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Seow Hon Tan: Justice as Friendship: A Theory of Law

Book Review by Ethan J Leib

Seow Hon Tan: Justice as Friendship: A Theory of Law. Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2015. ISBN (hbk): 9781472429971

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Leib, E.J. (2017) Review of Justice as Friendship: A Theory of Law by Seow Hon Tan. AMITY: The Journal of Friendship Studies, 4:1, pp. 38-40. doi: 10.5518/AMITY/22


It was Aristotle who first tried to bring friendship to the center of political and legal theory. But although Aristotle was our greatest theorist of the different types of friendship, he basically left the ideal type of friendship in the background when it came to thinking about politics and the law. Montaigne took up Aristotle’s ideal friendship of equals and the good – but had a hard time finding a way to render it relevant to thinking about the state; it was Aristotle’s flexibility in thinking about the friendship of unequals that helped him see how friendship could be relevant to political and legal theory, a sphere of life central to our identities but not at the center of our circles of intimacy. Seow Hon Tan’s erudite monograph makes an effort to convince us that thinking about the best kinds of friendship – a universal experience or aspiration, she claims – can be a foundation for justifying and improving the law. Others have tried to use a model of friendship to think about some niche areas in the law: family law’s boundaries or relational contract theory, for example. And some have sought to make friendship more relevant to public policy design. But no one has tried as ambitiously as she does in this book to ground law itself upon a model of “justice as friendship.”

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