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Girlfriends , painting by Jerry Weiss, 2003

Friendship describes a relationship between people based on mutual affection, which is characterized by sympathy and trust . A person who is on good terms is called a boyfriend or girlfriend . Friendships are of paramount importance to people and societies. Even ancient philosophers like Aristotle and Cicero dealt with friendship.

In a figurative sense, friendship describes a good and often contractually regulated political relationship between peoples or nations (for example " Franco-German friendship "). The opposite of friendship is enmity .

Word history

Until the 16th and 17th centuries, no linguistic distinction was made in German between acquired and innate friendship, so that “friendship” and “ kinship ” could be used synonymously. In many dialects , too , the meaning friend = relative is quite common to the present day, which is why the original meaning of the word blood friendship also means kinship .

The word friend as 'confidante, internally connected person to sb.' Was formed by the ahd. Friunt in the 8th century, mhd. Vriunt 'friend, neighbor, beloved, relatives' as a noun to the present participle of asächs. friohon , aeng. frēogan , anord. frjá , Got. frijōn ' to love', which belongs to the root subsumed under free . In addition to what is connected by sympathy and trust, right down to the dialects of the present day, it also refers to blood relatives. Derived from this, friendship refers to the 'relationship of trust', ahd. Friuntscaf (8th century), -scaft (11th century), mhd. Vriuntschaft , also 'blood relationship'.

Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon from 1907 describes friendship as "the freely chosen social relationship between equals based on mutual respect and based on mutual trust."

The term Spezi describes a special friend in southern German, colloquial Austrian (also: Spezl ), more rarely in Swiss colloquial language, according to Duden as "someone with whom you are in a special, closer friendly and comradely relationship". In the meaning of 'special friend', it was shortened at the end of the 18th century from the synonymous special in the second half of the 18th century and already older as special friend (first half of the 18th century) and special friend (second half of the 17th century) . Century). For the proverbial special economy (Austrian: Freunderlwirtschaft), see also nepotism .

A particularly close, intimate friend was called bosom friend in the 19th century , the term is only used “mostly ironically” according to Duden.



Child friendship

The sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies points to the aspect of equality as the basis for friendship: Friendship is "most likely given by the equality or similarity of the profession or the art". He takes the view that work connects each other and creates friendships, and works as a spiritual bond between those involved. According to Tönnies, friendship is of a mental nature and is based on chance or free choice. Friendship is categorized as a " community of spirit" .

Georg Simmel describes friendship in a differentiated way and as a gradual phenomenon in his standard work Sociology (1908). For him friendship begins at the moment when two people get to know each other, i.e. when they know about their mutual existence. From this base, the two can penetrate to different degrees into the other's “ sphere ”. The depth and extent of penetration depend on what is to be disclosed. This limit is known in friendship - the other will not simply cross it. Simmel sees a special case of friendship in marriage : On the one hand, this has to do with the fact that the marriage has changed its character. While marriage was still a bargain for Montaigne , marriage in modern times is more characterized by love. So when marriage is a love affair , there is an element of friendship at work.

Siegfried Kracauer describes friendship as the closest spiritual relationship that encompasses the looser relationships of comradeship , specialist association and acquaintance. He describes the true friendship that for him consists in cultivating similar attitudes and presupposing common developments. There must be a match in the ideals and in the world and human understanding. Friendship is also shaped by growth with and through each other: “While I am compelled to split up in thousands of circles of life everywhere else, to take a little bit here, to give a little bit there, I am allowed to approach him as collected and extensively as I do am and how i feel. My existence is fully present to him, he knows my relationship with people and understands why I have to act in one way and not another, because he has the inner threads in his hands even for the most contradicting actions. "

For Robert R. Bell, friendship includes the following aspects: “[…] friends must be seen as equals by one another. [...] friendship is seen as voluntaristic and highly personal [...] the development of friendship is based on private negotiations and is not imposed through cultural values ​​or norms. " As a result, he also sees equality as an important aspect in friendships. Friendship is voluntary and personal, and friendship development is based on private negotiation and is not influenced by cultural values ​​or norms.

In the dictionary of sociology , friendship is described by Karl-Heinz Hillmann as: "Sociologically ambiguous term for a particularly personal form of direct social relationships that - without specific role obligations - is entered into voluntarily and for a longer, non-fixed duration".

In contrast to other social relationships , Argyle & Henderson explain friendship as a form of human relationship that is not, like marriage, based on a ceremony and also not, as between work colleagues or relatives, depending on any role relationships. Friendship includes people who like one another and enjoy doing certain things together. Furthermore, friendship is voluntary and without clearly defined rules. For Robert Hays , friendship is a flexible, dynamic and multidimensional process, the structure and functions of which vary depending on the individuals involved, the environment and the level of development of the friendship.

