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Benevolence Personal Response Essay

1. The Concepts of Beneficence and Benevolence

The term beneficence connotes acts of mercy, kindness, and charity. It is suggestive of altruism, love, humanity, and promoting the good of others. In ordinary language, the notion is broad, but it is understood even more broadly in ethical theory to include effectively all forms of action intended to benefit or promote the good of other persons. The language of a principle or rule of beneficence refers to a normative statement of a moral obligation to act for the others' benefit, helping them to further their important and legitimate interests, often by preventing or removing possible harms. Many dimensions of applied ethics appear to incorporate such appeals to obligatory beneficence, even if only implicitly. For example, when apparel manufacturers are criticized for not having good labor practices in factories, the ultimate goal of the criticisms is usually to obtain better working conditions, wages, and benefits for workers.

Whereas beneficence refers to an action done to benefit others, benevolence refers to the morally valuable character trait—or virtue—of being disposed to act to benefit others. Many acts of beneficence have been understood in moral theory as obligatory, as determined by principles of beneficence that state moral obligation. However, beneficent acts also may be performed from nonobligatory, optional moral ideals, which are standards that belong to a morality of meritorious aspiration in which individuals or institutions adopt goals and practices that are not obligatory for everyone.

Exceptional beneficence is commonly categorized as supererogatory, a term meaning paying or performing beyond what is obligatory or doing more than is required. This category of extraordinary conduct usually refers to high moral ideals of action, but it has links to virtues and to Aristotelian ideals of moral excellence. Such ideals of action and moral excellence of character need not rise to the level of the moral saint or moral hero. Even moral excellence comes by degrees. Not all supererogatory acts of beneficence or benevolent dispositions are exceptionally arduous, costly, or risky. Examples of less demanding forms include anonymous gift-giving, uncompensated public service, forgiving another person's costly error, and complying with requests to provide a benefit that exceeds the obligatory requirements of ordinary morality or professional morality.

Saintly and heroic beneficence (and benevolence) are at the extreme end of a continuum of beneficent conduct and commitment. This continuum is not merely a continuum mapping the territory beyond duty. It is a continuum of beneficence itself, starting with obligatory beneficence. The continuum runs from strict obligation (grounded in the core norms of beneficence in ordinary morality) through weaker obligations (the outer periphery of ordinary expectations of persons, such as great conscientiousness in attending to a friend's welfare) and on to the domain of the morally nonrequired and exceptionally virtuous. The nonrequired starts with lower‑level acts of supererogation such as helping a stranger who is lost find a desired location in a city. An absence of this sort of beneficence constitutes a defect in the moral life, even if not a failure of obligation. The continuum ends with high-level acts of supererogation such as heroic acts of self-sacrifice to benefit others. Beneficence is best understood as spread across this continuum. However, there is considerable controversy about where obligation ends and supererogation begins on the continuum.

A celebrated example of beneficence that rests somewhere on this continuum, though it is hard to locate just where, is the New Testament parable of the Good Samaritan. In this parable, robbers have beaten and left half-dead a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. A Samaritan tends to his wounds and cares for him at an inn. The Samaritan's actions are beneficent and the motives benevolent. However, they do not seem—on the information given—to rise to the level of heroic or saintly conduct. The morally exceptional, beneficent person may be laudable and emulable, yet neither a moral saint nor a moral hero.

2. The Historical Place of Beneficence in Ethical Theory

The history of ethical theory shows that there are many ways to think about beneficence and benevolence. Several landmark ethical theories have embraced these moral notions as central categories, while proposing strikingly different conceptual and moral analyses. Prime examples are found in the moral-sentiment theory of David Hume, where benevolence is the central “principle” of human nature in his moral psychology, and in utilitarian theories, where the principle of utility is itself a strong and demanding principle of beneficence. Beneficence in these writers is close to the essence of morality. Other writers, including Kant, have given less dominance to beneficence, but still give it an important place in morality.

