Friendship & Affectionship

PHOTO CREDIT: Shane Francescut, The Weekly Minute (

Anyone who has read C. S. Lewis’ The Four Loves  is aware that there are four terms in ancient Greek corresponding to four related but different meanings of the English word ‘love’: storge, philia, eros, and agape: Affection, Friendship, Eros, and Charity, respectively. Lewis does not provide an English word for Eros; indeed, in modern times English-speakers customarily—and reductively—regard ‘love’ to mean what we call being or falling ‘in love’—and that, precisely, is what Eros means. Even though it does properly decline from Eros, it would be misleading to call this love ‘erotic’, simply because the meaning of this term has come very far down in the world, being little more than a synonym for the sexuality of lust (and speaking of which, Lewis introduces another term to designate this: Venus). We may be inclined to say that Eros means the same as what we call ‘romantic’ love. Still, the phrase ‘being’ or ‘falling’ In Love catches the gist well enough. Charity, of course, means love in the Christian sense; it includes the Greek meaning of selfless and sacrificial love, but goes much further, into theology, ecclesiology, and other sacred places.

All this being said, what I have to say concerns Affection and Friendship. Storge, again, means Affection. This is a love we hold in common with all animals. One might call this love ‘familial’, except that one finds Affection quite frequently outside of families. A man’s love for his dog, a mother’s love for her children, the love one feels and shows in admiration or in pity—these are all, and only a few, examples of Affection.

Philia, again, means Friendship; however, it would do grave injustice to the original meaning of this term if one did not make a few necessary qualifications. For indeed it would appear that Affection is quite frequently mistaken for Friendship, in a way that would not have been possible in a language like ancient Greek; storge  and philia  would not have been confused for one another. When just a moment ago I gave examples of Affection you might have thought, “Or the kind of love that exists between friends,” and you would have been right, at least in part. Friends often feel and express Affection to and for one another. But Friendship—in the sense of philia—means something more and quite different from our contemporary usage of the word in colloquial English.

I think the best place to begin in explaining this comes from a very useful picture Lewis uses to distinguish friends from lovers (as in Eros). Lovers stand face to face—or, if you will, toe to toe—looking at each other. Friends, on the other hand, stand shoulder to shoulder, looking at an object of common interest. As Lewis puts it, the question in Friendship is not Do you love me?  but Do you see the same truth?  Friends, that is to say, are not interested in each other as persons the way such appreciation for persons exists in Affection and Eros. The bond in Friendship rests on the fact of a shared passion for something that is outside of and other than any of the persons involved. Two probably became Friends because they discovered that they both had the same interest in—or, if lucky enough, the same unique perspective on—philosophy, physics, or politics; golf, gardening, or goldfish; chess, cathedrals, or cutlery. The relationship is ‘about’ something. Utterly rational, it involves neither petty nor searing emotions, and exists in a realm where terms like ‘insecurity’ and ‘self-esteem’ have no meaning; for in this place all of one’s attention is focused outward.

Friendship, by this ancient definition, seems today to be a relatively rare phenomenon. Many of the people one calls friends are really more of a ‘chosen family’; they have all the characteristics of siblings who share a mutual fondness. We can perhaps call this ‘companionship’, and here is where one frequently finds Affection mistaken for Friendship. The rub, as I see it, is that Affection is relatively personal and often unconditional, which makes me think that what many call a Friendship would more properly be called an Affective Companionship. But surely one has many ‘companions’—such as the people one works with, or knows only by acquaintance—with whom there are only hints of Affection. I therefore propose to dub as Affectionship  that kind of Affection which is so often misdesignated as Friendship.

Affectionship is characterized by what I referred to earlier as chosen family. People often share Affectionship with people they went to school with; or played with on the same team for many years; or perhaps ‘learned to love’ under some disagreeable circumstance. What is probably most common is that two or more have a mutual interest in each other as persons (yet not to the extent of Eros), but have little, if any, objects of common interest (as in Friendship).

