dream of true friendship. S/he who can claim to have a good friend already knows that s/he has transcended the material limitations of this life and has found, through the other person, a passageway to the true essence of all existence in human terms.
This is not to say that friendship would constitute the central issue upon which everything hinges, but there can not be any doubt, considering the twenty contributions to this volume and the myriad of other scholarly studies pursuing the same issue from antiquity through the early modern age, how much friendship has constituted a cornerstone of Western culture ever since classical times and should not be ignored now for most ephemeral reasons or simply out of neglect. Friedrich Schiller's ballad might well represent a late, or should we say early, illusionary dream in literary terms, but we must not simply dismiss some of the statements by Aristotle, Augustine, Aelred, Heloise, Thomas Aquinas, Thomas a Kempis, Don Juan Manuel, Jorg Wickram, and many others. True friends represent some of the greatest gems in human life, right next to true erotic love and, not to forget, love for God. As Bennett Helm rightly avers in her recent survey article, "As such, friendship is undoubtedly central to our lives, in part because the special concern we have for our friends must have a place within a broader set of concerns, including moral concerns, and in part because our friends can help shape who we are as persons."' We could add that friendship has always been a hallmark of high culture, of idealism, and of philosophical, ethical approaches to life, from Aristotle to Friedrich Schiller, from Aelred of Rievaulx to Michel de Montaigne, and then, mutatis mutandis, from the eighteenth century until today.'
Our approaches to this topic focus mostly on the Middle Ages and the early modern age, and we will also realize in this volume, as commented already above, that the value and ideal of friendship experienced a certain decline since the eighteenth century, if not earlier, particularly when the term friendship was increasingly used for political alliances and diplomatic associations?' This does not mean, however, that friendship is no longer of relevance for us today, as countless examples would confirm.' Instead, the contributors will illustrate the particular nature of the discourse on friendship in the premodern world and will examine a wide range of perspectives relevant for friendship even today.
Friendship: An Exposé by Joseph Epstein (Houghton Mifflin) Joseph Epstein's last book of social criticism was the best-selling Snobbery: The American Version– his exploration on the various ways snobbery exists, its different forms, and how snobs and snobbisms changed after the decline of old-line WASP values.With Friendship, a similar observation animates his quest as he investigates a subject equally universal and, in many ways, more complex, rich, and perfectly suited to his trademark blend of sophisticated wit and commentary.
The Truth About An Age-old Subject
The idea for a book about friendship was first proposed to Epstein by a friend who observed that friendship's "full story has never been told." Not wanting to disagree with an old friend on a minor matter (a reticence that is itself a commentary on the complexities of friendship), Epstein nodded in agreement and then moved the conversation forward. But he kept thinking about his friend's comment and wondering what, exactly, the full story of friendship might be as we begin the new century.
What Epstein felt at the time was that something in the nature of friendship –something at its very core – had changed, that it seemed particularly complicated today, that its expectations and assumptions differed somehow from what they had once been. And so he set out to look at those changes by examining how friendship works in contemporary life – how friendship is experienced, what pressures and obligations it creates, and what unique and irreplaceable satisfactions we take from having friends.
Friendship in the Wake of Marriage
Joseph Epstein has written an anatomy of friendship in modern America – an incisive and accessible survey of the nature of friendship in all its permutations. He looks at the obligations and complications of friendships – like what becomes of a friendship when one party marries and the other remains single.
Epstein provides a taxonomy of friendships (noting differences, for instance, between work friends, childhood friends, occasional friends, and those whom he designates, as in the case of a buddy whose obsession with golf means he's available only in rainy weather, "foul weather friends"). He discusses friendships in the post-feminist era – between men and women, between women, between spouses.
In the Wake of New Technology and New Social Mores
Epstein considers how e-mail and instant messaging have changed relationships. He looks at whether friendship is even possible nowadays between unequals, whether the inequality be of economic, social, or intellectual varieties. Differences between male and female friendships are examined, as are friendships between men and women – including what happens when sex enters the equation.
Finally, he perceptively unearths the hidden factors that have complicated our experiences of friendship in the modern era, from the idealization of "family time" and "Parenting" with a capital P to the relatively recent notion that your spouse must be your best friend.
