‘If you press me to say why I loved him, I feel that it cannot be expressed except by replying: “Because it was him: because it was me”’.
Michel de Montaigne
‘Those friends thou hast and their adoption tried, grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel’.
‘Think where man’s glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends’.
W. B. Yeats.
‘The highest things exist in friendship and in contemplation. At its best, the human being exists to converse with his friends’.
James Schall, S.J.
I dedicate this book to Craig Doyle, cousin and close friend, with whom I enjoy a singular and special friendship.
Table of Contents
Chapter One: What is a Friend?: Plato
Chapter Two: The Three Types of Friendship: Aristotle
Chapter Three: Friends as Those Who are Most Like Us: Cicero
Chapter Four: On the Death of a Friend: Augustine
Chapter Five: Spiritual Friendship: Aelred of Rivaulx
Chapter Six: Friendship as Charity: Aquinas
Chapter Seven: A Friend is Another Self: Montaigne
Chapter Eight: The Three Fruits of Friendship: Bacon
Chapter Nine: The Self-Serving Nature of Friendship: La Rochefoucauld
Chapter Ten: Friendship as a Union of Love: Kant
Chapter Eleven: The Enemy in a Friend: Nietzsche
Chapter Twelve: Friendship as Love: C. S. Lewis
Chapter Thirteen: Friendship and Fall-Out: Sartre and Camus
Chapter Fourteen: Fragment on Friendship: Derrida
Conclusion: Towards a Philosophico-Christian Vision of Friendship
I must thank my friends without whom this book could not have been written. I list them out and remember them in profound gratitude for the gift and grace of their loving-friendship: Darren Cleary, black swan and amigo del alma; John Rice, Oisín Breathnach, Emil Alhén, Helen Sheehan, Thomas O’Connor, Liam Kearney, Fr. John Harris, O.P., Terence Hartley, Fionnuala MacAodha, Shay Ward, Hugh Cummins and István Mészáros.
A huge thanks, too, to my family especially my parents, Val and Johnny, for their support, encouragement and interest over many, many years. Gracias por todo.
I dedicate this book to Craig Doyle, in admiration and love.
‘A book is always a dialogue that could not take place’ (Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Grain of Wheat).
What do we love when we love our friends? Is like drawn to like in friendship or do opposites attract? What are the different types of friendship? What constitutes friendship? What is the function of friendship? What is its essence, its essential ingredient? Is desire the cause of friendship? What is ‘perfect’ friendship based on? Does it exist? What causes the rifts, ruptures, recriminations, complaints and fall-outs in friendship? What are the grounds for dissolving a friendship and what’s the best way to break off a friendship? Do friends always make us happy? How many friends should a person have? Is a friend another self? Ought he be? What are the qualities that characterise a good friendship? What preserves friendship? Is it possible to love a friend too much? And what happens when a friend dies? Are women capable of friendship? Are men? Should we be prepared to do anything for a friend? Is all friendship self-serving? Is deception always present in friendship? What about forgiveness in friendship? What about betrayal? Is friendship impossible for some people? Would you lie for a friend, die for a friend, take a bullet for him, take a bullet from him?
These are some of the questions I ask in this book. I put them to the great philosophers in dialogue form. The book is intended for the philosophy undergraduate as much as the general reader interested in philosophy. This little book is a philosophical enquiry into the meaning of friendship. Ultimately, it struggles towards articulating a Christian philosophical vision of friendship.
Personally, I wanted to understand something about the nature of friendship and its fragility. Some of my friendships have ended and some endured, some have been frivolous and fun, others fast and furious, some fragile and fraught, others faithful and fuller, some fickle, frail and fleeting, others fabulous. I don’t suppose that anyone can seriously consider life without friends. Friendship is one of the most important things in life and without it we are not fully human. It goes a long way to making us happy. Friendship is a precious but also precarious possession.
In this book I have questioned the great thinkers of the past in our Western intellectual and cultural tradition, beginning with the Greeks and ending in the present-day: Plato (chapter one), Aristotle (chapter two), Cicero (chapter three), St. Augustine (chapter four), Aelred of Rivaulx (chapter five), St. Thomas Aquinas (chapter six), Michel de Montaigne (chapter seven), Francis Bacon (chapter eight), La Rochefoucauld (chapter nine), Immanuel Kant (chapter ten), Friedrich Nietzsche (chapter eleven), C. S. Lewis (chapter twelve), Sartre and Camus (chapter thirteen) and Derrida (chapter fourteen). After these fourteen dialogical explorations, in the conclusion, I adumbrate some further philosophical reflections on friendship with reference to the thinkers cited above as well as to Simone Weil and Paul Ricoeur – the latter two also being twentieth-century French philosophers. I also try to compare, contrast and weave together the divergent strands of thinking on this subject that had been highlighted in the previous chapters. The aim, more specifically here, is to advance a philosophico-Christian vision of friendship.
The answers, reflections and insights of the above philosophers into friendship are truly inspiring and guide us still. We will explore the three types of friendship according to Aristotle, the three fruits of friendship according to Bacon; we will see how difficult it was for Augustine and Montaigne to get over the death of their friends and how one of them never really recovered and see why Nietzsche thought that women aren’t capable of friendship, to cite just a few themes. As far as possible I have let them speak in their own words and the reader will find a list of their primary texts on the topic of friendship in the bibliography at the back of the book, while at the beginning of each chapter I give a short introduction to the thinkers discussed.
This book is a history and story of friendship, on loving-friendship and the love of friends (philia) and if it contributes to an understanding of the meaning of friendship or helps any reader in their relationship even with one friend it will have been worth writing it. The Greeks distinguished between Eros, Philia and Agape. Eros is sexual, passionate, erotic love; philia is the love of friends while agapeic love is selfless love of creation, exemplified, par excellence, by Christ. It is caritas.
The following philosophical dialogues on friendship represent an anthology in the Western intellectual tradition from Plato to Paul Ricoeur. All that Plato wrote in philosophy was in dialogical form. His Platonic dialogues inspire us still, centuries later. In a sense we can say, with Plato, that to philosophise is to learn how to dialogue.
Chapter One: What is a Friend?: Plato
Plato’s dialogues were written nearly twenty-four hundred years ago. Plato, a native Athenian, was born in 427 BC and died at the age of eighty-one in 347. He belonged to an old and distinguished aristocratic family. In his late teens or early twenties he began to frequent the circle around Socrates, the Athenian philosopher who appears as a central character in so many of Plato’s dialogues and whose trial and death he portrayed in his Apology and Phaedo. Following Socrates’ death in 399, Plato spent much time in Southern Italy where he met with a lot of philosophers and scientists. In the eighties Plato opened up a school of higher education in the Attic countryside near Athens, apparently offering formal instruction in philosophical, political and mathematical matters. The Academy became an international centre of excellence and gathered to itself scholars from all over the Greek world, including Aristotle who came there as a student about 367 at the age of eighteen and remained there as a teacher and writer right up to the time of Plato’s death twenty years later. In this dialogue Plato uses Socrates (who wrote nothing) as a mouthpiece for his own ideas. It has to be said that the interlocutor is mainly there to agree with Socrates’ superior view!
Questions to Plato/ Socrates
Stephen J. Costello: You are renowned for your philosophical dialogues in which Socrates plays a pivotal part. You use Socrates as a mouthpiece for your own ideas. So I will put the questions to you but through Socrates. In the Lysis you have Socrates engaged in one of his favourite pursuits – conversing with cultivated, intelligent and good-looking teenage boys from distinguished Athenian families. This dialogue portrays Lysis and Menexenus who are best friends, in their early teens. Hippothales, an older teenage boy, who is infatuated with Lysis, is also present, together with Ctesippus. You discuss the nature of friendship – who are friends to whom and on what grounds. The Greek word for love is philein, cognate to the word for ‘friendship’, philia, which includes the love of parents and children, close elective attachments, impassioned erotic fixations, like Hippothales’ for Lysis. Many questions are raised: Is the friend the one who loves or the one loved? Or are there friends where each loves the other? Or is it that good people are friends of other good people? What does the friend love in loving his friend, and how does the love of that relate to the love of the friend? You bring the boys face to face with the philosophical problems that beset best friends. Can you begin by telling me how the discussion began in the first place?
Socrates: Yes, I was on my way from the Academy to the Lyceum when I encountered Hippothales and Ctesippus. They asked me to come into an enclosed space, saying they spend a lot of time there and they told me that there were lots of good-looking boys there. It was a kind of wrestling school. So I asked a few preliminary questions such as who was the best looking and who was in love with whom. Ctesippus told me that Hippothales was in love with Lysis, in fact he said he was completely fixated on the boy. So I went into the courtyard where most of the boys were playing knucklebones. I noticed that Lysis stood out among the rest of them, with a garland on his head. He was not only a beautiful boy but a well-bred young gentleman. After a while he joined us in conversation and Menexenus sat down next to him and a discussion on friendship began.
Costello: So, in your opinion, what is the basis of friendship?
Socrates: Let me ask you the questions I asked them. Are you going to be anyone’s friend or is anyone going to love us as a friend in those areas in which we are good for nothing?
Costello: The answer is no to both.
Socrates: Are there things you always wanted to possess?
Costello: Yes, ever since I was a boy. And you? What have you always wanted?
Socrates: One person wants a dog, another money, and another fame. I am lukewarm about those things but when it comes to having friends I’m absolutely passionate, and I would rather have a good friend than the best quail or gamecock known to man, and more than any horse or god. And I would rather possess a friend than all Darius’ gold or even than Darius himself. That’s how much I value friends and companions. And that’s why when I see Lysis and Menexenus together I am amazed – it’s wonderful that they have been able to acquire this possession so quickly and easily while they’re still so young. Each has got the other as a true friend. A question for you: when someone loves someone else, which of the two becomes the friend of the other, the one who loves or the one who is loved? Or is there no difference?
Costello: I don’t see any difference.
Socrates: Are you saying that they both become each other’s friend when only one of them loves the other?
Costello: It seems so to me.
Socrates: Isn’t it possible for someone who loves somebody not to be loved by him in return?
Costello: Yes, definitely.
Socrates: And isn’t it possible for him even to be hated? Isn’t this how men are often treated by the young boys they are in love with? They are deeply in love, but they feel that they are not loved back, or even that they are hated. Don’t you think this is true?
Costello: Yes, I do.
Socrates: In this case, one person loves and the other is loved. Right?
Socrates: Then which is the friend of the other? Is the lover the friend of the loved, whether he is loved in return or not, or is even hated? Or is the loved the friend of the lover? Or in a case like this, when the two do not both love each other, is neither the friend of the other?
Costello: That’s what it looks like.
Socrates: Now our opinion has changed. First we thought that if one person loved another, they were both friends. But now, unless they both love each other, neither is a friend.
Socrates: So nothing is a friend of the lover unless it loves him in return.
Costello: That’s a point certainly.
Socrates: So what is loved is a friend to the person who loves it, or so it seems, whether it loves him or hates him. Babies, for example, who are too young to show love but not too young to hate, when they are disciplined by their mother or father, are at that moment, even though they hate their parents then, their very dearest friends.
Costello: It seems so.
Socrates: So by this line of reasoning it is not the lover who is a friend, but the loved.
Costello: It looks like it.
Socrates: And so the hated is the enemy, not the hater?
Costello: Apparently so.
Socrates: Then many people are loved by their enemies and hated by their friends, and are friends to their enemies and enemies to their friends – if the object of love rather than the lover is a friend. But this doesn’t make any sense at all, my dear friend. In fact, I think it is impossible to be an enemy to one’s friend and a friend to one’s enemy.
Costello: I think you’re right.
Socrates: Then we are going to be forced to agree with our previous statement, that one is frequently a friend of a non-friend, and even of an enemy. This is the case when you love someone who does not love you, or even hates you. And frequently one is an enemy to a non-enemy, or even to a friend, as happens when you hate someone who does not hate you, or even loves you.
Costello: Perhaps. Can I ask you: do you think that in friendship like is drawn to like?
Socrates: Very wise men have said that the like must always be friend to the like. I think that the sentence means that the good are like each other and are friends, while the bad are never alike, not even to themselves. They are out of kilter and unstable. So the hidden meaning of those who say ‘like is a friend to like’ is that only the good is a friend, and only to the good, while the bad never enters into true friendship with either the good or the bad. Do you agree?
Socrates: So whomever are good are friends.
Costello: That certainly is one conclusion.
Socrates: I’m still a little uneasy with it. Is like friend to like in so far as he is like, and as such is he useful to his counterpart? Couldn’t the good be friend to the good in so far as he is good, not in so far as he like?
Socrates: Isn’t a good person, in so far as he is good, self-sufficient to himself?
Socrates: And a self-sufficient person has no need of anything?
Costello: How could he?
Socrates: And the person who needs nothing wouldn’t prize anything?
Costello: No, he wouldn’t.
Socrates: What he didn’t prize he wouldn’t love.
Socrates: Then how in the world are the good going to be friends to the good? They don’t yearn for one another when apart, because even then they are sufficient to themselves and when together they have no need of one another. Is there any way that people like that can possibly value each other?
Socrates: But people who don’t place much value on each other couldn’t be friends.
Socrates: It seems that we have been knocked off course. Once I heard someone say that like is more hostile to like and good men to good men. He said that things that are most like are filled with envy, contentiousness and hatred for each other, and things most unlike with friendship. The poor man is forced to be friends with the rich and the weak with the strong, for the sake of assistance. He said that the like is totally unqualified to be friend to the like; that just the opposite is true; that things that are completely in opposition to each other are friends in the highest degree, since everything desires its opposite and not its like.
Costello: That also sounds fine, when you put it like that.
Socrates: I don’t know about you, but I’m getting downright dizzy with the perplexities of our argument. Maybe the old proverb is right, and the beautiful is a friend. Now I maintain that the good is beautiful. What do you think?
Costello: I agree.
Socrates. Ok. What is neither good nor bad is the friend of the beautiful and the good. Pause a moment. It seems to me that there are three things: the good, the bad, and the neither good nor bad. And the good is not a friend to the good nor the bad to the bad, nor the good to the bad. Only one possibility remains. If anything is a friend to anything, what is neither good nor bad is a friend either to the good or to something like itself. So what is neither good nor bad is friend to the good, and only to the good. Do you think we’re on the right track?
Costello: Let me change the tempo slightly. Would you say that desire is the cause of friendship?
Socrates: A thing desires what it is deficient in. Right?
Costello: Yes, lack creates desire.
Socrates: But it is possible to desire and love something passionately and without feeling friendly towards it.
Costello: It would seem so.
Socrates: In friendship, you naturally belong to the other. If one person desires another or loves him passionately, he would not desire him or love him passionately or as a friend unless he somehow belonged to his beloved either in his soul or in some characteristic, habit, or aspect of his soul. So let’s agree to say that what belongs is something different from what is like.
Socrates: Let’s summarise. If neither the loved nor the loving, nor the like nor the unlike, nor the good, nor the belonging, nor any of the others we have gone through – well, there have been so many I certainly don’t remember them all any more, but if none of these is a friend, then I have nothing left to say.
Costello: So, what is a friend? I still don’t know!
Socrates: What a friend is we have not yet been able to find out.
Chapter Two: The Three Types of Friendship: Aristotle
Aristotle (384-322 BC) was born in the northern town of Stagira in Greece. His father, Nicomachus, was a physician attached to the court off Philip of Macedon. In 367 Aristotle moved south to Athens, presumably attracted there by the pull of Plato and became associated with the Academic circle there. In 347, the year in which Plato died, Aristotle left Athens and travelled. In 343 he was summoned by Philip of Macedon to take up the post of tutor to his son Alexander. After a few years of royal tutoring, Aristotle returned to Stagira and then set up his own school, the Lyceum, in Athens and from 334 to 323 he explored and discovered, argued and taught, on an entire field of human knowledge: logic, metaphysics, theology, history, politics, aesthetics, psychology, anatomy, biology, zoology, botany, astronomy and meterology. During these years he composed his philosophical and scientific treatises. In 323 when Alexander died in Babylon, Aristotle left the city lest the Athenians put a second philosopher to death. He died a few months later in Chalcis but his school lived on for some 500 years after its founder’s death. Aristotle was a polymath; among his best-known works are his Nicomachean Ethics and his Politics. Aristotle’s celebrated theory of friendship is constructed in part out of solutions proposed to the issues that Plato raised.
Questions to Aristotle
Stephen J. Costello: You devote two books in your Nicomachean Ethics, books eight and nine, to the subject of friendship, and in which you describe the three types of friendship. Can you take me through these?
Aristotle: Yes but the first thing to say is that friendship is a necessity and a kind of virtue and most necessary for living.
Costello: Define virtue.
Aristotle: Virtue is excellence of character. Nobody would choose to live without friends even if he had all the other good things. In prosperity and poverty, people regard their friends as their only refuge. Friends are a help both to the young, in keeping them from mistakes; and to the old, in caring for them and doing for them what through frailty they cannot do for themselves; and to those in the prime of life, by enabling them to carry out fine achievements. When two together go they are better able both to see an opportunity and to take it. One can see also in one’s travels how near and dear a thing every man is to every other. Friendship also seems to be the bond that holds communities together, and lawgivers seem to attach more importance to it than to justice. Between friends there is no need for justice, but people who are still just need the quality of friendship, and indeed friendliness is considered to be justice in the fullest sense. It is not only necessary as I said but splendid. We praise those who love their friends, and the possession of many friends is held to be one of the fine things of life.
Costello: What constitutes friendship?
Aristotle: There are a few divergent views about friendship. Some hold that it is a matter of similarity, that our friends are those like ourselves. Hence the proverbial sayings ‘like to like’ and ‘birds of a feather’. Others take the contrary view such as Heraclitus who says ‘opposition unites’ and ‘from the different comes the fairest harmony’ and ‘all things come from strife’. Empedocles asserts the contrary, when he says ‘like is drawn to like’. But the real question is whether it is impossible for bad men to be friends, and whether there is one kind of friendship or more than one.
Aristotle: Well, light will be thrown on our subject if we get a clear conception of what an object of affection is. It is generally accepted that not everything is loved but only what is lovable, but that is either good or pleasant or useful. Is it then the Good that people love, or only what is good for them? While the Good is absolutely lovable, it is the good of the individual that is lovable for the individual. There are thus three reasons for loving. In the case of a friend we say that one ought to wish him good for his own sake.
Costello: If there are three reasons for loving, are you saying there are three kinds of friendship?
Aristotle: Yes. They differ in kind. There are three types of friendship, equal in number to the qualities that arouse love. For there is in each case a kind of mutual affection, known to both parties. There is friendship based on usefulness, pleasure and goodness. Those who love each other on the ground of utility do not love each other for their personal qualities, but only in so far as they derive some benefit from each other. Similarly with those who love one another on the ground of pleasure; because it is not for being of a certain character that witty people are liked, but because we find them pleasant. In such a case, their pleasure is motivated by their own good or their own pleasure. They love the person not for what he is, but qua useful or pleasant. These friendships are accidental, because the person loved is not loved on the ground of his actual nature. Consequently such friendships are easily dissolved because if the parties cease to be pleasant or useful the friendship comes to an end.
Aristotle: To take friendship based on utility. Utility is an impermanent thing: it changes according to circumstances. So with the disappearance of the ground for friendship, the friendship also breaks up, because that was what kept it alive. Friendships of this kind seem to occur most frequently between the elderly (because at their age what they want is not pleasure but utility) and those in middle or early life, who are pursuing their own advantage. Such persons do not spend much time together, because sometimes they do not even like one another, and therefore feel no need of such an association unless they are mutually useful.
Costello: And friendship based on pleasure?
Aristotle: Friendship between the young is grounded on pleasure, because the lives of the young are regulated by their feelings, and their chief interest is in their own pleasure and the opportunity of the moment. With advancing years their tastes change so that they are quick to make and break friendships because their affection changes just as the things that please them do. Also the young are apt to fall in love, for erotic friendship is for the most part swayed by the feelings and based on pleasure. Sometimes they change their attitude within the same day.
Costello: And is perfect friendship based on goodness therefore?
Aristotle: Yes. Only the friendship of those who are good, and similar in their goodness, is perfect. For these people each alike wish the good for the other qua good and they are good in themselves. And it is those who desire the good of their friends for the friends’ sake that are most truly friends, because each loves the other for what he is, and not for any incidental quality. Accordingly the friendship of such men lasts so long as they remain good; and goodness is an enduring quality. Also each party is good both absolutely and for his friend. Friendships of this kind are permanent. Of course, what is absolutely good is also absolutely pleasant. It is between good men that both love and friendship are found in the highest form. Such friendships are rare because men of this kind are few. They need time and intimacy because as the saying goes, you cannot get to know each other until you have eaten salt together. Nor can the two become friends until each has proved to the other that he is worthy of love and so won his trust. Those who are quick to make friendly advances to each other have the desire to be friends, but they are not unless they are worthy of love and know it. The wish for friendship develops rapidly, but friendship does not.
Costello: The inferior kinds of friendship are less enduring because they are not confined to the good.
Aristotle: Friendship for the sake of pleasure has a resemblance to perfect friendship, because good men give each other pleasure and so does friendship for the sake of utility because good men are also useful to each other. But they do not find pleasure in the same things. The one finds it in looking at his beloved, and the other in the attentions of his lover. And as beauty wanes, sometimes the friendship wanes too, because one loses pleasure in the sight, and the other no longer receives the attentions. Those who are friends for the sake of utility part as soon as the advantage ceases because they were attracted, not by each other, but by the prospect of gain. Only good men can be friends for their own sakes. And the friendship of the good is proof against slander. Between friends like these, proved over a long period of time, there are the feelings ‘I trust him’; ‘he would never do me wrong’. Friendship in the primary and proper sense is between good men in virtue of their goodness, whereas the rest are friendships only by analogy. To lovers of pleasure, pleasure is a good.
