5.3.6 Friendship and Equality

Saturday, 22. August 2009


“By means of the considerations that we have elaborated”, says Diderot in his article on Friendship, “we have thrown the light on a very important principle regarding friendship, to assume that friendship should find or establish equality between two people [in Latin: amicitia aut pares invenit, aut facit : friendship either finds or creates equals]. Therefore, is it possible for a Monarch to have friends? To have any, he must seek them among other Monarchs, or he must give to his un-king-like friends a character that is on an equal footing with sovereign power. This is the major significance of the principle. 

In proportion to the issues that create friendship there must be between the two friends a freedom in feeling and language large enough to make sure that neither one is superior nor the other inferior. Equality must be found on both sides in the indulgence of the amicable contact. This indulgence consists in offering to each other their thoughts, preferences, doubts and difficulties, but always within the area of the character of friendship that has been brought into being.”


It is in this atmosphere that Diderot finishes his article, equality between friends is his cherished conviction. Now you might wonder if did Diderot had such friends himself?

He had indeed… as a matter of fact, he had some very good friends. And did he practise his beliefs on Friendship with them?

Let us deepen these questions as we continue…

6 Responses to “5.3.6 Friendship and Equality”

  1. AnnG Says:

    Hmmm…. I think it is sometimes possible to have a friendship that is not so equal – for example, between a teacher and a pupil.

    However, the nature of the relationship may change when the pupil perhaps gains in knowledge and experience, and the power dynamic is changed – especially if the pupil outperforms the teacher?

  2. Cora Says:

    No problems to be friends with my…yoga teacher nor with someone who runs a carpenter workshop. It gets a bit more tricky when I’m thinking of my GP…and my dentist…my friend the dentist, who knows all about my teeth and my thoughts… well, that should really not be a problem.

    But… when one of my pupils should aim for a more amicable contact, I would be on my guard, always aware of the consequences of what I’m saying.
    Therefore the friendship would not be between equals. Perhaps we need a new name for such contacts, not a friendship, but a ‘teacher/pupil’ something…

  3. Jolanda Says:

    “but always within the area of the character of friendship that has been brought into being”

    It may be constructive to view friendship in terms of the nature of friendship at any particular time and with any particular thing. It should be possible to experience social relationships like master/apprentice, dentist or doctor and patient and at other times experience the character of friendship when you are not in your dentist’s chair. Because in another setting you may be a friend to your dentist, a friend that he or she is in dire need of. When we look at it from this standpoint words like inferiority and superiority seem to have less relevance to the actual situation or friendship at hand.

    Technically we might agree that animals are inferior to people. But what about the friendships that humans have with animals and vice versa (to the extent that animals understand this in their given capacity). Even in this instance taking a “character of friendship” perspective that Diderot proposes may be a more constructive way to observe friendships, however difficult or easy they may sometimes be.

    Monarchs, presidents and other human beings will have a need for friends and whether they are “equal” or not seems to be more of a technicality.

  4. Cora Says:

    Nice point of view, Jolanda, you refuse to spot any danger in friendship between people who are having some kind of ‘business- relationship’.

    Interesting too how you approach the human-animal connection.

    Is a dog or a parrot capable of feeling love? or is it a matter of instinct, of knowing the hand that feeds…

  5. Jolanda Says:

    Rereading the quote above I like the thought about friendship shifting, not staying in one location. And yes, I believe that during a period of shifting in the friendship that the issue of equality becomes important because this has impact on the amount of indulgence we can engage in with our friends. There is also danger when the character of the friendship changes because as we know many social animals – humans included – do not like change. Thus acceptance of change is crucial to the amount of indulgence (see above) we can expect in friendship.

    On the point of animals feeling love, though it seems we are wandering away from the focus, I wonder if friends have to actually “love” each other. Maybe defining these feelings could give more clarity. Is it possible for friends to like each other a lot without loving each other? We can surely speak about “degrees of (love, like)” in this instance.

    Social animals also seek and need hands that feed and are dependent on them to a greater extent than they may like to believe. Intelligence and communication may happen in many more ways than we are conscious of or like to think that we have a hold on.

    “In proportion to the issues that create friendship there must be between the two friends a freedom in feeling and language large enough to make sure that neither one is superior nor the other inferior.”

    In this quote I do acknowledge the balance that is necessary for friendship and in some strange way I still think this can apply to friendships (relationships?) with animals. This feeling is surprising to me even not being an animal lover (here comes love again)!

  6. Cora Says:

    Human beings do not like changes…
    In a relationship the balance gets disturbed when one of the two is changing. The underlying discomfort arises out of fear: will the other person still like me, love me, need me as before? A new balance has to be found.

    When this happens with people who are related to each other in a family bond, there’s a big chance that these changes will be accepted. Maybe not at once, but surely in the end. This acceptance is far more uncertain when two friends are involved. So, when someone is changing, it is possible that some friendships may end.

    And is this the difference between friends who like each other, and who don’t really mind to let each other go – and those friends who love each other, thus accepting that making chances are part of our lives…

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