More Time with Family Means Less Time for Friends
Epstein cites the increasingly consuming role that family now plays, especially for husbands and fathers, as a major change in friendship itself. "For one thing," he writes, "'quality time,' one of the clichés of our day, turns out to be chiefly family time. For another, simple male friendships – those nights out with the boys and the rest of it – are not as simple as they once were, now that a man's role in the household has greatly expanded.
"Men's larger role in household chores and child rearing arises naturally, and inexorably, from their wives' having gone out to the workplace. With women now earning a substantial part of household income – in some cases more than husbands –married men have to pick up the slack: do the laundry and some of the shopping, help with housework, spend more time with the kids." Extra time with family results in less time for old-fashioned male friendships – and friendships in general.
Epstein draws largely on his own experiences with people great (Saul Bellow and Ralph Ellison) and unknown (a guy from Epstein's gym), as well as on distinguished literary friendships such as Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley's. Moving easily from Aristotle to Iron John, from Plato to the philosophy of Seinfeld, Epstein provides a winsome and provocative guide to a subject close to us all.
As he takes us on his quest to uncover the hidden and neglected truth about friendship, he causes us to look again at our own friendships, at our assumptions about them and expectations for them, and to consider each in a new and different light.
An unusually insightful read about a surprisingly neglected
topic. Aristotle and Montaigne both had a go at it. Recent entrees are all
self-help books - heavy on the mystical and the idealistic. In "Friendship: An
Expose," Epstein analyzes his own experiences and methods in friendship, making
this a personal memoir of surprising candor: "When I was a boy, I took on and
scraped off best friends the way a careful boat owner does barnacles. Most were,
with time, demoted to friendships of lesser intensity."
He started out with a subject, but no theme. As he progressed, his theme solidified - that his friends weren't perfect, but neither was he a perfect friend to them. "Perfection in friendship just isn't on the menu. To idealize friendship, in general, is a serious error." Epstein didn't want to write the glorified version.
Whether he knows it or not, Epstein's personal anecdotes could have come straight from textbooks on game theory and evolutionary psychology. According to Judith Rich Harris in "No Two Alike," our individuality develops more from our peer group interactions than from our families, specifically from learning to socialize and seeking status through friendships. Some of the themes he develops are:
Friendships entail obligations - sometimes ample, sometimes miniscule and subtle. A man should keep his friendships in constant repair. Reciprocity is the heart of friendship.
Friends keep updated tally-sheets on each other. "Score-keeping - I wish to root such behavior out of myself. I can't." Detecting who's in business solely for himself can be a subtle matter. Fortunately, we come from the factory with a good cheater-detection module.
Some openly prefer acquaintances to friends - more variety, less baggage - "They're too much on their good behavior to exhibit their weaknesses."
Maintaining too many friends at one time on a regular basis turns you into a professional friend.
We enter friendships mainly through instinct.
New Yorker cartoon: man coming out of church saying, "How can I love my enemies when I don't even like my friends?"
As Epstein sees it, like many other things, Friendship is not what it used to be. Our E-mailing speeded up world has made Friendship seem to many more of a quick fix and a burden. In talking however about his own estimated seventy- five friendships, including those with such luminaries as Saul Bellow and Ralph Ellison Epstein also indicates how Friendship can broaden our perception and perspective. He analyzes in the work a whole variety of different kinds of Friendship, and tries to as it were create a personal Taxonomy of the subject.
Towards the end of the book catches himself and says that his critical remarks about friendship have not been made in order to discredit the institution.
"At moments in the course of writing this book I had the staggering thought that I seemed to be coming out against friendship .... That is not at all what I had in mind when I began.... What I wanted was to take some of the air out of the idealization of friendship, so that a friend, like a teacher or a clergyman, need not always feel that he or she is falling short of an impossible ideal."
Ideal or not, this book is rich with material for reflection upon one of the most important subjects of human life. It is one of those kinds of books which even when disagreed with provides inspiration for thought, and insight into our own personal realities.
Epstein apparently has the natural ability to put others at ease. "As part of my prowess at making friends, I had at my command a small gift for implying an intimacy that often wasn't there. I have it still, and it sometimes gets me into difficulty - making people think I have stronger feelings for them than in fact I do."
This intermittent theme of the book may turn people off, but as revealed in his diary, he obviously does his part as a friend. It comes natural to him to massage and maintain his relationships. He may not always want to listen, but he listens anyway. As the story unfolds, it turns into a self-help book without meaning to, by virtue of his example.
