Studies in Philosophy and Education

, Volume 30, Issue 3, pp 229–240 | Cite as

Civic Friendship



This paper seeks to examine the plausibility of the concept of ‘Civic Friendship’ as a philosophical model for a conceptualisation of ‘belonging’. Such a concept, would hold enormous interest for educators in enabling the identification of particular virtues, attitudes and values that would need to be taught and nurtured to enable the civic relationship to be passed on from generation to generation. I consider both of the standard arguments for civic friendship: that it can be understood within the Aristotelian typology as either a form of utility friendship or as a form of virtue friendship. I argue that civic friendship may not be the most appropriate model and that attempts to resolve the problems through looking on it as a political metaphor leave it unable to fulfil the function for which it was originally designed in Ancient Greece. Finally, I emphasize the need to carefully consider which particular metaphors we choose for civic relationships and how we subsequently use them.


Civic friendship Citizenship Civic bonds Political metaphor 


The age-old question of what holds a society or community together is as pertinent today as previously. Most countries, with the opening of previously closed borders and with wider social mobility, have seen a rapidly changing and diverse populace created. This move towards a more globalized economy, plus the transitory nature of some immigration patterns, has encouraged public policy makers to consider how such societies can hold together and function as one with the coexistence of potentially conflicting ideas and commitments. Yet how this desire for unity should be realised has been open to much debate: through integration into the common life, assimilation or by identifying a core of common shared values.

What is new in this on-going debate, however, is that recent literature highlights the role of education in achieving or undermining the cohesive society (Cheshire 2007; Rogers and Muir 2007; Stevens 2001). If particular values, attitudes or virtues can be identified as being necessary to enable the civic relationship to exist and thrive, then the question of how these can be taught, developed and passed on from generation to generation is one of extreme interest and importance to educators.

This paper seeks to examine the plausibility of the concept of ‘Civic Friendship’ as such a philosophical model for this conceptualisation of ‘belonging’. The tying together of personal and civic relationships has a long line in political philosophy based on the belief that the insights engendered from personal relationships can give us fresh insights into those in the civic domain. Two major recent books have shown renewed interest in this essentially Aristotelian concept (Brunkhorst 2005; Schwarzenbach 2009). Whilst their motivation may differ—Brunkhorst traces the mainly historical development of the concept of solidarity whilst Schwarzenbach writes from a feminist political philosophy viewpoint—both draw the origins of their arguments from the concept of civic friendship as a particular model for understanding the ideal bond between free and equal citizens. Yet can the social matrix of friendship offer such a framework for understanding citizenship?

In what follows, I highlight the use of a particular model used to underpin the discourse of social solidarity. I then evaluate both of the standard arguments for civic friendship: that it can be understood within the Aristotelian typology as either a form of utility friendship or as a form of virtue friendship. I consider the context within which the concept arose in Ancient Greece and query how this may, in turn, be interpreted within the modern context. Finally I argue that civic friendship may not be the most appropriate model for the civic relationship in a modern liberal democracy.

The Metaphor of Civic Friendship

Political concepts influence our lives and are constantly being re-examined and redefined by politicians or theorists in the course of everyday life. The use of particular metaphors helps create and frame discourse in shifting political ideas. Undoubtedly the study of political life has always depended on the use of metaphors (Mio 1997; Willson-Quayle 1991) yet the question as to which metaphors are used can change over time in response to socio-historical contexts as drawn out by Brunkhorst (2005).

This understanding of metaphor as a focus for academic study has acquired new significance over the past two decades based on a growing interest in the work within Cognitive Linguistics. Built around the work of George Lakoff (2002), metaphor (when perceived as a fundamental mechanism of the mind that allows us to use what we know about one area to affect our understanding of others in contrast to a literal understanding of the world around us) draws our attention to the importance of the models we adopt and of how they, in turn, may affect policy decisions (Beer and De Landtsheer 2004; Taylor 2004).

Interestingly, evidence from anthropology on natural symbols in cultures, lends credence to the view that most cultures and societies use the language of kinship and/or kinship-like relationships (such as friendship) as models for civic relationships (Bell and Coleman 1999; Todd 1985). Within the discourse of political theory, metaphors (including that of civic friendship), play a particular role in framing accounts of social solidarity, particularly in Honohan’s account (Honohan 2008; Miller 1979). Whilst there may be those who argue for a more concrete understanding of how we define and use metaphor, the use of metaphor adopted within this paper derives from a consideration of this growing body of literature.