Costello: Is friendship a state, an activity, a feeling?
Aristotle: The friendship of the good is a moral state. Those who spend their time together enjoy each other’s company and confer mutual benefits, but those who are asleep or separated by distance, although they do not express their friendship in action, nevertheless retain the disposition to do so; because distance does not break off a friendship absolutely, but only in its active realisation. However, if the absence lasts for a long time it does seem to cause forgetfulness of the friendship. Hence the saying: ‘How oft hath silence cut the bond of friendship’.
Costello: Can all sorts of people be friends potentially?
Aristotle: Neither old people nor sour-tempered ones seem to make friends easily. For there is not much pleasure to be found in them, and nobody can live day after day with someone who annoys him because nature seems above all else to avoid what is painful and to aim at what is pleasant. Nothing is so characteristic of friends as spending time together. But it is impossible for people to live together if they are not agreeable to each other and similar in their tastes, because this seems to be the essence of comradeship. When people wish what is good for those whom they love, for their sake, it is not from a feeling but in accordance with a moral state. For when a good man becomes a friend to another he becomes that other’s good. There is a saying: ‘caring is sharing’. Friendship is equality. But having many friends in the way of perfect friendship is no more possible than to be in love with many persons at the same time. Besides, one has to get to know a man thoroughly and become intimate with him, which is extremely difficult. If the basis is utility or pleasure, however, it is possible to be attractive to a number of people, because there are plenty of this type, and such services take little time. These secondary friendships are comparatively short-lived.
Costello: What about friendships between so-called ‘unequals’?
Aristotle: Yes, there is a kind of friendship that involves superiority. For example, the affection of father for son (and generally of the older for the younger) and of husband for wife and of every person in authority for his subordinates. These friendships differ from one another. The affection of father for son is not the same as that of son for father, nor that of husband for wife the same as that of wife for husband. For each of these persons has a different excellence and function and different reasons for feeling love. If a wide gap exists in respect of virtue or vice or in the case of royalty or where there is a great gulf as between God and man, friendship becomes impossible.
Costello: You hold the view that in friendship loving is more important than being loved?
Aristotle: Yes. But most people seem to want to be loved rather than to love. This is why most people are fond of flattery. Friendship is desirable for its own sake and consists more in giving than in receiving affection. An indication of this is the joy that mothers show in loving their children. Friendship consists more in loving than in being loved. Loving is the distinctive virtue of friends. Being steadfast in themselves, they are steadfast to each other. It is characteristic of good friends neither to go wrong themselves nor to allow their friends to do so. But people of bad character have no constancy, for they do not even remain self-consistent. Friends have all things in common; friendship is based on community.
Costello: You have introduced the notion of community so that perhaps we are justified in speaking of a politics of friendship. You hold that there are three kinds of constitution and that there are analogous relations in the state and in the household.
Aristotle: Yes. There are three kinds of political constitution and an equal number of corruptions of them. The constitutions are monarchy, aristocracy and timocracy (based on a property qualification). Of these the best is monarchy and the worst is timocracy. The perversion of monarchy is tyranny. Both are forms of one-man rule. The least bad is democracy. There are analogies to be found in the household. The association of a father with his son has the form of monarchy, because he is concerned for the welfare of his children. The relation of master to slaves resembles tyranny. The association of husband and wife is clearly an aristocracy. The man rules by virtue of merit, and in the sphere that is his right; but he hands over to his wife such matters as are suitable for her. If the husband asserts control over everything he is turning his rule into an oligarchy. The association of brothers resembles timocracy, because they are equals except in so far as they differ in age. Democracy is most completely expressed in households where there is no master, for in them the members are all on an equality; but it also obtains where the head of the household is weak, and everyone can do as he likes.
Costello: And in each of these types of constitution one finds a sort of friendship?
Aristotle: Yes. The affection between husband and wife is the same as that in an aristocracy because it is in accordance with merit, the husband (as superior) receiving the greater good. The claims of justice are met in this way. Friendship between brothers is like that which unites members of a social club. In tyrannies friendships and justice are little found while they are most commonly found in democracies.
Costello: Presumably there are various degrees of affection and of relationship?
Aristotle: Yes. All friendship involves association. Friendships between fellow-citizens are more evidently friendships of association. And there are different degrees. For parents love their children as part of themselves, whereas children love their parents as the authors of their being. And parents know their children better than the children know their parentage. Parental love exceeds the love of their children in duration because parents love their children from the moment of birth, but it is only after the lapse of some time that children begin to love their parents. Mothers love their children more than fathers do. Parents love their children as themselves, and children love their parents as the origin from which they sprang. Friendship between brothers has the same characteristics as friendship between comrades. The love between husband and wife is naturally inherent in them. For man is by his nature a pairing rather than a social creature. From the outset the functions are divided, the husband’s being different from the wife’s; so they supply each other’s deficiencies by pooling their personal resources. For this reason it is thought that both utility and pleasure have a place in conjugal love. Children, too, are a bond between parents, which is why childless marriages break up more quickly. For the children are an asset common to them both, and a common possession is cohesive.
Costello: What about arguments and fall-outs in friendships?
Aristotle: Complaints and recriminations arise chiefly if not exclusively in utilitarian friendships. Nor do complaints arise much between those whose friendship is based on pleasure, because both alike are getting what they want if they enjoy each other’s company. But utilitarian friendships do give rise to complaints because since each associates with the other for his own benefit, they are always wanting the better of the bargain, and thinking that they have less than they should, and grumbling because they do not get as much as they want. Of course, one should not make a man one’s friend against his will.
Costello: Indeed. The difficulties are caused by differences of motive in friendship?
Aristotle: Yes. In emotional relations the lover sometimes complains that his devotion is unrequited. Of course, it may be because he has no lovable quality! Situations arise when the one loves his beloved on grounds of pleasure and the other his lover on grounds of utility, and they no longer possess both these attributes; because a friendship based on these motives breaks up as soon as the reasons for which the friends loved each other no longer present themselves. For it was not each other that they loved, but each other’s attributes, which were not permanent. Hence friendships of this kind are not permanent either. But friendship based on character, being disinterested, is lasting.
Costello: Our desires can differ in friendships.
Aristotle: Yes, quarrels occur when the outcome of a friendship is different from what the parties desire, because failure to obtain what one wants is almost as bad as getting nothing at all.
Costello: What are the grounds for dissolving friendship?
Aristotle: This is a problem that can arise: whether or not to break off friendship with those who do not remain the same as they were. Where the bond is utility or pleasure there is presumably nothing odd about breaking it when they no longer have these attributes. Indeed, most quarrels between friends arise when the basis of their friendship is not what they suppose it to be. When a person is completely mistaken and has assumed that he is loved for his character although his friend has never done anything to suggest it, he has only himself to blame. But when he has been deceived by the other’s pretensions he is justified at protesting at the deception. But if A has accepted B as a friend, in the belief that he is a good man and he turns out to be a villain, ought A still to love him? Surely this is impossible, assuming that not everything is lovable but only what is good; and it is not right, either, because one ought not to be a lover of what is bad, and we have said that ‘like is friend to like’. Ought the friendship to be broken off at once? Perhaps not in every case, but only with those whose depravity is incurable. Those who are capable of recovery are entitled to our help. But suppose that one friend remains the same and the other improves and becomes far superior to him in virtue, should he still treat the former as a friend? Surely it is impossible. This appears most clearly in the case of a great disparity such as occurs in boyhood friendships. Supposing that one person remains a child in intelligence and the other is a man of outstanding ability, how can they go on being friends when they have different interests and different likes and dislikes? They will not even have the same feelings about each other and without this it is impossible to be friends. Is one, then, to behave to a former friend exactly as if he had never been a friend at all? Probably one ought to keep a memory of the former intimacy, and just as we feel bound to show more favour to friends than to strangers, so we should for old acquaintance sake show some consideration for former friends – provided that the severance was not due to excessive wickedness on their part.
Costello: Do you think that our feelings toward our friends reflect our feelings towards ourselves?
Aristotle: The friendly feelings that we have towards our neighbours, and the characteristics by which the different kinds of friendship are distinguished, seem to be derived from our feelings towards ourselves. People define a friend as one who wishes and effects the good of another for the sake of that other or one who wishes for the existence and preservation of his friend for the friend’s sake. Others define him as one who spends all his time with another or chooses the same things as he does or one who shares his friend’s joys and sorrows. The standard is moral goodness or the good man, for he is completely integrated and desires the same things with every part of his soul. A friend is another self. In its extreme form friendship approximates to self-love, understood in the good sense of that term.
Costello: Is goodwill the same as friendship or can it be distinguished from friendship?
Aristotle: Goodwill resembles friendship but is not identical with it, because goodwill can be felt towards people that one does not know and without their knowledge but friendship cannot. Nor is goodwill the same as affection because it is without intensity or desire and affection is associated with both. Affection implies intimacy whereas goodwill can spring up quite suddenly. Thus goodwill seems to be the beginning of friendship, just as the pleasure at seeing a person is the beginning of love; for nobody falls in love without first feeling pleasure at the person’s appearance, although enjoying the sight of a person does not make one in love; it is love when one longs for somebody who is absent, and desires that person’s presence. Similarly people cannot be friends unless they first come to feel goodwill, although feeling goodwill does not make them friends. One might, then, by a metaphor define goodwill as undeveloped friendship, which in the course of time, when it attains to intimacy, becomes friendship. A person is not a friend if the attentions that he pays have an interested motive.
Costello: What about concord?
Aristotle: Concord seems to be a friendly feeling. Consequently it is not the same as agreement of opinion, because that might be possible even in people who did not know each other. There is said to be concord in a state when the citizens agree about their interests, adopt the same policy, and put their common resolves into effect. Concord is concerned with practical ends. The wishes of such people remain constant and do not ebb or flow with the tides.
Costello: Is self-love justifiable?
Aristotle: They say that a man should love his best friend most and neglect his own interest for the sake of a friend. Everyone feels stronger affection for things that have cost him some effort to acquire. But a man’s best friend is the one who not only wishes him well but wishes it for his own sake and this condition is best fulfilled by his attitude towards himself – and similarly with all the other attributes that go to define a friend. For we have said before that all friendly feelings for others are extensions of a man’s feelings for himself. Hence the proverbial sayings: ‘Two friends, one soul’; ‘friends share everything’ because a man is his own best friend. Therefore he ought to love himself. It depends, though, on what meaning each side attaches to the word self-love. It can be given a pejorative twist. A good friend (a man of good character) will even die for you. He will sacrifice money and honours and the goods that people struggle to obtain in his pursuit of what is morally fine. For he would rather have intense pleasure for a short time than quiet pleasure for a long time; rather live finely for one year than indifferently for many; and rather do one great and glorious deed than many petty ones. This result is presumably achieved by those who give their lives for others; so their choice is a glorious prize. Also the good man is ready to lose money on condition that his friend gains fineness of character. He behaves in the same way too with regard to political honours and positions; all these he will freely give up for his friend, because that is a fine and praiseworthy thing for him to do.
Costello: Are friends necessary for happiness?
Aristotle: This is a disputable point with regard to the happy man: whether he will need friends or not. For it is maintained that the supremely happy, who are self-sufficient, have no need of friends, because they have their good things; therefore being self-sufficient they need nothing further. Yet it seems paradoxical that, while attributing all good things to the happy man, we should not assign him friends, who are considered to be the greatest of external goods. It is also surely paradoxical to represent the man of perfect happiness as a solitary for nobody would choose to have all the good things in the world by himself because man is a social creature and naturally constituted to live in company. Therefore the happy man also has this quality, because he possesses everything that is naturally good and it is clearly better to spend one’s time in the company of friends and good men than in that of strangers and people of uncertain character. It follows, then, that the happy man needs friends.
Costello: When you talk about happiness (eudaimonia), you mean the person who lives and acts well, who fulfils himself?
Costello: Define happiness.
Aristotle: Happiness is the activity of the soul in accordance with virtue.
Costello: Explain please.
Aristotle: In saying that happiness is an activity I don’t mean that the happy man is a sort of intellectual athlete engaged in mental press-ups. An activity is a doing in a broad sense. I contrast it with having. Being ‘happy’ unlike being intelligent is not a matter of having a disposition but a matter of exercising one’s dispositions and potentialities. By the term ‘soul’ (psuchē) I mean being alive or animate. As such a stick or stone can’t be happy. By virtue (aretē) I mean excellence. So an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue means an excellent performance of whatever task is typical of a living creature. Happiness is something that takes up time. Pleasure or ecstasy are momentary but happiness cannot be short-lived. The good man feels towards his friends as he feels towards himself, because his friend is a second self to him. So a person ought to be conscious of his friend’s existence, and this can be achieved by living together and conversing and exchanging ideas with him – for this would seem to be what living together means in the case of human beings, not being pastured like cattle in the same field. Therefore to be happy a man will need virtuous friends.
Costello: How many friends should one have?
Aristotle: Should one make as many friends as possible? The right thing in friendship is to be neither friendless nor excessively supplied with friends. To have many utilitarian friends is a laborious task, which life is too short to accomplish. A few friends for amusement are quite enough, like a pinch of seasoning in food. But with regard to friends of good character, ought we to have as many as possible numerically or is there a limit to the number of friends as there is to the population of a city? Yes, there is a limit to one’s friends and probably this would be the largest number with whom one can be on intimate terms. It is difficult to sympathise closely with the joys and sorrows of many. Probably, then, it is as well to aim at having not as many friends as possible, but only as many as are enough to form an intimate circle. Indeed it would seem to be impossible to be the devoted friend of many, for the same reason that one cannot be in love with more than one; because by love we mean an extreme affection, and this is felt towards one person; therefore strong friendship too is felt only towards a few. Those who have a great many friends and greet everybody familiarly are felt to be friends of nobody. We must be content to find a few good men.
Costello: There are friends in good and bad fortune. Do we need friends more in prosperity or adversity?
Aristotle: Friendship is more necessary in adversity and therefore it is useful to have friends that are wanted in that condition but it is more honourable in prosperity and therefore the prosperous look for virtuous friends, since they prefer to share their good
fortune. The very presence of friends is pleasant in prosperity and adversity alike and grief is lightened by the sympathy of friends. The very sight of one’s friends is pleasant, especially in misfortune, and helps one not to give way to grief, because a friend (if he is tactful) tends to comfort one both by his appearance and by his conversation, knowing as he does one’s character and one’s likes and dislikes. In prosperity, on the other hand, the presence of one’s friends enables one to pass the time agreeably and also to enjoy the reflection that they take pleasure in one’s good fortune. We should invite our friends wholeheartedly to share our successes (because generosity is a fine impulse), but hesitate to ask them to visit us in our misfortunes (because one should share one’s troubles as little as possible: hence the saying ‘Enough that I should suffer’). The best time to call friends to one’s aid is when they seem likely to do one a great service with little trouble to themselves. Conversely it is probably the proper course to visit friends in misfortune readily, and without waiting to be invited, for it is part of a friend to do a kindness, particularly to those in need and have not asked for it. But as for visiting those who are in good fortune, while one should go eagerly to help in their affairs, if the object is one’s own well-being the approach should be leisurely (because it does not look well to be eager to receive a benefit).
Costello: Have you any final words on the value of friendly intercourse?
Aristotle: Just as lovers find the keenest satisfaction in seeing, and prefer this sense to all the others, because they feel that it is the source and stay of love, so to friends there is nothing more desirable than spending their lives together. For friendship is a kind of partnership, and a man stands in the same relation to his friend as to himself. Also everyone wishes to share with his friends the occupation (whatever it is) that constitutes his existence, or makes life worth living. This is why some drink together, others dice together, others go in for athletics and hunting together, or for philosophy, each type spending their time together in the pursuit that gives them most satisfaction in their lives; indeed in their desire to spend their lives with their friends they follow these pursuits and share in them as much as possible. The friendship of the good is good and increases in goodness because of their association. That is all I have to say.
Chapter Three: Friends as Those Who are Most Like Us: Cicero
Marcus Tullius Cicero, born 43 B.C., Roman lawyer, orator, politician and philosopher, lived through the dictatorship of Julius Caesar. 58 of his 106 speeches, delivered to the Roman people and the Senate, have survived. In 1345 A.D. Petrarch discovered copies of a collection of more than 900 letters, of which 800 were written by Cicero. Six rhetorical works survive and another in fragments. Philosophical works survive as well as some poetry. His work, Laelius De Amicitia, is his work on the subject of friendship. It was written in the year 44 B.C. In 90 B.C., when Cicero was just sixteen, his father introduced him to Quintus Mucius Scaevola to receive instruction in Roman law and it was at his feet that he heard him repeat the discourse of Laelius on the topic of friendship.
Questions to Cicero
Stephen J. Costello: Cicero, you have written a discourse on the subject of friendship. You obviously think it worthy of general as well as philosophical study?
Cicero: Yes. The subject is a noble one. It is a task for philosophers.
Costello: Just what exactly does the word friendship mean?
Cicero: Friendship (amicitia) is derived from the word love (amor) and leads to the establishing of goodwill. If you are an affectionate friend you will read my discourse and recognise in it a portrait of yourself.
Costello: May I go straight to the nature of friendship and ask you: what is the essence of friendship?
Cicero: The whole essence of friendship lies in the most complete agreement in policy, in pursuits and in opinions.
Costello: Why is that?
Cicero: Because a friend is another self. So I urge you to put friendship before all things human.
Costello: Everybody is a friend of somebody so…..
Cicero: Friendship cannot exist except among good men. And no one is good unless he is wise.
Costello: So what are the qualities that characterise such a friendship?
Cicero: Friends show proof of loyalty, uprightness, fairness and generosity; they are free from caprice, and passion and insolence, and have great strength of character. Let us consider such men to be good. If you remove goodwill from friendship the very name of friendship is gone.
Costello: So how many such friends, as you describe, can a person have?
Cicero: The bonds of affection always unite two persons only, or, at most, a few. For friendship is an accord in all things, conjoined with mutual goodwill and affection. No better thing has been given to man by the immortal gods.
Costello: But many people prefer other things in life such as fame and fortune, and so on?
Cicero: It is true that some prefer riches, some good health, some power, some public honours, and some sensual pleasures but these things are fleeting and unstable.
Costello: So what preserves friendship?
Cicero: Virtue is the parent and preserver of friendship. Without virtue friendship cannot exist at all.
Costello: But some people are friends with somebody for the advantages they can get out of them.
Cicero. That’s true but true friendship confers advantages almost beyond my power to describe. Friendship contributes to a life that’s worth living. What is sweeter than to have someone with whom you may dare discuss anything as if you were communing with yourself? All other objects of desire are adapted to a single end – riches, for spending; influence, for humour; public office, for reputation; pleasures, for sensual enjoyment; and health, from freedom of pain; but friendship embraces innumerable ends. Turn where you will, it is ever at your side; no barrier shuts it out; it is never untimely and never in the way. For friendship adds a brighter radiance to prosperity and lessens the burden of adversity by dividing and sharing it. It projects the bright ray of hope into the future, and does not suffer the spirit to grow faint or to fall. He who looks upon a true friend, looks, as it were, upon a sort of image of himself.
Costello: That would mean that on the death of a friend we would collapse and feel that part of ourselves had died.
Cicero: No, wherefore friends, though, absent are at hand; though in need, yet abound; though weak are strong; though dead, are yet alive. So great is the esteem on the part of their friends, the tender recollection and the deep longing that still attends them. These things make the death of the departed seem fortunate and the life of the survivors worthy of praise. A true friend will lay down his life for you.
Costello: Do we desire friendship because there’s something missing in us?
Cicero: The question is: whether the longing for friendship is felt on account of weakness or want, so that by the giving and receiving of favours one may get from another and in turn repay what he is unable to procure of himself?
Cicero: Well, although this mutual interchange is really inseparable from friendship, there may be another cause, older, more beautiful and emanating more directly from nature herself. In other words, friendship springs from nature not need, from an inclination of the soul joined with a feeling of love rather than from calculation of how much profit the friendship is likely to afford. Such is the glow and greatness of friendship conjoined as it is with love.
Costello: But it is true that, for some, friendship is a means of procuring benefit.
Cicero: Yes, for some friendship springs from lack and the need to secure or procure something but this is lowly. Such people would make friendship the daughter of poverty and want. The truth is otherwise. To the extent that a man relies upon himself and so is fortified by virtue and wisdom that he is dependent on no one and considers all his possessions to be within himself, in that degree is he most conspicuous for seeking out and cherishing friendships. Although many advantages ensue from friendship, the beginnings of our love did not spring from the hope of gain. Friendship is desirable, I would say, not because we are influenced by hope of gain but because its entire profit is in the love itself. Better to deserve than to demand favours.
Costello: Presumably such friendships are rare and unchangeable?
Cicero: These real friendships are eternal. Some would say that it is hard for a friendship to continue to the very end of life through adversities and the increasing burdens of age. Sometimes they are broken off through rivalry in courtship, struggle for office and the lust for money, which is the greatest bane of friendship. From this source of strife have sprung the deadliest enmities between the dearest friends. Disagreements arise from a demand upon friends to do something wrong, to become agents of vice or abettors in violence. In such cases the laws of friendship have been discarded. Those who dare demand anything and everything of a friend, well in these cases social intimacies are destroyed and everlasting enmities produced.
Costello: So what is the solution here?
Cicero: Simple. Let this law be established in friendship: neither ask dishonourable things nor do them if asked. Ask of friends only what is honourable; do for friends only what is honourable and without waiting to be asked. Let zeal be ever present but hesitation absent; dare to give true advice with all frankness. In friendship let the influence of friends who are wise counsellors be paramount, and let that influence be employed in advising, not only with frankness but, if the occasion demands, even with sternness, and let the advice be followed when given.
Costello: But you still hold that like attracts like?