Epstein is admirably honest about his own shortcomings, and while his opinions of his socialization abilities may sound arrogant, it doesn't keep me from liking him. His insights are profound, the book is original, and there is nothing frivolous about his approach. I highly recommend this book to anyone who would wish to know more about themselves and their friendships.
Why a book about friendship, and why now?
Four or five years ago, I began to sense that something had changed in the nature of some of my own friendships. They didn't seem the purely pleasurable relationships they once were. Perhaps it was that my own life had become busier, but also friendship itself had come to feel more fraught with obligation – and in some instances a bit of a nuisance. Friendship remained a good, even a great, thing, but somehow a new and complicated wrinkle seemed to have been added to it. I wanted to understand why this was so.
What did you discover?
For one thing, friendships change as one grows older. The great time for friendship is probably adolescence, when one is relatively free from responsibility and friends are what life is really about. I also found that despite all our supposedly time-saving devices, our lives feel more crowded now than perhaps ever before in history.
Friendships change in what ways?
In all the ways that people change. Time can be tough on friends, sending some into depression and crankiness, leaving others with a distaste for life and worn down by failure and much else. Or friends can be ruined – as friends, at least – by too great success, which puffs them up and makes them stupidly self-important. Friends who were charming at sixteen can be a burden at sixty. And yet, unless you are socially more brutal than it is in you to be, you're stuck with them. At the same time, joyous new friendships often begin later in life, and a majority of one's old friends wear very well indeed.
How do you know that such feelings aren't just personal, not to say solipsistic – that is, that most people continue to feel as they do about friends and it's only you whose feelings about friends and friendship have tended to change?
That's always a distinct possibility. But as I began to consider the range of possibilities, as I looked around, I discovered that a number of things about friendship had changed, some for the better, some for the worse. I also noticed that whenever I mentioned that I was writing a book about friendship, people became instantly stimulated about the subject, wanted to talk about the complications they encountered with their own friendships. I realized I wasn't alone in thinking that everything that can be said about friendship has already been said in sappy Hallmark cards.
What about friendship itself has changed?
The increasingly consuming role that family now plays, especially for husbands and fathers, has done a great deal to change friendships. For one thing, "quality time," one of the clichés of our day, turns out to be chiefly family time. For another, simple male friendships – those nights out with the boys and the rest of it – are not as simple as they once were, now that a man's role in the household has greatly expanded.
Expanded how, and why?
Men's larger role in household chores and child rearing arises naturally, and inexorably, from their wives' having gone out to the workplace. With women now earning a substantial part of household income – in some cases more than their husbands – married men have to pick up the slack: do the laundry and some of the shopping, help with housework, spend much more time with the kids. And the men who don't pick up the slack, in my view, are real dopes. But all this extra time spent with family is time away from the old-fashioned male friendships and friendship generally.
Does the changed status of women in society have a large place in your book?
Very large. I think it was the main, great event of the second half of the twentieth century. Not least, it has made possible something quite new in the history of friendship, or so I've come to believe: the possibility of nonsexual friendships between men and women, conducted in a spirit of equality. This is one of the glories of the new era of friendship. I have a fairly large number of female friends, women I admire, adore, enjoy
– and in ways that wouldn't have been possible thirty or forty years ago. And all this is owing to the freedom that women have wrested for themselves in recent years.
What are some other changes you discovered?
I found that technology is having an immense effect on today's friendships. E-mail, long-distance telephone, and other inexpensive electronic devices make it possible to sustain friendships with fewer and fewer actual meetings. For example, I have what I consider a good friendship with a man living in South Carolina whom I have never met, and probably never will meet, but with whom I exchange two or three e-mails a day. I also have friends, most of them living in other cities, with whom I've spent more time in phone and e-mail communication than in face-to-face meetings. Notwithstanding the old cliché, all this really is something new under the sun. I've devoted a chapter to it in my book, called "Techno-Friendships."
What qualifies you to write a book about friendship?
Please don't laugh, but I think my main qualification is that I am almost hopelessly friendly. I make friends easily, and always have. In fact, I may be almost too friendly, and, according to Aristotle and other classical thinkers on the subject, I may have too many friends for my own good. I've never done a careful count, but my guess is that I have something like eighty quite good friends, from a wide range of ages, ethnic groups, and geographical locations. Part of this is owing to my having been a college teacher, which has put me in closer touch than most with the young, many of whom subsequently became my friends. I also continue to live in the city where I was born and grew up, and so I still have friends from grammar school days.
