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Edited by Carla Risseeuw and Marlein van Raalte

The concept of friendship is more easily valued than it is described: this volume brings together reflections on its meaning and practice in a variety of social and cultural settings in history and in the present time, focusing on Asia and the Western, Euro-American world.
The extension of the group in which friendship is recognized, and degrees of intimacy (whether or not involving an erotic dimension) and genuine appreciation may vary widely. Friendship may simply include kinship bonds—solidarity being one of its more general characteristics. In various contexts of travelling, migration, and a dearth of offspring, friendship may take over roles of kinship, also in terms of care.

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Ping Wang

From a historical perspective, this article attempts to explore the importance of friendship in traditional Chinese culture and its implications. It starts with the etymological study of the term ‘friend,’ and the value attached to it, followed by an examination of the concept of friendship in a broader socio-historical context—in particular the Confucian role ethics and the Chinese literati tradition; finally it briefly reflects on the impact of this concept on Chinese society today.

In traditional Chinese ethics, an individual is never defined by him-/herself, but by his/her various roles in relation to others around him/her. An etymological investigation explains why the relationship between friends was included in the ‘five cardinal human relationships.’ These roles and relations not only constitute one’s initial conditions, but also operate within the grand matrix of heaven-earth-human. Examples of friendship and its various types in classical philosophical and literary texts are analyzed to illustrate the significance of friendship as part of the narratives and moral particularities of Chinese people as well as its long-lasting impact.

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Natascha Gruver

This article addresses the increasing importance within Western welfare states, to adequately deal with the growing need to facilitate alternative relations of home-care and support for its citizens, as well as finding lower cost models. Currently government care budgets seem to demand ever increasing funding, especially in relation to the elderly. In this context the author argues for the option of expanding care-leave facilities, to include not only close family members, but to register also close friends living in the vicinity, who can be granted care-leave to support the citizen concerned.

This issue is rapidly gaining importance as the traditionally relatively small nuclear families tend to have few children, while employment requirements often involve substantially larger distances than former generations experienced. Since in the West intergenerational care is seldom included in such schemes, elderly people still largely rely on costly ‘Senior Homes’ for their old age security.

Series:

Edited by Carla Risseeuw and Marlein van Raalte

Series:

Ranjini Obeyesekere

This article discusses three stories from the Jātaka Collection, a compendium of Buddhist folk stories—some of which date back to the third century bce. The collection as it exists today was complied, scholars believe, between the first and fifth centuries ce. Since that time it has been translated back and forth into many languages and has become part of the popular culture of the Asian Buddhist world.

The three stories the author has selected are from a fourteenth-century ce Sinhala text and focus around the theme of ‘friendship.’ They deal with three different forms of friendship as experienced in medieval Indian and Sri Lankan societies.

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Carla Risseeuw and Marlein van Raalte

This introduction reflects on the different meanings of ‘friendship’ in diverse social and cultural settings as well as historical periods. It provides a sketch of the research on the topic in various fields of scholarship, and presents an overview of the several articles included in this volume. The review attached illustrates the scale on which friendship applies in different contexts, and summarizes some of the most common characteristics and values associated with the concept.

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Tazuko van Berkel

The invention and spread of coin money in the Greek world, in the sixth century bce, had far-reaching consequences for the Greek conceptualization of friendship (philia). From the Dark Ages onwards, long-term interpersonal bonds are predominantly conceived in terms of the reciprocal exchange of favors and benefits—exchanges that create lasting ties of gratitude and obligation.

However, the increasing monetization of the Greek economy and Greek thought at large, produces a new notion of mutuality that rapidly becomes more and more prevalent in popular thought: the commercial transaction, i.e., the simultaneous exchange of equivalent goods that does not necessarily yield a lasting relationship between the participants. Reciprocal exchanges become potentially ambivalent, allowing for multiple, sometimes conflicting interpretations of the same exchanges.

The demarcation problems caused by this ambiguity provoke new cultural constructions of reciprocity in friendship as distinct from, opposed to, compatible with or reducible to monetary transaction.

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Adam Sutcliffe

In this article I explore and discuss the arguments of Foucault, Bray and others, arguing that the western European debate on friendship in the Enlightenment was more complex and contested than they suggest.

I pay particular attention to eighteenth-century French radical thinkers such as Helvétius and the Marquis d’Argens who, influenced by materialist philosophy, sought to deflate idealized views of selfless friendship and to show that all human relationships were ultimately driven by calculated self-interest. On closer examination, however, their views on friendship were less consistent, and less coldly rational, than some critics have assumed. The complex political connotations of friendship became particularly significant in the revolutionary era at the end of the century, when it became both the sentimental underpinning for solidarity among equals—‘fraternity’—and widely invoked as the guiding spirit of attempts to forge solidarity across cultural differences, by becoming ‘friends’ of Jews or non-European slaves. Despite the widespread aspiration in the eighteenth century to place private intimacies under public and analytical scrutiny, the nature of friendship continued to resist neat codification or definition.

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Allan Silver

Modern theory and culture distinguish between utility, interest, instrumentality, and calculative relations on the one hand, and those of friendship, centered on sincere intimacy and trustful self-disclosure, on the other. However, personal gain and intense friendship were highly compatible in many historical settings. The disinterested ‘pure gift’ is a heroic, exceptional ideal before it becomes a secular ideal of personal friendship in modern bureaucratic and market societies. Drawing on historical examples from the Hebrew bible, the European Renaissance, the onset of civil society in the eighteenth century, and material on modern friendship ideals, this article seeks to recapture conceptually the historical compatibility of gain and interest with friendship and its contrast with modern criteria of moral worth in friendship.