Jacques Derrida's 1988-89 seminar on "The Politics of Friendship" centers itself around a quotation attributed to Aristotle, found in Diogenes Laertius (V, 1, 21) and later quoted by Montaigne ("On Friendship", I, 28)

"O my friends, there is no friend."

Needless to say, Derrida spends much of the seminar working out the paradoxical implications of this statement.

However, he later proposes (p208 in the first edition) that there is an alternative reading possible, whereby the vocative omega that opens the passage is read as aspirated and thus becomes the dative of the pronoun; thus, "He who has friends can have no true friend" (which is the translation found in the Loeb edition).

My question: have any Aristotelian scholars weighed in on these alternate readings? Has anyone (other than Derrida, here) approached it from a philosophical standpoint (and not purely from a philological one)? The latter translation seems to correspond nicely to sentiments found in the Eudemian Ethics (1245b) and the Nichomachean Ethics (1171a), but the former is what is found in Montaigne (and translations thereof).


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Giorgio Agamben has written fairly extensively on this expression. A systematic reading of the phrase occurs in an essay of his entitled "Friendship," apparently written after discussions with Derrida during the period of time he would have been working on the text you mention (i.e., the one that would eventually be called The Politics of Friendship).

Agamben takes it upon himself to "trace" this expression back through Montaigne and Nietzsche to Diogenes Laertius, where as you mention it originally appears. He shows there that, as you indicate -- perhaps through a transcription error -- a one letter distortion had crept in at some point in the history of this phrase. Like you describe, the original actually might have been translated as:

He who has [many] friends, has no friend.

Derrida, for his own part as you show, does seem aware of this distortion. He certainly concedes that the version of the phrase he analyzes might indeed have resulted from a copyists' error or bias.

Note that Agamben is mentioned among the friends Derrida thanks in the text.

I found this essay (Giorgio Agamben's "Friendship") published in the tiny volume, What is an Apparatus?; you can read more about the Agamben-Derrida connection on this issue in Durantaye's Giorgio Agamben: A Critical Introduction (in the notes to the main work, pp. 418-419).

(In passing, Deleuze and Guattari speak extensively about the relationship between friendship and philosophy towards the beginning of What is Philosophy?; in particular, I might note that they indicate Maurice Blanchot as being "one of the rare thinkers to consider the notion of friend in philosophy". I cannot speak directly to the point but I thought it might be helpful nevertheless.)

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    Thanks for the Agamben reference; I have What is an Apparatus? sitting unread on my shelf-- I'll pull it down right away. The Deleuze and Guattari is a classic, and they are absolutely right to highlight Blanchot in this regard-- some of his essays on this topic have been collected by Stanford in a volume entitled Friendship, in the same series (Meridian: Crossing Aesthetics) in which the Agamben appears. Commented Dec 14, 2011 at 8:58

Aristotle in his book of ethics describes friendship and believes in it.
He actually describes how only true friendship can be among the noblest of people.
How it can be preserved over time etc.

I found this link which says that this quotation you refer is erroneously attributed to Aristotle.

I personally find it the most reasonable explanation, since that quote as stated, is not consistent with Aristotle's opinion about friendship in his work on ethics


The quote appears in Greek, unattributed to Aristotle, with the aspiration, in the first Sermon in Samuel Johnsons' Collected Works, Sermons, vol. 14 (the edition published by Yale). In this case, of course, it is interpreted as He who has friends is no friend. The subject of the sermon is marriage, oddly. It is worth checking out.


A detailed analysis of the quote’s origin in various Greek manuscripts of Diogenes Laertius’s Lives is available here. It starts with Agamben’s remarks and expand from it. Mostly philological, though it refers to Derrida and Sloterdijk as well.

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