Is your book based on surveys and other social scientific sources?
Only partially. I do make use of whatever current material is available on the subject of friendship. I also write a fair amount about what has been written before on the subject –surprisingly, not all that much in a direct way. But more than anything else I draw on my experiences with my own friends, the complications, sadness, and delights of friendship that I have myself known. The highs and the lows – in fact, my lengthiest chapter is on broken friendships.
What overall lesson do you come away with after having spent two years writing this book?
It is that friendship, which
for most of us begins accidentally or haphazardly, really is an art. The
selection of friends, the cultivation of friendship, the deepening or distancing
of relations with friends, all these things are made richer by careful
consideration and forethought, by being treated artfully. Friendship can be an
obligation, a burden, a royal pain in the arse — also, sometimes simultaneously,
a joy and a delight — without which we are all lost.
The Philosophy of Friendship by Mark Vernon (Palgrave Macmillan) links the resources of the philosophical tradition with numerous illustrations from modern culture to ask what friendship is and how it relates to sex, work, politics and spirituality. Unusually, he argues that Plato and Nietzsche, as much as Aristotle and Aelred, should be put center stage. Their penetrating and occasionally tough insights are invaluable if friendship is to be a full, not merely sentimental, way of life for today. Vernon offers a blog and some self evaluation resources at his website: www.friendshiponline.info. The work manages to invoke the traditions and concepts of philosophy while maintaining a balanced view of the demands of modern life.
Excerpt: Philosophy is frequently overlooked as a resource for thinking through friendship in this way. This has much to do with the fact that only a relatively small number of philosophers have written on the subject at any length. What is more, those that have, although generally agreeing that friendship is essential for a happy life, also say that it provides no automatic satisfaction of human desires for deeper relationships or society's need for connection. Friendship is 'a problem worthy of a solution', as Nietzsche gnomically put it. Or as Aristotle wrote: 'The desire for friendship comes quickly. Friendship does not.'
The implication is that the best kinds of friendships are only possible between people who properly value it and who understand how many things from the personal to the political can compromise, undermine and destroy it. There is an art to friendship. The hope is that philosophy can teach something about it.
Each chapter looks, therefore, at key ambiguities that may exist in any friendship, and almost certainly in certain types, to test for the perils and identify the promise.
The first begins with the world of work because work friends frequently exhibit some of friendship's chief ambiguities. For example, on the one hand, the workplace is a good place to find and make friends. But, on the other, it is also one where supposed friends can show remarkable indifference (as in the speed with which the friendship is forgotten when someone leaves the office). The workplace also has an insidious capacity to undermine friendship. The fly in the ointment is the culture of utility that pervades it. People are there to do things, they are paid for doing them, and they are often encouraged to compete against each other in so doing.
Now, although all friends use each other from time to time, this means that friends at work are at risk of coming to feel that they are merely being used. Therein lies the ambiguity of friendship at work. Moreover, the workplace is not an isolated environment in the Western world. It informs a culture that tends to colour society as a whole; productivity often counts for more than perspicacity, the professional touch more than the personal touch, being praised more than being praiseworthy, wherever you are. All this is detrimental to friendship and so this chapter also provides us with a first look at friendship in a social context.
The second chapter considers another source of ambiguity in friendship, namely, sex. The downside is that sex can clearly imperil friendships by its possessiveness or its inappropriateness. The upside is that a friendship which includes a sexual element is the best sort of relationship that many people hope to have. I will argue that the key is to recognise that whilst a sexual relationship will start with physical passion, a passion of a non-sexual sort needs to kick in too if a good friendship is to develop. This is actually a natural if at times delicate step to take because the two kinds of passion are connected: a mature couple will realise that their deeper desires cannot be satisfied only in each other and that their relationship should nurture a search for fulfilment elsewhere too, in wider aspirations and achievements shared together.
This chapter is also a good place to consider a related sort of friendship, passionate friendships that have never had a sexual element (and where to have gone down the sexual route would have destroyed it). The erotic element is here sublimated in the passion that these friends share; we say these friends have a passion for life.
