Positive social relationships are known to benefit people’s health and improve their life quality. The Harvard Study of Adult Development, a seventy-five-year longitudinal research of two American male populations, has reached an unequivocal conclusion that good relationships keep people healthier and happier. The number of friends, in this regard, as Robert Waldinger, the study’s current director, explains, does not matter. What, however, matters is the quality of a man’s relationships. In particular, friendship is associated with helping the nervous system relax, maintaining brain health, and mitigating both emotional and physical pain (Christian Century 9). But what is friendship? THESIS STATEMENT: Having researched a variety of sources on friendship, I can say that friendship is significant relationships between people that are based on trust, free will, intimacy, empathy, and mutual support, and exist between people that share similar virtues.
Psychologists view friendships as important relationships that exist throughout lifespan and can be found in all cultures. These are the dyadic relationships characterized by the reciprocated affective bond. Friendships are also viewed as egalitarian and voluntary relationships. Also, psychologists note that “almost all friendships entail shared activities or companionships” (Furman, Wyndol, & Shomaker, “Friendships”).
Sociologists view friendships as the root of the community. Sociologists believe that friendship can be defined as “a relationship between persons well known to each other which involves liking and affection, and may also involve mutual obligations such as loyalty” (“Friendship”). Sociologists study friendships with the focus on reciprocity and social networks. They think that friendship is a significant factor in personal wellbeing, but also observe that women have more close friends than men do and regard these relationships as more central in their lives. In sociology, friendship is also viewed as an important part of socialization process, when infants modify their behavior to conform to the requirements of the social life (“Friendship”).
Anthropologists have compared friendship with kinship. They observe that in non-Western societies friendships were less important because kinship played the key role, yet in Western societies, where kinship ceased to play the central part in social life organization, friendships were more important as sets of social relations. Social anthropologists emphasized the point that friendships provide meaningful exchanges of emotional and practical support in social networks. This idea was expressed in line with the ideas of functionalism. Next, social anthropologists stressed the voluntary nature of friendship and the equality of the people involved. If to take English middle-class society, friendship has been associated with personal disclosure in contrast to impersonated working sphere. If to take females of Andalusia, for them friendship has been associated with sharing secrets without the fear of being gossiped about. Now, if to take the Arawete in Amazonia, for them friendships between married couples are important because they emphasize economic cooperation as well as sexual mutuality (Rezende, “Friendship”).
Philosophers view friendship as an important topic of research and discussion. Moral philosophers, for instance, devoted a lot of attention to friendships as significant social relationships motivated by mutual love. All main traditional philosophical theories (Platonist, Epicurean, Aristotelian, and Stoic) spoke about the unique value of friendships for human beings. Aristotle, who lived between 384 and 322 B.C., saw friendship as personal relationships based on finding pleasure in each others’ company. He related mutual assistance and utility to friendship. In addition, Aristotle said that friendship is based on appreciation of each others’ good qualities of character. In his turn, Epicurus, who lived between 341 and 270 B.C. and founded the hedonist theory, explained that friendship is an immortal and divine good. Stoics believed that only virtuous people can be anybody’s friends. Christian philosophers adopted the understanding of friendship predominantly from Cicero’s view, which was a softened version of what Stoics said about friendship. For example, Cicero, who lived between 106 and 43 B.C., conceptualized friendship as personal relationship grounded on intimacy and openness, strong emotional bonds and appreciation of each other’s virtues. He brought this understanding to the Latin Middle Ages. Such philosophers of the period as Thomas Aquinas and Aelred of Riveaulx in the 13th and 12th centuries respectively, saw friendship as a unity of souls and a big step towards people’s ultimate union with God. Christian charity was seen as a part of friendship. Kant, who lived between 1724 and 1804, discussed friendship in the context of ethics. He saw friendship as both an ideal state and as a duty.
In literature, authors have viewed friendship as an ideal state of relationships between humans. For example, the Hebrew Bible narrates the story of David and Jonathan, in the two books of Samuel. That friendship is described as an example of brotherly intimacy and exclusive generosity (Silver 121). Similar examples of ideal friendship can be found in the stories of Gilgamesh and Enkidu in the ancient saga Gilgamesh as well as Patroclus and Achilles in the Iliad and Roland and Olivier in the medieval Song of Roland. Montaigne, in his turn, wrote about perfect friendship, based on excellence in virtue. For him, friendship is “a fusion of wills” and is based on honor (Silver 128).
Various people view friendship in various ways. Definitions of friendship differ also from one philosophical school to another, from one scholarly discipline to another. However, having researched a variety of sources on friendship, I can say that friendship is significant relationships between people that are based on trust, free will, intimacy, empathy, and mutual support, and exist between people that share similar virtues.
- Cooper, John M. “Friendship.” Encyclopedia of Ethics, edited by Lawrence C. Becker, and Charlotte B. Becker, Routledge, 2nd edition, 2001. Credo Reference. https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/routethics/friendship/0?institutionId=5865. Accessed 02 Oct 2017.
- “Friendship.” Collins Dictionary of Sociology, edited by David Jary, and Julia Jary, Collins, 4th edition, 2006. Credo Reference, https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/collinssoc/friendship/0?institutionId=5865. Accessed 02 Oct 2017.
- Furman, Wyndol and Laren Shomaker. “Friendships.” The Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology and Behavioral Science, edited by W. Edward Craighead, and Charles B. Nemeroff, Wiley, 4th edition, 2010. Credo Reference, https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/wileycorsini/friendships/0?institutionId=5865. Accessed 02 Oct 2017.
- Rezende, Claudia. “Friendship.” Encyclopedia of Social and Cultural Anthropology, edited by Alan Barnard, and Jonathan Spencer, Routledge, 2nd edition, 2009. Credo Reference, https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/routencsca/friendship/0?institutionId=5865. Accessed 02 Oct 2017.
- Silver, Allan. “Historical Moments of Friendship Ideals: David & Jonathan, Montaigne, Adam Smith.” Value Inquiry Book Series, vol. 297, Aug. 2017, pp. 119-142.