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What is friendship? How many types of friendship can we recognize, and in what degree shall we seek each of them? Many of the greatest philosophers in both ancient and modern times have addressed those questions and neighboring ones.
Ancient Philosophers on Friendship
Friendship played a central role in ancient ethics and political philosophy. The following are quotes on the topic from some of the most notable thinkers from ancient Greece and Italy.
Aristotle aka Aristotelēs Nīkomakhou kai Phaistidos Stageiritēs (384-322 B.C.):
In books eight and nine of the "Nicomachean Ethics," Aristotle divided friendship into three types:
- Friends for pleasure: Social bonds that are established to enjoy one's spare time, such as friends for sports or hobbies, friends for dining, or for parties.
- Friends for benefit: All bonds for which cultivation is primarily motivated by work-related reasons or by civic duties, such as being friends with your colleagues and neighbors.
- True friends: True friendship and true friends are what Aristotle explains are mirrors to each other and"a single soul dwelling in two bodies."
"In poverty and other misfortunes of life, true friends are a sure refuge. The young they keep out of mischief; to the old, they are a comfort and aid in their weakness, and those in the prime of life, they incite to noble deeds."
St. Augustine aka Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.): "I want my friend to miss me as long as I miss him."
Cicero aka Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 B.C.): "A friend is, as it were, a second self."
Epicurus (341-270 B.C.): “It is not so much our friends' help that helps us as it is, as the confidence of their help.”
Euripides (c.484-c.406 B.C.): "Friends show their love in times of trouble, not in happiness." and "Life has no blessing like a prudent friend."
Lucretius aka Titus Lucretius Carus (c.94-c.55 B.C.): We are each of us angels with only one wing, and we can only fly by embracing one another."
Plautus aka Titus Maccius Plautus (c.254-c.184 B.C.): "Nothing but heaven itself is better than a friend who is really a friend."
Plutarch aka Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus (c.45-c.120 A.D.): "I don't need a friend who changes when I change and who nods when I nod; my shadow does that much better."
Pythagoras aka Pythagoras of Samos (c.570-c.490 B.C.): "Friends are as companions on a journey, who ought to aid each other to persevere in the road to a happier life."
Seneca aka Seneca the Younger or Lucius Annaeus Seneca (c.4 B.C.-65 A.D.: "Friendship always benefits; love sometimes injures."
Zeno aka Zeno of Elea (c.490-c.430 BC): "A friend is another self."
Modern and Contemporary Philosophy on Friendship
In modern and contemporary philosophy, friendship loses the central role it had played once upon a time. Largely, we may speculate this to be related to the emergence of new forms of social aggregations. Nonetheless, it is easy to find some good quotes.
Francis Bacon (1561-1626):
"Without friends the world is but a wilderness."
"There is no man that imparteth his joys to his friend, but he joyeth the more; and no man that imparteth his griefs to his friend, but he grieveth the less."
William James (1842-1910): "Human beings are born into this little span of life of which the best thing is its friendship and intimacies, and soon their places will know them no more, and yet they leave their friendships and intimacies with no cultivation, to grow as they will by the roadside, expecting them to 'keep' by force of inertia."
Jean de La Fontaine (1621-1695): "Friendship is the shadow of the evening, which strengthens with the setting sun of life."
Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963): "Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival."
George Santayana (1863-1952): "Friendship is almost always the union of a part of one mind with the part of another; people are friends in spots."
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862): "The language of friendship is not words, but meanings."