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`If I have to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country' so said E M Forster. What is it about friendship that places loyalty to friends above patriotism? That is the subject of inquiry in A C Grayling's latest book. He traces the contemplations about friendship from the time of Socrates, through the medieval period, the Renaissance, and the modern era. Plato laid the groundwork and, building from his teacher, Socrates, held that mutual utility is the foundation of friendship. Aristotle agreed with Plato regarding many of the attributes of a good friend. However, he differed crucially with Plato that friendship is founded on mutual utility. Aristotle believed that friendship is a value to be desired in itself, and that it is a necessary constituent of the good life.
Grayling examines the different kinds of friendship. He considered the friendship between men, and that between women; he considered the friendship between the old and the young; and friendships with and without a sexual content. In all of these, he gathers the ostensible features that one might associate with a good friendship. He explores the circumstances that enable friendship to bloom. Quoting Plutarch, he writes, `The soul suitable for many friendships must be impressionable, and versatile, pliant, and changeable. But friendship requires a steady, constant and unchangeable character, a person that is uniform in his intimacy.'
Throughout the length of his inquiry, Grayling finds a case for the quality that makes one a friend. It is the very specialness of friendship that implies that a friend is special. However, to be special means that we must be set the `special' apart from others - 'A friend to all is a friend to none'. This raises a serious question - can we truly have friends if we are to love one another equally?