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Title: Friendship
Original Title: Amitié
Volume and Page: Vol. 1 (1751), pp. 361–362
Authors : Denis Diderot, Claude Yvon
Translator: Jeffrey Merrick [University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee,]
Subject terms:
Original Version (ARTFL): Link

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Citation (MLA): Diderot, Denis, and Claude Yvon. "Friendship." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Jeffrey Merrick. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2003. Web. [fill in today's date in the form 18 Apr. 2009 and remove square brackets]. <>. Trans. of "Amitié," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 1. Paris, 1751.
Citation (Chicago): Diderot, Denis, and Claude Yvon. "Friendship." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Jeffrey Merrick. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2003. (accessed [fill in today's date in the form April 18, 2009 and remove square brackets]). Originally published as "Amitié," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 1:361–362 (Paris, 1751).
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Friendship is nothing other than the practice of maintaining a decent and pleasant commerce with someone . Is friendship no more than that? Friendship , it will be said, is not limited to those terms; it goes beyond those narrow boundaries. But those who make this observation do not consider that two people do not, without being friends, maintain a connection that has nothing incorrect about it and that gives them reciprocal pleasure. The commerce that we may have with men involves either the mind or the heart. The pure commerce of the mind is called acquaintance ; the commerce in which the heart takes an interest because of the pleasure it derives from it is friendship . I see no idea more accurate and more suitable for explaining all that friendship is in itself and likewise all its properties.

It is in this distinguished from charity, which is a disposition to do good to all: friendship is only due to those with whom one currently has commerce. The human species, taken in general, is too vast for it to be in a position to have commerce with each of us or for each of us to have such with it. Friendship assumes charity, at least natural charity, but it adds a custom of personal connection that makes a pleasure of mutual commerce between two people.

It is the insufficiency of our being that gives birth to friendship , and it is the insufficiency of friendship itself that destroys it. If one is alone, he feels his misery. He feels that he needs support. He seeks someone to share his tastes, a companion for his pleasures and pains. He wants a man whose heart and thoughts he could occupy. So friendship seems to be the sweetest thing there is in the world? If one has what he wished for, his feelings change?

When one sees something good from afar, it at first fixes his desires. When he reaches it, he senses its nothingness. Our souls, whose sight it arrested at a distance, could no longer rest there when they see beyond. Thus friendship , which at a distance limited our expectations, stops limiting them up close. It does not fill the void that it promised to fill. It leaves us with needs that distract us and carry us toward other good things. Then one is careless, he becomes difficult, he soon requires as a duty those kindnesses that he at first received as a gift. It is the nature of men to appropriate to themselves everything up to and including the favors that one does for them. Long possession naturally accustoms one to regard as his the things that he owes to others. Habit persuades one that he has a natural authority over the will of friends. He would like to make it into a right for himself to control them. When these claims are reciprocal, as often happens, vanity is aroused, cries out on both sides, and produces harshness, coolness, bitter explanations, and rupture.

Sometimes they also find faults in each other that they concealed from each other, or they fall into passions that cause aversion to friendship , as violent illnesses cause aversion to the sweetest pleasures. Furthermore, intense men, capable of giving the strongest proofs of devotion, are not the most capable of steadfast friendship . It is found no where so lively and so stable as in timid and serious spirits whose moderate soul is acquainted with virtue. The gentle and peaceful feeling of friendship relieves their hearts, relaxes and broadens their minds, makes them more confident and lively, enhances their play, work, and mysterious pleasures. It is the soul of their lives as a whole.

Young people, new to everything, are very sensitive to friendship , but the vivacity of their passions distracts them and makes them flighty. Sensitivity and confidence are worn out in old people, but need brings them together, and reason is their bond. The former love more fondly, the latter more soundly.

The duties of friendship extend farther than one thinks. One owes in friendship in proportion to its degree and character, which means as many different degrees and characters of duties. An important reflection for refuting the unjust opinion of those who complain of having been abandoned, badly served, or not much valued by their friends. A friend with whom one has had no commitments other than mere literary amusements finds it strange that one does not extend his credit for him. The friendship was not of a character that required this step. A friend whom one has cultivated for the sweetness and pleasure of his conversation requires of you a service that involves your fortune. The friendship was not of a degree to warrant such a sacrifice.

A friend who is a good adviser and has in fact given you useful advice takes offense because you did not consult him about a particular situation. He is wrong. This situation required a degree of confidentiality that is shared only with friends in the family and among relatives. They should be the only ones informed of certain particulars that it is not always appropriate to make known to other friends, even the most intimate ones. The proper measure of what friends should demand varies according to a multitude of circumstances and the diversity of degrees and characters of friendship . In general, to handle carefully that which should contribute to the mutual satisfaction of friends and the pleasantness of their commerce, it is necessary for one, in his needs, always to expect or demand less rather than more of his friend and for the other, according to his capacity, always to give his friend more rather than less.

Through the reflections that we have expounded, an important maxim on the subject of friendship will be clarified, namely, that friendship should find or establish equality between friends: [in Latin] friendship either finds or creates equals . So a monarch cannot have friends? To have any, he must seek them among other monarchs or give to his other friends a character that is on an equal footing with sovereign power? Here is the genuine sense of the conventional maxim.

It is that, in regard to the matters that friendship shapes, there must be between the two friends a freedom in feeling and language great enough that neither one of the two is superior nor the other inferior. Equality must be found on one side and the other in the pleasantness of commerce in friendship . This pleasantness consists in offering to each other their thoughts, tastes, doubts, problems, but always within the sphere of the character of friendship that is established.

Friendship does not imply more equality than blood relation. The relation between relatives of very different ranks does not allow for a certain familiarity. The reply of a ruler to a lord who showed him the equestrian statue of a hero, their common ancestor, is known: The one who is below [the horse] is yours; the one who is above [the rider] is mine . It is that the air of familiarity is not suitable to the respect due to the rank of the ruler, and these are considerations that, in friendship, as in kinship, must not be overlooked. (X)

*The ancients divinized friendship , but it does not appear that she had temples and altars of stone like other divinities, and I am not too annoyed about it. Although time has not preserved any of her images for us, Lilio Geraldi claims, in his work on the gods of paganism, that she was sculpted in the form of a girl with nothing on her head, dressed in a coarse outfit, with her breast uncovered as far the spot of the heart, where she put her hand, clasping a bare elm on the other side. This last idea seems sublime to me.

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