2.1 Hume's Theory

Hume's moral psychology and virtue ethics make motives of benevolence all important in moral life. He argues that natural benevolence accounts, in great part, for what he calls the origin of morality. A major theme is his defense of benevolence as a principle in human nature, in opposition to theories of psychological egoism. Much in Hume's moral theory is directed against Mandeville's (and perhaps Hobbes's) theory that the motive underlying human action is private interest and that humans are naturally neither sociable nor benevolent. Hume argues that egoism rests on a faulty moral psychology and maintains that benevolence is an “original” feature of human nature. Benevolence is Hume's most important moral principle of human nature, but he also uses the term “benevolence” to designate a class of virtues rooted in goodwill, generosity, and love directed at others. Hume finds benevolence in many manifestations: friendship, charity, compassion, etc. Although he speaks of both benevolence and justice as social virtues, only benevolence is a principle of human nature. Rules of justice, by contrast, are normative human conventions that promote public utility.

In his inquiries into the principle of self-love, Hume does not reject all aspects of the egoists' claims about the absence of impartial benevolence in human motivation. He acknowledges many motives in human nature and uses metaphors of the dove, wolf, and serpent to illustrate the mixture of elements in our nature. Principally, he sees human nature in the domain of moral conduct as a mixture of benevolence and self-love. Whereas the egoist views human nature as limited to motives such as survival, fear, ambition, and the search for happiness, Hume regards persons as motivated by a variety of passions, both generous and ungenerous. He maintains that these elements vary by degree from person to person. Lacking distinctive information about a particular individual, we cannot know whether in that person benevolence typically dominates and controls self-love, or the converse.

2.2 Utilitarian Theory

In Utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill argues that moral philosophers have left a train of unconvincing and incompatible theories that can be coherently unified by a single standard of beneficence that allows us to decide objectively what is right and wrong. He declares the principle of utility, or the “greatest happiness” principle, to be the basic foundation of morals: Actions are right in proportion to their promotion of happiness for all beings, and wrong as they produce the reverse. This is a straightforward principle of beneficence and potentially a very demanding one. Mill and subsequent utilitarians mean that an action or practice is right (when compared with any alternative action or practice) if it leads to the greatest possible balance of beneficial consequences (happiness for Mill) or to the least possible balance of bad consequences (unhappiness for Mill). Mill also holds that the concepts of duty, obligation, and right are subordinated to, and determined by, that which maximizes benefits and minimizes harmful outcomes. The principle of utility is presented by Mill as an absolute or preeminent principle, thus making beneficence the one and only supreme principle of ethics. It justifies all subordinate rules and is not simply one among a number of prima facie principles.

Mill's theory of morality is welfare-oriented at its core because moral rightness is determined by goodness, which is itself to be understood in terms of the welfare of individuals. It is a consequentialist theory because the moral rightness and obligatoriness of actions are established by their beneficial results. It is an aggregative theory because a judgment about right or obligatory action depends on an appraisal of the effects of different possible actions on the welfare of all affected parties, which entails summing positive benefits and negative effects over all persons affected. Beneficence has rarely occupied such a central role in a moral theory.

2.3 Kant's Theory

Kant notoriously rejects the utilitarian model of a supreme principle of beneficence, but he still finds a vital place in the moral life for beneficence. He seeks universally valid principles (or maxims) of duty, and beneficence is one such principle. A motive of benevolence based on sentiment—so admired by Hume—is morally unworthy in Kant's theory unless the motive behind benevolent action is a motive of duty. The motive likewise cannot rest on utilitarian goals.

Kant argues that everyone has a duty to be beneficent, i.e. to be helpful to others according to one's means, and without hoping for any form of personal gain thereby. Benevolence done from friendly inclination he regards as “unlimited” (a term subject to different interpretations, but meaning at least “having no boundaries in potential scope”), whereas beneficence from duty does not place unlimited demands on persons. Nonetheless, the limits of duties of beneficence are not clear and precise in Kant. While we are obligated to some extent to sacrifice some part of our welfare to benefit others without any expectation of recompense, it is not possible in the abstract to fix a definite limit on how far this duty extends. We can only say that everyone has a duty to be beneficent, according to that person's means, and that no one has an unlimited duty to do so.

Kant here anticipates, without developing, what would later become one of the most difficult areas of the theory of beneficence: How, exactly, are we to specify the limits of beneficence as an obligation?