Cicero: Nothing so allures and attracts anything to itself as likeness does to friendship. Good men join to themselves and love other good men. Friendship is a union. There is nothing more eager or more greedy than nature for what is like itself. Love is friendship’s loveliest link. It is not the material gain procured through a friend as it is his love and his love alone gives us delight. I repeat: friendship is not cultivated because of need but rather by those who are most abundantly blessed with wealth and power and virtue. Friends are life’s best and fairest furniture.
Costello: So a life without friends is no life at all?
Cicero: Life unadorned and unattended by friends could not be pleasant.
Costello: Could you say something about the limits and boundary lines in friendship?
Cicero: Three views are usually given here, none of which I approve. Firstly, ‘that we should have the same feeling for our friends that we have for ourselves’; secondly, ‘that our goodwill towards our friends should correspond in all respects to their goodwill towards us’; and thirdly, ‘that whatever value a man places upon himself, the same value should be placed upon him by friends’. How many things would we do for our friends that we would never do for ourselves! There are many instances where good men forgo or permit themselves to be deprived of many conveniences so that their friends rather than themselves may enjoy them. That’s what I have to say to the first point. The second view limits friendship to an equal interchange of services and feelings. Here friendship becomes accounting. True friendship is richer and more abundant than that. The third is worst of all. A friend should not have the same estimate of another that the other has of himself. It is his duty, rather, to arouse with all his might his friend’s prostrate soul and lead it to a livelier hope and into a better train of thought. Friends aren’t there to serve one’s own selfish ends. How will it be possible for anyone to be a friend to a man who, he believes, may be his foe? No, there must be complete harmony of opinions and inclinations in everything without any exception.
Costello: But what are the limits to friendship?
Cicero: There are limits to the indulgence that can be allowed to friendship. And do you know, sometimes we are more painstaking in all other things than friendship. At times we can tell how many goats and sheep someone has but are unable to tell the number of his friends. Indeed, some men take pains in getting the former and are careless in choosing the latter; they have no signs by which to determine their fitness for friendship.
Costello: Some friendships can be forgotten or disregarded.
Cicero: Yes. But no friendship should be disregarded without a weighty cause. True friendships are hard to find among those who spend their time in office or in business of a public kind. Nor is it easy to find men who will go down to calamity’s depths for a friend. There is a saying: when fortune’s fickle the faithful friend is found. But men either hold a friend of little value when their own affairs are prosperous or they abandon him when his are adverse. Whoever in either of these contingencies has shown himself staunch, immovable and firm in friendship ought to be considered to belong to that class of men which is exceedingly rare, aye, almost divine.
Costello: What is the essential ingredient in a true friendship?
Cicero: Loyalty. The support and stay of that unswerving constancy, which we look for in friendship, is loyalty, for nothing is constant that is disloyal. The right course is to choose for a friend one who is frank, social and sympathetic – that is, one who is likely to be influenced by the same motives as yourself – since all these qualities conduce to loyalty. It is impossible for a man to be loyal whose nature is full of twists and twinings.
Costello: Do you have any rules or guidelines for friendship?
Cicero: Two. First, let there be no feigning or hypocrisy. Second, let him not only reject charges preferred by another but also let him avoid even being suspicious and ever believing that his friend has done something wrong. To this should be added a certain affability of speech and manner, which gives no mean flavour to friendship.
Costello: Are new friends who are worthy of friendship at any time to be preferred to old friends?
Cicero: The doubt is unworthy of a human being, for there should be no surfeit of friendships as there is of other things; and as in the case of wines that improve with age, the oldest friendships ought to be the most delightful. However, new friendships are not to be scorned if they offer hope of bearing fruit, like green shoots of corn that do not disappoint us at harvest-time. Yet the old friendships must preserve their own place, for the force of age and habit is very great. You must render to each friend as much aid as you can. Even if you bestow upon a friend any honour you choose, you must consider what he is able to bear. Difference of character is attended by difference of taste and it is this diversity of taste that severs friendships.
Costello: Sometimes one may have to break off a friendship.
Cicero: Yes and in such cases let the friendship be sundered by a gradual relaxation of intimacy. It should be unravelled rather than rent apart. If disasters occur or outbursts of vice or, as is more common, a mere change of disposition and of tastes or if a difference of political views should arise (not of friendships existing between wise men but of those of the ordinary kind), care must be taken lest it appear, not only that friendship has been put aside, but that open hostility has been aroused. For nothing is more discreditable than to be at war with one with whom you have lived on intimate terms.
Cicero: This point needs emphasising: the real friend is, as it were, another self. Seek out another like yourself whose soul you may so mingle with your own as almost to make one out of two. Be a good man yourself and then seek another like yourself. True friends will not demand from each other anything unless it is honourable and just but will only cherish and love and revere each other. For he who takes reverence from friendship, takes away its brightest jewel. Friendship was given to us by nature as the handmaid of virtue, not as a comrade of vice. In such a partnership and fellowship, I say, abide all things that men deem worthy of pursuit – honour and fame and delightful tranquillity of mind so that when these blessings are at hand life is happy and without them, it cannot be happy. Happiness is our best and highest aim and so we must give our attention to virtue, without which we can obtain neither friendship nor any other desirable thing. I say this: you should love your friend after you have appraised him; you should not appraise him after you have begun to love him. We are punished in our negligence and carelessness in the choice and treatment of our friends; for we deliberate after the advent and we do what the ancient proverb forbids – we argue the case after the verdict is found.
Costello: Nothing is higher than friendship, so, for a happy life?
Cicero: Those who have devoted themselves to public life; those who find their joy in science and philosophy; those who manage their own business free from public cares; those who are wholly given up to sensual pleasures – all believe that without friendship life is no life at all.
Costello: We need friends since no man is solitary.
Cicero: Nature, loving nothing solitary, always strives for some sort of support and man’s best support is a very dear friend. And friends need to be not only advised but also rebuked. But both advise and rebuke should be kindly received when given in a spirit of goodwill. A troublesome thing is truth, if it is indeed the source of hate, which poisons friendship. Reason and care must be used. Advice should be free from harshness and reproof should be free from insult.
Costello: But some people are sycophantic with their friends.
Cicero: Yes, some men are better served by their bitter-tongued enemies than by their sweet-smiling friends, because the former often tell the truth, the latter, never. Flattery can only harm him who delights in it. There is nothing in a friendship in which one of the parties to it does not wish to hear the truth and the other is ready to lie.
Costello: Do you have any final words on the subject of friendship Cicero?
Cicero: In as much as things human are frail and fleeting, we must be ever on the search for some persons whom we shall love and who will love us in return; for if goodwill and affection are taken away, every joy is taken from life. I exhort you to esteem virtue, without which friendship cannot exist and that, excepting virtue, you will think nothing more excellent than friendship.
Chapter Four: On the Death of a Close Friend: Augustine
Augustine’s masterpiece is the Confessions. Born in 354 AD, he died in 430 AD. Famous for saying, ‘Lord make me chaste but not just yet’, St. Augustine was a great sinner who became a great saint. He lived a life of sin in the city of Carthage until he was thirty-two when he had some kind of conversion experience to the Christian faith, for which his mother Monica (herself a saint) prayed. Augustine’s mistress bore him a son, Adeodatus. He had a remarkable gift for making friends, many of whom led him into adventures like robbing an orchard. He was a serious and studious youth. When he was eighteen he became associated with the Manichean sect and preferred the polished prose of Cicero to the Scriptures. Later he came to read the neo-Platonists and the Epistles of St. Paul. Augustine then becomes a teacher of rhetoric and comes under the influence of Bishop Ambrose. He ends his life as Bishop of Hippo. The Confessions are part biography, part theology and part psychology, detailing his search for the truth and his thoughts after having discovered it. It is regarded as a spiritual classic.
Questions to Augustine
Stephen J. Costello: In book IV of your Confessions you write very movingly about
the death of your friend. Can you tell me how you met him in the first place?
Augustine: It was when I first began to teach in Thagaste, my native town, that I found a very dear friend. We were both the same age, both together in the heyday of youth, and both absorbed in the same interests. We had grown up together as boys, gone to school together, and played together. Yet ours was not the true friendship which should be between true friends, either when we were boys or at this later time.
Costello: Why? What do you mean? Why not?
Augustine: Though they cling together, no friends are true friends unless God binds them fast to one another through that love which is sown into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Yet there was sweetness in our friendship, mellowed by the moments we shared. As a boy he had never held firmly or deeply to the true faith and I had drawn him away from it to believe in the same superstitious, soul-destroying fallacies that brought my mother to tears over me. Now, as a man, he was my companion in error and I was utterly lost without him. Yet in a moment, before we had reached the end of the first year of a friendship that was sweeter to me than all the joys of life as I lived it then, God took him away from this world. I couldn’t understand what He did at the time.
Costello: What happened? How did he die?
Augustine: My friend fell gravely ill of a fever. His senses were numbed as he lingered in the sweat of death, and when all hope of saving him was lost, he was baptised as he lay unconscious. I cared nothing for this though. New life came to him and he recovered. And as soon as I could talk to him – which was as soon as he could talk to me, for I never left his side since we were so dependent on each other – I tried to chaff him about his baptism, thinking that he too would make fun of it. But by this time he had been told of it. He looked at me in horror as though I were an enemy, and in a strange, new-found attitude of self-reliance he warned me that if I wished to be his friend, I must never speak to him like that again. I was astonished and confused. For a few days after this, while I was away from him, the fever returned and he died.
Costello: How did you react to the news of your friend’s death? How did it affect you?
Augustine: My heart grew sombre with grief, and wherever I looked I saw only death. My own country became a torment and my own home a grotesque abode of misery. All that we had done together was now a grim ordeal without him. My eyes searched for him, but he was not there to be seen. I hated all the places we had known together, because he was not in them and they could no longer whisper to me ‘Here he comes!’ as they would have done had he been alive but absent for a while. I had become a problem to myself, asking my soul again and again ‘Why are you so downcast? Why do you distress me?’ But my soul had no answer to give. Tears alone were sweet for me, for in my heart’s desire they had taken the place of my friend.
Costello: What happened then? Did God begin to console you after time?
Augustine: Time healed the wound. I asked: can it be that God, who is present everywhere, has thrust aside our troubles? God is steadfast, constant in Himself but we are tossed on a tide that puts us to the proof, and if we could not sob our troubles in His ear, what hope should we have left to us? How can it be that there is sweetness in the fruit we pluck from the bitter crop of life, in the mourning and the tears, the wailing and the sighs? I had no hope that he would come to life again, nor was this what I begged for through my tears: I simply grieved and wept, for I was heartbroken and had lost my joy.
Costello: It was a profound loss, a powerful wrench in your life.
Augustine: I lived in misery, like every man whose soul is tethered by the love of things that cannot last and then is agonised to lose them. In such a state was I at that time, as I wept bitter tears and found my only consolation in their very bitterness. This was the misery in which I lived, and yet my own wretched life was dearer to me than the friend I had lost. True or not, the story goes that Orestes and Pylades were ready to die together for each other’s sake, because each would rather die than live without the other. But I doubt whether I should have been willing, as they were, to give my life for my friend. I was tired of living and afraid of dying. I suppose that the great love which I had for my friend made me hate and fear death all the more, as though it were the most terrible of enemies, because it had snatched him away from me. But God was my hope. He drew my eyes to Himself and saved my feet from the snare.
Costello: You loved him too much? Is it possible?
Augustine: The lost life of those who die becomes the death of those still living. I wondered that other men should live when he was dead, for I had loved him as though he would never die. Still more I wondered that he should die and I remain alive, for I was his second self. How well Horace put it when he called his friend the half of his soul. I felt that our two souls had been one, living in two bodies, and life to me was fearful because I did not want to live with only half a soul, only half of myself. Perhaps this, too, is why I shrank from death, for fear that one whom I had loved so well might then be wholly dead.
Costello: So you loved him almost as a God, not as something mortal, doomed and destined for death?
Augustine: Yes. What madness, to love a man as something more than human! What folly, to grumble at the lot man has to bear! I lived in a fever, convulsed with tears and sighs that allowed me neither rest nor peace of mind. My soul was a burden, bruised and bleeding. It was tired of the man who carried it, but I found no place to set it down to rest. Neither the charm of the countryside nor the sweet scents of a garden could soothe it. It found no peace in song or laughter, none in the company of friends at table or the pleasures of love, none even in books or poetry. Everything that was not what my friend had been was dull and distasteful. I had heart only for sighs and tears, for in them alone I found some shred of consolation. Where could my heart find refuge from itself? Where could I go, yet leave myself behind? Was there any place where I should not be a prey to myself? None. But I left my native town. For my eyes were less tempted to look for my friend in a place where they had not grown used to seeing him. So from Thagaste I went to Carthage.
Costello: You recovered slowly so?
Augustine: Time came and went, day after day, and as it passed it filled me with fresh hope and new thoughts to remember. Little by little it pieced me together again by means of the old pleasures which I had once enjoyed. My sorrow gave way to them. But the grief I felt for the loss of my friend had struck so easily into my inmost heart simply because I had poured out my soul upon him, like water upon sand, loving a man who was mortal as though he were never to die.
Costello: Did other friends not provide some comfort?
Augustine: Yes. My greatest comfort and relief was in the solace of other friends who shared my love. Friendship had charms to captivate my heart. We could talk and laugh together and exchange small acts of kindness. We could join in the pleasure that books give. We could be grave or gay together. If we sometimes disagreed, it was without spite, as a man might differ with himself, and the rare occasions of dispute were the very spice to season our usual accord. Each of us had something to learn from the others and something to teach in return. If any were away, we missed them with regret and gladly welcomed them when they came home. Such things as these are heartfelt tokens of affection between friends. They are signs to be read on the face and in the eyes, spoken by the tongue and displayed in countless acts of kindness. They can kindle a blaze to melt our hearts and weld them into one.
Costello: So that is what we cherish in friendship?
Augustine: Yes. This is what we cherish in friendship, and we cherish it so dearly that in conscience we feel guilty if we do not return love for love, asking no more of our friends than these expressions of goodwill. This is why we mourn their death, which shrouds us in sorrow and turns joy into bitterness, so that the heart is drenched in tears and life becomes a living death because a friend is lost. Blessed are those who love God and love their friends in Him and their enemies for His sake. They alone will never lose those who are dear to them, for they love them in one who is never lost, in God, our God who made heaven and earth and fills them with his presence. No one can lose God unless he forsakes Him. Things of beauty only exist because they come from God. Not all reach old age, but all alike must die. In this world one thing passes away so that another may take its place and the whole be preserved in all its parts.
Costello: You are at peace now. You have found God. You no longer despair.
Augustine: Yes, and your and my mortal body will be refashioned and renewed and firmly bound to God and when it dies it will not drag us with it to the grave but will endure and abide with you before God, who abides and endures for ever.
Costello: We will rest in peace at the end of time, won’t we, and see our dead friends again?
Augustine: On the seventh day God rested, as we too shall rest in eternity when our work in the world is done.
Chapter Five: Spiritual Friendship: Aelred of Rivaulx
Aelred of Rievaulx (1110-1167) was a Cistercian Abbot and well-known spiritual writer, whose treatise, Spiritual Friendship, is considered a classic of Christian spirituality. Inspired by Cicero’s dialogue, On Friendship, Aelred approaches the topic from a markedly religious perspective, exploring the theoretical and practical aspects of friendship in the light of faith in Christ. According to Aelred, Christian friendship extends and expands the fellowship of Christ to each other. The more two people grow as friends, the more they sense the quiet presence of the third among them. Following Plato and Cicero, Aelred adopts the dialogue form, which was a popular literary genre in Classical antiquity and Christian history. Aelred’s spiritual vision is grounded in the Cistercian and monastic approach to theology. For Aelred, true friendship begins and ends in Christ. His treatise is composed of three books; in Book One, he dialogues with Ivo, a younger monk of the monastery while in Books Two and Three he discusses the subject of friendship with two other monks named Walter and Gratian. He makes his threefold division between various types of friendship which has something of the Aristotelian distinction about it: the carnal, the worldly and the spiritual. Aelred draws on three sources for his reflections on the subject of friendship: Cicero, the Church Fathers, and Sacred Scripture.
Questions to Aelred
Stephen J. Costello: For you Father, friendship has a sacred, almost sacramental quality to it.
Aelred: Yes. True friendship is spiritual and is forged in the love of the One who laid down His life for us. The third – Christ – is always in our midst.
Costello: Friendship is holy love?
Aelred: Not all friendship. I was much influenced by Cicero on the subject of friendship but Cicero was unaware of the silent presence of Christ when two or more friends are present. In Latin, amicus is friend, amor is love and amicitia is friendship so friendship is a virtue that makes spirits one through bonds of love. Real friendship, which I am labelling spiritual friendship, begins in Christ, continues in Christ and is perfected in Christ. Such a friendship is holy.
Costello: Define a friend.
Aelred: A friend is a guardian of mutual love; he is the guardian of my own spirit. He preserves all the secrets of the friendship in faithful silence. Friendship is a virtue and is eternal, if it is true friendship, that is.
Costello: But bitter enmities arise even between the most devoted friends.
Aelred: St. Jerome says that a friendship which can cease to be was never true friendship.
Costello: If not all friendship is spiritual, as you have said, what are the other types of friendship?
Aelred: We must distinguish between carnal, worldly and spiritual friendship. Carnal friendship seeks pleasure and nothing but pleasure; it is guided by passion and lust; it easily comes and goes. It brings to the mind images of beautiful bodies. It has about it the violence of affection. Worldly friendship seeks temporal advantage; it focuses on a person’s usefulness. It is born from a desire for possessions and is full of deceit and intrigue. It follows fortune. Fair-weather friends who belong to these two categories. They are apparent friends; theirs is a semblance of friendship. There is nothing real about it. Spiritual friendship, by contrast, seeks not earthly pleasure or worldly gain but perfection; it lives by reason and cultivates the cardinal virtues. It is directed by prudence, ruled by justice, guarded by fortitude and moderated by temperance. It is grounded in divine Wisdom.
Costello: Are you thinking of any pairs of friends in particular who demonstrate or embody these attributes and aspects?
Aelred: David and Jonathan. Pylades and Orestes.
Costello: Orestes was the son of Agamemnon but after the murder of his father he was taken to the home of his uncle Strophius where he was raised with his cousin Pylades and a deep bond of union and devotion arose between these two cousins. Some have even suspected them of having had a homosexual relationship just as some people Father have questioned your own sexual orientation. Anyway, Pylades helped Orestes to avenge the murder of his father and the two fled together. Orestes was condemned to death and Pylades proved the depth of his love by seeking to take Orestes’ place and to die in his stead. Their friendship became proverbial and they were worshipped by the Scythians. Pacuvius brought their legend into Latin literature and both Cicero and Augustine cite it. I say all this to give the reader some information on these two famous friends as they adorn the cover of this book. Well, moving on, how did friendship first originate? Was it from nature or necessity or by chance, Father?
Aelred: Sacred Scripture tells us that it is not good for man to be alone. Only God is sufficient unto Himself; He is His own happiness. Nature from the very beginning implanted the desire for friendship in the heart of man. However, after the Fall of the first man, and the cooling of charity, concupiscence corrupted the splendour of friendship through avarice and envy.
Costello: You cited Scripture which, as you know, says woman was taken from man’s side. Do you see man as being superior?
Aelred: Men and women are coequal. And He or she who abides in true (Christian) friendship abides in God Himself.
Costello: I suppose you are of the view that spiritual friendship should not be cliquish, should not close in on itself but be open to a widening circle of fellowship?
Aelred: Absolutely. And more, true friendship is eschatological. Friends share their sojourn through this life but friendship achieves its fullest maturation only in the next life.
Costello: And friendship is essential for happiness?
Aelred: Yes, for earthly and heavenly happiness.
Costello: You employ a beautiful metaphor of the ‘threefold kiss’.
Aelred: I use this metaphor to designate and describe the corporeal, spiritual and intellectual and to heighten the experiential dimensions of my discussion on friendship. The threefold kiss represents a movement from the physical to the spiritual, to the mystical. On the physical level nothing is more beautiful than the exchange of breath between two people who are in love. This is the touch of the lips. A spiritual kiss exists when two people enter into a spiritual friendship and an intellectual or mystical kiss occurs when a person’s spirit mingles with the Spirit of God in a free-exchange of life-giving grace. It is the union of spirits. The carnal kiss is but a pale reflection of the spiritual kiss which, in turn, is a pale reflection of the mystical or intellectual. The mystical kiss happens through union with the Spirit of God and the infusion of divine grace.
Costello: Spiritual or intellectual friendship only exists, I take it, between good people. And good people are who exactly?
Aelred: People who wish to become saints. Good friends are those who desire the good of the other; they befriend each other in Christ. In all friendships we need to ask: is this a help or a hindrance in forging or fostering our relationship with God. True friendship bears fruit in this life and the next. Scarcely any happiness can exist among men without friendship for a friend is another self. The best medicine in life is a friend, in whom and with whom one enjoys and experiences all joys, security, sweetness and charm. Real friendship begins from Christ, advances through Christ and is perfected in Christ. A friend who cleaves to his friend in the spirit of Christ is made into one soul, so the saintly soul can cry out: ‘Let him kiss me with the kiss of his mouth’, as in the Song of Songs. In a kiss two breaths mingle and meet.
Costello: So to sum up: a carnal or corporeal kiss is made by the impression of the lips; a spiritual kiss by the union of spirits and a mystical or intellectual or divine kiss through the Spirit of God and by the infusion of divine grace?
Aelred: Exactly. The spiritual kiss is not made by contact of the mouth but by the affection of the heart, not by a meeting of lips but by a mingling of spirits. It is the kiss of Christ Himself – the kiss of grace.
Costello: Some might wonder – indeed this was, I believe, one of the points that Walter raised in conversation with you – if one should avoid friendship altogether because getting involved in someone else’s life brings much grief and many burdens.
