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aching the notion of friendship, our first problem is, as Graham Allan (1996: 85) has commented, that there is a lack of firmly agreed and socially acknowledged criteria for what makes a person a friend. In one setting we may describe someone as a friend, in another the label may seem less appropriate. We may have a very thin understanding of what friendship entails. For example, Bellah et. al. (1996: 115), drawing upon Aristotle, suggest that the traditional idea of friendship has three components: 'Friends must enjoy each other's company, they must be useful to one another, and they must share a common commitment to the good'. In contemporary western societies, it is suggested, we tend to define friendship in terms of the first component, and find the notion of utility a difficult to place within friendship.
What we least understand is the third component, shared commitment to the good, which seems to us quite extraneous to the idea of friendship. In a culture dominated by expressive and utilitarian individualism, it is easy for us to understand the components of pleasure and usefulness, but we have difficulty seeing the point of considering friendship in terms of common moral commitments. (op. cit.)
Many contemporary writers in the west tend to present friendship as private, voluntary, and happening between autonomous individuals. According to this view 'friendship becomes a special relationship between two equal individuals involved in a uniquely constituted dyad' (Bell and Coleman 1999: 8). This contrasts in key respects with the classical view, and, as we will see, derives from a particular view of selfhood. Furthermore, as Graham Allan (1989) has argued, relationships that are often presented as voluntary, informal and personal, still operate within the constraints of class, gender, age, ethnicity and geography - and this places a considerable question against the idea that friendship is a matter of choice.
Two classical views of friendship...