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friendshipA.C. Grayling "traces the meaning of friendship … and the changing values and purposes we have attached to it," reports Micah Mattix in The Wall Street Journal (1/4/14). In his book, Friendship, A.C. finds that "despite differing ideas about its nature, friendship until recently was considered one of the rarest, most demanding but also most rewarding kinds of human relationships. Indeed, for much of European history, the ideal of human companionship would have been a true friend rather than a romantic partner."

As far as Plato was concerned, our friends were those useful to us, although as A.C. points out this "meant much more than helping someone move. It was assumed that friends had most things in common and were willing to suffer on each other’s behalf. Friends, furthermore, encouraged each other to become wise." Aristotle, meanwhile, took a broader view, and identified "three kinds of friendships: those founded on mutual utility, those founded on pleasure and those founded on virtue." Virtuous friends, he wrote "resemble each other in excellence."

Like Aristotle, Cicero believed that a friend was "a second self." Plutarch thought it "uncommon, even undesirable, for a person to have more than one or two friends," and that those with more were "immature." Nietzsche saw "a friend as one who strengthens an individual by struggling against him." Oscar Wilde said, "A friend is someone who stabs you in the front." Friendships, A.C., concludes, "are a large part of what gives meaning to our lives, just as our lives give meaning to them: without them we are less, and in danger of being too close to nothing."