3. Is Beneficence Obligatory or Merely a Moral Ideal?

Deep disagreements have emerged in moral theory regarding how much is demanded by obligations of beneficence. Some ethical theories insist not only that there are obligations of beneficence, but that these obligations sometimes demand severe sacrifice and extreme generosity in the moral life. Some formulations of utilitarianism, for example, appear to derive obligations to give our job to a person who needs it more than we do, to give away most of our income, to devote much of our time to civic enterprises, etc. It is likely that no society has ever operated on such a demanding principle, but it does seem embraced, at least abstractly, by a number of moral philosophers—arguably even on Kant's theory of the categorical imperative (although, as already mentioned, Kant seems to deny such scope to obligatory beneficence).

By contrast, some moral philosophers have claimed that we have no general obligations of beneficence. We have only duties deriving from specific roles and assignments of duty that are not a part of ordinary morality. These philosophers hold that beneficent action is virtuous and a commendable moral ideal, but not an obligation, and thus that persons are not morally deficient if they fail to act beneficently. An instructive example is found in the moral theory of Bernard Gert, who maintains that there are no moral rules of beneficence, only moral ideals. The only obligations in the moral life, apart from duties encountered in professional roles and other specific stations of duty, are captured by moral rules that prohibit causing harm or evil. In Gert's theory, the general goal of morality is to minimize the causation of evil or harm, not to promote good. Rational persons can act impartially at all times in regard to all persons with the aim of not causing evil, he argues, but rational persons cannot impartially promote the good for all persons at all times.

Those who defend such a beneficence-negating conclusion (regarding obligation) do not hold the extreme view that there are no obligations of beneficence in contexts of role-assigned duties, such as those in professional ethics and in specific communities. They acknowledge that professional and other roles carry obligations (or duties, as Gert insists) that do not bind persons who do not occupy the relevant roles; they claim that the actions one is obligated to perform within the roles are merely moral ideals for any person not in the specific role. That is, these philosophers present beneficence not as a general obligation, but as a role-specific duty and as institutionally or culturally assigned.

In rejecting principles of obligatory beneficence, Gert draws the line at obligations of nonmaleficence. That is, he embraces rules that prohibit causing harm to other persons, even though he rejects all principles or rules that require helping other persons, which includes acting to prevent harm to them. Thus, he accepts moral rules such as “Don't kill,” “Don't cause pain or suffering to others,” “Don't incapacitate others,” “Don't deprive others of the goods of life,” and the like. His theory therefore makes nonmaleficence central to the nature and theory of moral obligation while denying that beneficence has any place in the theory of obligation.

However, the mainstream of moral philosophy has been to make both not-harming and helping to be obligations, while preserving the distinction between the two. This literature can be confusing, because some writers treat obligations of nonmaleficence as a species of obligations of beneficence, although the two notions are very different. Rules of beneficence are typically more demanding than rules of nonmaleficence, and rules of nonmaleficence are negative prohibitions of action that must be followed impartially and that provide moral reasons for legal prohibitions of certain forms of conduct. By contrast, rules of beneficence state positive requirements of action, need not always be followed impartially, and rarely, if ever, provide moral reasons that support legal punishment when agents fail to abide by the rules.

The contrast between nonmaleficence and beneficence notwithstanding, ordinary morality suggests that there are some rules of beneficence that we are obligated to follow impartially, such as those requiring that we make efforts to rescue strangers under conditions of minimal risk. Even some legal punishments for failure to rescue strangers may be justifiable. Significant controversies have arisen in both law and moral philosophy about how to formulate and defend such requirements, but one more or less classic idea has been to argue that a person P has an obligation of beneficence to help another whenever the other is at risk of significant loss of or damage to some basic interest; P's action is necessary (singly or collaboratively) to prevent this loss or damage; P's action (singly or collaboratively) is likely to prevent the loss or damage; and P's action does not present significant risks, costs, or burdens to P while the benefits that the other person can be expected to gain outweigh any burden that P is likely to incur.

4. The Problem of Over-Demanding Beneficence

Some philosophers defend extremely demanding and far-reaching principles of obligatory beneficence. Peter Singer's theory is the most widely discussed example. In his early work, Singer distinguished between preventing evil and promoting good and contended that persons in affluent nations are morally obligated to prevent something bad or evil from happening if it is in their power to do so without having to sacrifice anything of comparable importance. In the face of preventable disease and poverty, for example, we ought to donate time and resources toward their eradication until we reach a level at which, by giving more, we would cause as much suffering to ourselves as we would relieve through our gift. Singer leaves it open what counts as being of comparable importance and as being an appropriate level of sacrifice, but his argument implies that morality sometimes requires us to invest heavily in rescuing needy persons in the global population, not merely at the level of local communities and political states.

