Life and soul of the party


As something of an introvert, polite company comes best for me in modest doses. Not that I can’t be the life and soul of the party. Just that there’s a finite amount of it I can do. Once my reserves are exhausted, I switch off and get very tired.

Amusing to be interrupted in animated conversation with a friend babysitting for us last night – as we headed off to a worthy house party. The missus pointed out I only have so much sociability, so perhaps best not waste it all before we’ve even got out the door.

Still I could be worse. I read today that the famously cerebral Immanuel Kant’s biographer noted:

The brilliant recluse preferred to walk alone for a very particular reason: ‘he wished to breathe exclusively through his nostrils; which he could not do if he were obliged continually to open his mouth in conversation’.

Kant argue with that.

The Art of Friendship

I listened to a Philosophy Bites podcast this week on the topic of ‘friendship’. It made me think afresh about the balance of ‘duties to all’ versus special treatment for a ‘selected few’ – i.e. our friends.

Alexander Nehamas’ argument is, post Immanuel Kant, many of us have come to believe that privileging our friends over others is less ‘moral’ than treating everyone the same – even strangers and people we’ll never meet. This is Kant’s Categorical Imperative, act in ways you would ‘will’ to be universal laws.

But friends are different than everyone else in our lives. For Aristotle – although he might not recognise the modern version – friends are the purpose of life and our virtue revolves around them.

Nehemas’ suggestion is we should think of friends on different plane than ethics. We should think of them more as we think of art and artists. We are interested in our friends for their ‘specialness’, what is individual and distinctive about them, not for their commonalities. We are friends to co-create distinctive, memorable, pages in our life stories.

And this is why drifting apart from friends hurts them so much. Not only do we reject them as people, we turn over – even tear out – the pages of life we created with them; in favour of new friends and new pages.

This is a very different take on friends – friends as narrative growth, not past history. Is what makes us different and how we are growing what matters most in friendship; more even than what we have in common or did together in the past?

Friends as bringers of difference, individuality and new embroidery in life’s rich tapestry, is a very different way of thinking of them. ‘Individuation’, creativity and art are very different registers from ethics, equivalence and fairness. Friends as ‘works of art’ we have a hand in creating, is a nice way of looking at each other.