Aelred: Without friends we human beings resemble the beasts. True friendship is mutual harmony, an identity of wills.
Costello: What is the goal of friendship?
Aelred: To die for one’s friend if called upon to do so. ‘Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends’. Nothing foul can be asked of a friend. Friendship begins among the good, progresses among the better and is consummated among the perfect.
Costello: There is, thus, true friendship which is lofty and imperfect, and lowly friendship, which is a mere semblance of friendship?
Aelred: Yes, a puerile friendship is pointless as it is based on pleasure only; it is rooted in concupiscence, and the desires of the flesh. An advantageous friendship aims precisely at material gain; it is not interested in the other’s well-being. However, a spiritual friendship desires the other’s good; such a friendship is a delight to experience and is its own reward.
Costello: It strikes me that many people may think their friendship is good but are deceived, or may desire it to be better.
Aelred: Many are deceived by the mere semblance of friendship. Some friendships need to be avoided. These are friendships that are unfaithful, unstable, or mixed with impure loves. These are friendship’s poison. Such people neglect the spirit for the desires of the flesh; their love is not properly ordered. They are so far removed from the sacred bond of friendship that existed, for example, between David and Jonathan, which was based on the contemplation of virtue. Jonathan even opposed his father in order to defer to and defend his friend. Jonathan did not fail his friend even in the face of death, when Saul passed sentence of death against David.
Costello: You also highlight the conditions and characters needed to sustain an unbroken friendship.
Aelred: Reciprocated love needs to be watered and tended to. We must take care in choosing our friends; I offer a concrete list of the bad habits and behaviours detrimental to forming lasting friendships.
Costello: But some friendships don’t just happen. Spiritual friendships, for example.
Aelred: True. They are dependent on God’s graceful movements in the hearts of those whom He calls.
Costello: What are the positive attributes we should look for in a friend?
Aelred: A good friend should be loyal, well intentioned, discrete, patient. Friends walk in each other’s light and darkness. They must learn how to give and receive, how to listen and discern, how to support and also how to challenge. We befriend one another in order to find ourselves in the other person.
Costello: And breaking up with a friend?
Aelred: Because of the close, intimate nature of the bond, we should not enter into or withdraw from a friendship without serious forethought and reflection. If we must end a relationship then we should do it stitch-by-stitch, over an extended period of time, gradually. To many, even the thought of failure and heartbreak are enough to avoid close personal ties. However, happiness is rooted in our desire to share it with others. A human heart bereft of friendship is sterile and empty. We need to scrutinise our friendships and select them carefully. This is important as our friends are going to be the most intimate companions of our souls.
Costello: To this last end, you outline four stages by which a person enters into the heights of spiritual friendship: selection, probation, admission and perfect harmony in matters human and divine with charity and benevolence.
Aelred: Yes, we need to select those persons who are virtuous and not consider those who are inconstant or mistrustful or fickle, or too talkative or treacherous or excessively angry. True friendship should affect an overall change for the good. Some are fitted for friendship. Others, such as the irascible, the suspicious and the garrulous aren’t. A great friendship carries security with it as you entrust yourself to the love of your friend and aren’t tossed about by every wind. Such a friendship is like soft clay; it brings peace and tranquillity of heart.
Costello: What is the relationship between love and friendship?
Aelred: Love can exist without friendship but there is no friendship without love. Love is the fountain and source of friendship. A friend is the companion of your soul, to whose spirit you join and attach yours. We ought not, like children, to change our friends by some vagrant whim.
Costello: What qualities or attributes does true friendship contain?
Aelred: There are four such elements: love, affection, security and happiness. In true friendship there is that interior delight that we drink from but love for one man should not take precedence over the ruin of the many.
Costello: And we should test a friend for what exactly?
Aelred: Four qualities: loyalty, right intention, discretion and patience. Loyalty is important because friends must stick by each other in good times and bad. A friend should love gratuitously, without any hope of reward. We should also put up with our friend in times of trial and difficulty when lapses occur and imperfections of character are revealed. Loyalty is the nurse and guardian of friendship; there is nothing in friendship that is more praiseworthy than loyalty. Fidelity too is important. The friend must be there through ill fortune for there is nothing that wounds friendship more than betrayal. Friends who seek advantage from their friends love them as they do their cattle. Such friendships are mercenary. Often a friend’s patience is tried and tested. But without friends it is impossible to be happy. All riches and honours, all delights and possessions would have no meaning and would bring no joy. Probation is important in friendship before the fullness of perfection blossoms. A friend lays bare his heart to his friend and allows him to do likewise.
Costello: Is there any formula of friendship?
Aelred: To do the will of our friend. Qualities such as stability, constancy, frankness, congeniality and sympathy should be fostered among friends too.
Costello: And trust?
Aelred: A sense of trust allows for affability, relaxation and ease in another’s presence. Equality must also be preserved in friendship also. Suspicion, by contrast, is the poison of friendship. But a faithful friend is the charm of immortality.
Costello: What about respect? I would have thought that that was extremely important in friendship?
Aelred: Yes, friends need to nurture mutual respect for each other. He who deprives friendship of respect robs it of its greatest adornment.
Costello: And truth-telling?
Aelred: We should speak the truth to our friend; there should be no pretence between friends but true friendship will delay correcting a friend for a good reason (dissimilation) but will never totally forgo it simply to preserve a false and tenuous peace (simulation). The wounds inflicted by a friend are more tolerable than the kisses of flatterers. Correct the erring friend. Man owes truth to his friend, without whom the beautiful name of friendship has no value.
Costello: There are degrees of difference in friendship though with respect to feelings.
Aelred: Yes, for example, to Peter, Jesus commanded His Church; to John, His most beloved Mother. To Peter He gave the keys of the Kingdom; to John he revealed the secrets of His heart. Peter was the most exalted; John, the more secure.
Costello: Many people seek to change their friends.
Aelred: A man never truly loves a friend if he is not satisfied with his friend as he is. In friendship there should be no evasion, no harshness, no concealment, no pretence. Everything should be open and above board. True friendship, as I have already said, is founded on love.
Chapter Six: Friendship as Charity: Aquinas
St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) was the most important philosopher of the Middle Ages and one of the most influential philosophers of all times. His Summa Theologica is the most comprehensive treatment of the relation of philosophy and theology. He was born North of Naples to a family of the minor nobility and entered the Dominican Order. His fellow-friars referred to him as ‘the dumb ox’, due to his laconic character. Began in 1266 and intended to be a systematic introduction to theology for Dominican novices, his Summary of Theology became his most important work, his philosophy becoming known as ‘Thomism’ and his followers are called Thomists. Many today know him for his famous five ‘proofs’ for the existence of God. To this day the official philosophy of the Catholic Church is Thomism. Thomas became a Professor in the University of Paris and wrote many commentaries on the works of Aristotle, whom he always addresses as ‘the Philosopher’. He was responsible for the synthesis of Greek philosophy, mainly Aristotelianism, with the teachings of Christian theology. He seems to have enjoyed some mystical experiences, after which on December 6th, 1273, he announced: ‘All that I have written seems like straw to me’.
Questions to Aquinas
Stephen J. Costello: Your philosophy of friendship, mainly inspired by the views of Aristotle, is also a theology of friendship, in that you draw on Biblical sources as well.
Aquinas: Yes. It is written in John 15:15 ‘I will not call you servants … but my friends’. This was said to them by reason of charity. Therefore charity is friendship. Now, Aristotle in his Ethics makes the point that not every love has the character of friendship. There is benevolent and concupiscent love. It is benevolence when we love someone so as to wish good to him. However, if we do not wish good to what we love but wish its good for ourselves, it is love, not of friendship, but of concupiscence.
Costello: But surely well-wishing doesn’t suffice for friendship?
Aquinas: No. It does not suffice because a certain mutual love is requisite, since friendship is between friend and friend. This well-wishing is founded on communication. And since there is a communication between man and God, in as much as He communicated His happiness to us, some kind of friendship must be based on this communication, of which it is written in Corinthians 1, 1:9: ‘God is faithful: by Whom you are called unto the fellowship of His Son’. This love, which is based on communication, is charity. So it is evident that charity is the friendship of man for God.
Costello: Aristotle had defined love as involving willing the good of the other.
Aquinas: Yes, to love is to wish good to someone. Hence the movement of love has a twofold tendency: towards the good which a man wishes to someone (to himself or to another) and towards that to which he wishes some good. The love of friendship is towards him to whom he wishes good. That which is loved with the love of friendship is loved simply and for itself, whereas that which is loved with the love of concupiscence is loved, not for itself, but for something else. It is a relative love.
Costello: Isn’t friendship a virtue?
Aquinas: The precepts of the law are about acts of virtue. Ecclesiasticus 4:7 says: ‘Make thyself affable to the congregation of the poor’. Therefore, affability, which is what we mean by friendship, is a special virtue. Friendship is the result of a virtue.
Costello: Does friendship bring tranquillity of mind, repose, order?
Aquinas: Good consists in order. And it behoves man to be maintained in a becoming order towards other men as regards their mutual relations with one another, in both deeds and words, so that they behave towards one another in a becoming manner. Hence the need of a special virtue that maintains the becomingness of this order: and this virtue is called friendliness.
Costello: Friendship consists in loving a friend, to whom our friendship is given and love for those things which we desire for our friend?
Aquinas: Yes. All friendship is based on some fellowship since ‘nothing is so proper to friendship as to live together’, as the Philosopher proves. Charity is based on the fellowship of everlasting happiness. Therefore we ought to love God out of charity, more than our neighbour.
Costello: But there are different kinds of friendship?
Aquinas: Yes. Each kind of friendship regards chiefly the subject in which we find the good on the fellowship of which that friendship is based: thus civil friendship regards chiefly the ruler of the state, on whom the entire common good of the state depends; hence to him before all, the citizens owe fidelity and obedience. Now the friendship of charity is based on the fellowship of happiness, which consists essentially in God, whence it flows to all who are capable of happiness. Therefore, God ought to be loved chiefly and before all out of charity: for He is loved as the cause of happiness, whereas our neighbour is loved as receiving together with us a share of happiness from Him.
Costello: This would depend on faith, as a theological virtue, together with charity and hope too.
Aquinas: Yes. In Hebrews 11:6, the Apostle says: ‘Without faith it is impossible to please God’, and this belongs to charity. According to Proverbs 8:17: ‘I love them that love me’. It is by hope that we are brought to charity. Therefore it is not possible to have charity without faith and hope.
Costello: Define charity.
Aquinas: Charity is not only the love of God but also a certain friendship with Him, which implies mutual communion. John 1, 4:16 says: ‘He that abideth in charity, abideth in God, and God in him’. Now this fellowship of man with God, which consists in a certain familiar colloquy with Him, is begun here, in this life, by grace, but will be perfected in the future life, by glory. Just as friendship with a person would be impossible, if one disbelieved in, or despaired of, the possibility of their fellowship, so too, friendship with God, which is charity, is impossible without faith. We quoted John above to the effect that he who abides in charity abides in God and God in him. This means that every love makes the beloved to be in the lover and vice versa. This is mutual indwelling. Philippians 1:7 says: ‘I have you in my heart’. The lover is not satisfied with a superficial apprehension of the beloved, but strives to gain an intimate knowledge of everything pertaining to the beloved, so as to penetrate into his very soul. It is written in 1 Corinthians 2:10 about the Holy Spirit, who is God’s Love, that He ‘searcheth all things, yea the deep things of God’. The lover seems to be in the beloved, as though he were to become one with him, but in so far as he wills and acts for his friend’s sake as for his own sake, looking on his friend as identified with himself, thus the beloved is in the lover. Mutual indwelling in the love of friendship can be understood in regard to reciprocal love, in as much as friends return love for love and both desire and do good things for one another.
Costello: The two are one at the level of love, though they are distinct in being?
Aquinas: Dionysius says that every love is a unitive love. I say this: that the union of lover and beloved is twofold. The first is real union: for instance when the beloved is present with the lover. The second is union of affection, while remaining two in substance. When a man loves another with the love of friendship, he wills good to him, just as he wills good to himself: wherefore he apprehends him as his other self, in so far as he wills good to him as to himself. Hence a friend is called a man’s other self and Augustine says in the Confessions: ‘Well did one say to his friend: Thou half of my soul’.
Costello: So love is unitive, in your opinion? And desire?
Aquinas: Love moves man to desire. And to seek the presence of the beloved. Love is this union or bond. Augustine says that love ‘is a vital principle uniting or seeking to unite two together, the lover, to wit, and the beloved’.
Costello: You spoke earlier about order, but what about ecstasy?
Aquinas: Dionysius says that ‘the Divine love produces ecstasy’ and that ‘God Himself suffered ecstasy through love’. For Dionysius, every love is a participated likeness of the Divine Love, so it seems that every love causes ecstasy. To suffer ecstasy means to be placed outside oneself. This may be due to man being raised to a higher knowledge, in so far as he is raised up so as to comprehend outside the connatural apprehension of his sense and reason, when he is raised up so as to comprehend things that surpass sense and reason or it may be due to his being cast down into a state of debasement; thus a man may be said to suffer ecstasy when he is overcome by a violent passion or madness.
Costello: What’s the solution to that?
Aquinas: To dwell intently on one thing draws the mind from other things.
Costello: In the Ethics Aristotle says that friendship consists in loving rather than in being loved.
Aquinas: Yes. It is clear that to love is more proper to charity than to be loved. Friends are more commended for loving than for being loved. A mother, whose love is the greatest, seeks to love than to be loved.
Costello: Aristotle says that the happy man needs friends. What is your view on happiness and how would you relate it to friendship?
Aquinas: Divine wisdom consists in contemplating God. Consequently, nothing else is necessary for happiness. If we speak of the happiness of this life, the happy man needs friends, as the Philosopher says, not to make use of them, since he suffices in himself, nor to delight in them, since he possesses perfect delight in the operation of virtue; but that he may do good to them; that he may delight in seeing them do good and that he may be helped by them in his good work. For in order than man may do well, whether in the works of the active life, or in those of the contemplative life, he needs the fellowship of friends.
Costello: And if we speak about the happiness of the next life, what then in relation to friendship?
Aquinas: If we speak of perfect Happiness, which will be in our heavenly Fatherland, the fellowship of friends is not essential to Happiness; since man has the entire fullness of his perfection in God. But the fellowship of friends conduces to the well-being of happiness. Hence Augustine says that ‘the spiritual creatures receive no other anterior aid to happiness than the eternity, truth, and charity of the Creator’. But if they can be said to be helped from without, perhaps it is only by this that they see one another and rejoice in God, at their fellowship.
Chapter Seven: A Friend is Another Self: Montaigne
Michel de Montaigne’s thought links pagan and Christian antiquity with our own. In his Essays he attempts to sound out the nature of man and the world and the art of living. Traces of Plato, Aristotle, Plutarch, Cicero and St. Augustine as well as his own contemporaries can be found on every page he wrote. After his beloved father died he retired from the post of counsellor in the Parliament of Bordeaux and devoted himself to learned leisure. So in 1572 he withdrew from public life and began the reading and writing which were to develop into his ‘assays’ of his thoughts and opinions on a wide variety of subjects from sadness to liars, from idleness to prayer, from cannibals to conscience, from fear to friendship. However, his joy at leaving commerce behind was tempered by grief at the death of his friend, Etienne de la Boëtie (1563) and his plan to study went awry; he experienced bouts of melancholy exacerbated by grief and isolation. His musings became ravings and writing the Essays was a successful attempt at exorcising his demons. His thoughts in this work are rhapsodies about himself. His Essays were attempts to ‘assay’ the value of himself. As he said: ‘I am myself the matter of my book’. He is at once a Stoic, a Sceptic, an Epicurean, a Catholic inspired by Socrates as much as by Cicero. To study him, as a man and a moralist is, in a sense, to study all men.
Questions to Montaigne
Stephen J. Costello: There is a chapter in your Essays entitled ‘De l’amitié’, traditionally entitled ‘On friendship’ or sometimes rendered as ‘On affectionate relationships’ because in Renaissance French amitié includes many affectionate relationships, ranging from a father’s love for his child to the rarest of lasting friendships which David shared with Jonathan and which you yourself enjoyed with La Boëtie. So in English several terms may be used: loving-friendship, benevolence, affection, affectionate relationships and love. The basic meaning of amitié is rooted in aimer (to love), and folle amour (‘mad love’), which was sexual. Of course, the first syllable sounds like âme (soul). Some Renaissance Platonists distinguish between soul-love and body-love and much was written on parfaite amitié, a perfect loving relationship. Of course, from the time of Socrates, male homosexual love claims to be just that. Philosophical homosexuality shows what the love of man and woman could ideally be – a union of bodies and souls. In your account, are you exploring the special loving-friendship you shared with Etienne de La Boëtie? In your exemplary friendship, what was constant was your loyalty to each other throughout.
Montaigne: Yes. I knew nobody who could compare with him. I had read his work, On Willing Slavery, which he wrote before he had reached the age of eighteen. It was shown to me long before I met him and prepared for that loving-friendship between us which we fostered. It was so perfect and so entire that it is certain that few such can even be read about and no trace at all of it can be found among men of today. The peak of perfection consists in friendship not because of pleasure or profit or public or private necessity. Friendship has its end in itself.
Costello: Can friendship exist where equality does not?
Montaigne: Friendship between children and parents can’t exist because of their excessive inequality. It is more a matter of respect. Indeed some philosophers hold the natural bond in contempt. Plutarch went so far as to say, in his book, De l’amitié fraternelle: ‘He matters no more to me for coming out of the same hole’. La Boëtie and I made a brotherhood of our alliances. In the same way as a father and son can be of totally different complexions, so too can brothers.
Costello: Can one compare friendship with passion?
Montaigne: No. The flames of passion are more active, sharp and keen. But that fire is a rash one, fickle, fluctuating and variable; it is a feverish fire, subject to attacks and relapses, which only gets hold of a corner of us. The love of friends is a general universal warmth, temperate moreover and smooth, a warmth which is constant and at rest, all gentleness and evenness, having nothing sharp nor keen. What is more, sexual love is but a mad craving for something that escapes us. To enjoy it is to lose it: its end is in the body and therefore subject to satiety.
Costello: And friendship?
Montaigne: Friendship on the contrary is enjoyed in proportion to our desire: since it is a matter of the mind, with our souls being purified by practising it, it can spring forth, be nourished and grow only when enjoyed. Far below such perfect friendship are those fickle passions that once found a place in me, not to mention in La Boëtie. As for marriage, well only the entrance is free. Marriage is a bargain, in which you have to unsnarl hundreds of extraneous tangled ends, which are enough to break the thread of a living passion and to trouble its course, whereas in friendship there is no traffic or commerce but with itself.
Costello: Are women capable of such a perfect friendship?
Montaigne: Women in truth are not normally capable of responding to such familiarity and mutual confidence as sustain that holy bond of friendship, nor do their souls seem firm enough to withstand the clasp of a knot so lasting and so tightly drawn. There is no example of woman attaining to such a loving-friendship and by the common agreement of the Ancient schools of philosophy she is excluded from it.
Costello: According to you, friendship is perfect union and congruity?
Costello: Cicero asks ‘What is this ‘friendship-love’? Why does nobody ever fall in love with an ugly youth or with a beautiful old man?’
Montaigne: Yes, even the portrayal of it by Plato’s Academy depicted it as an original frenzy inspired by Venus’s son in the heart of the lover towards the bloom of a tender youth (in which they allow all the excessive and passionate assaults which an immoderate ardour can produce). It was simply based on physical beauty for it could not have been based on the mind, which had yet to show itself, which was even then being born, too young to sprout. If so mad a passion took hold of a base mind the means of pursuing it were riches, presents, favouritism in advancement to high office and other such base traffickings. If it lighted on a more noble mind its inducements were noble: instruction in philosophy, reverence for religion, obedience to the law and dying for one’s country, with the Lover (which the older man was while the younger one was the Beloved) strove to make himself worthy of acceptance by the graciousness and beauty of his soul (that of his body long since faded) and hoping by this mental alliance to strike a more firm and durable match. The gods hold the beloved in higher esteem and severely rebuked the poet Aeschylus for having given, in the love of Achilles and Patroclus, the role of the Lover to Achilles who was the fairest of all the Greeks, in the first verdure of unbearded youth. Witness too the loves of Hermodius and Aristogiton. When all is said and done the only point that we can concede to the Academy is that it was a love-affair that ended in friendship, which conforms to the Stoic definition of love, as Cicero puts it: ‘Love is the striving to establish friendship on the external signs of beauty’.
Costello: But a lot of what goes by the name of friendship is no such thing.
Montaigne: Yes. What we normally call friends and friendships are no more than acquaintances and familiar relationships bound by some chance or some suitability, by means of which our souls support each other. In the friendship which I am talking about, souls are mingled and confounded in so universal a blending that they efface the seam which joins them together so that it cannot be found.
Costello: Tell me so what did you love in your friend?
Montaigne: If you press me to say why I loved him, I feel that it cannot be expressed except by replying: ‘Because it was him: because it was me’. There was about it some inexplicable force of destiny.
Costello: Go on.
Montaigne: We were seeking each other before we set eyes on each other – both because of the reports we each had heard, which made a more violent assault on our emotions than was reasonable from what they had said, and, I believe, because of some decree of Heaven: we embraced each other by repute, and, at our first meeting, which chanced to be at a great crowded town-festival, we discovered ourselves to be so seized by each other, so known to each other and so bound together that from then on none was so close as each was to the other. Later he wrote about the suddenness of our relationship, which so quickly reached perfection. Having so short a period to last, having begun so late (for we were both grown men – he more than a few years older than I) – it had no time to waste on following the pattern of those slacker ordinary friendships which require so much prudent foresight in long preliminary acquaintance. Our friendship had no comparison except with itself. He captured my will and brought it to plunge into his and lose itself and his will was captured and plunged itself into mine and lost itself with an equal hunger and emulation. I say ‘lose itself’ in very truth; we kept nothing back for ourselves: nothing was his or mine.