This claim implies that morality sometimes requires us to make enormous sacrifices. It would appear that the demand is placed not only on individuals with disposable incomes, but on all reasonably well-off persons, foundations, governments, corporations, etc. All of these parties have moral obligations to refrain from spending resources on nonessential items and to use the available resources or savings to lend assistance to those in urgent need. Frills, fashion, luxuries, and the like are never to determine expenditures, and one is to give to the needy up to the point that one (or one's dependent) would be impoverished. Singer has not regarded such conduct as an enormous moral sacrifice, but only as the discharge of a basic obligation of beneficence.

Singer's proposals have struck many as overly demanding, impracticable, and a significant departure from the demands of ordinary morality. This assessment has generated a number of criticisms, as well as defenses, of demanding principles of beneficence such as the one proposed by Singer. Critics continue today to argue that a principle of beneficence that requires persons, governments, and corporations to seriously disrupt their projects and plans in order to benefit the poor and underprivileged exceeds the limits of ordinary moral obligations and have no plausible grounding in moral theory. They argue that the line between the obligatory and the supererogatory has been unjustifiably erased by such a principle. In effect, the claim is that an aspirational moral ideal has redrawn the lines of real moral obligation.

Singer has attempted to reformulate his position so that his theory of beneficence does not set an overly demanding standard. He maintains that no clear justification exists for the claim that obligations of ordinary morality do not contain a demanding principle of beneficence, in particular a harm-prevention principle. He apparently would explain the lack of concern often shown for poverty relief as a failure to draw the correct implications from the very principles of beneficence that ordinary morality embraces. Later in his series of publications on the subject Singer attempted to take account of objections that his principle sets an unduly high standard. He has not given up his strong principle of beneficence, but he has suggested that it might be morally wise and most productive to publicly advocate a lower standard—that is, a weakened principle of beneficence. He therefore proposed a more guarded formulation of the principle, arguing that we should strive for donations of a round percentage of income, such as 10 per cent, which amounts to more than a token donation and yet also is not so high as to make us miserable or turn us into moral saints. This standard, Singer proclaimed, is the minimum that we ought to do to conform to obligations of beneficence.

Controversy continues today about how to analyze and evaluate the commitments of a principle of beneficence, including how to formulate limits that reduce required burdens on agents' life plans and make meeting the obligations of beneficence a realistic possibility. Various writers have noted that even after many persons have donated generous portions of their income, they could still donate more while living decent lives; and, according to a strong principle of beneficence, they should donate more. Establishing the theoretical and practical limits of donation and sacrifice is clearly very challenging, and perhaps an impossible ideal.

However, it does not follow that we should give up a principle of beneficence. It only follows that establishing the moral limits of the demands of beneficence is profoundly difficult. Liam Murphy has proposed to fix the limits of individual beneficence to meet global problems of need by using a cooperative principle of fairness in which, in any given circumstance, it must first be determined what each reasonably affluent person must do to contribute a fair share to an optimal outcome. An individual is only required to aid others beneficently at the level that would produce the best consequences if all in society were to give their fair share. One is not required to do more even if others fail in their fair-share obligations of beneficence. Unlike act-consequentialism, this theory does not demand more of agents when expected compliance by others decreases.

Murphy's cooperative principle is intuitively attractive, but it may not have the necessary moral punch to address issues such as global poverty. Murphy seems right to suggest that large-scale problems requiring beneficence should be conceived as cooperative projects, but his limit on individual obligations seems unlikely to have a practical effect of increasing international aid and the like beyond present commitments and levels. If, as is to be expected in virtually all situations of global poverty, others fail to comply with their fair-share obligations of beneficence as set out in this theory, it is not clear why each person's obligation is set only by the original calculation of a single fair share. This is not to say that Singer's approach is superior. The more demanding a principle is, the less likely are people to comply with its demands. Also, at an intuitive level, Murphy seems right that an individual's obligations of beneficence should not increase to fill gaps merely because others are failing to meet their obligations.

