The Nature of Friendship

This Review of the Week explores the intricacies of friendship

On friendship

Nehamas, Alexander. Basic Books, 2016
293p index, 9780465082926 $26.99, 9780465098613 $17.99

A prominent philosopher, Nehamas (Princeton) offers a marvelously insightful, deeply learned, and eminently readable volume on the nature of friendship. Nehamas’s previous writings on art and aesthetics, virtue and authenticity, and how to live the good life—respectively, Only a Promise of Happiness (CH, Sep’07, 45-0075), Virtues of Authenticity (1999), and The Art of Living (CH, Mar’99, 36-3854)—not to mention other books on Socrates, Plato, Nietzsche, et al., have prepared him well to examine the complexities of what being a friend means. One of his arguments—among many throughout the book, all richly informed with examples from his knowledge of literature, art, philosophy, and psychology, and with his reflections on his own life—is that people are attracted to those they consider friends (especially close friends) not because of what they can do for one or any other selfish motive but simply because they are who they are. Which is to say, there are no essential characteristics of friends such that one could devise a list of qualities that would describe every friendship. Friends are friends because, by being friends with one another and no one else in their particular way, they create their own shared world of meaning. And morality (sometimes) be damned! This book is sure to become a classic.

Summing Up: Essential. All Readership Levels
Reviewer: R. R. Cornelius, Vassar College
Subject: Humanities – Philosophy
Choice Issue: Jan 2017