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Keywords:

  • friendship;
  • distributive justice;
  • personal prerogative;
  • civil society;
  • egalitarianism

Friendship distributes critical benefits across society and does so unequally. Income, levels of education and health vary dramatically according to the quality of individuals' friendships. Further, friendships shape the motivations and aspirations of their participants. In light of these facts, this article questions whether and how egalitarian requirements should apply to personal friendship. I first show that existing theories of distributive justice, whether they are ‘outcomes centred’ or ‘institutionalist’, have reasons to consider personal friendship as a direct subject of justice. However, both fail to provide reasonable guidelines for how to apply the requirements of justice to friendship. I thus argue that principles of justice, in particular fair equality of opportunity, ought to assess and govern that part of the social structure that controls the production and distribution of friendship bonds across society. I theorise a ‘relational distributive structure’, mainly constituted by civil society associations, as the appropriate subject of justice.