Work and sex are two sources of ambiguity and the third chapter turns to another, exhibited in the way in which friends dissimulate. I am talking here about 'loving deceptions' such as when an individual says they like their friend's new boy- or girlfriend when they do not, or when someone else says that their friend's cooking or clothing or opinion is good or right when they really think it is wrong or bad. Once you start thinking about it, it becomes apparent that these false colourings, evasions and occasionally out-and-out lies pervade friendship. Even close friends will routinely dissimulate because they judge that the time is not right to speak out, that current sensitivities are too great for the honest truth, or more humbly that, even though they are close, equivocation is best because one should not presume to judge another's heart. The particularly odd thing about friendship is that this dissimulation, this feigning friendship, is often necessary for the friendship's sake. The question is what does this say about it? It turns out that the answer again has a plus, for it reveals another aspect of what is possible in the best kinds of friendship. This, in turn, is nothing less than a reflection on what it is to be human itself.
A different kind of ambiguity is explored in the fourth chapter, namely, the ambivalence with which ethics and moral philosophy tends to view friendship. It is marginalised for a number of reasons: ethic systems like utilitarianism or consequentialism do not know how to treat friendship because it seems to have ill-defined laws of its own; alternatively, the West's Christian inheritance has coloured certain secular institutions with a distrust of friendship because it is thought irredeemably selfish and particular. The question is whether this can be addressed philosophically and, then, redressed in practice.
This ambiguity also sets up a change of emphasis for the second half of the book, from the mostly personal to the mostly social. First, I ask why it is that although few philosophers have chosen to tackle the subject at any length, at certain times in the past friendship was a major concern (in ancient Athens, it was virtually on the core syllabus): what was it about friendship that led philosophers and theologians in the ancient and medieval worlds in particular to treat it seriously, when in modernity it is not? The suggestion is that in these periods of history, friendship enjoyed a social standing that it does not today. Ancient Greek political life seems to have incorporated quasi-institutions of friendship. The medieval world did so too, overlaying the fundamental social unit of the household. Such civic friendship stands in marked contrast to our own situation, in which friendship is thought of as an almost wholly private relationship. The philosophical question this chapter poses is what ideological changes to the detriment of civic friendship took place at the birth of modernity, and what has been lost as a result?
However, this is not to say that friendship carries no social or political weight today. Inasmuch as it does, though, it is of a very different sort. This is the politics of friendship that I look at in Chapter 6, in particular in the philosophies that are found in feminism and the women's movement, and more recently in gay and so-called queer thought. Essentially, the difference is that friendship is now viewed as subversive of social norms rather than constitutive of them as it was before. Think of the anxiety provoked by the idea of gay marriage: I will argue that this has little to do with sexual acts and much more to do with forms of friendship that challenge tight notions of family.
This chapter also raises the question of possible differences between the friendships of men and those of women. The evidence on this is mixed and hard to read. On the one hand, there are sociologists who have argued that intimacy has been transformed in the modern world: in the same way that distinct gender roles are eroding at a social level, so differences between male and female friendship are softening too. On the other hand, there are others who argue that the evidence shows that gendered patterns of friendship still form in childhood and continue into adult life: from this view follow conclusions such as that women's friendships are more to do with self-disclosure and empathy, whereas men's friendships are more about the sociability of enjoying or doing things together. This is a fascinating question and is one that we will come to from a philosophical perspective particularly in this chapter. (In other chapters, my assumption is that the ambiguities of friendship are likely to be experienced both by men and women, and that whilst it might be that gender plays a role, it is not determinative.)
If the modern politics of friendship wants things to be different at a social level, whether implicitly or explicitly, then the final chapter returns to the question of what friendship ultimately aims at on a personal level. I call this the spirituality of friendship, not least because the most profound kind of friendship that people hope for is often referred to as soul friendship. Having said that, this is, I think, a much misused and sentimentalised concept. The philosophical tradition portrays it as an exceptional and difficult love. It necessitates nothing less than being able to overcome the ambiguities of amity - though, if that is never wholly possible, it also suggests how one might live with regards to the very best that can be hoped for in friendship (which is much, if somewhat paradoxical).
So it turns out that philosophy is indeed illuminative of friendship. In the Conclusion I suggest why: at best, philosophy and friendship coincide - they are both founded upon the love that seeks to know.