In his Uehiro Lectures on Global Poverty, Singer defended his arguments about beneficence including the public advocacy thesis (see the Other Internet Resources). Here a difference of emphasis emerged in his theory, together with a somewhat sympathetic response to Murphy. Singer seems concerned with which social conditions will motivate people to give, rather than with attempting to determine obligations of beneficence with precision. Singer responds to critics such as Murphy by conceding that perhaps the limit of what we should publicly advocate as a level of giving is no more than a person's fair share of what is needed to relieve poverty and the like. Unless we draw the line here, we might not be able to motivate people to give at all. A fair share is a lower threshold of one's obligations than the obligations Singer originally envisaged, but more realistic. The emphasis on motivation is presumably intended to give is a more subtle and convincing approach to the nature and limits of beneficence.

Wherever the line of precise limits of obligatory beneficence is drawn, the line is likely to be revisionary by drawing a sharper boundary on our obligations than exists in ordinary morality. Singer's proposals, unlike Murphy's, seem to represent a revision of ordinary morality's requirements of beneficence, despite the faint presence in the history of Western morality of religious obligations of tithing. A variety of proposals regarding the limits of beneficence have been made by philosophers, but no agreement on even a general principle exists. Accordingly, many now doubt that ethical theory or practical deliberation is equipped to establish precise conditions and limits of obligations of beneficence.

5. Liberty-Limiting Beneficence: The Problem of Benefit Paternalism

A still much-discussed issue about beneficence descends historically from Mill's On Liberty, where Mill inquired into the nature and limits of justifiable social control over the individual. He argues that the measure of a person's liberty—or personal autonomy—is the measure of the person's independence from influences that control the person's preferences, thoughts, and behavior. Various principles commonly assumed to be moral principles have been advanced to justify the limitation of individual liberties. Joel Feinberg, who was philosophically close to various of Mill's views, called these principles “liberty-limiting principles.” Mill defended the view that only one principle validly limits liberty. Feinberg called it the harm principle: A person's liberty (or autonomy) is justifiably restricted to prevent harm to others caused by that person. Mill and Feinberg agreed that the principle of paternalism, which renders acceptable certain attempts to benefit another person when the other does not prefer to receive the benefit, is not a morally acceptable liberty-limiting principle.

The term paternalism has its roots in the notion of paternal administration—government as by a father to administer in the way a beneficent father raises his children. The analogy with the father presupposes two features of the paternal role: that the father acts beneficently (that is, in accordance with the interests of his children) and that he makes all or at least some of the decisions relating to his children's welfare, rather than leaving them free to make those decisions. On this model, “paternalism” may be defined as the intentional overriding of one person's known preferences or choices by another person, where the person who overrides justifies the action by the goal of substantially benefiting or avoiding harm to the person whose preferences or choices are overridden. (Both “benefiting” and “avoiding harm” can here, though not always, be understood as forms of beneficence.) An act of paternalism, then, overrides moral obligations to respect autonomous choice on grounds of beneficence.

Philosophers divide sharply over whether some restricted form of paternalism can be justified and, if so, on what basis. One plausible beneficence-based justification of paternalistic actions places benefits on a scale with autonomy interests and balances the two: As a person's interests in autonomy increase and the benefits for that person decrease, the justification of paternalistic action becomes less cogent; conversely, as the benefits for a person increase and that person's interests in autonomy decrease, the justification of paternalistic action becomes more plausible. Thus, preventing minor harms or providing minor benefits while deeply disrespecting autonomy lacks plausible justification; but actions that prevent major harms or provide major benefits while only trivially disrespecting autonomy have a highly plausible paternalistic rationale.

Though no consensus exists over the justification of paternalism, virtually no one thinks that benefit paternalism can be justified unless at least the following conditions are satisfied:

  • A person is at risk of a significant and preventable harm or loss of a benefit.
  • The paternalistic action has a strong likelihood of preventing the harm or obtaining the benefit.
  • The projected benefits of the paternalistic action outweigh its risks.
  • The least autonomy-restrictive alternative that will secure the benefits and reduce the risks is adopted.