Costello: You would have done literally anything for him?
Montaigne: I am reminded of a story: In the presence of the Roman Consuls (who, after the condemnation of Tiberius Gracchus were prosecuting those who had been in his confidence) Laelius eventually asked Caius Blosius, the closest friend of Gracchus, how much he would have done for him. He replied: ‘Anything’. – ‘What, anything?’ Laelius continued: ‘And what if he ordered you to set fire to our temples?’ – ‘He would never have asked me to’, retorted Blosius. ‘But supposing he had’, Laelius added. ‘Then I would have obeyed’, he replied. Now if he really were so perfect a friend of Gracchus as history asserts, he had no business provoking the Consuls with that last rash assertion and ought never to have abandoned the certainty he had of the wishes of Gracchus. But those who condemn his reply as seditious do not fully understand the mystery of friendship and fail to accept the premises that he had Gracchus’ intentions in the pocket of his sleeve, both by his influence and by his knowledge. They were more friends than citizens: friends, more than friends. Having completely committed themselves to each other, they each completely held the reins of each other’s desires.
Costello: Would you have done similarly?
Montaigne: That reply would be no different from my own. All the arguments in the world have no power to dislodge me from the certainty, which I have of the intentions and decisions of my friend. Our souls were joked together in such a unity, and contemplated each other with so ardent an affection, and with the same affection revealed each to each other right down to the very entrails, that not only did I know his mind as well as I knew my own but I would have entrusted myself to him with greater assurance than to myself.
Costello: Are you aware of Chilo’s chilling judgement? ‘Love a friend’, he said, ‘as though some day you must hate him: hate him, as though you must love him’.
Montaigne: That precept is so detestable but salutary in the practice of friendships which are common and customary, in relation to which you must employ that saying which Aristotle often repeated: ‘O my friends, there is no friend’.
Costello: So in your own friendship there was a total interfusion of your wills?
Montaigne: Yes. There were no terms of division and difference. We held everything in common: wills, goods, wives, children, honour and lives. The correspondence is that of one soul in bodies twain, according to the most apt definition of Aristotle’s, so they can neither lend nor give anything to each other. Each person in such a friendship is seeking the good of the other. When Diogenes the philosopher was short of money he did not say that he would ask his friends to give him some but to give him some back!
Costello: In the friendship you are talking about can there only be one such friend?
Montaigne: The perfect friendship, which I am talking about, is indivisible: each gives himself so entirely to his friend that he has nothing left to share with another: on the contrary, he grieves that he is not two-fold, three-fold or four-fold and that he does not have several souls, several wills, so that he could give them to the one he loves.
Costello: But presumably there are less perfect friendships that can be shared out among a few or, indeed, a lot?
Montaigne: Yes. Common friendships can be shared. In one friend one can love beauty; in another, affability; in another, generosity; in another, a fatherly affection; in another, a brotherly one; and so on. But in this friendship love takes possession of the soul and reigns there with full sovereign sway: that cannot possibly be duplicated. If two friends asked you to help them at the same time, which of them would you dash to? If they asked for conflicting favours, who would have the priority? If one entrusted to your silence something which it was useful for the other one to know, how would you get out of that? The unique, highest friendship loosens all other bonds. My friend is me. The uttermost cannot be matched. If anyone suggests that I can love each of two friends as much as the other, and that they can love each other and love me as much as I love them, he is turning into a plural, into a confraternity, that which is the most ‘one’, the most bound into one. One single example of it is moreover the rarest thing to find in the world. Such is the force of this loving-friendship. You can easily find men to fit for a superficial acquaintanceship. But for our kind, in which we are dealing with the innermost recesses of our minds with no reservations, it is certain that all our motives must be pure and sure to perfection.
Costello: But you don’t always choose such a friend all the time, in all circumstances?
Montaigne: Of course not. For the intimate companionship of my table I choose the agreeable not the wise; in my bed, beauty comes before virtue; in social conversation, ability – even without integrity. And so on.
Costello: Are you impressed with the writings of the Ancient philosophers on the subject of friendship?
Montaigne: The very writings that Antiquity have left us on this subject seem weak to me compared to what I feel. In this case the very precepts of philosophy are surpassed by the results. To quote Horace in his Satires: ‘Whilst I am in my right mind, there is nothing I will compare with a delightful friend’. In Antiquity Menander pronounced a man to be happy if he had merely encountered the shadow of a friend. If I compare all the rest of my life to those four years which it was vouchsafed to me to enjoy in the sweet companionship and fellowship of a man like that, it is but smoke and ashes, a night dark and dreary.
Costello: You haven’t recovered from his death?
Montaigne: Since that day when I lost him, I merely drag wearily on. The very pleasures that are proffered me do not console me: they redouble my sorrow at his loss. In everything we were halves: I feel I am stealing his share from me. I was already so used and accustomed to being, in everything, one of two, that I now feel I am no more than a half. As Horace put it in his Odes: ‘Since an untimely blow has borne away a part of my soul, why do I still linger on less dear, only partly surviving? That day was the downfall of us both’. There is no deed nor thought in which I do not miss him – as he would have missed me; for just as he infinitely surpassed me in ability and virtue so did he do so in the offices of friendship.
Costello: Can you not be happy?
Montaigne: His death destroyed my happiness. My soul is buried with him. He was dearer to me than life itself and I will always love him.
Chapter Eight: The Three Fruits of Friendship: Bacon
Francis Bacon is, with William Shakespeare and Sir Walter Raleigh, considered to be one of the greatest writers of the English Renaissance. He was born in 1561 and was called to the Bar in 1582. He made significant contributions to many diverse fields of learning: philosophy, politics, science, law and history. His famous Essays (1597, 1612, 1625) he believed would last as long as books lasted. He is remembered largely for his Essays today, which contain his counsels on civil and moral matters. It is considered to be one of the great classics of English prose. He died in 1626.
Questions to Bacon
Stephen J. Costello: You have written 58 short essays on a variety of subjects. What interests me are two of your essays, ‘Of Friendship’ and ‘Of Followers and Friends’. I take it that you think we need friends?
Bacon: Yes. Whosoever is delighted in solitude, is either a wild beast, or a god.
Costello: You would hold to that view even in the case of hermits and some of the Church Fathers?
Bacon: It is most true, that a natural and secret hatred, and aversion towards society, in any man, hath somewhat of the savage beast; but it is most untrue, that it should have any character at all of the divine nature; except it proceed, not out of a pleasure in solitude, but out of a love and desire to sequester a man’s self. But little do men perceive what solitude is and how far it extendeth. For a crowd is not company; and faces are but a gallery of pictures; and talk but a tinkling cymbal, where there is no love. In a great town friends are scattered; so that there is not that fellowship, for the most part, which is in less neighbourhoods. But we may go further and affirm most truly; that it is a mean and miserable solitude, to want true friends; without which the world is but a wilderness: and even in this sense also of solitude, whosoever in the frame of his nature and affections is unfit for friendship, he taketh it of the beast, and not from humanity.
Costello: So what are the fruits of friendship?
Bacon: A principal fruit of friendship is the ease and discharge of the fullness and swellings of the heart, which passions of all kinds do cause and induce. We know diseases of stoppings and suffocations, are the most dangerous in the body: and it is not much otherwise in the mind: you may take sarza to open the liver: steel to open the spleen; flower of sulphur for the lungs; castoreum for the brain; but no receipt openeth the heart, but a true friend, to whom you may impart griefs, joys, fears, hopes, suspicions, counsels, and whatsoever lieth upon the heart, to oppress it.
Costello: So friendship permits us to open up the heart?
Bacon: Those that want friends to open themselves unto, are cannibals of their own hearts.
Costello: But the first fruit of friendship is what then? I believe you say that there are three such fruits?
Bacon: Yes. Communicating of a man’s self to his friends and it works two contrary effects: for it redoubleth joys, and cutteth griefs in halves. For there is no man that imparteth his joys to his friend, but that he joyeth the more; and no man, that imparteth his griefs to his friend, but he grieveth the less.
Costello: What is the second fruit of friendship?
Bacon: The second fruit of friendship is healthful and sovereign for the understanding as the first is for the affections. For friendship maketh indeed a fair day in the affections from storm and tempests: but it maketh daylight in the understanding, out of darkness and confusion of thoughts. Neither is this to be understood, only of faithful counsel, which a man receiveth from his friend; but before you come to that, certain it is, that whosoever hath his mind fraught with many thoughts, his wits and understanding do clarify and break up, in the communicating and discoursing with another: he tosseth his thoughts more easily; he marshalleth them more orderely; he seeth how they look when they are turned into words; finally, he waxeth wiser then himself; and that more by an hour’s discourse, than by a day’s meditation.
Costello: Yes, faithful counsel from a friend.
Bacon: Heraclitus saith well, in one of his enigmas; dry light is ever the best. And certain it is, that the light than a man receiveth by counsel from another, is drier, and purer, than that which cometh from his own understanding, and judgement; which is ever infused and drenched in his affections and customs. So as, there is as much difference, between the counsel that a friend giveth and that a man giveth himself, as there is between the counsel of a friend and of a flatterer. For there is no such flatterer as is a man’s self; and there is no such remedy against flattery of a man’s self, as the liberty of a friend. Counsel is of two sorts; the one concerning manners, the other concerning business. For the first; the best preservative to keep the mind in health, is the faithful admonition of a friend. The calling of a man’s self to a strict account, is a medicine, sometime, too piercing and corrosive. Reading good books of morality is a little flat, and dead. Observing our faults in others is sometimes unproper for our case. But the best receipt is the admonition of a friend. After these two noble fruits of friendship (peace in affections and support of the judgement) followeth the last fruit; which is like the pomegranate full of many kernels.
Costello: This is the third fruit of friendship?
Bacon: Yes. Here, the best way to represent life the manifold use of friendship is to cast and see, how many things there are, which a man cannot do himself; and then it will appear, that it was a sparing speech of the ancients, to say that a friend is another himself: for that a friend is far more than himself. Men have their time, and die many times in desire of some things, which they principally take to heart; the bestowing of a child, the finishing of a work, or the like. If a man have a true friend, he may rest almost secure, that the care of those things will continue after him. So that a man hath as it were two lives in his desires. A man hath a body, and the body is confined to a place; but where friendship is, all offices of life are as it were granted to him, and his deputy. For he may exercise them by his friend. How many things are there, which a man cannot, with any face or comeliness, say or do himself? A man can scarce allege his own merits with modesty, much less extol them: a man cannot sometimes brook to supplicate or beg: and a number of the like. But all these things are graceful in a friend’s mouth, which are blushing in a man’s own. So again, a man’s person hath many proper relations, which he cannot put off. A man cannot speak to his son, but as a father; to his wife, but as a husband; to his enemy, but upon terms: whereas a friend may speak, as the case requires, and not as it sorteth with the person. But to enumerate these things were endless: I have given the rule, where a man cannot fitly play his own part: if he have not a friend, he may quit the stage.
Costello: You have spoken of the three fruits of friendship and why friendship is so important, going so far as to say that if a person doesn’t have a friend he may as well no longer live. But what if we get to depend on one friend too much, what then?
Bacon: It is good discretion, not to make too much of any man, at the first: because one cannot hold out that proportion. To be governed (as we call it) by one, is not safe: for it shows softness, and gives a freedom to scandal and disreputation: for those that would not censure, or speak ill of a man immediately, will talk more boldly of those that are so great with them, and thereby wound their honour. Yet to be distracted with many is worse; for it makes men to be of the last impression, and full of change. To take advice of some few friends is ever honourable; for lookers-on, many times, see more than game-stars; and the vale best discovereth the hill. There is little friendship in the world.
Chapter Nine: The Self-Serving Nature of Friendship:
François duc de La Rochefoucauld was a French moralist and owes his place in French literature to his moral maxims and epigrams. He is sometimes seen as a precursor to Freud. Born in 1613 into an ancient family, he was a child of the late Renaissance. After a somewhat turbulent political career he settled in Paris, where he moved in literary circles. His philosophy derives from the belief that selfishness is the source of all human behaviour. His witty precepts had a marked influence on the philosophes of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. His Maxims were published in 1665.
Questions to La Rochefoucauld
Stephen J. Costello: Monsieur duc de La Rochefoucauld, you are often seen as quite cynical in your assessment of human beings, seeing selfishness as the source of much human behaviour. What, so, is your view of friendship?
La Rochefoucauld: We can love nothing except with reference to ourselves; and we are merely following our own taste and pleasure when we prefer our friends to ourselves. It is, nevertheless, by this preference alone that friendship can be true and perfect.
Costello: We can’t love disinterestedly?
La Rochefoucauld: What men have given the name of friendship to is nothing but an alliance, a reciprocal accommodation of interests, an exchange of good offices; in fact, it is nothing but a system of traffic, in which self-love always proposes to itself some advantage.
Costello: Is all love self-love?
La Rochefoucauld: There is only one sort of love, but a thousand different copies of it. It is difficult to define love. If we judge of love by the generality of its effects, it resembles hatred rather than friendship. Self-love increases or diminishes in our eyes the good qualities of our friends in the proportion to the satisfaction we derive from them, and we judge of their merits by the kind of intercourse which they keep with us.
Costello: If we can’t define it, can we know it?
La Rochefoucauld: The reason we are so changeable in our friendships is that it is difficult to know the qualities of the heart, while it is easy to know those of the head. The head is always the dupe of the heart.
Costello: If we can’t know ourselves or our friends, how can we trust them?
La Rochefoucauld: It is more disgraceful to distrust one’s friends than to be deceived by them.
Costello: Your opinion is that there is always something in it for us?
La Rochefoucauld: We often persuade ourselves that we love people more powerful than we are; and yet it is interest alone which produces our friendship. We do not associate with them for any good that we wish to do them, but for that which we would receive from them.
Costello: We need friends though.
La Rochefoucauld: Yes. We are bad company for ourselves.
Costello: Aristotle, Cicero and Montaigne all maintain that perfect friendship is based on virtue.
La Rochefoucauld: Hypocrisy is the homage which vice renders to virtue.
Costello: You see no distinction between virtue and vice?
La Rochefoucauld: The vices enter into the composition of the virtues, as poisons into that of medicines. Our virtues are most often nothing but vices in disguise.
Costello: Isn’t friendship a passion?
La Rochefoucauld: Passion often makes a madman of the cleverest man, and renders the greatest fools clever. There is going on in the human heart a perpetual generation of passions, so that the overthrow of one is almost always the establishment of another.
Costello: So we should aim to be moderate?
La Rochefoucauld: Moderation is a fear of falling into envy.
Costello: Define envy.
La Rochefoucauld: We often make a parade of passions, even of the most criminal; but envy is a timid and shameful passion which we never dare to avow.
Costello: There is a difference, though, between envy and jealousy.
La Rochefoucauld: Jealousy is in some sort just and reasonable, since it only has for its object the preservation of a good which belongs, or which we fancy belongs, to ourselves, while envy, on the contrary, is a madness which cannot endure the good of others. Envy is more irreconcilable than hatred. It is sometimes agreeable to a husband to have a jealous wife: he always hears about what he loves.
Costello: Do you think we can learn from old people especially on the subject of friendship?
La Rochefoucauld: Old men are fond of giving good advice, to console themselves for being no longer in a position to give bad examples. We give away nothing so liberally as advice. The defects of the mind, like those of the countenance, augment with age. As we grow old we become more foolish and more wise. Few people know how to be old. Hell, for woman, is old age.
Costello: What about a long marriage or a marriage of the minds? Surely….
La Rochefoucauld: There are some good marriages, but none that afford many delights.
Costello: But isn’t love, for a lot of people, the end and aim of life?
La Rochefoucauld: There are people who would never have been in love if they had never heard of love.
Costello: Plato loved young boys.
La Rochefoucauld: Youth is perpetual intoxication; it is the fever of reason.
Costello: Who do we love when we love our friends?
La Rochefoucauld: We always love those who admire us, and we do not always love those whom we admire.
Costello: Aren’t love and hate just two sides of the same coin?
La Rochefoucauld: We are nearer loving those who hate us than those who love us more than we like.
Costello: Can’t too much loving lead inexorably to jealousy, which is more about self-love than love?
La Rochefoucauld: Jealousy is always born with love, but it does not always die with it. In love we often doubt what we most believe. Lovers do not see their mistresses’ defects until they are no longer bound by the spell of love.
Costello: Isn’t it true that sometimes we must guard against falling in love especially with a friend?
La Rochefoucauld: The violence we do ourselves to prevent falling in love is often more cruel than the severity of the loved object.
Costello: How can we overcome envy or jealousy?
La Rochefoucauld: Envy is destroyed by true friendship, and flirtatiousness by true love. The remedy for jealousy is the certainty of what we feared, since it causes the end of life or the end of love; it is a cruel remedy, but it is kinder than doubt and suspicions.
Costello: Isn’t there always, though, deception present even in true love and true friendship?
La Rochefoucauld: We are sometimes less unhappy in being deceived by those we love than in being undeceived by them. What we find least often in a love affair is love itself.
Costello: What is the function of friendship?
La Rochefoucauld: The greatest effort of friendship is not to show our own faults to a friend, but to make him see his own.
Costello: How would you say we ought to conduct ourselves in conversation with our friends?
La Rochefoucauld: Confidence contributes more than wit to conversation. One thing which makes us find so few people who appear reasonable and agreeable in conversation is that there is scarcely any one who does not think more of what he is about to say than of answering precisely what is said to him. The cleverest and most complacent people content themselves with merely showing an attentive countenance, while we can see in their eyes and minds a wandering from what is said to them, and an impatience to return to what they wish to say, instead of reflecting that it is a bad method of pleasing or persuading others, to be so studious of pleasing oneself, and that listening well and answering well is one of the greatest perfections that can be attained in conversation.
Costello: Can you say something about the nature of forgiveness in friendship?
La Rochefoucauld: We easily pardon in our friends those faults which do not concern ourselves.
Costello: Some friends can be too friendly and sometimes we can find it hard to forgive.
La Rochefoucauld: The generality of friends disgust us with friendship, and the generality of devotees disgust us with devotion.
Costello: Isn’t it true that we should keep secrets even in great friendships especially when we know knowledge of the truth can hurt and harm the other?
La Rochefoucauld: In friendship, as in love, we are often more happy from the things we are ignorant of than from those we are acquainted with. We must not feel offended when others hide the truth from us, since we so often hide it from ourselves.
Costello: Do you think a great friendship is a very rare thing?
La Rochefoucauld: Rare as is true love, true friendship is still rarer.
Costello: What about quarrels and disputes and disagreements in friendship?
La Rochefoucauld: Quarrels would not last long, if the fault was only on one side.
Costello: Are there some people for whom love or friendship is simply impossible?
La Rochefoucauld: There are some people so full of themselves that when they are in love, they find means to be occupied with their passion, without being so with the person they love.
Costello: Hypocrisy is ubiquitous?
La Rochefoucauld: The whole world is full of pots calling the kettle black.
Costello: Sometimes, as Augustine said, we love a friend as if he were never going to die.
La Rochefoucauld: We fear all things as mortals, and we desire all things as though we were immortal.
Costello: We can expect too much from a friend, can’t we?
La Rochefoucauld: The happiest person in the world is the one who is content with little.
Costello: But wouldn’t you say that we need friends to cope with the boredom of life?
La Rochefoucauld: Extreme boredom serves to rid us of boredom. Manual work frees us from mental trouble, and this is what makes poor people happy. We are nearly always bored with those whom we bore.
Costello: Can you say something more on the subject of happiness?
La Rochefoucauld: It does not take much to make a wise man happy; nothing can make a fool contented; this is why nearly all men are wretched. We take less trouble to become happy than to make others believe that we are so. Happiness and unhappiness normally go to those who already have most of one or the other. A man who likes nobody is much more unhappy than the one whom nobody likes. It is a kind of happiness to know to what extent we may be unhappy. When we cannot find contentment in ourselves, it is useless to seek it elsewhere. We are never as unhappy as we think, nor as happy as we had hoped. We console ourselves for being unhappy by a certain pleasure we find in appearing so.
Costello: Can’t a true friend make one happy?
La Rochefoucauld: A true friend is the greatest of all possessions, and the one we least think of acquiring.
Costello: Can we make someone love us?
La Rochefoucauld: Coldness in love is a sure means of being beloved.
Costello: How would you liken the state of being in love to?
La Rochefoucauld: There is no better comparison for love than fever: we have no more power over the one than over the other, either for its violence or its duration.
Costello: And betrayal, in friendship or in love?
La Rochefoucauld: We always dread the sight of the person we love when we have been flirtatious elsewhere.
Chapter Ten: Friendship as a Union of Love: Kant
Immanuel Kant is an eighteenth-century German philosopher and one of the most significant philosophers of modern times. He formulated four famous philosophical questions: what can I know? (the epistemological question), what does it mean to be? (the ontological question), how should I act? (the ethical question) and what can I hope for? (the eschatological question). He penned his three critiques – The Critique of Pure Reason, The Critique of Practical Reason and The Critique of Judgement as well as his well-known book on ethics, The Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. He remarked that he never cease to wonder at the ‘moral law’ within him and the ‘starry sky’ above him. Concepts such as ‘the moral law’, ‘the kingdom of ends’, ‘duty’ and ‘the categorical imperative’ are all associated with his name. His views on friendship are set out in a section in his Doctrine of Virtue, entitled ‘On the Most Intimate Union of Love with Respect in Friendship’.
Questions to Kant
Stephen J. Costello: You have defined friendship as a union of love.
Kant: Yes. Friendship considered in its perfection is the union of two persons through equal mutual love and respect.
Costello: This is the ideal though.
Kant: This is an ideal of each participating and sharing sympathetically in the other’s well-being through the morally good will that unites them, and even though it does not produce the complete happiness of life, the adoption of this ideal in their disposition toward each other makes them deserving of happiness; hence men have a duty of friendship.
