Speaking of individualism, I've been reading some fascinating essays on the topic of friendship. Recently, someone emailed me out of the blue about contributing to a projected volume of essays on Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged. I'm not a big fan of that novel any longer (nor of much of Rand's output, since I find it too strident and vitriolic for my taste), but there are aspects of it that I appreciate. One such aspect is the strong friendships to be found therein, so I've chosen as my topic "Friendship in Atlas Shrugged" (though I'll make reference to Rand's earlier novels as well). So I've begun researching the topic in earnest. One of the essays I've read in the last few days is a feminist philosopher's perspective on friendship (Marilyn Friedman's "Feminism and Modern Friendship" in Friendship: A Philosophical Reader, edited by Neera Badhwar). The essay begins with a critique of atomistic individualism (which I think is a strawman); but what I found interesting about the essay is its critique in turn of communitarianism, which the author argues is too tied to "communities of place" (family, neighborhood, etc.) and does not give enough space to "communities of choice" (clubs, volunteering, etc.) and to personal friendship. Indeed, many philosophers and philosophical traditions find friendship problematic: the Stoics feel it threatens one's spiritual independence, the Kantians think it is too particular (since it violates the Kantian principle of universalizability), the Christians find it too exclusive (agape should always trump philia), the utilitarians doubt that it conduces to the greatest good for the greatest number, collectivists of all stripes argue that it saps energy that should be devoted to "the cause" (after all, the personal is the political, or should be), the logical positivists can't be bothered with something so merely human, etc. The only two traditions that wholeheartedly embrace friendship are, despite their differences in other matters, Aristotelianism and Epicureanism.

Look for more comments on this topic in the coming months....

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