Based as it is on the exemplar in the Nicomachean Ethics, civic friendship can be argued to have a certain ambiguity inherent to the concept itself (Hansot 2000). Central to the usefulness of this model is that civic friendship must have some features from the realms of the civic and of friendship: each component of this definition needs to highlight an important aspect of the concept. The civic element means it must relate to the civic realm, how we relate as citizens. Here I concur with Spragens, who claims the adjective ‘civic’ is used to denote the politically relevant forms of friendship to distinguish between the private (individual) and public (political) realms (Spragens 1999). The friendship element, on the other hand, puts it clearly within the definition of friendship: it must carry enough of the characteristics of friendship as to be clearly ‘of the same type’.

The proponents of civic friendship acknowledge the importance of the models and metaphors we use in conceiving of ourselves (Schwarzenbach 2009). Indeed, Schwarzenbach introduces her book by arguing for the need for a new metaphor. In what follows, I shall try to provide some conceptual clarification in this complex area by “seeing the metaphor through to its end–by exhausting its implication-complex as it were” (Schwarzenbach 2009, p. 13): that by examining both utility and virtue friendship for how we expand the properties from one area into the other, the appropriateness of the model itself can be questioned.

Civic Friendship as Utility Friendship

The Aristotelian taxonomy of friendship (utility, pleasure and virtue) draws out a direct connection between the personal and the civic. For example, when citizens view each other as civic friends, they come together in a broad consensus on matters of public policy, of things that are advantageous to the community (Aristotle NE 1167b1–5). Whilst Aristotle does not explicitly state the relationship between civic friendship and the three personal forms, it is frequently argued to be a special case of utility (or advantage) friendship: that the civic community is formed because of the common advantage that its members derive from it (Cooper 1977a, 1991, 1999). Central to this is that it is advantageous to be interested in the character of fellow citizens with whom one comes in contact (for example, they should be trustworthy, honest), whether in economic or civic terms, because of the utility involved. The prosperity and well-being of each is interlinked (Cooper 1977a, b):

Civic friendship, then, as the special form of friendship characteristic of this kind of community, is founded on the experience and continued expectation, on the part of each citizen, of profit and advantage to himself, in common with the others, from membership in the civic association. This is to say that civic friendship is a kind of advantage-friendship.

(Cooper 1999, p. 333).

In such a community, as Cooper states, the citizens assume that all others, including those unknown or barely known, are supporters of the common institutions and contributors to these institutions from which all benefit. Significantly, this civic friendship would exist where citizens like each other, wish well to each other and are willing to confer benefits on others, recognising that they in turn also benefit regularly from the actions of others (Cooper 1977b).

To counter this position, I want to make three points. Firstly, we cannot tell in advance when or where we are going to need help. Whilst I may not require a state pension, meals on wheels and a home help at present, I cannot anticipate that I never will, so it is to my utility to band together with fellow citizens to provide such assistance so that such help is there should I need it. Yet need this utility relationship be one of friendship? When dealing with unknown (or barely known) others, friendship need not be a consideration at all: I can achieve utility in cooperative working with others without it.

Secondly, the Aristotelian insight into the personal concept of utility friendship acknowledges that these are the most fragile and easily dissolved of friendships; they last as long as the utility: when the advantage ends, so may the friendships (Aristotle NE 1156a15–25). With this in mind, the metaphor is not the most appropriate model for the civic community.

Thirdly, it is clear that Aristotle sees civic friendship as a real friendship and not a utility relationship devoid of the affective dimension (Schwarzenbach 2009, p. 44). It would thus seem reasonable to assume that he wants utility friends to like and feel affection for each other. If friendship is a type of love (Thomas 1993), if it requires an emotional attachment to another (Cooper 1999; Long 2003), it is difficult to see how this can be replicated in the civic sphere. I can be friendly without being friends: civic friendliness is a very different concept to civic friendship. Before dismissing the concept entirely, it is necessary to consider the alternative form of friendship, that of virtue.