Debates about benefit paternalism have also emerged in public policy contexts. Often health policies have the goal of avoiding a harm or providing a benefit in a population in which most affected parties are not consulted. Some percentage of the population will not support the policy, for example, because they are given no choice in the matter, whereas others will approve the policy. In effect, the policy is intended to benefit all members of a population without consulting the preferences of individuals affected—all the while foreseeing that many individuals will reject the imposed control that the policy exerts over their lives.

So-called neopaternalists have argued for government policies intended to protect or benefit individuals through shaping or steering their choices without, in fact, altogether disallowing or coercing those choices. Some recommend policies that pursue values that an intended beneficiary already, at least implicitly, holds but cannot realize because of limited capacities, limited resources or limited self-control. In this context, the individual's own stated preferences, choices, and actions are deemed unreasonable in light of other standards the person is regarded as embracing.

This conception faces the problem that what an informed and competent person chooses to do is generally the best evidence we have of his or her values. For example, if a deeply religious man fails to follow the dietary restrictions of his religion, although he is in the abstract strongly committed to all aspects of the religion, his departures from dietary laws may be the best evidence we have of his true values on the particular matter of dietary restrictions. Because it seems correct—short of counterevidence in particular cases—that competent informed choice is the best evidence of a person's values, a justified paternalism must, among other things, have adequate evidence that this assumption is misguided in any given case.

6. Beneficence in Biomedical Ethics

Since the late 1970s, principles of beneficence have been a mainstay of the literature of biomedical ethics. Persons engaged in medical practice, research, and public health appreciate that risks of harm presented by interventions must often be weighed against possible benefits for patients, subjects, and the public. Their professional obligations are deeply informed by their commitments to prevent or reduce harm and to produce a positive balance of goods over inflicted harms.

6.1 The Ends of Medicine

Beneficence has played a major role in a central conceptual issue about the nature and goals of medicine as a social practice. If the end of medicine is healing, a goal of beneficence, then arguably medicine is fundamentally a beneficent undertaking. If so, beneficence grounds and determines the professional obligations and virtues of the physician. Authors such as Edmund Pellegrino write as if beneficence is the sole foundational principle of professional medical ethics. In this theory, medical beneficence is oriented exclusively to the end of healing and not to any other form of benefit. The category of medical benefits does not, for Pellegrino, include items such as providing fertility controls (unless for the prevention and maintenance of health and bodily integrity), performing purely cosmetic surgery, or actively helping a patient to effect a merciful death by the active hastening of death.

This characterization of the ends of medicine allows Pellegrino to limit severely what counts as a medical benefit for patients: Benefit in medicine is limited to healing and related activities such as caring for and preventing injury or disease. This thesis is controversial. Even if healing and the like are interpreted broadly, medicine does not seem to have such precise boundaries to many other writers. If beneficence is a general moral principle and if physicians are positioned to supply many forms of benefit, there is no manifest reason why physicians' hands are tied to the single benefit of healing, even in their role as medical professionals. The range of benefits that might be considered relevant seems broader and could include prescribing pharmaceutical products or devices that prevent fertility (where there is no healing-related purpose), providing purely cosmetic surgery for aesthetic (by contrast to reconstructive) reasons, helping patients write realistic living wills, complying with terminally ill patients' requests for physician-assistance in dying by hastening death, and the like. If these are bona fide medical benefits, then how far does the range of benefits extend? If a physician runs a company that manufactures powered wheel chairs for the elderly, does this activity supply a medical benefit? When physicians consult with an insurance company about cost-effective treatments that save their patients money, is this activity a beneficent component of the practice of medicine?

Controversy over the ends of medicine requires decisions about what is to count as the practice of medicine and, derivatively, what counts as medical beneficence. Controversy appears not only in the literature of biomedical ethics, but also in some split decisions of the U. S. Supreme Court—most notably in Gonzales v. Oregon, a case dealing with physician-hastened death. The majority decision in this case asserts that there is no consensus among health care professionals about the precise boundaries of the legitimate practice of medicine, a legal notion similar to the medical-ethics notion of the proper ends of medicine. The court notes that there is reasonable disagreement in the community of physicians regarding the appropriate process for determining the boundaries of medical practice and that there is disagreement about the extent to which the government should be involved in drawing boundaries when physicians themselves disagree. This court opinion allows that, depending on state law, a physician may legitimately assist in various ways to help bring about the death of a terminally ill patient who has explicitly and competently requested this assistance from the physician.