The Appendix is for those who are interested in the philosophy of friendship in a more academic sense and addresses an issue that has been toyed with throughout the book - that of the rivalry, as I see it, between the account of friendship given by Aristotle and the portrayal of friendship as found in Plato. I want to suggest that in certain respects, and much against received wisdom, the latter is better. (For those interested in what particular philosophers have said on friendship, each chapter majors on the thought of one or a select few: Chapter 1 on Aristotle and Adam Smith; Chapter 2 on Plato and Aristotle; Chapter 3 on Nietzsche; Chapter 4 on Augustine, Kant and Thomas Aquinas; Chapter 5 on the ancient Greeks and Romans; Chapter 6 on feminism and Foucault; Chapter 7 on Montaigne, Emerson and Plato again).
This book has been, I hope, a little bit of self-help, a little more technical philosophy, and mostly a search through the philosophical tradition and other cultural resources, to illuminate the perils and promise of friendship. I have had Tom Stoppard's comments in mind, when, reflecting on the philosophical romp that is his play Jumpers in a radio interview, he said:
The area of moral philosophy [is] an open house for the layman, the non-philosopher, the curious human being because most of the questions which preoccupy professional philosophers are only an elevated more technical version of the kind of question which any sentient human being asks himself or herself while burning the toast.
When it comes to friendship, the questions are particularly close to most people's experience. Thus, first, I argued that friendship must engage with the utility-obsessed side of our culture, since, for all the good things it brings, the danger is that the law of productivity and consumption holds sway and friendship cannot rise above being instrumental; it risks being always determined by external workplace and workplace-like demands. If, though, individuals come to like one another for who they are, and not just for what they do, a better friendship becomes possible.
When it comes to friends and lovers, friendship's calling is to engage with the complex maelstrom of erotic feelings that can exist between two people and from that to discern a mutually shared passion that moves above the desire for romantic union to the desire to know (not to have) the other person, and be known by them. This higher passionis focused on things beyond the couple. It is, therefore, the same as that shared between friends who are lovers of life. It is sustainable, will grow, and should flourish.
Third, I argued that throughout pretty much all friendship runs the issue of dissimulation — the feigning that is kind, because even virtuous individuals find blunt honesty too harsh all of the time; that is wise, because even discerning individuals can make mistakes when judging others; and that is realistic, for most relationships depend upon a friendliness of measured not mounting affection. Once again, there is a promise that hides behind this peril: dissimulation can give way to honesty given the right circumstances, time and care. Candid friendships can transform a life with truthfulness.
The fourth ambiguity examined stemmed from the secular appropriation of Christianity's tendency to distrust friendship as a form of love. This can make moral philosophy suspicious of friendship in the way that marginalises and even outlaws it. What makes this particularly complicated is that it is the ethical systems that have given us universal rules and rights that are often the ones most antithetical to it. There are a number of ethical issues to contest if the value of friendship is to be revived: the subtle interplay of altruistic and egoistic motives are a major part of that. However, what is also vital is the factor identified by Thomas Aquinas, namely, the need to restore faith in the best sorts of friendship: this insight — found in the belief that God is friendship, or in secular guise as the conviction that ultimately friendship strives after that which is good — is key.
The politics of friendship is a similar kind of struggle to overcome. In one mode friendship resists the limiting constraints of inherited social conventions, notably in terms of the dictates of tight notions of family; in another mode it is a protest against individualistic, competitive conceptions of what it is to be human; and in another it is an effort to create new forms of relationship founded upon the freedom of friendships that go against the norm.
Finally, I have tried to outline a spirituality of friendship based upon the essays of Montaigne and Emerson. Success is found in circuit, to quote one poet. Or to use Keats's phrase, soul friendship would seem to be a prime candidate for his 'negative capability'.
Given that philosophy illuminates the nature, potential and limits of the love called friendship, there is one further, final observation to make. It centres on the figure of Socrates. He has regularly popped up throughout the course of the book. At one level, this is unsurprising; he is a major reference point in many philosophical discussions. But to see his presence here solely as a result of the fact that he is a big-hitter is to miss a more subtle point. For Socrates, I think, philosophy and friendship are ultimately one and the same thing.
According to Plato, Socrates understood the wily ambiguities of erotic love and argued that they should be seized upon as an opportunity to propel lovers along the wise course to a relationship based upon friendship. He also understood that true friendship is scarce. One may be friends with many, as indeed was he, the outcome of a way of life which took him around the streets of Athens seeking individuals to talk with. The complicating factor for him was that his vocation as a philosopher meant that he did not seek friends to be chummy but to encourage people to understand the errors in their beliefs and the failures of their character - in fact nothing less than the limits of their humanity. Rare is the individual who can embrace a relationship like that, and he was often left isolated, wondering whether he would ever find a true friend. At the same time, he never gave up hope.
