At our last book group meeting we discussed Shakespeare's Two Noble Kinsman. The major theme of the play is two cousins fall in love with the same girl which creates enmity between them. It is the old theme of romantic love versus friendship love. One wonders how romantic love or eros could separate the best of friends.
C.S. Lewis wrote about four different types of love in his book, The Four Loves. I recommend it if you have not read it before. In his book, Lewis discusses affection, friendship, eros, and charity. He calls affection need-love. It is the type of love parents have for their children and children have for their parents.
Lewis's chapter on friendship is one of the best chapters on the book. When one reads it one is reminded of the friendship of the members of the Inklings, a group that consisted of Lewis, Tolkien, and others. Lewis thinks that most people are more interested in eros than in friendship. He thinks that many modern people would not even think of friendship as love. This is not true of the people of the classical world. Lewis states, "To the Ancients, Friendship seems the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue" (57). He thinks the modern world ignores it.
Lewis describes how friendship happens: "Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, 'What? You too? I thought I was the only one.' (65) In addition, Lewis one can be friends with two or three people at most. This seems to refer to a deep intimacy.
Lewis compares how eros and friendship are different.: "Lovers seek for privacy. Friends find this solitude about them. . . whether they want it or not." Friendship love asks, "do you seek the same truth?" or "Do you care about the same truth?"
Many people want friends. They want to find ways to get friends. Lewis seems to think this is the wrong way. He thinks that the "very condition of having Friends is that we want something else besides friends" (66). He thinks friendship needs to be about something other than our friendship.
Lewis thinks that friendship may turn into eros and eros can turn into friendship. The "co-existence" of eros and friendship shows friendship is as important a love as eros.
Reading Two Noble Kinsman I wondered why the two cousins could so easily throw away their friendship between eros. We recognize that eros is a very powerful emotion. Eros seems the only kind of love Hollywood is interested in. Lewis and other classical authors thought friendship was a very important love. It was important if we were going to live the Good Life.
Another author I thought about who had something to say about friendship was Aristotle. He wrote eloquently on the subject in his ethics. Aristotle thought there were three types of friendship. He thought that in each of these there were "mutual affection." First, there is friendship based on "utility." It is based on what the person can do for me. Second, there is the friendship "based on pleasure." This concerns people's changing interest. This is similar to what Lewis said about common interests. The third type of friendship is based on virtue or goodness. Aristotle writes, "Only the friendship of those who are good, and similar in their goodness, is perfect. For these people each alike wish good for the other qua good, and they are good in themselves. And it is those who desire the good of their friends for their friends' sake that are most truly friends, because each other loves the other for what he is, and not for any incidental quality." This almost seem like charity love: willing the good for someone else and acting on it. Aristotle thought friendship was more than a feeling. It was also a state of being and an activity. He also thinks we were made for friends or companionship. We were not meant to be isolated individuals separated from community.