Civic Friendship as Virtue Friendship

The confusion noted within the previous section spreads when we turn to virtue friendship. To elucidate, I shall explore five features of personal friendship identified by Aristotle and frequently used as a basis for extrapolating from personal friendship to that of the civic relationship: partiality, trust, equality, shared history and reciprocity (or mutual aid). Let us examine these in turn.

Partiality is most certainly a feature of personal friendship, yet it may not easily translate from the private sphere into the public. Firstly, we have the argument on the grounds of numerical inclusion: at a basic level, friendship demands that some are excluded from the relationship and it cannot include everyone. Friendship, by its very nature, indicates those who may be outside of family bonds (although family members can also be friends) but not strangers. Going further, when friendship is seen as a relationship of special obligations and significance, whereby friends have particular reasons to be able to call on my attention (whether for support or simply for time spent in each other’s company), and I in turn have good reason to treat them differently, it has to be numerically limited in some way. If I attempt to include everyone within the boundary of friendship, then who would count as being within the realm of my special attention?

Secondly, there is a sense in which the civic membership has to be inclusive to a far greater extent than with personal friends: it has to include those we may not like. This is not to undermine nor negate the importance of friendship itself, merely to indicate that this may not be possible within the wider context of a liberal society.

Thirdly, and perhaps more persuasively, there is the sense that within the public sphere, impartiality is more appropriate (Baron 1991; Cocking and Kennett 2000; Jeske 1997). An example: a politician is in a position to influence the appointment of someone to a committee. The job carries a large salary, chauffeur-driven car, lots of travel, for example. Partiality suggests he should give the job to his best friend or even to a family member, thus keeping the ‘treats’ in the family. Recall the hue and outcry in the UK in 2009 towards Derek Conway, a Conservative politician, who hired both of his sons as ‘researchers’ at public expense.1 Indeed many UK politicians were highly criticised precisely for this offence during the expenses scandal of 2009. There is an expectation that ‘the public purse’ should be used to fund public offices impartially without recourse to nepotism.

Turning to the concept of trust. It is only to be expected that we are willing to do things for people we trust that we might be reluctant to do for strangers, whether to lend possessions, to undertake joint ventures or as repositories for our secrets. It is undoubtedly true that trust and intimacy plays a major part in friendship, with growing significance to the relationship as we age as further research seems to confirm (Buhrmester and Furman 1987; Grimes 2005; Selman et al. 1997). When we trust another individual, we are able to depend on and be sure of them in some way, having certain beliefs about how they will act/react. Research seems to indicate that the more confident we become of each other’s moral character, the more intimately we tend to trust (Barr 1997; Selman 1980). Yet there is always an element of risk or vulnerability involved in trusting others in that we risk betrayal or being let down (Lynch 2005). To build trust and experience intimacy depends in no small part on the ability to self-disclose (the ability to share feelings, desires and intimate thoughts) (Sullivan 1953). Yet failure to share secrets and other intimate information about ourselves indicates a lack of trust in the friend which can itself be damaging to the relationship and can prevent trust from developing (Helm 2005). It should also be born in mind that the more we monitor another’s activities to reduce the risk of betrayal, the less we are deemed to be trusting of them (McLeod 2006).

Trust undoubtedly transcends the personal relationship, and as such looks on the surface as the most likely candidate to transpose neatly from the personal virtue to the public. Just as we need to be able to trust our friends, so we need to be able to trust beyond particular individuals. When ill, I need to be able to trust that the doctor is truly trying to make me better, without continually asking to see her qualifications and chasing up references. Where ‘public trust’ is strong, citizens are willing to try new ways of working and organising (O’Hara 2004). Yet public trust is arguably a much thinner concept based on and supported by a variety of laws and regulations giving justification for the trust unlike a relationship based on the moral characters of individuals.

Public trust (going beyond particular individuals and groupings to encompass societal agencies) can be lost overnight, with disastrous repercussions for those involved. Just as a lack or betrayal of trust between friends can destroy the relationship, so the breakdown of public trust can fracture the civic relationship. But is personal trust the same thing as public trust? As recent events in the global ‘credit crunch’ have shown us, once trust between institutions is lost, rebuilding it comes at great costs and frequently requires legislation to prevent ‘civic misdeeds’. Yet the need for coercion (legal or otherwise) is itself problematic and can indeed be claimed to be the antithesis of the trust in ‘friendship’.