Costello: Since it is a duty of virtue?
Kant: Yes. But it is readily seen that friendship is only an Idea (though a practically necessary one) and unattainable in practice, although striving for friendship (as a maximum of good disposition toward each other) is a duty set by reason, and no ordinary duty but an honourable one.
Costello: Of course there won’t always be the same relation of love and respect between the two persons.
Kant: It is difficult to tell. It will be difficult too for both to bring love and respect subjectively into that equal balance required for friendship. For love can be regarded as attraction and respect as repulsion, and if the principle of love bids friends to draw closer, the principle of respect requires them to stay at a proper distance from each other.
Costello: We must preserve some space with friends. You would put a limitation on intimacy?
Kant: Yes. This limitation on intimacy is expressed in the rule that even the best of friends should not make themselves too familiar with each other.
Costello: Some friendships seem too close. Some ‘love not wisely but too well’, as Shakespeare put it.
Kant: Friendship thought as attainable in its purity or completeness (between Orestes and Pylades, Theseus and Pirithous) is the hobby horse of writers of romances. On the other hand Aristotle says: ‘My dear friends, there is no such thing as a friend!’
Costello: So there are difficulties even in the most perfect friendships?
Kant: There are difficulties in perfect friendship. From a moral point of view it is, of course, a duty for one of the friends to point out the other’s faults to him; this is in the other’s best interests and is therefore a duty of love. But the latter sees in this a lack of the respect he expected from his friend and thinks that he has either already lost or is in constant danger of losing something of his friend’s respect, since he is observed and secretly criticised by him.
Costello: Some of our friends will be in need from time to time and I suppose we have a moral duty to attend to them?
Kant: Yes, but it is also a heavy burden to feel chained to another’s fate and encumbered with his needs. Hence friendship cannot be a union aimed at mutual advantage but must rather be a purely moral one, and the help that each may count on from the other in case of need must not be regarded as the end and determining ground of friendship – for in that case one would lose the other’s respect – but only as the outward manifestation of an inner heartfelt benevolence, which should not be put to the test since this is always dangerous; each is generously concerned with sparing the other his burden and bearing it all by himself, even concealing it altogether from his friend, while yet he can always flatter himself that in case of need he could confidently count on the other’s help. But if one of them accepts a favour from the other, then he may well be able to count on equality in love, but not in respect; for he sees himself obviously a step lower in being under obligation without being able to impose obligation in turn. Although it is sweet to feel in such possession of each other as approaches fusion into one person, friendship is so delicate that it is never for a moment safe from interruptions if it is allowed to rest on feelings, and if this mutual sympathy and self-surrender are not subjected to principles or rules preventing excessive familiarity and limiting mutual love by requirements of respect. Such interruptions are common among uncultivated people, although they do not always result in a split (for the rabble fight and make up). Such people cannot part with each other, and yet they cannot be at one with each other since they need quarrels in order to savour the sweetness of being united in reconciliation. But in any case the love in friendship cannot be an affect; for emotion is blind in its choice, and after a while it goes up in smoke.
Costello: You seem to be making a distinction between friendship based on feeling and moral friendship? Can you define moral friendship for me?
Kant: Moral friendship (as distinguished from friendship based on feeling) is the complete confidence of two persons in revealing their secret judgments and feelings to each other, as far as such disclosures are consistent with mutual respect.
Costello: So in this friendship there is the need or desire to reveal oneself to a close friend?
Kant: Man is a being meant for society (though he is also an unsociable one), and in cultivating the social state he feels strongly the need to reveal himself to others (even with no ulterior purpose). But on the other hand, hemmed in and cautioned by fear of the misuse others may make of his disclosing his thoughts, he finds himself constrained to lock up in himself a good part of his judgements (especially those about other people). He would like to discuss with someone what he thinks about his associates, the government, religion and so forth, but he cannot risk it: partly because the other person, while prudently keeping back his own judgements, might use this to harm him, and partly because, as regards disclosing his faults, the other person may conceal his own, so that he would lose something of the other’s respect by presenting himself quite candidly to him.
Costello: So is it possible to reveal one’s secrets to any friend?
Kant: If he finds someone intelligent – someone who, moreover, shares his general outlook on things – with whom he need not be anxious about this danger but can reveal himself with complete confidence, he can then air his views. He is not completely alone with his thoughts, as in a prison, but enjoys a freedom he cannot have with the masses, among whom he must shut himself up in himself. Every man has his secrets and dare not confide blindly in others, partly because of a base cast of mind in most men to use them to one’s disadvantage and partly because many people are indiscreet or incapable of judging and distinguishing what may or may not be repeated. The necessary combination of qualities is seldom found in one person, especially since the closest friendship requires that a judicious and trusted friend be also bound not to share the secrets entrusted to him with anyone else, no matter how reliable he thinks him, without explicit permission to do so.
Costello: Does such a moral ideal of friendship actually exist?
Kant: This merely moral friendship is not just an ideal but (like black swans) actually exists here and there in its perfection. But that pragmatic friendship, which burdens itself with the ends of other men, although out of love, can have neither purity nor the completeness requisite for a precisely determinant maxim; it is an ideal of one’s wishes, which knows no bounds in its rational concept but which must always be limited in experience.
Costello: Any final words on the subject of friendship?
Kant: A friend of man, that is to say, of the whole race is one who takes an affective interest in the well-being of all men and rejoices with them. Taking to heart the duty of being benevolent as a friend of man (a necessary humbling of one-self), serves to guard against the pride that usually comes over those fortunate enough to have the means for beneficence.
Chapter Eleven: The Enemy in a Friend: Nietzsche
Friedrich Nietzsche (1850-1900) was a German philosopher who heralded in the death of God. He took Goethe as his master, fell under the spell of Schopenhauer and read the Greeks, above all, Socrates. He wrote in an enigmatic and epigrammatic style. Key concepts include the ‘death of God’, the ‘will to power’, the ‘transvaluation of values’, the ‘Superman’ and the ‘Eternal Return’. In 1889 mental illness supervened and he remained deranged till he died in 1900 at Weimar in the care of his sister who subsequently passed his philosophy on to the Nazis. However, their misinterpretation of his thought was an utterly unscrupulous perversion of his philosophy carried out for their own ideological ends. He exerted an inestimable influence on Freud and many philosophers of the twentieth-century are indebted to his unique insights.
Questions to Nietzsche
Stephen J. Costello: You have written a book entitled Thus Spake Zarathustra, which contains a series of aphorisms put into the mouth of the Persian sage Zarathustra or Zoroaster and in which a number of your ideas are put forward such as the notion that ‘God is dead’, your critique of Christianity and your ideas of the ‘Superman’ and the ‘Will to Power’. You have written short, brilliant, aphoristic reflections on ‘pale criminals’, as you call them, depression, on women, marriage and children. What interests me is your piece entitled ‘The Friend’ and also extracts from other books.
Nietzsche: ‘One is always too many around me’, thinketh the anchorite.
Costello: The hermit?
Nietzsche: Yes. ‘Always once one – that maketh two in the long run’.
Costello: We who are not hermits need friends?
Nietzsche: How could it be endured if there were not a friend?
Nietzsche: Ah, there are too many depths for all anchorites. Therefore do they long so much for a friend, and for his elevation. Our faith in others betrayeth wherein we would fain have faith in ourselves. Our longing for a friend is our betrayer.
Costello: A friend is a betrayer?
Nietzsche: ‘Be at least mine enemy!’ Thus spaketh the true reverence, which doth not venture to solicit friendship. If one would have a friend, then must one also be willing to wage war for him; and in order to wage war, one must be capable of being an enemy.
Costello: And honour the enemy in a friend?
Nietzsche: Yes. In one’s friend one shall have one’s best enemy. Thou shalt be closest unto him with thy heart when thou withstandest him.
Costello: We show ourselves as we really are in front of a friend, naked, as it were.
Nietzsche: Thou wouldst wear no raiment before thy friend? It is in honour of thy friend that thou showest thyself to him as thou art? But he wisheth thee to the devil on that account!
Costello: So best to stand clothed? To avoid showing too much of oneself?
Nietzsche: Thou canst not adorn thyself fine enough for thy friend.
Costello: Why? Do we see ourselves in our friends?
Nietzsche: Sawest thou ever thy friend asleep – to know how he looketh? What is usually the countenance of thy friend? It is thine own countenance in a coarse and imperfect mirror. Sawest thou ever thy friend asleep? Wert thou not dismayed at thy friend looking so? O my friend, man is something that hath to be surpassed.
Costello: So a friend doesn’t need to see everything in one?
Nietzsche: In divining and keeping silence shall the friend be a master, not everything must thou wish to see. Thy dream shall disclose unto thee what thy friend doth when awake.
Costello: What do we love in a friend? What do they love in us?
Nietzsche: Perhaps he loveth in thee the unmoved eye, and the look of eternity. Let thy pity for thy friend be hid under a hard shell; thou shalt bite out a tooth upon it. Thus it will have delicacy and sweetness. Art thou pure air and solitude and bread and medicine to thy friend? Many a one cannot loosen his own fetters, but is nevertheless his friend’s emancipator.
Costello: You mentioned mastery. We can become too masterful with friends or too servile.
Nietzsche: Art thou a slave? Then thou canst not be a friend. Art thou a tyrant? Then thou canst not have friends. Far too long hath there been a slave and a tyrant concealed in woman. On that account woman is not yet capable of friendship; she knoweth only love.
Costello: Woman is not capable of friendship?
Nietzsche: In woman’s love there is injustice and blindness to all she doth not love. And even in woman’s conscious love, there is still always surprise and lightning and night, along with the light. As yet woman is not capable of friendship; women are still cats, and birds. Or at the best, cows.
Costello: But are men capable of friendship either?
Nietzsche: As yet woman is not capable of friendship. But tell me, ye men, who of you are capable of friendship? Oh, your poverty, ye men, and your sordidness of soul! As much as ye give to your friend, will I give even to my foe, and will not have become poorer thereby. There is comradeship; may there be friendship!
Costello: Indeed. And finally, in Human, All Too Human, you penned a poem entitled ‘Among Friends: An Epilogue’. Can you recite it for me?
Nietzsche: ‘Fine to lie in quiet together,
Finer still to join in laughing –
Underneath a silken heaven
Lying back amid the grasses
Join with friends in cheerful laughing,
Showing our white teeth together.
Am I right? Let’s lie in quiet;
Am I wrong? Let’s join in laughing
And in being aggravating,
Aggravating, loudly laughing,
Till we reach the grave together.
Shall we do this, friends, again?
Amen! And auf Wiedersehn!
No excuses! No forgiving!
You who laugh and joy in living
Grant this book, with all its follies,
Ear and heart and open door.
Friends, believe me, all my folly’s
Been a blessing heretofore!
What I seek, what I discover –
Has a book contained it ever?
Hail in me the guild of fools!
Learn what this fool-book’s offense is:
Reason coming to its senses!
Shall we, friends, do this again?
Amen! And auf Wiedersehn!
Costello: Thank-you. Are you are aware of a saying that is attributed to Aristotle: ‘oh my friends, there is no friend’? What do you make of that?
Nietzsche: Perhaps to each of us there will come the more joyful hour when we exclaim: ‘Friends, there are no friends!’ thus said the dying sage; ‘Foes, there are no foes!’ say I, the living fool.
Costello: Do you have a last word to say on the subject of friendship?
Nietzsche: Yes. The gift of having good friends is in many men much greater than the gift of being a good friend.
Chapter Twelve: Friendship as Love: C. S. Lewis
Clive Staples Lewis (1989-1963) was Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Oxford University until 1954 when he was elected to the Chair of Mediaeval and Renaissance English at Cambridge University, a position he held until his retirement.
He wrote more than thirty books. He was a novelist, lay theologian and Christian apologist after his conversion to Anglican Christianity under the influence of his friend, J. R. R. Tolkien, who had converted to Catholicism; they both were distinguished members of the English faculty at Oxford. His most popular books include The Chronicles of Narnia which have been popularised on stage, on TV, on radio and in the cinema, as well as The Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, Miracles, Surprised by Joy and The Four Loves.
Questions to Lewis
Stephen J. Costello: In your book, The Four Loves, you make a distinction between Gift-love and Need-love and then outline what, according to you, are the four loves of Affection, Friendship, Eros and Charity. Can you first begin by telling me the differences, as you see them, between love as gift and love as need?
Lewis: ‘God is love’, Saint John says. The first distinction I make in relation to human loves is that between Gift-love and Need-love. Of course, divine Love is Gift-love. Man’s love for God is entirely a Need-love. Need-love can be selfish; it can be a gluttonous demand for affection and attention. But, by the same token, no one calls a child selfish because it turns for comfort to its mother, nor an adult who turns to his fellow for company. It is not always the mark of the cold egoist even if it is also true that we should aim to mortify Need-love often. Our Gift-loves, by contrast, are God-like. They are unwearied in giving. All the things the poets say about them are true: their joy, energy, patience, readiness to forgive, their desire for the good of the beloved – all this is an image of the Divine life Itself. The human loves can be glorious images of Divine Love. No less than that: but also no more. Need-love cries to God from our poverty; Gift-love longs to serve, or even to suffer for, God. Gift-love says: ‘I give thanks for you’ whereas Need-love says: ‘I can’t live without you’. Gift-love longs to give happiness, comfort, protection, wealth, if possible. Loves don’t exist alone, in ‘chemical’ purity, except perhaps Need-love.
Costello: That all seems clear enough. The central thesis of your book is your celebrated distinction between love as affection, love as friendship, love as Eros and love as charity. So, can you go through these for me? Let’s begin with affection.
Lewis: The object of affection is the familiar someone who has ‘always’ been there. We can sometimes point to the very day and hour when we fell in love or began a new friendship. I doubt if we ever catch Affection beginning. Affection is the humblest love. It is modest, furtive and shame-faced. Affection has a homely face. It slinks or seeps through our lives. It lives with humble, private things; soft slippers, old clothes, old jokes, the thump of a sleepy dog’s tail on the kitchen floor, the sound of a sewing machine, a golly-wog left on the lawn.
Costello: But presumably affection is present in the other loves as well?
Lewis: Yes, it can enter into the other loves and colour them all. Affection gives erotic love, for example, homespun clothing. It is not appreciative love which lies curled up asleep. Such a love is as free as solitude – no need to talk. No needs at all except perhaps to stir the fire. Affection, by contrast, does not discriminate – it can ‘rub along’ with almost anybody. Affection unites.
Costello: We can distinguish and separate the loves but they also interpenetrate, as you have said.
Lewis: Yes, they blend and overlap. The kiss of Affection differs though from the kiss of Eros. But not all kisses between lovers are lovers’ kisses.
Lewis: Affection is the most catholic of all our loves – it is the broadest. Affection teaches us first to notice, then to endure, then to smile at, then to enjoy, and finally to appreciate, the people who ‘happen to be there’. Affection has no airs. Affection can love the unattractive. It opens our eyes to goodness. As does humble sanctity.
Costello: How does Affection relate to Need-love and Gift-love?
Lewis: Affection includes both Need-love and Gift-love. In need, we crave the affection of others. An example: King Lear who, at the beginning of the play, is devoured with a ravenous appetite for Affection. Lear is half-crazy with Need-love. Children and parents may be full of such ravenous love.
Lewis: Affection is informal and at ease. It wishes neither to wound nor to humiliate nor to dominate. With Affection you can tease and hoax and banter and shout: ‘Shut up, I want to read!’
Costello: Can jealousy, which we associate with erotic love, ever enter into Affection?
Lewis: We do generally associate jealousy with Eros but almost every kind of love is liable to jealousy. The jealousy of Affection is closely connected with its reliance on what is old and familiar and reliant. We don’t want the ‘old, familiar faces’ to become brighter or more beautiful, the old ways to be changed even for the better, the old jokes and interests to be replaced by exciting novelties. Change is a threat to Affection. Affection has conservative tenacity.
Costello: But I can conceive of the jealousy of Affection being inordinate.
Lewis: Yes, Affection is the most instinctive, the most animal of the loves and so its jealousy is proportionately fierce. It snarls and bares its teeth like a dog whose food has been snatched away.
Costello: And one’s world lies in ruins.
Lewis: Exactly. In Jane Austen’s novel, Emma intends that Harriet Smith should have a happy life, but only the sort of happy life which Emma has planned for her. I am a university lecturer and as such I am always working towards the moment at which my pupils are fit to become my critics and rivals.
Costello: Nietzsche had said that one repays a master/teacher badly by remaining only a pupil.
Lewis: Yes, the fencing master, to take an example, should be delighted when his pupil can disarm him.
Costello: There is, though, a terrible need to be needed in us.
Lewis: There is. But affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our natural loves. Affection produces happiness only if there is common sense and ‘give and take’ and decency.
Costello: But man cannot live by Affection alone. We need a far higher sort of love. Can you now tell me what friendship is?
Lewis: Friendship is a love. In this regard, I am on the side of the Ancients. We have many examples in the literature: Tristan and Isolde, Romeo and Juliet, Antony and Cleopatra, David and Jonathan, Pylades and Orestes, Roland and Oliver, Amis and Amile. For the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all the loves, the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world ignores it and doesn’t even regard it as a love.
Costello: The Ancients regarded friendship primarily as a virtue.
Lewis: Aristotle classified Philia as a virtue and Cicero wrote a book on Amicitia. For the Moderns, friendship is marginal, an occasion of distraction and diversion.
Costello: How has this lamentable state of affairs come about do you think?
Lewis: Few value it because few experience it. Friendship locates itself in that luminous, tranquil, rational world of relationships that are freely chosen. This alone of all the loves seems to raise one to the level of gods or angels.
Costello: So you think that the old estimate of friendship is the correct one?
Lewis: Absolutely and so what I have to say about Friendship is merely a rehabilitation. But I must carry out a bit of demolition.
Lewis: It has become necessary in our time to rebut the theory that every firm and serious friendship is really homosexual at an unconscious level. This is erroneous. This view tells us a lot about those who hold it. Those who cannot conceive Friendship as a substantive love but only as a disguise or elaboration of Eros betray the fact that they have never had a Friend. That is not to say that Friendship and abnormal Eros may never be combined. Kisses, tears and embraces are not in themselves evidence of homosexuality.
Costello: Abnormal? We will agree to disagree on that. What would you say is the main difference between love as Eros and love as Friendship?
Lewis: Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; Friends hardly ever about their Friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; Friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest. Eros is between two only. But two in Friendship is not even the best number. Lamb says somewhere that if, of three friends (A, B, and C), A should die, then B not only loses A but ‘A’s part in C’, while C loses not only A but ‘A’s part in B’. In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out.
Costello: What about jealousy in friendship?
Lewis: True Friendship is the least jealous of loves. Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth. Friendship exhibits a glorious ‘nearness by resemblance’ to Heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed increases the fruition which each has of God. Friendship is the least biological of our loves.
Costello: Its essence is surely companionship?
Lewis: Yes, or clubableness. Companionship is the matrix of Friendship. Friendship arises out of companionship and this occurs when Friends realise they have some common interest or taste which others do not share. A Friend finds in his Friend a kindred soul. In this way two friends discover each other with immense difficulties or in semi-articulate fumblings. Friendship is thus born and instantly they stand together in an immense solitude. Lovers look for privacy, friends find such solitude a barrier between them and the herd. Friends see the same truth – it may be a common religion or profession or recreation.
Costello: You are saying that the basis of friendship is collaboration.
Lewis: Yes. However, there are those pathetic people who simply ‘want friends’ – such people can never make any. The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends. When a man says ‘I need a Friend’, no Friendship can arise.
Costello: You said ‘a man’. In terms of gender differences….
Lewis: With regards the different sexes, the friendship that arises between them will very easily pass into erotic love. Conversely, erotic love may lead to Friendship between the lovers. In which cases, you will certainly not wish to share the Beloved’s erotic love with any third. But you will have no jealousy at all about sharing the Friendship. The co-existence of Friendship and Eros may help some moderns to realise that Friendship is in reality a love, even as great a love as Eros.
Costello: One would be very lucky indeed to have fallen in love with one’s friend and end up being with them for life.
Lewis: Yes, either they will cease to be lovers but remain joint seekers of the same God, of beauty or truth or you will retain as long as you live all the wonder and the wild desire of Eros. One needs to choose.
Costello: The word ‘friend’ means ‘ally’ but it should mean more than that, shouldn’t it?
Lewis: Indeed. A Friend will prove himself as an ally when alliance becomes necessary; will lend or give when we are in need, nurse us in sickness and stand up for us among our enemies. Furthermore, Friendship is utterly free from Affection’s need to be needed, which you mentioned earlier. In Friendship, gratitude is unnecessary and unlike Eros, Friendship is uninquisitive. Eros loves naked bodies, Friendship naked personalities.
Costello: You mentioned necessity; is friendship even necessary? Don’t misunderstand me here.
Lewis: Friendship is unnecessary – no claims, no shadow of necessity – like philosophy and art and the universe itself.
Costello: Yes, God did not need to create.
Lewis: Precisely. But unlike God one knows nobody so well as one’s ‘fellow’. If, at the outset, we had attended more to him and less to the thing our Friendship is ‘about’, we should not have come to know him so well.
Costello: One comes to know him in precious moments of togetherness, in quality times spent engaged with each other.
Lewis: Golden sessions. When we come in to the inn and spread our feet before the blaze and have our drinks at our elbows – then the whole world and something beyond the world opens itself to our minds as we talk. Life – natural life – has no better gift to give.
Costello: Who deserves it?
