On Friendship

On Friendship

What about the University of Redlands do you love the most? The inspiring professors? The challenging studies? The sporting events? The parties? The California sunshine?


While I am sure that every reader of The Redlands Bulldog takes delight in each of these things, I would nonetheless anticipate a unanimous, alternative answer.

You love your friends.


You love your friends so much that you dare not even put it into words. No emoji, no number of Instagram likes, no Snapchat selfie does justice to the beauty of your friendships.


Have you ever wondered why friendship seems so important? Have you ever noticed that when you seem to have everything – a comfortable place to live, enjoyable work, beautiful scenery, lively entertainment – but if you have no friends, it feels like you have nothing at all?


In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis writes: “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art … It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”


If friendship holds such a high place in our lives, then why do we discuss it so little? We devote so many moments to spending time with, talking about, or thinking of our friends. We know the number of our Facebook friends and contemplate who we would consider our closest circle of friends. But how often do we ask, what is friendship? Or, who is a good friend?


In The Nicomachean Ethics, an old and beautiful book that teaches the way for us to become happy, Aristotle distinguishes between three types of friendship.


The first, friendship of utility, involves mutual gain, such as an economic exchange. This is the lowest kind of friendship, because with the subtraction of the trade, it disappears.


The second kind of friendship that Aristotle identifies is the friendship of pleasure. It can be easy for us to believe that the friends we share the most laughs with, or play games with, or party the hardest with, are our best friends. But when the music’s over, who is still by your side?


As Allan Bloom writes in a collection of essays entitled Giants and Dwarfs, friendships of utility and pleasure are “tainted friendships.” Even though they make up the majority of what we call our friendships, they are not enduring, and always leave us longing for more.


This points us toward the highest and best kind of friendship. “The complete sort of friendship,” according to Aristotle, “is that between people who are good and are alike in virtue, since they wish for good things for one another in the same way insofar as they are good.”


Just as we all understand that most of the friends in our lives will come and go, we know that our true friends will be with us forever. Not because they love what we do for them, but because they love us for who we are. They love us so much that they work to make us better.


This, the formation of good character, is what the project of our lives is all about.


Trevor Shunk professes at the University of Redlands and is a regular columnist for the Redlands Bulldog.