Ann Elisabeth Auhagen defines friendship as “[...] a dyadic, personal and informal social relationship [...] the existence of friendship is mutual. [...] Friendship has a value for each of the [...] friends, which have different degrees of weight and can be composed of various content elements. " Ursula Nötzoldt-Linden defines friendship as:" a dyadic, personal relationship based on voluntary reciprocity between not related same-sex adults over a period of time ”.

Cultural imprint of the friendship concept

The development of friendships also depends on the living conditions, which often differ greatly from culture to culture and change over time. The concept of friendship in Germany and France is shaped by the notion of a " kinship of the soul ", which is reflected in the literary cult of friendship of the 18th century (cf. Göttingen Hainbund ). The prerequisite for such a friendship concept was, among other things, increasing mobility , which loosened the forced attachment to the birth environment and made it possible to choose one's own social environment (friends, sexual partners).

In North America, an understanding of friendship that is primarily oriented towards the emotional world is less rooted in cultural history. The spatial and social mobility of the population is overall higher here than in Europe, especially in the higher social classes. Therefore, the ability to quickly connect and connect in a new environment is considered very important. Maintaining “deep” relationships is much more the preservation of the family in immigration countries like the USA than in Europe .

In the past, writing letters was an important means of cultivating friendship for people who had to live separately from one another . General mobility increased enormously in the 20th century. Achievements such as the telephone made it possible to maintain friendships even over great distances (see also long-distance relationships ).

Thanks to the now widespread private use of the Internet , friendships can be found even faster and more specifically. Social media also enable uncomplicated "friendships" even without personal encounters. In virtual social networks , users can have a great many “friends”, including those they have never seen, who they hardly know about and who they do not want to get to know personally.



The friends Harmodios and Aristogeiton tried in 514 BC To murder the Athenian tyrants Hippias and Hipparchus .
Group of statues of Critios and Nesiotes (Roman copy).

In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle emphasized three motives for entering into friendships: Friendship for the sake of being, the sake of benefit and the sake of lust. For him friendship is an independent social relationship that is highly necessary in the community and not identical to other bonds. He emphasizes the importance of the equality of those involved, that growing up together and being of the same age have a great influence on friendship: "Perfect friendship of excellent characters who are the same". The excellent are good, useful, and pleasant to one another. "Friendship aims at values ​​and lust and is based on equality of character."

For Aristotle, friendship is an important part of a functioning ( polis ) society. The state should value friendship even more than justice . In the Greek polis there were no public services such as the police and fire brigade, so everyone was dependent on the goodwill of the other. Whoever wanted to be elected to office had to secure the goodwill of the people. A number of the relationships referred to as “friendship” would no longer necessarily be referred to as such today. In ancient Greek, however , the word philia means both “friendship” and “love” and can therefore be used in this broader sense.

Aristotle does not regard friendship as a gradual phenomenon in which one person is more friend than the other, but rather he categorizes the various friendships. First of all, he divides them into "friendship among equals" and "friendship among unequal" and at the same time excludes friendship for inanimate things. With this Philia system, Aristotle refers to Plato's dialogue Lysis , in which the problem of selfless friendship is unfolded in a categorically sovereign and artistically playful manner.

The friendship among equals true for equivalent citizens , they are mutually equal . He divides this friendship further into friendship, friendship, pleasure, and virtue. The good friendship brings people together for a purpose. If this purpose falls away, the friendship is at risk. The same applies to pleasure friendship, which is purely affectively based. These two types are accidental and unstable. In contrast, the friendship of virtue or character is stable. It is friendship for the friend's sake. This is where Aristotle's doctrine of mesotes comes into play, according to whose maxim that moderation is the way to a virtuous and fulfilled life. If two people are similar in virtue, this is the prerequisite for perfect friendship. As with any virtue , friendship with Aristotle is that it must become a habit through repeated action . Friendship is only practiced in everyday dealings. The participation in the life of the friend and thus the spatial proximity are essential for a friendship according to Aristotle.

The friendship among unequals in Aristotle would probably rather called homage. It not only describes the relationship between generations , but also the relationship between people and the state. According to Aristotle, the asymmetry of the hierarchy must be compensated for by an additional effort by philia on the part of the inferior. The son has to show the father more respect than the other way around, just as the citizen invests more in the state than he gets in return.

