Philosophical insights unfathomed

Frank Litton

These days we worry about how the social media is affecting our relationships. Is the diligent Facebook user dodging the task of sustaining friendships for a less demanding and rewarding electronic substitute?

If Facebook does little for friendship, its ubiquity bears witness to the importance of the idea of friendship. Friendship is important. We are the sum of our attachments and friendship is a particularly significant form of attachment. The relationships that we form as we navigate the worlds of home, work, civic engagements, religion, can, each in their own way, be deeply satisfying.


Yet the rewards they deliver are quite different from those that we find in friendship. Friendship is voluntary, while in the other worlds we take on the obligations of the roles assigned to us. Friendship belongs to leisure, the other worlds occupy us with their tasks.

Why are friendships so good for us? What are their distinctive benefits?  How do they help us make our way in these other worlds? All the great philosophers have sought to answer these questions.

A.C. Grayling is a British philosopher best known for his valuable service in making the deliberations of philosophers accessible to the general reader. In this book he presents the classical view (from Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas). He discusses how the idea of friendship developed in the Renaissance and changed with the Enlightenment.

The work has the merit of brevity. The ideas of the philosophers are clearly presented. He is more than a mouth piece for the philosophers, he converses with them.

However, I found what he had to say of little interest. Friendship is most interesting as we reflect on how it contributes and conflicts with the other worlds we inhabit.


Grayling dissolves the conflicts and pays little attention to the contributions. For instance, the Christian reader anxious to bring the worlds of friendship and religion together finds much of interest in Augustine and Aquinas.

Grayling dismisses this as the irrelevant intrusion of unfounded belief. Indeed, he is thoroughly modern in his disdain for that yearning for perfection that informs both classical and Christian accounts of friendship. I cannot believe that readers of this paper at least will find much of interest in these pages.

It would seem that public celebrity as a philosopher does not always provide views of great depth these days.