‘Friendship, old and new’ workshop (PASIFIC & CHRK IFiS PAN)

February 22, 2024
Warsaw, Poland

Friendship has many faces. In his workshop on ‘Friendship, old and new. Historical and Contemporary Perspectives’, PASIFIC Fellow Dr. Matthias Roick (Centre for the History of Renaissance Knowledge, Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences) explored some of them with a group of distinguished colleagues.

Dr. Roick is particularly interested in the idea that friendship is not only based on utility and pleasure, but also on virtue. His first remarks addressed the modern scepticism of such friendship, crystallised in the pseudo-Aristotelian cry of despair: ‘Oh friends, there is no friend!’ Turning it into a question, he asked the workshop participants: ‘Oh friends, are there really no friends?’

The presentations during the workshop gave a variety of answers and highlighted different facets of the phenomenon.

Prof. Annalisa Ceron (University of Milan) presented letters on friendship by two female Renaissance thinkers, Laura Cereta and Casandra Fedele. Both insist on the possibility of female friendship and virtue, against a long tradition of thinkers who held that ‘women were not capable of friendship’, as the ever-misogynistic Friedrich Nietzsche put it.

Dr. Luisa Brotto (University of Pisa) discussed the remarks on friendship by another notorious thinker, Pierre Charron. Charron distinguishes between different intensities of love and friendship, ranging from everyday social relations with family members and neighbours to perfect friendship, ‘a sort of Phoenix’ for him.

Things took a dark turn with Dr. Olga Hajduk’s (Warsaw, CHRK IFiS PAN) presentation on ‘Friendship and Death’. One of the commonplaces of Renaissance notions of friendship was that it continued after death, and Dr. Hajduk presented some examples of how this saying was reflected in Polish funerary monuments of the period.

After lunch, Prof. Gijs Versteegen (Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, Madrid) took the group and locked them into the ‘Prison of Love’, a Renaissance novel about the tribulations of young lovers with a plot worthy of a Netflix series. Often read by mixed groups of young women and men in the Renaissance, the novel has much to say about the thin red line between love and friendship, and the virtuous behaviour that goes with it – including the destruction of love letters by tearing them up and drinking them.

Drinking was also a problem in early modern university disputations, which often led to brawls in the local tavern. Without resorting to violence, Prof. Danilo Facca (Warsaw, CHRK IFiS PAN) discussed how academics of the period gave their disputations a moral framework, providing an interesting example of peaceful conflict resolution.

Prof. Andrzej Gniazdowski (Warsaw, IFiS PAN) fast-forwarded the discussion to the twentieth century. His presentation of Edith Stein’s thoughts about “state and ethnicity”, written after World War I, showed how the Aristotelian notion of friendship haunted the attempts of thinkers such as Stein and Carl Schmitt to bring together notions of state and community, often in striking resemblance to contemporary discussions of identity and politics.

The final discussion was introduced by Prof. Valentina Lepri (Warsaw, CHRK IFiS PAN) with some reflections on the main themes of the day, among them the multi-layered structure of early modern society. Reporting from her own field of study, she emphasised the importance of friendship for scholarship and the history of knowledge.

Taking her at her word, the participants went to dinner. Virtue prevailed – no brawls were reported.