Turning to the notion of equality between friends, I raise three different interpretations of how this may be perceived in the civic domain: as resource equality, as equality before the law or as considering another’s needs as being of equal worth. Should the civic relationship entail a redistribution of resources within a society, to create the relevant conditions in order that ‘civic friendship’ should prosper? To what extent should the ultra rich feel obliged to help those at the other end of the spectrum, and to do it willingly as ‘friends’ would?2 That the rich already contribute financially through progressive taxation systems is praiseworthy, but it is legally required: law has been needed to ensure this happens. As recent events have illustrated, the mega-rich would all too frequently manage to avoid paying any taxes if left to their own devices.3

Here, again, I concur with Spragens, who directs us to seek an answer within the domain of democracy wherein citizens are seen as political equals: they rule and are ruled in turn (Spragens 1999). This gives civic friendship a weakened form of equality: a political equality not resource equality. Whilst not wishing to dismiss this important line of enquiry it does raise equally troubling issues: what does it mean to be a political equal? Even advocates of the claim to the weaker sense of equality before the law accept that it does not answer the question of whether or not in practice the poor really are equal before the law with the rich.

Yet I feel there is something valuable in danger of being lost within the complexities of this argument. Central to the ideal of virtue friendship is that friends regard the well-being of their friends as they do their own: they seek each other’s good. Sometimes the fact of friendship serves to put others first. When people look on each other as friends, this empathic bond allows them to step back from demanding the satisfaction of their own needs at all times and to consider the needs and the cost of decisions to others as being of equal worth. However, in friendship, this tends to be motivated by the deep love between friends and, again, it is hard to see how this would realistically expand into the civic community.

Turning now to the idea of a ‘shared history’. It seems reasonable, on the surface, that a society might have a ‘shared history’ in the idea of the nation as an imagined community (Anderson 1991) or as a people extended out over history (Fletcher 1993). Similarly, the question arises about the time factor required to determine how long one needs to have to have lived in a country before one can claim to share in its history. Crucially, there are many minorities whose experience of the public sphere is one of exclusion; others may choose not to be a part of certain elements (Mason, interestingly, draws a distinction between citizens and long-term residents (Mason 1997)). If this view of what it is to be a nation is correct, that it is both an historical fact and based on shared experiences, there may be no easy way of adapting the concept within a pluralist society that is both rapidly growing and changing.

A weaker interpretation of a ‘shared history’ suggests it can be achieved by experiencing certain world events together, for instance the death of a public figure (e.g. Diana, Princess of Wales), public tragedies (the events of 9/11). But this in turn raises the question as to whether we experience these things in the same way, with the same responses in the public arena. The events that form the shared history between friends are experienced and lived by those particular individuals: it is quite possible in a large modern democracy for some members to be completely unaware of what is happening to their civic others. The plight of the Chinese cockle pickers, for example, brought the existence of a sub-culture of work-gangs and gang-masters to the attention of the British public; it had been assumed that such practices only happened in ‘other places’.4

Finally, we turn to the idea of mutual aid and support. Undoubtedly, personal friends help each other in times of trouble out of concern for each other’s welfare (Bigelow and La Gaipa 1980; Blum 1980; White 1999). On the surface, the extrapolation of this concern to ground the provision of a minimum level of support to all citizens seems to have a certain logic about it. Most societies require a certain level of commitment, or reasonable anticipation of commitment, on the part of the beneficiary before allowing access to the aid (based on a certain length of residence, taxpaying amongst other regulations); not just anyone can be a civic ‘other’. Consider the argument concerning the extension of the EU to include many countries in Eastern Europe with a lower level of ‘living’ than the UK, leading to hasty, political moves to limit those who may benefit and significantly restricting the circumstances.

Yet we need to consider the underlying rationale behind the mutual aid needed at societal level: at one extreme lies the seeking of the good of another for no reason other than that one can (purely altruistic actions), whereas at the other extreme lies a form of contributionist stance (that one should only aid those who can also in turn aid us). Taking the first pathway, altruistic actions do take place. Passers-by, seeing drowning children in rivers, do sometimes jump in at the risk of their own lives; people do donate to charities without knowing the recipient or without gaining anything in return. Virtuous individuals, who seek to ameliorate the ravages of poverty on a voluntary basis going beyond what is legally required, do exist: Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Peabody, Rockefeller, Guggenheim, Rowntree, Lever—all seeking to improve life in some way for those less fortunate. Whilst this is undoubtedly laudable, philanthropy, by its very nature, cannot be demanded. The wisdom of relying on the virtuous characters of individuals may not be the most advisable method of organising the way a society interacts or how they distribute social resources.