Lewis: Sometimes a wife feels her husband doesn’t deserve such Friendships and tries to break them up. She will quarrel with his Friends or with their wives. She will sneer, obstruct and lie. She does not realise that the husband whom she succeeds in isolating from his own kind will not be worth having; she has emasculated him. Then new Friendships will break out but they will be secret. Lucky for her, and lucky beyond her deserts, if there are not soon other secrets as well! Silly woman. Where the sexes, having no real shared interests, can meet only in Affection and Eros – cannot be Friends – it is healthy that each should have a lively sense of the other’s absurdity. No one ever really appreciates the other sex – just as no one really appreciates children or animals – without at times feeling them to be funny.
Costello: There is freedom in friendship, isn’t there?
Lewis: Yes, Friendship raises us almost above humanity. This love is free from instinct, free from duty, almost free from jealousy and from the need to be needed – as such it is eminently spiritual. It is the sort of love one can imagine between angels.
Costello: To say it is spiritual can mean intellectual and good but there is spiritual evil.
Lewis: Yes, there are unholy, as well as holy, angels. The worst sins of men are spiritual. We must not think that in finding Friendship to be spiritual we have found it to be in itself holy. We must notice that Friendship is very rarely the image under which Scripture represents the love between God and Man.
Costello: We can talk about caritas later.
Lewis: We love our Friends after our own hearts. Only they really know our mind. Theirs is the praise we really covet and the blame we really dread. Authority frowns on Friendship.
Costello: Why so?
Lewis: Because Friendship is a sort of secession, even a rebellion.
Costello: Yes, but it is also a school of virtue.
Lewis: And a school of vice! It is ambivalent. It makes good men better and bad men worse. There are possible dangers in good Friendships.
Costello: Isn’t it true that friendships mainly never bore one?
Lewis: People who bore one another should meet seldom; people who interest one another, often.
Costello: Sorry, you said just there that there are dangers even in good friendships – can you say more on this or give an example?
Lewis: Friends, because they are attached to each other, are in danger of becoming an elite. We seek men after our own heart for their own sake and are then alarmingly or delightfully surprised by the feeling that we have become an aristocracy.
Costello: There is pride too present in friendship.
Lewis: Yes. Friendship must not become a mutual admiration society. Friendship may be angelic but man needs to be protected by humility if he is to eat the bread of angels without risk.
Costello: Any final comments on friendship before we turn to Eros and then to caritas?
Lewis: Friendship, like the other natural loves, is unable to save itself. We need the Master – Christ who said to His disciples: ‘Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you’. Thus we can truly say to every group of Christian friends ‘You have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another’.
Costello: Thank you. Now let us consider Eros more explicitly. Could you begin by defining Eros?
Lewis: By Eros I mean the state which we call ‘being in love’. Of course, sexual experience can occur without Eros, without ‘being in love’ and Eros includes other things besides sexual activity. The carnal element within Eros I call Venus, following an old usage. Sexual desire, without Eros, wants the thing in itself; Eros wants the Beloved. The thing is sensory pleasure. He may say he wants a woman but strictly speaking a woman is just what he does not want; he wants pleasure for which the woman happens to be the necessary piece of apparatus. How much he cares for her may be gauged by his attitude to her five minutes after fruition. Eros makes a man want one particular woman. Lovers want to ‘eat’ one another. They say, ‘Love you? I am you’.
Costello: As Cathy said to Nelly her housekeeper about her love for Heathcliff: ‘Nelly, I am Heathcliff’.
Lewis: There is both gravity and levity in Eros. There is the burning weight of desire. Pleasure, pushed to its extreme, shatters us like pain. The longing for a union which only the flesh can mediate while the flesh renders it forever unattainable can have the grandeur of a metaphysical pursuit. Amorousness as well as grief can bring tears to the eyes. The lover’s pinch hurts and is desired.
Costello: And Eros’ relationship, then, to happiness?
Lewis: Eros does not aim at happiness. It is the very mark of Eros that when he is in is we had rather share unhappiness with the Beloved than be happy on any other terms. Marriage with the Beloved cannot possibly lead to happiness. To which Eros says: ‘Better to be miserable with her than happy without her. Let our hearts break provided they break together’. If the voice inside us does not say this then it is not the voice of Eros. This is the grandeur and terror of love. It is in the grandeur of Eros that the seeds of danger are concealed. He has spoken like a god. His total commitment, his reckless disregard of happiness, his transcendence of self-regard, sound like a message from the eternal world. And yet, it cannot, as it stands, be the voice of God Himself. Eros, displaying that very transcendence of self, may urge to evil as well as to good. There is the love that leads to perjured and cruel unions, even suicide-pacts and murder. Plato justified the absoluteness and transcendence of Eros’ commands. But we must not give unconditional obedience to the voice of Eros when he speaks most like a god. Great love can extenuate, almost sanctions and even sanctifies any actions it leads to.
Costello: Milton’s Dalila speaks of love’s law.
Lewis: In love we have our own law, our own god and religion too, according to Milton’s Dalila.
Costello: And love’s relation to immortality?
Lewis: Eros is the most mortal of our loves. The world rings with complaints of fickleness. What is baffling is the combination of this fickleness with his protestations of permanency. To be in love is both to intend and to promise lifelong fidelity. Love makes vows unasked: ‘I will be forever true’. Eros tosses personal happiness aside as a triviality and plants the interests of the other at the centre of our being. It is an image, a foretaste of what we must become to all if Love Himself will rule in us without a rival.
Costello: You mentioned Love Himself, could we conclude the discussion with your views of Charity?
Lewis: Charity is goodness; it is glory. If love is to be a blessing, not a misery, it must be for the only Beloved who will never pass away. Charity prefers Love Himself to happiness. Such a love might lead you to suffering. We follow the One who wept over Jerusalem and at the grave of Lazarus and, loving all yet He had one disciple whom He loved in a special sense. To love at all is be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements, lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken, it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to this tragedy is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell. I believe that the most lawless and inordinate loves are less contrary to God’s will than a self-invited and self-protective lovelessness. Christ did not teach and suffer that we might become more careful of our own happiness. We don’t draw near to Christ by denying suffering or trying to escape it but by offering it to Him. If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it.
Costello: I presume that a love such as this is Gift-love?
Lewis: Yes. Such Charity is Gift-love and comes by Grace. What we are witnessing here is the conversion of natural love.
Costello: Our natural loves die.
Lewis: They are taken into the eternity of Charity, into the transforming presence of Love Himself.
Friendship and Fall-Out: Sartre and Camus
Ronald Aronson is an American philosopher based in Michigan. He received his Ph.D. in The History of Ideas in 1968 with a thesis on ‘Art and Freedom in the Philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre’. He wrote a book on the friendship and fall-out between Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, entitled Camus and Sartre: the story of a friendship and the quarrel that ended it, which was published by the University of Chicago Press in 2004. It is a brilliant biographical and passionately written account detailing the passions that drove these two men and which finally tore them apart. Dr. Aronson is an internationally recognised authority on Sartre and has been the Chair of the Sartre Society and editor of the journal, Sartre Studies International. He has written a number of other books including the 1980, Jean-Paul Sartre: Philosophy in the World.
Questions to Aronson
Stephen J. Costello: Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre were firm and fast friends as well as being famous French philosophers, their names inextricably linked together in the intellectual and cultural life of post-war Paris. They first met in 1943 during the German occupation of France and became political allies on the Left. They were committed, engaged, public intellectuals – philosophers as well as playwrights and novelists too. They were public spokesmen of their generation. But East-West tensions eventually strained their relationship and they began to evolve in different directions, disagreeing over both philosophy and politics. The rupture of their relationship happened at the height of the Cold War. A quarrel ended their love-friendship forever. They fell out in 1952 with a bitter and very public row, after which they never spoke again. Can you go through their lives with me in more detail and tell me how all this happened.
Aronson: Sartre and Camus were attracted to each other and affected each other deeply; they remained entangled with each other even after their break-up. From 1938 to 1960, the year in which Camus died, they wrote to each other, about each other. They admired each other and were engaged in similar projects, straddling the disciplines of philosophy as well as literature. Thirty years after they met, Sartre remembered Camus as ‘amusing: extremely coarse but often very amusing’ (I say this on p. 17 of my book). Camus revealed his vulnerabilities to Sartre, those insecurities which could be seen in his moods and in his eyes. Their characters contrasted, complemented and completed each other. Simone de Beauvoir, Sartre’s lifelong lover, wrote this about Camus: ‘What I liked most about him was his capacity for detached amusement at people and things even while he was intensely occupied with his personal activities, pleasures, and friendships’ (p. 19 of my book).
Costello: So they became entangled with each other.
Aronson: Yes, Sartre was strongly attracted to the handsome Camus while Camus was at once self-contained and vulnerable. Sartre fell considerably for Camus and De Beauvoir described herself and Camus as being in competition for Sartre: ‘We were like two dogs circling a bone’ (as I write on p. 20). De Beauvoir was worried about this ‘infatuation’ (Aronson, ibid.) but consoled herself with the thought that Sartre was strongly heterosexual with ‘no trace of homosexuality in his disposition’ (Aronson, ibid).
Costello: Obviously she hadn’t read Freud!, who maintains that there is a trace of bisexuality in every ‘normal’ neurotic. En passant, it seems to me that the Camus-Sartre relationship has some parallels with the Freud-Jung one. Anyway, please continue.
Aronson: Throughout, Camus preserved his independence from Sartre, refusing to become a satellite in the Sartre-Beauvoir ‘family’. Much of their time was spent in talking about women rather than ideas. Sartre had many ‘contingent’ loves that were all subsidiary to his ‘necessary’ one for De Beauvoir, while Camus, though married to Francine, was in love with the actress Maria Casarès, the great, if tormented, love of Camus’ life. Both men’s energy was consumed in seducing women and in circumnavigating the complications of these endless affairs. Camus was Sartre’s sole close friendship with a peer. He would later describe Camus as ‘my last good friend’ (Aronson, ibid., p. 4).
Costello: Presumably their politics brought them together as well because both of them were on the Left.
Aronson: Yes, both thinkers were stern critics of capitalism. However, Sartre embraced Communism and violence as a path to change and societal transformation, while Camus criticised both, putting friendship above politics. Camus said that he learned about freedom from poverty rather than from Marx whereas Sartre, for his part, was engaged in more abstract theorising.
Costello: Who was right?!
Aronson: Who was right, Sartre or Camus? Most sided against Camus at the time, just as Sartre and Camus sided against each other. Letters were exchanged. Sartre wrote: ‘My Dear Camus: Our friendship was not easy, but I will miss it. If you end it today …’ (Aronson, ibid., p. 147)
Costello: Yes, but it didn’t stop him, after the publication of Camus’ The Rebel, to write, in full public view, in Les Temps Modernes, of Camus’ ‘dreary conceit’, ‘dismal self-importance’, ‘inner problems’, ‘pomposity’, ‘character-disorder’, ‘wounded vanity’ (as you say on pp. 147-9 of your book). Sartre’s reply was malicious and violent and utterly unjustified. Sartre ended his letter by saying: ‘In any case, it was good that I could tell you what I thought. The journal is open to you if you want to reply to me, but I will not reply to you further. I have said what you mean to me, and what you are to me now. But whatever you may say or do in return, I refuse to fight you. I hope that our silence will cause this polemic to be forgotten’ (Aronson, ibid., p. 154).
Aronson: In any case Paris was abuzz.
Costello: Camus was reeling and in shock, tearful too and struggled to endure the break with Sartre without resentment. Their love had turned to hate – a conversion about which Freud writes with brilliant insight but Sartre had denied the existence of an unconscious. Jacques Lacan, Freud’s faithful French follower, had remarked that Sartre would have been a better philosopher if he had accepted its existence. Sartre put politics above friendship, as you say; for Camus, personal loyalty would always come first. He was simply shattered by, what he perceived as, Sartre’s scandalous treatment of him and never really recovered. Isn’t that true?
Aronson: A common friend to both of them called the rupture between Sartre and Camus the ‘end of a love story’ (Aronson, ibid., p. 159). Camus avoided public places associated with Sartre, his one-time ‘brother’ (Aronson, ibid., p. 160). Sartre went on, seemingly unscathed. He put Camus out of his mind. In fact, Sartre never spoke of his former friend until after the latter’s death when he would deliver a moving eulogy.
Costello: Sartre’s friendships were always inconstant. Camus engaged in a Sisyphean struggle with silence but without hope.
Aronson: The years after the break-up were the emptiest for Sartre as a writer and Camus vegetated and admitted that he felt all dried up – ‘like ink by a blotting paper’ (Aronson, ibid., p. 177). But though the Camus-Sartre friendship was over, their relationship wasn’t, as each man made references to the other indirectly in their writings. After a while, both returned to work and each was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, for their respective efforts.
Costello: Then Camus crashed his car and died. How awful.
Aronson: Yes, on hearing of Camus’ car crash and his untimely death on January 4, 1960, at the age of only forty-six, De Beauvoir described Camus as ‘the companion of our hopeful years, whose open face laughed and smiled so easily, the young, ambitious writer, wild to enjoy life, its pleasures, its triumphs, and comradeship, friendship, love and happiness’ (Aronson, ibid., p. 216). Sartre, for his part, bade his public farewell to Camus, which was published three days later. Seven years had passed since their quarrel and now Sartre included himself among ‘all those who loved’ (Aronson, ibid.) Camus.
Costello: History has been kinder to Camus than to Sartre. I ask again: Who was right and who was wrong?
Aronson: Or was each one half-right and half-wrong?
Costello: Both mutually engaged in ‘bad faith’?
Aronson: Well, Sartre survived Camus by twenty years and so had the last word.
Costello: Better, in my view, to be wrong with Camus than right with Sartre.
Aronson: I feel that both went wrong. For both men, the choice was stark but simple. For Camus, it was a question of ‘my mother or justice’ (Aronson, ibid., p. 232); for Sartre, there was no justice without violence. Camus or Sartre? Reform or revolution? Or perhaps both: an impossible composite of a Camus/Sartre?
Costello: Whatever the answer to these questions may be, one thing is not doubted or disputed: their relationship, tossed and torn by the winds of history, by the ravages and vagaries of time, continues to be relevant – their personal arguments, philosophical analyses, political actions, blind spots, egregious errors, welcome insights, continue to fascinate and to teach. And your book, which charts the details of all this, is a riveting read and warmly recommended.
Aronson: Thank you.
Costello: Let us leave Sartre with the last word – after all he had made his life out of words, as even the title of his autobiography attests: Les Mots – Words. As we read Sartre’s lines, we inevitably think about our own friendships: ‘We had quarrelled, he and I. A quarrel is nothing – even if you never see each other again – only another way of living together and not losing sight of each other in the narrow little world which is given us. That did not prevent me from thinking of him, from feeling his gaze upon the page of the book, upon the newspaper he was reading, and from asking myself: “What is he saying about it? What is he saying about it at this moment?” (Aronson, ibid., p. 164).
Chapter fourteen: Fragment on Friendship: Derrida
Jacques Derrida was one of the most controversial philosophers of the twentieth-century and the father of ‘deconstruction’. His Politics of Friendship is a meditative enquiry into a mysterious saying that Montaigne attributed to Aristotle: ‘O my friends, there is no friend’. His book is an attempt to understand the figure of the friend. It may be read as a prolegomena to friendship.
Questions for Derrida
Stephen J. Costello: ‘O my friends, there is no friend’. What do you suppose this means?
Derrida: This is at once mysterious, haunting, chilling, both a plaint and a complaint, a call hovering over hollow waters. A grievance addressed to oneself, of oneself or to others, the Other or the One? Aristotle insisted that friends be few in number otherwise they would not, could not, be the friends of this friend. How can we count our friends? Can we count on them? We both affirm ‘my friends’ and deny ‘no friend’. Two moments then, perhaps contradictory and incompatible or simply paradoxical and ambivalent like friendship itself.
Costello: Cicero distinguished between two friendships – the true and perfect friendship and the vulgar and mediocre one, while Aristotle distinguished three. Perhaps friends, true friends, must of necessity remain rare. Friendship inspires, illuminates, lapses, serves, survives, thrives, dissolves, dies, betrays, kills, murders, shines. Friendship hopes and is fragile – such a precarious and fleeting and fragrant thing. Is the friend the same or the other? Do we fashion the friend into our own ideal image? Do we make him a counterpart, my brother, mon semblable? Is he my exemplum, duplicate, double, carbon copy, alter ego, reproduction? – a type, an original or a model (of mimesis)? Do we see in his eyes our own image reflected back as in a mirror? Does friendship always have to testify to the myth of Narcissus? Must my words end up in the mouth of my friend as an echo? We ask because we want to know, both what and who is the friend, this friend before me or far from me, this friend to whom I have become beholden. What is the relation between love and friendship? The gap is not a gulf, not so wide, especially if we fall in love with a friend. Oh that! Can friendship be said in several senses? Can it be still spoken of after the Ancients? Isn’t friendship ‘loving’?
Derrida: Friendship is a promise, a pledge, a proof, a preference, an alliance, a gift and a declaration. In the beginning there is always somebody, yes, there is the friend who loves his friend. Of course, we can say what friendship is not. It is not accounting. It exceeds, should exceed all measurement and calculation, all moderation. Ought it to be seen as an excess, a surplus then? Eros and philia are movements of the soul. Are they two or one? You see, we are counting again, counting up in an age of crass capitalism. Is friendship reciprocal and egalitarian or dissymmetrical and monarchical? The Other is always irreducible, the Other as alterity. Can friendship ever be democratic? Friendship is also a political problem as much as a public testimonial and private affair.
Costello: But if a friend dies, then…
Derrida: Death is always there, amid life.
Costello: But what if I survive my friend’s death and I don’t want to? What will happen to me if I am my friend’s survivor and I am even called upon to speak some words at the hour of his burial?
Derrida: One survives by mourning. Yet mourning is difficult. I should want to survive him, to spare him my death. Weeping, lamentation, lost tears and horrendous grief. Friendship is fidelity and faith and takes time. It’s all about time and constancy, steadfastness – forever friends….? Such a friendship, as Plato pointed out, can defy and destroy tyrannical power. A friendship, then, worthy of the name.
Costello: Lacan said, ‘All love is love of a name’.
Derrida: The truth of friendship is found in darkness just as the lie of friendship is found in daylight. There is friendship in act and potency (Aristotle) and friendship is excluded between the gods and between man and God and man and animal and between animals, and woman, we are told by Nietzsche, is not yet capable of friendship as she knows only love.
Costello: We put our friends to the test. They enjoy and endure us. But are they always good for us? It is possible to love more than one person but not too many more than one. Friendship cannot be based surely on arithmetic? Isn’t friendship singular, particular? Isn’t every friendship asymmetrical? Don’t we give or take more than a friend, any friend, this friend, my friend? Should friendship really be derived from self-love, amour–propre? Is such a love always egoism?
Derrida: Let me ask you a question: Is friendship really the opposite of enmity? Didn’t Nietzsche tell us to honour the enemy in our friend? Love and hate. Friendship and enmity. The enemies I love are my friends, so are the enemies of my friends. This is Nietzsche’s logic operating here. Isn’t there shared joy among friends just as there is shared suffering and jouissance too? There are friends who are inaccessible. There are some people of whom one wants to make a friend. Sworn friends, born friends, childhood friends, school friends, college friends, club friends, friends of friends, the friend. Too many, too few, too much, not enough. There is love-friendship. There is cutting ties, breaking off, breaking up, withdrawing. Solitude and singularity. There is friendship at midnight and in the midday sun, and in shadow. There is friendship without friendship. There are friends who protect our privacy, while others invade our space – the space invaders. Some friends protect my solitude while others seek to inhabit it. Friends, more than friends. Friends, only friends. Blanchot insists: ‘What is then the case concerning friendship? Friendship: friendship for the unknown [one] without friends’.
Costello: I am reminded of what Florian says in his The Hare, His Friends, and the Two Roebucks; in this fable Florian writes:
‘A good-natured hare wanted to have many friends.
Many! you say – that is a major affair:
A single friend is a rare thing in these parts.
I agree, but my hare had this whim and didn’t know what
Aristotle used to say to young Greeks upon entering his school:
My friends, there are no friends.
Complacent, assiduous, always driven by zeal,
He wanted to make everyone a faithful friend,
And believed himself loved because he loved them’.
And Baltasar Gracián, the seventeenth-century Spanish Jesuit, in his Oráculo manual, opined thus:
‘Select your friends. They should be examined by discretion, tested by fortune, certified not only in will power but also in understanding …. You are judged by the friends you have, and the wise never get along with fools. To take pleasure in someone’s company doesn’t make him a close friend. Sometimes we value his sense of humour without fully confiding in his talent. Some friendships are legitimate, others adulterous: the latter are for pleasure, the former are fertile and engender success. The insight of a friend is more valuable than the good wishes of many others. So let choice rule and not chance. Wise friends chase away sorrows, and foolish ones gather them. And don’t wish your friends wealth if you want to keep them’ (Gracián, no. 156 in The Art of Worldly Wisdom).
He advises that we get used to the failings of our friends and we should know how to use them. He continues:
‘Know how to use your friends. It takes skill and discretion. Some are useful when near and others when far away, and the one who isn’t good for conversation may be good for correspondence. Distance purifies certain defects that are unbearable at close range. You shouldn’t seek only pleasure in your friends, but also utility. A friend is all things, and friendship has the three qualities of anything good: unity, goodness, and truth. Few people make good friends, and they are fewer still when we don’t know how to select them. Knowing how to keep a friend is more important than gaining a new one. Look for friends who can last and when they’re new, be satisfied that one day they will be old. The best ones of all are those well salted, with whom we have shared bushels of experience. Life without friends is a wasteland. Friendship multiplies good and shares evils. It is a unique remedy for bad luck and sweet relief to the soul’ (Gracián, no. 158, ibid.).
Derrida: Yes, till we reach the grave together. Friends, there are no friends. Enemies, there is no enemy.
Costello: Friendship is spoken about but is it better preserved in silence? Does friendship speak the truth?
