FRIENDSHIP, FOR ALL its delights, is often seen as a poor relation of passionate love. It has long had what one might call its ‘romantic’ and ‘ethical’ critics. The romantic critic (like Proust) finds it a thin-blooded alternative to more robust forms of love and desire, or a condition into which those passions degenerate when exhausted, or a distraction from really creative devotions. The ethical critic, such as Kierkegaard, berates friendship for friends to be unconditional and universal – the two touchstones (supposedly) of the highest love, commonly denoted in the Christian tradition toby the Greek word agape. For, according to this account, friendship, unlike agape, is both selective – we can’t even aspire to be friends with everyone – and deeply conditioned by the qualities of the other person. This is why we can imagine loving a murderer as a human being, but not counting from among our close friends.
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