Can our life be defined through our friends? So asks AC Grayling at Marlborough Literature Festival

28 Sep
AC Grayling at Marlborough Literature Festival

AC Grayling at Marlborough Literature Festival

“Having friends is a sign of a life worthwhile,” said celebrity philosopher Anthony Grayling, whose latest deep musings are on friendship.

Anthony took us through a journey – the scenic way – from the obligatory Ancient Greeks past Saint Augustine, via sixteenth century French philosopher Montaigne and finishing somewhere around Facebook.

As you’d expect, those Ancient Greeks took friendship very seriously, often sharing homes and joining bodies. “A friend is another self,” said philosopher Aristotle. They felt a duty both of loyalty and to keep their chums on the right track or, as Oscar Wilde said much more recently: “A friend is someone who stabs you from the front.”

Fifth century theologian Saint Augustine had a much harder time with friendship when converting to Christianity. Christian doctrine said everyone must be loved equally, but ‘friendship privileges one over another.’ Not sure what his problem was – nothing wrong with more love, only less – surely? Perhaps he was worried about one love being in competition with the other.

But did today’s modern method of communication change the nature of friendship? “I don’t think so,” was Anthony’s slightly non-committal answer. “It’s just a faster, cheaper way of getting and staying in touch.”

I felt quite envious of Anthony’s university students – he combined down to earth language with complex ideas which made them easier to grasp in yesterday’s hour long talk at Marlborough Literature Festival. (Not that my own philosophy lecturers weren’t as good. The problems arose when I read the set texts…)

And the sign of a good talk? I left thinking of my own friendships – how I once lived with my best friend when I needed a place to live. She – in a roundabout way – expressed reservations, worried that I’d fall out with her husband. But it was great; full of mutual respect and we both, I think, were sad when I moved out.

And email, Facebook, etc has been invaluable in staying in contact and renewing friendships that just wouldn’t (and didn’t happen) through landlines and post.

My best friends are people I can share anything with, people I would die for and know those sentiments are reciprocal. And we’re not afraid to be honest, either.

And perhaps in these days of female equality, instead of having friends and spouses separate, we expect our romantic longterm partners to also be our best friends. But perhaps there is something special about same sex friendships, buddies, a bromance or sistahood (?). Maybe those Greeks were right and homosexual relationships have the best of both worlds.

Either way, I agree: life without friends would be very bleak and empty indeed.

Written by Louisa Davison.

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