Friendship is a topic that has been discussed for many centuries, with major theories about it dating back to the likes of Aristotle. An interesting scholar addressing the question of friendship and its true nature was the French philosopher Michel de Montagne (1533–1592). In one of his key works, The Essays (Essais), de Montagne lays out his concept of the idea of friendship in ‘Of Friendship’ (Book 27).
Where Aristotle distinguished between three types of friendship, namely friendships of utility, friendships of pleasure, and friendships of the good, de Montaigne focuses on only one of these types: the third type, friendships of the good or virtue. In contrast to Aristotle, de Montaigne defines friendship in negative terms of what it is not rather than in positive terms of what it is.
Ordinary vs. true friendship
First of all, de Montaigne differentiates between ordinary and true friendship. Ordinary friendships or mere acquaintanceships are those relationships we form in daily life to oil the wheels of social discourse and to negotiate everyday life and navigate its various social challenges.
According to de Montaigne, these friendships are friendships of convention or utility and we enter into them to make society function. We have many such superficial acquaintances or professional relationships with work colleagues, but we do not truly connect with them on a deeper, spiritual level and therefore do not derive any spiritual fulfillment from them. While Aristotle considered a friend as another self, friendship is defined by de Montaigne as a spiritual experience where one soul finds itself in two bodies and reconnects to such an extent that even death becomes irrelevant. In fact, de Montaigne considered only true friendship of the type he described as an end in itself, while all other types of friendship were merely means to a particular end.
A true friend, according to de Montaigne, fulfilled multiple roles for the other person. La Boétie, for example, seemed to function at one time or another as de Montaigne’s ‘father, brother, friend and beloved’. While de Montaigne clearly contrasted true friendship with family, sexual and…