FRIENDSHIP: FROM ARISTOTLE TO PRESENT
Friendship has been a philosophical theme in the classics. Aristotle considered it highly, placing friendship above love, which he tends to depreciate and connect to eroticism.
For Aristotle, friendship was an exercise between «equals», a virtue shared by men belonging to the elite of Greek society. It had little of brotherhood and solidarity, and involved a restraint, abstract and utilitarian face («Between friends, the rule is that each receives and returns in equal degree, or in a very similar one», Aristotle said).
To Aristotle, friendship was also a somewhat egoistic issue: «Each man has in himself his best friend, and, as a consequence, should love himself above everything». Aristotle’s friendship was also restraint: it didn’t include unknown people, foreigners or women, who he considered «limited by nature».
We can, of course, understand, or try to understand, Aristotle. We must consider the period, and its preconceived opinions. And accept that friendship, in its most current and broad sense can be rather different from love or brotherhood.
Notwithstanding, just a few dozen years after Aristotle, Epicurus established different and much more advanced concepts of friendship. Epicurus inscribed friendship in a philosophy of life where complicity, solidarity, sympathy or shared pleasure were important elements.
Epicurus’s friendship is much closer to the modern concept of friendship, and was widely practised for centuries by the many epicurist communities spread throughout the Roman empire, without the exclusions conceived by Aristotle.
As with everything that is human, friendship contains our ambivalence, our contradictions. Friendship is often betrayed or crushed. It is one of its contents. Anyway, friendship exists. We need it, we create it, with different meanings and different demands.
In a broader sense, friendship nowadays is equivalent to communication, sympathy for the other, complicity, solidarity. In a current vision, friendship doesn’t involve a deep and ideal relationship, though our inner demands may place it well ahead of circumstantial relationships and common circles of acquaintances.
And we may, in certain circumstances, think as Jean Paul Sartre, and say that «hell are the others», or as Benjamin Franklin, that «there are three faithful friends - an old wife, an old dog, and ready Money».
But, in their very essence, arguments devaluing friendship are often the observation of transitory moments of caustic and disenchanted feelings about man and life; they do not nullify our persistent demand for friendship and the importance and necessity we confer in it.
Friendship is as indispensable today as in the past. In a world such as ours, with such a wide set of mercantile and abstract relationships, space for friendship, with the existential enrichment it grants, is essential to us.
We are beings dependent on affections, dependent on the other, on fellowship, on brotherhood, on solidarity, on sympathy. We don’t live only by bread. Our “I” only exists and defines itself through others, as their reflexion («If there isn’t other I, there is no I», said Tchuang-Tzu). Without the warmth of friendship and love, life would be insupportable, Aristotle reminds us.
See also: Meaning of Life and Friendship Quotes