The second pathway, as an extreme contributionist view of distributive justice, is rightly criticised by Buchanan: the idea that an individual has a right to a share of social resources if that individual contributes or can contribute to the community surplus (Buchanan 1990). This, as he points out, clashes with the sense we may have that even those who cannot contribute also deserve to be treated justly. We do have instincts that those, for example, who are profoundly disabled from birth in ways which may prevent them from contributing economically, should still deserve support from social resources, and that any theory of justice as fairness should allow and enable this. The privileging of economic value found within a strict form of mutual aid would rule out such views and would seem to destroy any notion of ‘civic friendship’.

The point to note here is that whilst there may be a form of reciprocity and mutual aid common in both personal and civic sphere, the underlying motive is different. In the personal sphere, the motive is the relationship with the other as a person; in the public sphere, the character or person of the other is not always relevant: the motive is more of a utility relationship, which may not be mutual for all who benefit. To regard fellow citizens as in some way equating to ‘another self’ in the Aristotelian framework is to suggest an unrealistic mode of engagement in the whole life of the other, as a form of caring for the whole of each person that would be unsustainable in a modern liberal democracy.

Interestingly, Aristotle rejects both particular kinship and personal friendships as constituting a basis for citizenship bonds:

... friendship of kindred and that of comrades. Those of fellow citizens, fellow tribesmen, fellow voyagers, and the like are more like mere friendships of association; for they seem to rest on a sort of compact.

(Aristotle NE 1161b).

Yet it is unclear within The Ethics as to whether utility friendship or virtue friendship forms the basis of the model for the civic bond. I think that this is critical and perhaps deliberate. This can only be resolved by surmising that for Aristotle, both utility and virtue may be involved in civic friendship.

Does this mean that the notion of civic friendship can no longer contribute to our understanding of how we relate in large culturally diverse communities? The modern state contains many millions of others who may not share a common view, or trust each other, certainly not necessarily have a shared history, and probably not harbour mutual affection for each other (features of personal friendship). How could they possibly know each other’s character as friends would do? Is what we commonly call ‘civic friendship’ a form of friendship at all? To answer this, we turn to the original context and purpose of civic friendship and consider why there may be such difficulties in the application of this particular metaphor within modern liberal democracies.

The Ancient Greeks and Civic Friendship

The historical exemplar of civic friendship lay within the Greco-Roman world as a model to alleviate superficially similar problems of social integration. In a world in which friendship was seen as a public matter as part of a much wider conception of philia (Brunkhorst 2005, p. 13), the break between friendship and love and the community of citizens was not seen as desirable. Within this tradition lay the desire to import the obligations of friendships into the communal bond to address the disharmony of the classes within the aristocracy without recourse or dependency upon the bonds of tribal relationships (Brunkhorst 2005). This networked bond was credited as being able to:

neutralize the mafialike bonds of clan and family, secure the peace, and promote the common good. (Brunkhorst 2005, p. 14).

Arguably, the idea of friendship as a voluntary bond (as opposed to ties of blood) became an analogy for politics, separating the household from the polis (Brunkhorst 2005). Nevertheless, in what follows, I will argue that it would be a serious error to try to align the Greek concept with that of our own situation.

Undeniably, the arena within which Aristotle was writing was very different from the modern liberal democracy. According to Benjamin Constant, amongst the ancient Greeks, the individual was sovereign in public affairs having direct influence on law-making and issues of war and peace (Constant 1806). The Athenian society was lived ‘face-to-face’, in a culturally homogenous community which in turn was upheld by vast quantities of slaves, creating the leisure conditions necessary for their deliberations. The size of the citizenry, as well as its composition (it omitted slaves, women, children and foreigners) meant that individuals could exercise real political power in a way not available within larger modern communities (Cartledge 1993; Constant 1806). Even here, the size of the citizenry would not have allowed for all fellow citizens to have direct friendship with each other, neither did Aristotle expect it to. It was the possibility of overlapping networks of friends between elite members of a city, freed of the constraints of work, that held the possibility of supporting alliances as counterparts to tribal or familial allegiances (Bell and Coleman 1999).