Putting it another way, Socrates thought that friends should not primarily hope for happiness in one another, though that might come, but should seek together to live fuller, truer lives. This happens, he believed, when individuals become wise to their ignorance; the wisdom gained when one understands the limits of one's capabilities is more valuable than the facility for merely compounding proofs or facts. Such wisdom is best gained in discoursing with others, supremely so when the exchange is marked by the kind of honesty that can exist between the closest of friends. Then the individuals have the opportunity not only to learn about the limitations of the beliefs that they hold true but also about the flaws in their character and the vulnerabilities of their temperaments. These are, after all, far deeper sources of ignorance than mere rational confusion. Thus it is possible, I think, to construe the Socratic way of life as one that puts friendship centre stage. Epicurus, who in many ways followed in the same footsteps, agreed: 'The noble man is most involved with wisdom and friendship.'
This is a way of life based upon an ethos that moves from below up. The raw material of Socrates' philosophical work was not books, lectures or seminars but was the daily engagement of ordinary citizens, whether they had overtly philosophical aspirations or not. As Plutarch later put it:
Most people imagine that philosophy consists in delivering discourses from the heights of a chair, and in giving classes based on texts. But what these people utterly miss is the uninterrupted philosophy which we see being practised every day ... Socrates did not set up grandstands for his audience and did not sit upon a professorial chair; he had no fixed timetable for talking or walking with his friends. Rather he did philosophy sometimes by joking with them, or by drinking or going to war or to the market with them, and finally by going to prison and drinking poison. He was the first to show that at all times and in every place, in everything that happens to us, daily life gives us the opportunity to do philosophy.
Plato's dialogues deploy a number of metaphors and friendships that describe and portray Socrates' approach. Probably the most famous is that of the midwife: he takes his role to be that of one who knows he knows nothing but is committed to asking questions; sometimes his interlocutors 'give birth' to certain insights as a result - 'It is I, with God's help, who deliver them of this offspring [wisdom]', he says in the Theaetetus. Alternatively, in the Meno, Socrates describes his method by drawing a contrast with the eristic ways of his contemporary philosophical rivals, the sophists: 'If they are friends, as you and I are, and want to discuss with each other, they must answer in a manner more gentle and more proper to discussion.' The implication is that his way of doing philosophy is in part the attempt to form a friendship.
Socratic friendship is also a tough kind of love; it requires the roughest courage. Consider what he says to another character, Callicles, on the purpose of philosophy:
I think that someone who is to test adequately the soul which lives aright and the soul which does not, needs to have three qualities: knowledge, goodwill and willingness to speak freely ... You [Callicles] would never have agreed with me simply because you did not know better or were too ashamed to admit you did not know, nor to deceive me; for you are my friend, as you say yourself.
As it happens Socrates is speaking ironically, for by the end of the dialogue in which this exchange is recorded, the Gorgias, Callicles has betrayed every one of the intimacies that they might have shared. His vanity could not take Socrates' probing enquiry. However, what Socrates says to Callicles reads like a summary of philosophy and friendship. It includes goodwill and a willingness to speak freely. It does not require individuals to be knowledgeable; rather they must have a passion for wisdom in Socrates' sense. Finally, the most promising candidates for friendship will show themselves to be honest, particularly when it comes to their self-awareness.
So it is not just Montaigne and Nietzsche, Emerson and Aelred who developed a dynamic ethos or spirituality of friendship characterised as the struggle to rise above life's everyday ambiguities. At the origins of Western philosophy is the same notion in which, at its best, doing philosophy and becoming friends are one and the same thing. Socratic friendship suggests that at least one conception of philosophy is itself caught up in this same dynamic. Friendship is the desire to know another and be known by them — in Emerson's phrase, they delight as they exclaim to one another, 'Do you see the same truth?' Philosophy is not, therefore, just illuminating of friendship. The very possibility of friendship lies at the heart of philosophy. They come together partly because as Aristotle commented, 'we are better able to observe our friends than ourselves and their actions than our own'. But more so because to truly befriend others is to stare life's uncertainties, limits and ambiguities in the face. To seek friendship is to seek wisdom.
insert content here