Two friends, Tina and Selina, have some obligations to each other that are not specified or agreed just by Tina or Selina themselves but also by the social structure, the institution, of friendship. That is, there is a sense in which ‘friend’ can be said to be a kind of social role: a set of expectations that pre-exist and endure particular individuals in particular relationships. Thus Tina’s angry rebuke to Selina “but I thought we were friends!” can make perfect sense without their having made any specific agreements about how they behave towards each other.
Or at least that’s what I think….Interestingly, philosophical accounts of friendship have tended to overlook, play down or in some cases explicitly doubt, this institutional dimension. Contrarily, I will argue that proper consideration should significantly inform our understanding of friendship, particularly in light of some longstanding arguments about friendship’s value and place in moral theory.