The Spinozist

writing by Paul Mendrik

Spinoza on Friendship

October 5, 2020

For Spinoza, only absolutely free men are bound to each other by a sincere and solid friendship. Freedom is the antithesis of ignorance, specifically, to the autocratic view of emotion; to the contrary, it is determined only through the act of reason, in consideration of candid judgment. It is a question of pursuing and doing what seems preeminent and quintessential, not just for oneself , but also for others (because what is valid for one also applies to the other), and not to exchange with others alleged benefits awarded by external criteria of false acclaim, which is only indulgence and seduction. 

A friend sighed

With a  friend's sigh
the whole night rises,
and a brief caress
roams the dazzled sky.
It's as if in the universe
an elementary force
became mother again.

The individual called ungrateful, not knowing how to return the equivalent of what he has received, is very often only the wise and courageous one, preferring to stand back rather than to participate in a heavy exchange of future conflicts. It is necessary to know how to acknowledge this freedom and to choose as friends only those who are free, guided solely by reason, and to avoid intrinsically the ignorant.

Obviously, the latter being rather the rule and the former the exception, this principle risks contradicting this other Spinozist thesis according to which freedom flourishes in society. This is why “as much as possible”, the necessary withdrawal must not lead to a loneliness which would amount to being hated and therefore rejected by society. 

The Spinozist principle of friendship, even though it amounts to a certain elitism of reason, does not consist of a superbly individualistic attitude detached from any political dimension. In fact, as the notion of recognition (in contrast to that of beneficence) which defines it, bridges the emotional and rational planes, friendship occupies the subjective space between an equally pure bondage and freedom.

For all that, the concept of friendship in all its amplitude serves as the synthesis between ethics and politics, the individual and the social, perhaps also between contemplation and action. But it is undoubtedly more correct to say that friendship is, for Spinoza, only a transitory inquiry advancing to a more radical liberation.

Considering, that knowing how to recognise one's friends can not replace knowledge and wisdom, but can only be acquired in radical (if not absolute) solitude, an act of withdrawal which, is the only effective measure of to attain comprehension and without it, I would necessarily bond with these "friends". If, what one can expect from reasonable men is their discretion, their abstention from usual worldly exchanges, summarily a  life devoted to knowledge, it is not clear how or why these individuals would be especially inclined to meet.