“The Rowing Boat”
William Scott Hodgson, c. 1920


It’s one of the most precious chances life offers: to be a team player, a cooperator in a venture, a fellow worker in a joint work.  Nothing could be more fun than this sharing of skilled seriousness.

Student life was fun, and is remembered as a state-of-grace prior to full adulthood, because we were all striving to grasp difficult matters.  We weren’t trying to have fun.

Playing volleyball was like that too, in a different register.  You could either get the ball over the net for our side – or you couldn’t!  There was a lot of laughter but the game itself was no laughing matter.  It was a real-life scene, with objective rules of the game.

I’ve argued with colleagues whose philosophical views opposed mine, got fired together with colleagues who were allies in the same righteous combat, went together through weddings, divorces, frightening diagnoses from doctors, deaths of parents, the anguish of children in peril, and confided intellectual struggles where the work project of one was quite different from that of the other.

There have been irreparable quarrels too.  I remember once asking a senior colleague (and dear friend) whether, if he were to serve the eminent Professor X with a subpoena at my request, it could possibly damage departmental relations.

“My dear, it could only improve them,” my collegial friend said dryly.

By contrast, a rupture between colleagues who have been long-term friends is, for me, a wound that cuts deep.  One of the claims in my soon-to-appear book, A Good Look at Evil, is that people whose intentions are malevolent know the vulnerabilities of their designated victims — sometimes better than the victims themselves do.  So a determined enemy of Abbie would sense that one of the saddest losses she could suffer would be the loss of a collegial friend.

Here I think of one friend in particular.  Over a period of years, we had been very close. Her part of the field of philosophy spanned terrain very different from the ground where I stood.  Nonetheless, we seemed to complement each other intellectually and to enjoy our differences – of concept, temperament and taste.  

How could so good a friendship ever be lost?  By a very surprising turn of the plotline of our lives, she decided to believe defamatory fictions purveyed by someone who wanted to hurt me badly — and knew just where to strike.  At the time, it seemed as great a loss as any I’d suffered on the pathway where life and work come together.  To me, it’s still very serious.  There’s no smoothing it over.

Breakups negate friendship.  They don’t define it or set the standard.  Ideally, such losses should not happen.  

In the best sense, if nothing bad is allowed to break it up, what does it amount to, this collegiality?  My work – in the world and in my inmost self – is philosophical.  What then is a philosophical colleague?

Being one seems to fit into the very definition of friendship:

two people who can

search for truth together.


About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, now available in an expanded, revised second edition and as an audiobook. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming and illustrated, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” ( where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Some of her articles can be accessed at . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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