The ancient Greek practice amongst aristocratic families of forming alliances with leading families of other cities called ‘guest-friendships’ (xenoi) often led to clashes between the state and powerful family commitments. These ‘xenoi’, for example, would provide a refuge in exile should one offend or no longer be able to live in one’s own state. They were not built on friendship but on obligation that could override other obligations (Herman 1987). These bonds of xenia outlasted the lives of individuals and could be inherited by their descendents, could lapse for many years and then be reactivated, binding not just individuals but families together over generations (Lynch 2005). As ritual friendships became over time transformed into political friendships, the kinship ties of individuals created a tension with civic demands (Deneen 2001; Herman 1987; Konstan 1997).

Aristotle’s concept of civic friendship should thus be seen in this context, as an answer to the problem faced by the ancient city in which friendships of kin and guest-friendships endangered political stability within a particular political framework (Cartledge 1993; Deneen 2001; Herman 1987).


Having followed the metaphor through to its end, it will be apparent that there are considerable difficulties in arguing for a re-evaluation of the concept of civic friendship. Firstly, personal friendship has both an affective as well as a behavioural aspect. One of the overriding features of personal friendship is that of an affective, emotional attachment to another person, as a form of love (Fortier 1971; Thomas 1987; Thomas 1993). It is one thing to acknowledge the “affective dimension of social life” (diZerega 2003, p. 23), it is entirely another to suggest that the emotional intensity that is a defining feature of friendship can be replicated on a large scale. We cannot come to care for our civic others as individuals for we cannot get to know them as individuals because of the requirement of time to build an easy familiarity and trust with one another: no one’s life is long enough. At most, we can act in a way as if we care but care itself cannot be drummed up at will. Perhaps friendliness, or goodwill, is all we can ask for in the civic sphere but neither virtue equates solely with friendship.

Secondly, the very concept ‘civic friendship’ seems to spiral downwards into a partialism/impartialism argument. Friendship requires a form of partiality to a particular other yet the civic relationship has to exclude this type of partiality; justice and fairness require a form of impartiality. Justice enables us to consider others as rights bearers, as having worth that does not depend on being liked. Schwarzenbach’s argument for an impartial civic friendship based in part on individual rights and a re-emphasis on relationships between citizens (Schwarzenbach 2009) fails to acknowledge it would not qualify as a form of friendship. Any argument that our relationships with others should have an ethical dimension has to be made differently.

Thirdly, friendship bonds can be equally susceptible to the same tensions as kinship and tribal allegiances (Deneen 2001). The ideal friendship rarely exists without any squabbles or disagreements at some point. Indeed, the instability of friendship within the political sphere could lead to “an uneasy equilibrium of ever-shifting alliances” (Hutter 1978, p. 148).

Finally, the value of the concept of civic friendship may be in viewing it metaphorically: somehow, when we consider our civic others, we should in some way, regard them as ‘friends’. In the case of civic friendship, to indicate a likeness, to comment on similar features, to indicate a ‘family resemblance’ is one thing; to suggest that it goes deeper than this and indicates a closer relationship, that the civic relationship is a type of friendship, is entirely another.

It seems obvious that the concept of civic friendship cannot possibly be a literal form of friendship: a point acknowledged by Schwarzenbach who claims that many of the criticisms of the concept make the error of confusing personal and political friendship. It is undoubtedly true that we cannot know our civic others in the same way that we know our friends and families. Yet I question whether it can even act at a metaphorical level. Drawing on Brunkhorst’s research on of how metaphors transform in response to socio-historical contexts, ‘civic friendship’ as a metaphor no longer fulfils its original function.

Whilst it is possible to speak of the civic relationship metaphorically, we have to remember the civic relationship is itself real, and has to be lived as such. The use of metaphor may be unavoidable—we still have to find a way of discussing these complex situations which necessitates the use of metaphoric models. However the use or overemphasis of a single metaphorical model risks binding perspectives and developments to that view alone. The general argument is of a need for clarity and consideration of the commitments inherent within particular models adopted (Lunt 2005).