Derrida: The Truth? There are only truths. The depth of friendship but also its shifting ground, its groundlessness. Gain a breathing space for friendship, for friendship is impossible. Yes, silence must be kept among friends, concerning friends lest it ruin friendship. ‘Silentium. One should not talk about one’s friends: otherwise one will talk away the feeling of friendship’ (Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human, 2, para. 376). Silence, discretion, aphoristic, elliptical, secret speech. From discretion to the hysterical laughing of rejoicing among friends at life’s sheer folly, ebullient emulsion. But the enemy lies, is lodged in the heart of every friend. Et tu Brute. Such love.
Costello: Good friendship, for you, is not about equality: good friendship is based on inequality, on giving and not counting the cost, on disproportion and dissymmetry, on loving and esteeming and respecting the Other more than oneself. Isn’t that right? You are not just talking about Greek friendship.
Derrida: Friendship worthy of the name offers itself up to the Other, to the irreducible presence of the Other, as we are held hostage to the face of a friend à la Levinas. Friendship is a love more loving than love. It denounces the right to property. We do not own our friends or our lovers. They are on loan to us. Such loneliness. Love seeks to possess. Cupid cuts. Affection is avaricious. No fusion! Resist the need to eat the other. Good friendship places the other away from, maintains distance, keeps an infinite distance between the one and the Other. No proximity, identification or fusion. No appropriation. Nietzsche speaks of ‘this possessive craving of two people for each other’ giving way to a new desire, a shared higher thirst whose right name is friendship but who has experienced it? This distinction between friend and enemy collapses, changes place, alternates. There is the figure of the unfaithful, of the faithless, friend. War, love and friendship. Blake: Be my enemy for friendship’s sake. ‘Thy Friendship oft has made my heart to ake/ Do be my enemy for Friendships sake’.
Costello: Down through history we are furnished with great couples of friends, by twosomes. They are always men. La Boëtie, Montaigne’s great friend, in ‘To Michel de Montaigne’, wrote this: ‘Should destiny so desire, be assured that prosperity will place our names on the list of celebrated friends’. We think also of Rousseau and Hume, two more philosopher-friends.
Derrida: But one cannot forget enmity at the heart of friendship.
Derrida: Precisely. To love in love or in friendship there must be the possibility of killing. I can kill my friend. He can kill me. We can kill each other. Friendship beyond friendship. Love beyond love. In the Lysis Plato had said: ‘If, then, you two are friendly to each other, by some tie of nature you belong to each other’. Cain and Abel.
Costello: Plato had ended his dialogue by saying ‘we have not as yet been able to discover what we mean by a friend’. Just so. We who call ourselves friends do not know what a friend is. O my friends….. Nietzsche’s epilogue and epitaph: ‘Woe to him who has no friend, for his enemy will sit judgement upon him. Woe to him who has no enemy, for I shall myself be his enemy on judgement day’.
Derrida: Friendship is always poetic before it is philosophical.
Costello: What is a friend? It is he who accompanies me in the very intimacy and embrace of (always) uncertain friendship. I wait for the call of friendship in a double bind and in desire.
Derrida: As if I were calling someone – for example, on the telephone – saying to him or her, in sum: I don’t want you to wait for my call and become forever dependent on it; go out on the town, be free not to answer. And to prove it, the next time I call you, don’t answer, or I won’t see you again. If you answer my call, it’s all over.
Costello: One can never win. God, is this what it’s about? Somebody always loses. There is seldom a correspondence of wills.
Derrida: No, not that. Never that. Friends who are more than friends are still divided. True friendship (whatever that is) has the passion of a love. Didn’t Cicero say: ‘For it is love, the thing that gives us our word for friendship’? Does anyone love me as much as I love them? And life can become a living death when a friend is lost or leaves. Friendship depends more on the Other than on myself. I regard him (as in a mirror) and I entrust myself to him more than to myself. He is in me before me and more than me. It was him. It was me. Love a friend as though some day you must hate him (Chilo) or wage war for him or kill him. Love him but know that he will die. Is there a friendship beyond virtue or beyond the law? In the Politics, Aristotle says that everything that comes to pass in the polis is ‘the work of friendship’. Yes, the work of friendship. It needs working on. One must not ask to be loved in like measure to one’s own love. Such ardent craving and pining for unique friendship, to proclaim, if only once, before the moon, an ‘I love you’ one time, one single eternal time, one time for all time(s). At the heart of friendship: utter solitude. The ‘I love you’ is a promise and prayer and must remain dissymmetrical. One must not wish to hear the echo, the inverted form of an ‘I love you too’. Whether or not the other answers, in one way or another, no mutuality, no harmony, no agreement can or must reduce the infinite disproportion. This disproportion is indeed the condition of sharing, in love as well as in friendship. In hatred as well as in detestation …. It must indeed desire that which goes to make the essence of desire: this non-assurance and this risk of misunderstanding.
Costello: Love and friendship (eros and philia) are derived from the same passion. Can friendship only take place in dis-‘pair’ (despair)? O my love, there is no love. A few friends. A few lovers. The fewest possible. The friend is inaccessible, inconceivable, improbable, according to you. As Aubenque said: ‘perfect friendship destroys itself’.
Derrida: I ask myself: Why is friendship contradictory in its very essence? One must want the greatest good for the friend – hence, one wants him to become a god. But one cannot want that, one cannot want what would then be wanted for at least three reasons: Friendship with God is impossible due to His remoteness. The energy of friendship draws its force from presence. God cannot even be addressed to tell Him there is no friend. One cannot want God for a friend. The other reason being that friendship orders me to love the other as he is while wishing that he remain as he is and do so as long as he is a mortal man. One cannot wish, so, to deify the friend while at the same time wishing he remain what he is, a man. The man of friendship should nevertheless resemble God but God has no need of a friend. He is His own well-being.
Costello: You speak of God but you’re an atheist!
Derrida: God goes by different names in my work. I rightly pass for an atheist.
Costello: Atheism is impossible just as friendship is, according to you. ‘O mes amis, il n’y a pas d’ami (véritable)’. There is always the forever missed encounter in love and friendship. What have these great canonical discourses on friendship shown, these great philosophical treatises that I have been considering? Certainly for you, Monsieur Derrida, friendship is not at our disposal. It does not pertain to the order of the given. Rather it assumes the promise of a future event yet to happen. It is an expectation. There is no friend worthy of the name but would one want there to be?
Derrida: Yes, what is friendship? Who is the friend? De amicitia. Still of friendship. Certainly, whatever else it is, friendship is a privileged locus for philosophical reflection even if friendship is problematic, I would say impossible. And the name of the friend? Montaigne’s friendship for La Boëtie was friendship of a name. The name preceded their encounter. They sought each other before they set eyes on each other. The list of names, of lovers’ names, of the names of friends we have loved and hated – loved to hate…… where are they now?
Costello: A great friendship comes along once every three or four centuries we are told. Such a friend is as rare as a black swan.
Derrida: Yes, Juvenal puts it thus, that, ‘The necessary combinations of qualities is seldom found in one person especially since the closest friendship requires that a judicious and trusted friend be also bound not to share the secrets entrusted to him with anyone else, no matter how reliable he thinks him, without explicit permission to do so. This (merely moral friendship) is not just an ideal but (like black swans) actually exists here and there in its perfection’.
Costello: In a section entitled ‘Star Friendship’ in The Gay Science, Nietzsche writes that, ‘We were friends and have become estranged …. But our life is too short and our power of vision too small for us to be more than friends in the sense of this sublime possibility! Let us then believe in our star friendship even if we should be compelled to be earth enemies’ (Nietzsche, book four, para. 279. pp. 225-6).
Costello: So friendship is a possibility not a given, not a fact. It is based on a non-symmetrical love of the Other?
Derrida: But there is amid two friends the jealous narcissism of the dual relation. It must be prevented from falling into the abyss of a specular jealousy. Remember: ‘one is always one too many around me’! Nietzsche again: ‘may there be friendship’. Yes, may there be friendship one day, some day, this day, any day.
Costello: A friend is a gift; his words are gifts; he gives you the world.
Derrida: A friend who does not give you the world … gives you nothing.
Costello: Perhaps friendship, philosophical philia, will take place one fine day.
Derrida: Friendship is far off, futural, even as it is here present in its poverty. It is promised, announced, hoped for, pledged. Friendship is indeed a ‘sublime possibility’, one which reduces us to silence. It is the place of profound pleasure as well as some pain, of jouissance. Friendship is fraught. Real friendship is faced into when all words cease and all concepts and categories fail. Painful, pleasurable, perilous, profound. My friend: my imaginary counterpart, my brother. Bataille has this to say: ‘… friends to the point of this state of profound friendship in which a forsaken man, forsaken by all his friends, meets in life he who will accompany him beyond life, himself lifeless, capable of free friendship, detached from all bonds’. Is there a friendship beyond dependence? Star friendship? The disastar of friendship, at the heart of all friendship? But I am not the friend of just anyone but why not?
Costello: Christ calls us to be. O my friend, the unique One loved more than anyone. Tristan and Juliet; Castor and Pollux, Orestes and Pylades, Anthony and Cleopatra; David and Jonathan. I Samuel20: 17 tells us: ‘Once again Jonathan swore the solemn oath to David because he loved him as his own soul’.
Derrida: Friendship is to come. It has yet to happen despite these couplings. We are waiting for friendship, even as we attend to it.
Costello: There is the physicality and the spirituality of friendship’s power; there is the disparate, diffuse nature of the more than two and the intensity of the one to one (and one on one) as ‘deep calls unto deep’. Finally, let me say, by way of dénouement, that (perfect) friendship, in this Derridean postmodernist picture, if I have got it right, Monsieur Derrida, is a gift promised to us posthumously and at the heart of every friendship is the noblest failure.
Derrida: I agree!
Conclusion: Towards a Philosophico-Christian Vision of Friendship
‘God is the only friend who does not abolish essential solitude. He is the friend, rather, in whom solitude as such becomes fulfilled’ (Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Grain of Wheat).
We have travelled more than two thousand years in our enquiry about friendship, from the Greeks to the present day. Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, St. Augustine, Aelred of Rivaulx, St. Thomas Aquinas, Montaigne, Bacon, Kant and Paul Ricoeur all relate friendship to virtue and to likeness. St. Augustine and Montaigne write about the awful loss they experienced in relation to the death of their friends. Like St. Augustine, Aelred and St. Thomas relate human friendship to the fellowship of the Trinity. La Rochefoucauld and Kant feel that pointing out the faults of a friend is a duty! La Rochefoucauld and Nietzsche sound a more psychological and contemporary chord than their predecessors, pre-empting as they do key Freudian insights and making a break with the Classical school of thought; they both maintain that a friend is always reflection of ourselves. The friend, then, as alter ego, as a prop for my narcissism, as my double or counterpart, friendship pertaining to the ‘imaginary’ order of mirroring relations, for Jacques Lacan, Freud’s French follower. Both Kant and Simone Weil, as shall see below in the case of the latter, emphasise the importance of distance and space in friendship; they place certain limitations on intimacy. Jacques Derrida, for his part, insists on the inequality, disproportion and asymmetry of friendship, in complete contrast to his classical predecessors in philosophy and to modern thinkers like Martin Buber who, like so many of the ancients, views friendship as a meeting of mutual minds, of an ‘I-thou’ reciprocal relationship of equals. But as Emerson reminds us: better to be a nettle in the side of your friend than his echo.
St. Thomas and Paul Ricoeur believe in ‘the virtue of friendship’. But both La Rochefoucauld and Nietzsche believe that most friendship is narcissistic in nature while Derrida holds to the opinion that friendship fails but that that shouldn’t stop us from being friends or at least trying to be friends with some. This is a postmodern paradox. Derrida argues that friendship, like forgiveness, is impossible. However, it is the impossible that drives us, that stirs and shakes up our desire, according to Derrida.
Like Aristotle, Ricoeur holds to the view that one can have only very few (good) friends. And nothing can be compared to ‘the happiness of shared friendship’, in Ricoeur’s words (see Ricoeur’s Critique and Conviction, 1998, pp. 1, 31, 92, and 157). Friendship, for both Aristotle and Ricoeur, serves as a transition between the aim of the good life (a solitary virtue pertaining to the private sphere) and justice (a social virtue pertaining to the political sphere). Friendship is more than an affection, more than an attachment to others; it is an ethics, a virtue, an excellence, a mutual relationship, a reciprocity, a commonality, an intimacy, for nearly all the philosophers we have here considered bar Derrida. For Ricoeur, friendship, which is difficult but not impossible, borders on justice but is itself not justice. Justice governs institutions; friendship governs interpersonal relations. Justice encompasses many citizens; friendship tolerates only a few partners. Friendship presupposes equality; it aims at the familiarity of a shared life. For Aristotle, the greatest good that a friend desires for his friend is that he stay just as he is. For Ricoeur, ‘friendship, therefore, works toward establishing the conditions for the realization of life, considered in its intrinsic goodness and its basic pleasure’ (Ricoeur, Oneself as Another, 1992, p. 186) even if ‘lack dwells at the heart of the most solid friendship’ (Ricoeur, ibid., p. 187). The friend summons me; so friendship opens up to solicitude for the Other in whom, in one’s hour of agony, one finds strength to go on in the flesh of feeling. We need friends. They are irreplaceable in our affections and attentions.
A friendship flourishes when one spends time with one’s friends but too much presence can cause anxiety. Friendship founders and flounders or simply fizzles out if friends don’t work on their friendship and take time to keep up with one another, or due to excessive emotional involvement and investment (the danger of ‘disordered’ desire, in other words, inordinate attachment), which can smother a friendship. The flame of friendship warms us but can be extinguished for lack of attention or by too much attention (hyper-reflection, that is to say, by excessively analysing everything). Friendship is a form of love – the highest – and love manifests itself, as St. Ignatius tells us, more by deeds than by words. However, St. Ignatius cautions us to consider our friends intentions before condemning their actions. Their actions may annoy or anger us but their intentions may be pure or honourable. Understanding our friends’ intentions releases us from resentments and rages as we try to see things from their perspective (empathic identification). Friendship is love, yes, but it is also mutual and meaningful communication and concordance as heart speaks to heart and deep calls unto deep. Friendship is more about poverty of spirit (humility) and detachment (benevolent disinterested interestedness) than possession and desire. One of the best gifts one can give a friend is freedom. And because friendship is a gift, gratitude becomes the only appropriate response. (‘God help my friends!’ as we pray for them). Friendship’s basis is trust, respect, good-will. Other attributes or qualities that are important include hospitality, humour, honesty, honour, patience, discretion, discernment, compassion, forgiveness, understanding and hope. These are essential in order to develop real intimacy with a friend. There are times in friendship when we laugh together but also when we cry, when we counsel and console but also when we have to criticise, advise or admonish; there are moments when we must stay silent (Ignatius: ‘speak little, listen much’) and times when we are called to speak and respond – to find those words that are full of grace and gentleness. Finally, we need to really listen to what our friends are communicating to us and not just through their speech but by their silences. This is to observe obedience (oboedire means to hear or listen). One lesson that may be learnt with real difficulty is this one: our friends do not exist simply to be our friends.
Our feeble attempts at friendship are fraught efforts and full of frisson indeed but Jesus, in the Christian tradition, is an example of someone who made the impossible of friendship possible. Christ called his followers ‘friends’ and asked that we surrender our lives for our friends, just as He did. ‘A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends’ (John 15: 13-14). Who are His friends? Those who do the will of His Father – in other words, those who try to bring the kingdom of Heaven closer to earth. This does not mean making a heaven of earth; it does, though, mean attempting to create a kingdom of justice for the poor, the disenfranchised, the widow, the orphan, the stranger, the enemy, the refugee – the Other.
Another related problematic: forgiveness. For Derrida and Ricoeur, to forgive someone means to forgive what is unforgivable. This gift of pardon demands divine grace. Jesus forgave his enemies even as He was hanging on the Cross but He did so through His Father because humanly He couldn’t. ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do’. The important word here is Father. He appealed to His Father to do the impossible, to what He couldn’t do in His humanity.
In the darkness and grief of Gethsemane, Jesus called Judas ‘friend’ even as he was being betrayed by a kiss and by permitting the kiss, He forgave him though Judas couldn’t forgive himself. ‘Jesus said to him “my friend, do what you are here for”’ (Matthew 26: 50). Such love. For Thomas, all friendship worthy of that sublime name must be ultimately anchored in crucified love, in the fellowship of the Divine Persons of the Trinity. Nothing more than that, but nothing less either. Friendship, so, as rooted in caritas. And it is this essential dimension that St. Thomas makes central, indeed, crucial to his understanding of friendship, one that is omitted in the exclusively philosophical views on the subject.
For Aquinas, friendship is more than natural benevolence; it involves sharing a life, a koinonia, what he calls a communicatio. True friendship is more than a sharing of mere pleasures or commercial interests; it is a sharing of the virtues and the virtues are an absolutely necessary, though not sufficient condition, for human happiness, according to Aquinas. Aquinas treats caritas on the analogy of philia, of amicitia. For Thomas, the Church is the sacrament of this community-in-charity. Friendship is being-with-others in love. The document of the Decalogue is an outline of what it is to live in friendship; the Ten Commandments provide us with the frame of friendship.
To be very precise, friendship, for Thomas, is the result of a virtue, the virtue of caritas. True friendship must be grounded in caritas. And friends are to be loved for themselves. Charity includes friendship; charity is friendship with God. In short, for Thomas, the love of friends must be rooted in the love of God.
Even the polis rests on philia. And we are called to create a just polis (city-state) and become just ourselves; politics being founded on ethics. For the theist, friendship is possible only when our energies are gathered around the Divine Logos. God’s love is profound, pervasive, passionate, permanent, personal and providential. It is also joyful. Theists would urge that we come into contact with this source of absolute love and order our lives accordingly so that all things flow from it. This realm of love Jesus calls friendship (John 15:15). Friendship is a gift; it is self-disclosure. Christ gives us not what he has, but what He is; He gives us Himself. And we are called to do likewise. He is the Friend, par excellence. ‘I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father’ (John 15: 15). This is like the friendship God established with Moses and the prophets. ‘Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend’ (Exodus 33: 11). Through covenant, conversation, communication, i.e., prayer, we come to know God’s self-revelation: ‘His conversation is sweetness itself, he is altogether lovable. Such is my beloved, such is my friend’ (Song of Songs 5: 16). It is in Christ, who loves ‘to the end’, that this communication, on which our friendship with God is founded, reaches complete fulfilment. The basis of our friendship with Him is His revelation of the Father’s love for us and this forms the basis of our fellowship/friendship in the Spirit (John 16: 13-15). The Three Persons of the Divine Trinity initiate a friendship with each one of us, the least and the greatest, while calling for conversion and change of heart and mind.
Victor Hugo observed: ‘The supreme happiness in life comes from the conviction of being loved’. ‘I have told you these things that you might share my joy and that your happiness may be complete’ (John 15: 9-11). ‘While he [Jesus] was saying this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Happy the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” But he said, “Happier still are those who hear the word of God and obey it!”’ (Luke 11: 27-28). It is the Holy Spirit that makes us friends of God, to whom eternal beatitude is promised, and true friendship creates one heart from two. Thus the friend is one who reveals and shares his secrets with his friend. We find such joy in the words and gestures and very being of our friends and in moments of great sadness we find our consolation there too. Aristotle had said it well: ‘Friendship is what is most necessary to live’ (book viii of the Ethics). For the Christian, fully-formed friendship is possible only when it is rooted in Crucified Love. This is friendship’s secret supernatural source, one that I am advancing and advocating in this final section of this book. If friendship is natural, its ultimate, secret source is supernatural.
This position is also articulated by Simone Weil, the religious philosopher. She opines that friendship is a supernatural harmony, ‘a union of opposites’ in her chapter on friendship in Waiting for God (Weil, 1951, p. 202). But we have to not need them. If a friend becomes necessary to us, we cannot desire his good unless we cease to desire our own. ‘Where there is necessity there is constraint and domination’ (Weil, ibid). Attachment must not be made up of need. If we become attached to another through the bonds of affection and if that contains any degree of necessity, it is impossible to preserve the Other’s autonomy. We can only do so, according to Weil, through the miraculous intervention of the supernatural. And this miracle is called friendship.
Friendship is impure if there is any trace in it of the desire to dominate or the desire to please. These two desires must be absent. However, the central thing, for Weil, is that distance must be kept in friendship. Friends consent to be two and not one. They ‘respect the distance which the fact of being two distinct creatures places between them. Man has the right to desire direct union with God alone. Friendship is a miracle by which a person consents to view from a certain distance, and without coming any nearer, the very being who is necessary to him as food’ (Weil, ibid., p. 205). The affection of friendship is not unlike a complete indifference, one that is impersonal. ‘There is not friendship where distance is not kept and respected’ (Weil, ibid., p. 207). When Christ told us to love one another, according to Weil, it was not attachment He was laying down as a rule. We need to detach. Thus, pure friendship is rare. Pure friendship ‘has in it something of a sacrament’ (Weil, ibid., p. 208). Pure friendship is an image of ‘the perfect friendship that belongs to the Trinity and is the very essence of God’ (Weil, ibid.). In friendship, as in love, the only requirement or promise we must make, according to the poet Rilke, is to stand guard over the solitude of the Other, to protect that person’s privacy.
Finally, let me say this: we may desire friendship but we don’t deserve it, though some of us would sell our souls for it. In her work Gravity and Grace, Simone Weil advises thus:
‘Learn to thrust friendship aside, or rather the dream of friendship. To desire friendship is a great fault. Friendship should be a gratuitous joy like those afforded by art or life. We must refuse it so that we may be worthy to receive it…. Every dream of friendship deserves to be shattered…. Friendship is not to be sought, not to be dreamed, not to be desired; it is to be exercised (it is a virtue)’ (Weil, 1952, p. 59).
For true friendship pertains to the order of grace.
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