The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis – Friendship (Philia)

Lewis begins this chapter by stating that Friendship is the least biological, the least necessary, the least instinctive of loves. Humans can and often did survive without friendship. They could rely on their herd or tribe to provide them with all of their needs. Friendship, in this view, is a luxury of sorts. It is not guaranteed nor is it necessary to live a happy life. Therefore, when this love is practiced and embraced in the proper manner, it is said to be sublime in nature. It is a Gift love and one that represents a spiritual maturity. “This alone, of all the loves, seemed to raise you to the level of gods or angels.”

Lewis goes on to note the differences between Friendship and romantic love. “Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; Friends briefly ever about their Friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; Friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest.” Lewis expands on this and notes that Lovers care only for each other; their number is limited to 2 whereas with friends we often bring out the best in each other and thus desire for there to be more of us, to a certain point.

He then goes on to explain that the very core of Friendship comes from a similar grouping. Cooperation is the matrix of Friendship. With our family, we cooperate towards a goal. We work together for the collective good of the family. With Friendship, we cooperate towards a goal as well but with people that share a certain mutual interest or desire or have had a certain mutual insight. Thus, Friendship is more specialized in nature than Cooperation with our family/clan/tribe/etc. “Friendship arises out of mere Companionship [Cooperation] 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.” Friendship is built on selection. It is exclusive. Thus, in Friendship, friends often stand alone against the world.

He goes on to argue that Friendship and Alliance and Affection are not normally intertwined. Friends will defend us and help us and care for us when we need it, but these are abnormal circumstances. Friends are friends because of our shared goal/passion. They are not our friends because we deserve their help or compassion. If that were the case, Friendship and Affection would be one and the same. “A friend will, to be sure, prove himself to be also an ally when alliance becomes necessary; will lend or give when we are in need, nurse us in sickness, stand up for us among our enemies, do what he can for our widows and orphans. But such good offices are not the stuff of Friendship. The occasions for them are almost interruptions.”

*Let it be noted that this does not necessarily have to be the case. If friends are aiming towards a goal together, would it not be in the best interest of the friend to make sure that the other is able to pursue the completion of said goal? In that sense, Friendship does entail caring for the other, even if it does take away from completing the goal.*

On that same topic of completing goals and sharing passions, Lewis argues that Friendship does not care about the minute details and inner workings of one’s life. Instead, they come to know each other by how they go about exploring their mutual passion. We learn about our friends in trying times and in spurts.

Another interesting trait of Friendship is that it should make us feel humbled. When we are among true friends, we should feel a sense of pride. We should be happy to be among such great people who we often consider better than us in various ways. “Especially when the whole group is together, each bringing out all that is best, wisest, or funniest in all the others.”

Lewis argues that men and women can, of course, be friends but they should not force themselves to be. Men and women have different interests, different views, etc. Unless they share a legitimate concern, goal, or passion, they should just resign themselves to spending time with their own sex. Otherwise, the “outsider,” the minority of the group, will bring down the group since they will be spending more time explaining than doing. The problem is that many social groups refuse to admit this well-known fact and instead try to force a square peg into a round hole. “Things are explained to her: people try to sublimate her irrelevant and blundering observations into some kind of sense. But the efforts soon fail, and, for manners’ sake, what might have been a real discussion is deliberately diluted and peters out in gossip, anecdotes, and jokes. Her presence has thus destroyed the very thing she was brought to share. She can never really enter the circle because the circle ceases to be itself when she enters it – as the horizon ceases to be the horizon when you get there.”

Next, Lewis covers the potential dangers of Friendship. The first is a threat from the outside. Some people will not understand or will not be tolerant of Friendship. Some spouses will try to prevent their significant others from spending time with friends. Yet this is harmful because in many cases, the woman will emasculate the man by trying to control him. He will rebel and the relationship between the two will begin to crumble. But even before the relationship crumbles, there is a chance that the man will merely resign himself to doing whatever it is she says and thus she will become tired of him. Jealousy, like with Affection, can ruin Friendship. That is one such threat. Another such threat comes from hatred and exclusion. Just as there are Friendships and groups devoted to positive goals, there are others devoted to negative goals. “Friendship can be a school of virtue; but also a school of vice. What concerns us is not to expatiate on the badness of bad Friendships but to become aware of the possible danger in good ones.”

Lewis notes that the other dangers in Friendship come from pride and indifference. Often times we pride our group of friends as being superior in some way or another to everyone else. We take ourselves too seriously. This ties into the indifference and exclusion. When our pride increases, we cease listening to the voices of outsiders, no matter how credible or truthful they may be. We exclude outside criticism and help because we care too much about what the group will say. Similarly, we will exclude others from joining us so that we can continue to feel special and superior. Even though Friendship has an element of exclusion inherent to it, we must fight it. We must not allow it to become the guiding force in the Friendship. Exclusion of others cannot and should not be the goal, the aim, the passion of one’s Friendship. Danger lurks wherever pride, indifference, and exclusion are dominant within a group of Friendship. “The danger is that this partial indifference or deafness to outside opinion, justified and necessary though it is, may lead to a wholesale indifference or deafness. … The group will disdain as well as ignore those outside it. It will, in effect, have turned itself into something very like a class. … Thus the transition from individual humility to corporate pride is very easy.” Furthermore, we must become conscious of our group’s own pride, indifference, and exclusion. We must safeguard against it, even though it will be the most difficult to detect.

Finally, Lewis closes by stating that our Friendships are not predestined. They are not predetermined. They are a result of chance. “…we think we have chosen our peers. In reality, a few years’ difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another, posting to different regiments, the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting – any of these chances might have kept us apart.”

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