The journey, however, is not without value. Whilst Vernon indicates an impoverishment of popular discourse which has virtually privatised the concept of friendship in modern life (Vernon 2005), we cannot ignore the complex interplay between past and present conceptions in this area. Aristotle’s expansion of philia into the civic arena in The Ethics directs us to consider the importance or otherwise of ‘the shared life’ in enabling public discourse in the civic space, a concern for the wellbeing of each other and shared desire for the good life.

Wherein lies the role of the schools? One of the historic functions of public education in democracies has always been to connect people, build common values and drive the engines of democracy. Schools are still more or less a common experience and as such, they are one of the few vehicles available for the character development and reinforcement of the necessary features of our civic life. Schools in societies that purport to be democracies are obliged to develop public citizens, part of which is developing the necessary relationship between such citizens. If civic behaviour and dispositions form the background within which civic life takes place, then their development and reinforcement within the education system is a crucial challenge.

Part of the appeal of civic friendship in attempting to fulfil that function lies in the attempt to expand an understanding of the ‘binding togetherness’ of friendship into civic life and to seemingly sidestep many of the perceived difficulties found within family metaphors (a further common metaphor for public relationships). However, the concept of ‘civic friendship’ promises more than it can deliver. We are left finally facing the crucial question: it may be civic… but is it friendship?


  1. 1.
  2. 2.

    "We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes": attributed to Leona Helmsley, a U.S. hotel magnate tried for tax evasion. Quoted in New York Times (July 12, 1989). [last accessed 19.11.2009].

  3. 3. article examining how numerous banks, the ultra-rich and multinational organisations avoided paying taxes.[last accessed 19.11.2009].

  4. 4.

    On the 5th February, 2004, 21 Chinese cockle pickers, all illegal immigrants, were cut off by the tide and drowned at Morecambe Bay, UK because of the negligence of their gang master. The existence of gang-masters operating in the UK were unknown by most citizens prior to this event. [last accessed 19.11.2009].



Many thanks to all who took part in the Second Stanford-Illinois Summer School and at The Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain conference in 2006 for their comments on an earlier version of this paper. Many thanks to Patricia White and Professor Suzy Harris for their insights and suggestions.


