A philosophical inquiry into friendship with a historical perspective.
The foreword to the first in the publisher’s Vices and Virtues series describes the unifying principle as a “commitment to examine moral issues from a historical perspective, with attention to how the cultural understanding of each category has shifted over time.” A prolific academic, philosopher and humanist—as well as founder and master of the New College of the Humanities, London—Grayling (The God Argument: The Case against Religion and for Humanism, 2013, etc.) brings more than enough intellectual breadth and depth to give this discussion a thorough airing. He takes issue with Aristotle (or at least the common understanding of Aristotle’s views on friendship), showing how the religious embrace of universal love contrasts with the exclusivity of friendship, explaining why women hardly figured into the discussion of friendship until recently. He also explores how, historically, the distinction has blurred between close male friendship and homosexual desire (even pederasty). For all its provocative insight, the book might prove both dense and dry for a general readership—for those who think the value of friendship requires little explanation or academic justification. As Grayling makes plain, there is often an unbridgeable gap between the ideal (be it religious or philosophical) and the real: “The idea that one’s love for others should be universal and should not single out any one person more than another would not merely be unacceptable but unlivable, exactly like the Gospel teaching that says if we really wish to follow Christ we must give away all our money and possessions.” As an old English proverb puts it, “A friend to all is a friend to none.”
Some fresh ways of looking at and thinking about a very familiar topic.