“Happiness is not found in self-contemplation; it is perceived only when it is reflected from another.” – Samuel Johnson, Idler #41.
A meaningful life must have a nexus of purpose which is of sufficient magnitude and duration, and yet attainable within a limited lifespan. It must also be fundamentally virtuous, innocuous or beneficial to outsiders, and recognizable by its owner. I contend that friendship meets all of these criteria and thus offers a tangible and transcendental meaning to life that only the most extreme, friendless, skeptic can deny. A philosopher with a true friend is unlikely to declare that life is completely absurd. Perhaps this is why after all his musings on the absurdity of the human condition, Albert Camus concludes that “I only know of one duty and that is to love.”
In the introductory essay I reworked the dictionary definition of friendship into one apropos to the philosopher’s use: a voluntary, unconditional love lacking passion, physical desire, and selfishness and based on a deep altruistic connection with another person. The origin of friendship is neither forced like family relationships nor entirely a free choice like raising my arm – rather it is an ambiguous mix of good fortune, emergence, and self-selection. That being said, I suspect Socrates might disagree and argue the term is itself indefinable and its appearance inexplicable.
Nearly all of our great thinkers state friendship occurs among equals of a sort, typically as measured in virtue but also wisdom and strength (consider the metaphor of Gilgamesh and Enkidu). Friends need not be overly alike in other ways. Nonetheless friendships require a depth that makes them nearly singular, though Emerson waivers on this. Aristotle focuses on enduring reciprocal good will, and interactive assistance in growth of wisdom and virtue for perfect friendship or teleia philia. In fact several of our thinkers see true friendship as the veritable ground of virtue. We are told that friendship is primarily based on communication, that is to say, talking – multidimensional conversations that reveal the other and deepen the relationship. Still Emerson points out that such interactions need not and perhaps must not be too frequent.
In short, the purpose of friendship is twofold: practical – aid and pleasure of being together- and transcendental -the growth of the self and the second self, the metaphysical confirmation of the other in reality, and the universe in the finite. Friendship is perpetual, priceless, and unbreakable; a manifestation of the absolute. It is also an important means to self-perfection and happiness.
Next time we begin a discussion on the place of acquaintance in the purpose filled life.