See also: Plotinus , Augustine

middle Ages

The early medieval epic knows numerous hero friendships, such as the friendship between Roland and Olivier in the Roland song of the 10th century. The Icelandic Njála of the 13th century is based on the severely tested friendship between Njáll Þórgeirsson and Gunnar Hámundarson.

In the courtly epic of the 12th and 13th centuries, numerous friendship relationships, some of which were described as very close, appear, especially between literary heroic figures. An example of this is the connection between the protagonists Iwein and Gawain in the Arthurian novel Iwein von Hartmann von Aue: The bond between equals described here alternately as "vriundschaft", "Geselleschaft", "herzeliebe" and " minne " obliges to mutual help and advice. In research it is therefore more often postulated that entering into a friendship in courtly literature shows the characteristics of a contract, the cancellation of which is virtually impossible. The extent to which such descriptions of friendship have hidden homoerotic traits is controversial, but what is certain is that in medieval poetry one can find extended discourses about the appropriate form, commitment and relevance of friendly relationships.


Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592) wrote in his essay On Friendship mainly from a private perspective: Under the impression of the turmoil of the French civil wars, he experienced his friendship with Étienne de La Boétie until his death at the age of only 33 an absolute trust. Unlike Aristotle, Montaigne is not interested in friendship as a general social phenomenon - he wants to erect a monument to his friendship and considers this kind of friendship to be unique, or at least extremely rare. He divides friendship into roughly two categories: his friendship with Étienne de La Boétie and the "ordinary friendship". These ordinary friendships existed only for mutual benefit. So they are unstable and do not offer the trust of his friendship.

Furthermore, Montaigne does not consider women capable of friendship - they lack the intellectual abilities to keep up with men. However, he admits that the friendship with a woman - if she does have the spiritual abilities - can be even stronger because it includes mind, soul and body. Montaigne simply rejects the pleasure friendship between men, which still played a strong role in Aristotle.

Monument to a poet friendship: Goethe and Schiller in Weimar


In romanticism , friendship played a major role after a period of loss of traditional ties and new insecurities due to surges in individualization in the past century. Same-sex friendship was discussed. The relationship between Clemens Brentano and Achim von Arnim , which is well documented in letters, is famous , but the intensive exchange between Bettina Brentano and Karoline von Günderrode has also caused a sensation. These Enlightenment impulses of Romanticism were, however, essentially limited to the short period of early Romanticism . Finally, George L. Mosse takes the position that the entire 19th century struggled to drive these enlightening impulses out of friendship.

Friendships in literature

Friendship has been a literary theme since ancient times. A motif that has shaped tradition since the beginning of literary history is the proof of friendship . Some examples of friends in classical works:

The end of friendship

Friendships, when they no longer work, are either kept in suspension, i.e. H. only maintained or finished with minimal effort. As Arno Frank wrote, such friendships - unlike separations from sexual partners - are usually not accompanied by discussions and explicit termination of the relationship, but almost always occur slowly and without a demonstrable end point. This happens, for example, because the other person is contacted less and less and requests for contact from the other person are ultimately completely ignored.

See also


Philosophy, ethics

  • Aristotle : Nicomachean Ethics.
  • Cicero , Marcus Tullius: Laelius. - About friendship , edited by Robert Feger. Reclam, Stuttgart 1995, ISBN 978-3-15-000868-3
  • Leon Battista Alberti : About friendship [1441]. In: Alberti: From the household ( Della Famiglia ). Book 4. Munich 1986
  • Michel de Montaigne : About friendship; Three ways of dealing with people: friends, women, books . In: Essais . [anno 1580 ff.]
  • Michel Foucault : About friendship. Interview with Foucault , Berlin 1986
  • Klaus-Dieter Eichler (Hrsg.): Philosophy of friendship . Reclam, Leipzig 1999, ISBN 3-379-01669-1 . Anthology (Plato, Aristoteles, Cicero, Aelred von Rieval , Montaigne, Ashley-Cooper, Helvétius , David Hume, Frhr. V. Knigge, Kant, Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Simmel, Karl Löwith, Carl Schmitt, Derrida, Gadamer, Michael Sandel), with bibliography and numerous references.
  • David Konstan : Friendship in the Classical World . Cambridge 1997
  • Brigitte Uhlemann: Friendship . In: J. Mittelstraß (Ed.): Encyclopedia Philosophy and Philosophy of Science . 2nd Edition. 2005, p. 573 f.
  • Katharina Münchberg , Christian Reidenbach (ed.): Friendship. Theories and poetics . Munich 2012, ISBN 978-3-7705-5370-9
  • Björn Vedder: New friends. About friendship in times of Facebook . transcript, Bielefeld 2017, ISBN 978-3-8376-3868-4