Most of what I’ve said in the foregoing should not be attributed to C. S. Lewis (nor ‘blamed on’, as the case may be). Most of this is simply me extrapolating from Lewis’ definitions. On a personal note, it may be worth mentioning that consideration of these definitions has significantly reconstituted my own interpersonal history. Most of all there was the reevaluation of many so-called Friendships. I found that very many of the people I’d considered Friends, in this sense, never really were: in people with whom I thought I’d had Friendship, it was in actual fact Affectionship. And then there are a few shining examples of those who are, and always were, Friends in the sense of philia, and these have been some of the most un-‘affected’ companionships I’ve ever had, blessedly free from unsettling emotion and completely absorbed in the Subject or Object under admiration or scrutiny. Still, once one realizes who one’s true Friends are, an affect for them does increase, but to a proportionate amount. One begins to see in them a value qua persons which really ought to have been there all along. Furthermore, many of the people who I thought of in the past as ‘my friends’ have been quite comfortably knocked off their silly pedestals; it is not that I love them less, it is that I see the relationships for what they really are. These latter especially are those who, whatever the reasons, one simply has a ‘taste’ for as one has a taste for a work of art: you either like them, or you don’t—and there’s no accounting for it.

Now by no means am I suggesting that there is no great value in Affectionship. I simply think that Friendship is unusual—one might even say, sacred—and that the two shouldn’t be conflated. I don’t wish to denigrate Affectionship: I am simply trying to preserve Friendship—in its pure and originary meaning. For just as people often say that Love (by which they mean Eros) “is a word too casually thrown around nowadays,” so also is Friendship a word too casually thrown around nowadays. Nor do I place an unwarranted value on Friendship: I only place the value upon it which it should already have had all along, but which our colloquial modern English has, however inadvertently, debased.

Friendship, after all—in its original, ancient meaning—is founded upon that specific difference which separates humanity from the rest of the animals and in fact the entire cosmos. We are ‘rational  animals’. Reason is the high point in the story of the world, and it is in the rational dialogue of Friendship that we find this most definitive value and uniqueness which is human. Any kitten can purr and cuddle, and any tomcat can knock up all the tabbies on the block; and so it is with all other species, including our own. But the human person finds in himself consciousness, and intellect, and freedom. It is no accident that old codgers like Aristotle and Cicero called Friendship the highest of the virtues, for by the acquisition of virtues we fulfill the command of the natural law: Realize your essential nature—Know Thyself. As beings of reason  and speech—beings, that is to say (since we’re already tossing Greek words around), of logos—we can only attain our highest self-knowledge in rational dialogue, and in tandem, with other beings-of-logos. Thus, one might say, we cannot acquire our full inheritance qua human beings—indeed our spiritual heritage—without Friendship.

So what, in the end, becomes of just ‘being friends’ with people? What are we to tell one with whom we share what I’ve been calling Affectionship? “Sorry, I realized recently that we’re technically not friends after all. You see, I read this essay, and…”—cruel and unlikely. I don’t intend on doing any more damage to our language than has already been done. I think we should (and we will, regardless of what I say) still speak of ‘our friends’ and ‘being friends,’ etc. But we should acknowledge the distinction which this reminder of the old meaning has introduced. Just as there are many—at least four—different senses of ‘love’, there can be as many senses of ‘friend’ as are necessary. Nonetheless, in fairness to all involved, it is crucial that we distinguish sharply between ‘philia’ and ‘friendship’ in contemporary English usage.

If I may resort to a sort of inverted strategy of what Lewis did by leaving Eros untranslated: Most people likely do not think of friendship as it has been discussed here, so why not simply call it Philia? For when we’ve found it—Friendship by that ancient and noble meaning—we’ll certainly want to get the nuance right. We might even make a compromise with the old and the new and call this a difference between ‘storge  friendship’ and ‘philia  friendship’, storge-friends and philia-friends. Of course, no one is actually going to do this, nor am I seriously proposing that we should (not that I’d have the least objection to anyone that wanted to). But we certainly owe it to Philia and to our own ‘Friends, Of the Old Kind’, to keep the distinction in mind, for our sake as well as theirs.

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