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The Meaning of Friendship

The concept of friendship has been discussed for thousands of years. Below are some links to academic articles and sources which attempt to bring together and summarise the definitions of friendship. If you have any links to contribute, please email We will be expanding this section in the near future to better cater to your research needs!

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

    "Friendship, as understood here, is a distinctively personal relationship that is grounded in a concern on the part of each friend for the welfare of the other, for the other's sake, and that involves some degree of intimacy. As such, friendship is undoubtedly central to our lives, in part because the special concern we have for our friends must have a place within a broader set of concerns, including moral concerns, and in part because our friends can help shape who we are as persons. Given this centrality, important questions arise concerning the justification of friendship and, in this context, whether it is permissible to “trade up” when someone new comes along, as well as concerning the possibility of reconciling the demands of friendship with the demands of morality in cases in which the two seem to conflict." [read entire article]

    Helm, Bennett (2005) Friendship, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

the encyclopaedia of informal education

    "When approaching the notion of friendship, our first problem is, as Graham Allan (1996: 85) has commented, that there is a lack of firmly agreed and socially acknowledged criteria for what makes a person a friend. In one setting we may describe someone as a friend, in another the label may seem less appropriate. We may have a very thin understanding of what friendship entails. For example, Bellah et. al. (1996: 115), drawing upon Aristotle, suggest that the traditional idea of friendship has three components: 'Friends must enjoy each other's company, they must be useful to one another, and they must share a common commitment to the good'. In contemporary western societies, it is suggested, we tend to define friendship in terms of the first component, and find the notion of utility a difficult to place within friendship."  [read entire article]

    Doyle, M. E. and Smith, M. K. (2002) Friendship: Theory and Experience, the encyclopaedia of informal education

Wikipedia Online Encylopedia

    "Friendship is a type of interpersonal relationship that is found among humans and among animals with rich intelligence, such as the higher mammals and some birds. Cross-species friendships are common between humans and domestic animals. Less common but still of note are friendships between a non-human animal and another animal of a different species, such as a dog and cat. Individuals in a friendship relationship will generally welcome each other's company and often exhibit mutually helping behavior. Friendship is generally considered to be a closer personal relationship than an acquaintanceship, although there a range of 'degrees of intimacy' in both friends and acquaintances. For most people, there is an overlap between friends and acquaintances." [read entire article]

    Friendship, Wikipedia Online Encylopedia


    "6. Now friendship may be thus defined: a complete accord on all subjects human and divine, joined with mutual goodwill and affection. And with the exception of wisdom, I am inclined to think nothing better than this has been given to man by the immortal gods. There are people who give the palm to riches or to good health, or to power and office, many even to sensual pleasures. This last is the ideal of brute beasts; and of the others we may say that they are frail and uncertain, and depend less on our own prudence than on the caprice of fortune. Then there are those who find the "chief good" in virtue. Well, that is a noble doctrine. But the very virtue they talk of is the parent and preserver of friendship, and without it friendship cannot possibly exist."  [read entire article]

    Cicero, M.T. On Friendship (De Amicitia), Translated by E. S. Shuckburgh,


    "[Aristotles] taxonomy begins with the premise that there are three main reasons why one person might like someone else. (The verb, “philein,” which is cognate to the noun “philia,” can sometimes be translated “like” or even “love”—though in other cases philia involves very little in the way of feeling.) One might like someone because he is good, or because he is useful, or because he is pleasant. And so there are three bases for friendships, depending on which of these qualities binds friends together. When two individuals recognize that the other person is someone of good character, and they spend time with each other, engaged in activities that exercise their virtues, then they form one kind of friendship. If they are equally virtuous, their friendship is perfect. If, however, there is a large gap in their moral development (as between a parent and a small child, or between a husband and a wife), then although their relationship may be based on the other person's good character, it will be imperfect precisely because of their inequality.." [read entire article]

    Kraut, Richard Aristotle's Ethics, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2005 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),


    "Friendship may be said to require natures so rare and costly, each so well tempered and so happily adapted, and withal so circumstanced, (for even in that particular, a poet says, love demands that the parties be altogether paired,) that its satisfaction can very seldom be assured. It cannot subsist in its perfection, say some of those who are learned in this warm lore of the heart, betwixt more than two. I am not quite so strict in my terms, perhaps because I have never known so high a fellowship as others. I please my imagination more with a circle of godlike men and women variously related to each other, and between whom subsists a lofty intelligence. But I find this law of one to one peremptory for conversation, which is the practice and consummation of friendship. Do not mix waters too much. The best mix as ill as good and bad. You shall have very useful and cheering discourse at several times with two several men, but let all three of you come together, and you shall not have one new and hearty word. Two may talk and one may hear, but three cannot take part in a conversation of the most sincere and searching sort." [read entire article]

    Emerson, Ralph Waldo, ESSAY VI Friendship, Ralph Waldo Emerson Texts,

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