Literary studies

  • Natalie Binczek , Georg Stanitzek (eds.): Strong ties / Weak ties. Friendship semantics and network theory . Winter, Heidelberg 2010, ISBN 978-3-8253-5559-3 (series: Supplements to the Euphorion. Journal for the history of literature, issue 55)
  • Ernst Curtius : Friendship in ancient times . In: dsb .: Antiquity and the present . 1875
  • E. Thaer: The friendship in the German novel of the 18th century . Diss. Giessen 1915
  • W. Rasch: The friendship with Jean Paul . 1929
  • W. Rasch: Friendship cult and friendship poetry in German literature of the 18th century from the end of the Baroque to Klopstock . (DtVjs book series 21) 1936
  • H. Dietrich [Hellbach]: The love of friends in German literature . 1931, reprint 1996
  • F. Zucker : Friendship test in the new Attic comedy . (Saxon Academy of Sciences), 1950
  • RR Purdy: The Friendship Motif in Middle English Literature . 1951
  • HH Weil: The Conception of Friendship in German Baroque Literature (German Life and Letters 13). 1959/60
  • L. Mittner : Friendship and love in German literature of the 18th century . In: Festschrift HH Borcherdt, 1962
  • X. v. Ertzdorff: Courtly friendship . In: Der Deutschunterricht , 14, 1962
  • H. Wilms: The theme of friendship in German baroque poetry and its origins in neo-Latin poetry of the 16th century . Dissertation Kiel 1963
  • Guntram Vogt: The theme of friendship in the novels of Goethe's time . Phil. Diss. Kiel 1966
  • Elisabeth Frenzel : Proof of friendship . In: Dies .: Motives of world literature. A lexicon of longitudinal sections of the history of poetry (= Kröner's pocket edition . Volume 301). 5th, revised and expanded edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 1999, ISBN 3-520-30105-9 .
  • Ulrike Prokop: The friendship between Katharina Elisabeth Goethe and Bettina Brentano - aspects of female tradition. In: Lectures from the Frankfurt women's school. Facets of feminist theory building . Volume of material 2. Self-published, Frankfurt / Main 1987
  • Katharina Lücke: Our questions about friendship . In: Adventure Philosophy , No. 143, January 2016

Art history

  • Sibylle Appuhn-Radtke, Esther P. Wipfler: Friendship . In: Reallexikon zur Deutschen Kunstgeschichte, Vol. X (2011/2012), Col. 793–902

Web links

Wiktionary: Friendship  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikisource: Friendship  - Sources and Full Texts
Commons : Friendship  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Friendship .; Retrieved November 16, 2013
  2. Grimm: German Dictionary . Volume 4, Col. 163
  3. ^ Freund in the Etymological Dictionary according to Pfeifer in the DWDS , accessed on November 13, 2013
  4. Friendship . In: Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon . 6th edition. Volume 7, Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig / Vienna 1907, p.  96 .
  5. Spezi in, accessed on November 13, 2013
  6. Spezi in the Etymological Dictionary according to Pfeifer, online in the DWDS , accessed on November 13, 2013
  7. Duden entry on Busenfreund
  8. ^ Ferdinand Tönnies: Community and Society , 6./7. Edition, Berlin 1926, p. 15
  9. ^ Ferdinand Tönnies: Community and Society , 1st book, § 6
  10. ^ Siegfried Kracauer: About friendship. Essays . Suhrkamp 1971, p. 46 f.
  11. ^ Robert R. Bell: Worlds of Friendship . London 1981, p. 10
  12. ^ Günter Hartfiel, Karl-Heinz Hillmann : Dictionary of Sociology (= Kröner's pocket edition . Volume 410). 3. Edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 1982, ISBN 3-520-41003-6 , p. 224.
  13. Michael Argyle, Monika Henderson: The anatomy of human relationships. Rules of the game of living together . Junfermann, Paderborn 1986, p. 80 f.
  14. ^ Robert Hays: Friendship . In: Steve Duck (Ed.): Handbook of personal Relationships . John Wiley and Sons, Chichester / New York a. a. 1988, pp. 391-408, here p. 391
  15. Ann Elisabeth Auhagen, Maria v. Salisch (ed.): Interpersonal relationships . Hogrefe, Göttingen 1993, p. 207
  16. Ursula Nötzold-Linden: Friendship: To thematize a neglected sociological category. VS, 1994, ISBN 3-531-12551-6 , p. 29
  17. Both quotations from the Aristotle work edition 1956 (Berlin, Ed. Grumach), vol. 6, p. 174.
  18. Arno Frank: Friends, break it up! In: Die Zeit , No. 48/2015