  1. Anderson, B. (1991). Imagined communities (Revised ed.). London and New York: Verso.Google Scholar
  2. Aristotle, A. (1954). The Nicomachean Ethics. (D. Ross, Trans.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Baron, M. (1991). Impartiality and friendship. Ethics, 101(4), 836–857.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barr, D. (1997). Friendship and belonging. In R. L. Selman, C. L. Watts, & L. H. Schultz (Eds.), Fostering friendship: pair therapy for treatment and prevention (pp. 19–31). New York: Aldine de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  5. Beer, F. A., & De Landtsheer, C. l. (Eds) (2004), Metaphorical world politics: Mitchigan State University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Bell, S., & Coleman, S. (1999). The anthropology of friendship: Enduring themes and future possibilities. In S. Bell & S. Coleman (Eds.), The anthropology of friendship. Oxford, New York: Berg.Google Scholar
  7. Bigelow, B., & La Gaipa, J. J. (1980). The development of friendship values and choice. In H. C. Foot, A. J. Chapman, & J. R. Smith (Eds.), Friendship and social relations in children (pp. 15–35). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  8. Blum, L. (1980). Friendship, altruism and morality. London; Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  9. Brunkhorst, H. (2005). Solidarity. (J. Flynn, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  10. Buchanan, A. (1990). Justice as reciprocity versus subject-centred justice. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 19(3), 227–252.Google Scholar
  11. Buhrmester, D., & Furman, W. (1987). The development of companionship and intimacy. Child Development, 58, 1101–1113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cartledge, P. (1993). The Greeks: A portrait of self and others. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Cheshire, P. (2007). Segregated neighbourhoods and mixed communities: a critical analysis. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.Google Scholar
  14. Cocking, D., & Kennett, J. (2000). Friendship and moral danger. The Journal of Philosophy, 97(5), 278–296.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Constant, B. (1806). Political writings. (1988 Ed.): Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Cooper, J. (1977a). Aristotle on the forms of friendship. Review of Metaphysics, XXX No 4(120), 619–648.Google Scholar
  17. Cooper, J. (1977b). Friendship and the good in Aristotle. Philosophical Review, LXXXVI(3), 290–315.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Cooper, J. (1991). Friendship. In L. Becker (Ed.), Encyclopaedia of Ethics (Vol. 1, pp. 388–391). New York and London: Garland Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  19. Cooper, J. (1999). Reason and emotion. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Deneen, P. J. (2001). Friendship and politics: Ancient and American. In P. J. Bathory & N. L. Schwartz (Eds.), Essays in honour of Wilson Carey McWilliams (pp. 47–66). Oxford: Rowland and Littlewood Publishers, Inc.Google Scholar
  21. diZerega, G. (2003). Scale and magnanimity in liberal theory: reflections on civic liberalism. [Online]. Available at: [Last accessed March 2004].
  22. Fletcher, G. P. (1993). Loyalty—an essay on the morality of relationships. New York Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Fortier, T. L. (1971). Aristotle on social friendships. Laval Theologique et Philosophique, 27, 235–250.Google Scholar
  24. Grimes, R. (2005). Social perspective-taking, intimate friendship, and the adolescent transition to mutualistic moral judgement. Ohio: The Ohio State University.Google Scholar
  25. Hansot, E. (2000). Civic friendship: An Aristotelian perspective. In L. Cuban & D. Shipps (Eds.), Reconstructing the common good in education (pp. 171–185). Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Helm, B. (2005). Friendship. [Online]. Available at: [Last accessed 23.5.10].
  27. Herman, G. (1987). Ritualised friendship and the Greek city. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Honohan, I. (2008). Metaphors of solidarity. In T. Carver & J. Pikalo (Eds.), Political language and metaphor: interpreting and changing the world (pp. 69–82). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  29. Hutter, H. (1978). Politics as friendship. Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfred Laurier University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Jeske, D. (1997). Friendship, virtue, and impartiality. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, LVII(1), 51–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Konstan, D. (1997). Friendship in the classical world. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lakoff, G. (2002). A figure of thought. Metaphor and Symbolic Activity, 1(3), 215–225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Long, R. (2003). The value in friendship. Philosophical Investigations, 26(1), 73–77.Google Scholar
  34. Lunt, N. (2005). A note on political science and the metaphorical imagination. Politics, 25(2), 73–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Lynch, S. (2005). Philosophy and friendship. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Mason, A. (1997). Special obligations to compatriots. Ethics, 107, 427–447.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. McLeod, C. (2006). ‘Trust’. [Online]. The Stanford Encycopedia of Philosophy. Available at:
  38. Miller, E. F. (1979). Metaphor and political knowledge. The American Political Science Review, 73(1), 150–170.Google Scholar
  39. Mio, J. S. (1997). Metaphor and politics. Metaphor and Symbol, 12(2), 113–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. O’Hara, K. (2004). Trust: From Socrates to spin. Cambridge: Icon Books.Google Scholar
  41. Rogers, B., & Muir, R. (2007). The power of belonging: Identity, citizenship and cohesion. London: Institute for Public Policy Research.Google Scholar
  42. Schwarzenbach, S. (2009). On civic friendship: Including women in the state. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Selman, R. L. (1980). The growth of interpersonal understanding. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  44. Selman, R. L., Watts, C. L., & Schultz, L. H. (1997). Fostering friendship: Pair therapy for treatment and prevention. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  45. Spragens, T. A. (1999). Civic liberalism. Oxford and New York: Rowman and Littlefield.Google Scholar
  46. Stevens, D. (2001). Education, fraternity, and social cohesion: A liberal argument about civic values. Nottingham: University of Nottingham.Google Scholar
  47. Sullivan, H. S. (1953). The interpersonal theory of psychiatry. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  48. Taylor, C. (2004). Modern social imaginaries. Durham and London: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  49. Thomas, L. (1987). Friendship. Synthese, 72(2), 217–236.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Thomas, L. (1993). Friendship and other loves. In N. K. Badhwar (Ed.), Friendship: A philosophical reader (pp. 48–64). Cornell: Cornell University.Google Scholar
  51. Todd, E. (1985). Explanation of ideology: Family structures and social systems (family, sexuality and social relations in past times). Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.Google Scholar
  52. Vernon, M. (2005). The philosophy of friendship. Basingstoke, New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. White, R. (1999). Friendship and commitment. The Journal of Value Inquiry, 33(1), 79–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Willson-Quayle, J. M. (1991). Hobbes, metaphor and political thought. London: London School of Economics.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Froebel CollegeRoehampton UniversityLondonUK

Personalised recommendations