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Epicurus considered friendship a matter of the utmost importance: it contributes, he claimed, more than anything else to the good and pleasant life. It is also the cohesive force that makes society, and human cohabitation possible at all.

The Epicurean distinction between the intrinsic and the instrumental value of friendship, however, involves some complex reasoning: friendship begins, as Epicurus argues, from some hope or expectation of mutual benefit; yet, with time, continued contact, and deeper understanding, it grows to a genuine affection, void of any expectation other than the sheer pleasure of having another human as one's friend. Thus habituation gradually elevates and ennobles the initial association into arguably the very greatest joy and pleasure of life.

Epicurus and his followers advised that friendship should not be pushed to either extreme: if pushed towards the extreme of exclusive self-interest, it is mercenary, and not true friendship at all; if stripped of any and all hope of personal benefit, however, it grows barren and hollow, as it does not allow for at least the hope that one may receive some benefit from one's friend(s).

Epicurus' views on friendship have been attacked from many quarters, and for a variety of reasons; in most cases, critics are opposed to what they perceive as mercenary motives in the Epicurean definition of friendship. This definition, however, stands on the eminently credible middle-ground between friendship as self-sacrifice (as suggested by some religious thinkers) and strictly mercantile, reciprocal self-interest.

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