6.2 Harms and Benefits in Health Care

A health professional's conception of both harm to and benefit for a patient can differ sharply from that of the patient, but the health professional's understandings of benefits also often depend on the patient's view of what constitutes a benefit or a worthwhile risk. Different patients take different views about what constitutes a harm and a benefit, and when each view is reasonable it is morally unacceptable to maintain that the notions of medical benefit and harm are objectively independent of the patient's judgment.

Physician-hastened death by request of the patientcontroversially characterized as physician-assisted suicide—is again a prominent example of this problem. Physicians and nurses have long worried that patients who forgo life-sustaining treatment with the intention of dying are killing themselves and that health professionals are assisting in their suicide. These worries have recently receded in significance in biomedical ethics, because there is now a consensus in law and ethics that it is never a moral violation to withhold or withdraw a medical treatment that has been validly refused. This consensus began to be developed with the case of Karen Ann Quinlan in 1976 and eventually was formed around U. S. Supreme Court decisions, especially the Cruzan Case of 1990. The writings of numerous philosophers and lawyers contributed to the formation of this consensus. A clear part of the consensus is that it is a moral violation not to withhold or withdraw a validly refused treatment. If death is hastened in this way by a physician's omission or action, there can be no moral objection to what has been done, and a physician's cooperation can rightly be viewed as merciful and benevolent.

However, this problem has been replaced by another: Is it harmful or beneficial to help a competent patient who has requested a hastened death? In addition to vexed questions about the purported distinction between killing and letting die, the issue presses the question of what counts as a benefit and what counts as a harm. Is requested death in the face of miserable suffering a benefit for some patients while a harm for other patients? When is it a benefit, and when a harm? Is the answer to this question determined by the method used to bring about death--for example, withdrawal of treatment by contrast to use of lethal medication?

6.3 Social Beneficence and Public Policy

A number of controversial issues in biomedical ethics concern how public policy could, and should, change if obligations of social beneficence were given more strength in policy formulation than they have traditionally been afforded. The foundations of public policy regarding organ procurement provide an instructive example. Established legal and policy precedents in many countries require express consent by a decedent before death or by the family after death. A near absolute right of autonomy to decide about the disposition of organs and tissues has been the prevailing norm. However, this approach impairs the efficient collection of needed tissues and organs, and many people die as a result of the shortage of organs. The scarcity of organs and tissues and the inefficiency of the system have prompted a spate of proposals for reform of the current system of procurement, with the goal of creating more space for social beneficence.

One policy proposal with a notably strong social-beneficence commitment is the routine retrieval of organs and tissues. In this system of procurement, a community is permitted to, and encouraged to, routinely collect organs and tissues from the deceased, unless the dead person had previously registered his or her objection to the system with the state. The routine retrieval of tissues and organs from the deceased is unjustified on traditional grounds of respect for autonomy. However, advocates of the policy of routine retrieval argue that members of a community have an obligation to provide other persons with objects of lifesaving value when no cost to themselves is required. That is, the justification is in beneficence, not respect for autonomy.

The debate will continue for many years about whether beneficence or respect for autonomy should prevail in public policy governing organ retrieval. Advocates of the current system argue that individual and family rights of consent should retain dominance. Advocates of routine retrieval argue that traditional social priorities involving beneficence in conflict with autonomy have been wrongly structured. Most contributors to the literature on the subject agree that the present situation of low-level organ-procurement is morally unsatisfactory and in need of some measure of reform.

6.4 Social Beneficence and Social Justice

Some of the most important issues in the ethics of health and health care today are widely classified as issues of social justice. However, at the hands of many writers, social justice is notably similar to social beneficence. The underlying moral problem in global ethics is how to structure both the global order and national systems that affect health so that burdens are avoided, benefits are provided, and then both are fairly distributed using a threshold condition of equitable levels of health and access to health care. Globalization has brought a realization that problems of protecting health and providing beneficial services are international in nature and that their alleviation will require a restructuring of the global system.

John Rawls's A Theory of Justice has been an enormously influential work in discussions of these problems in biomedical ethics. Rawls argues that a social arrangement forming a political state is a communal effort to advance the good of all in the society. His starting assumptions are layered with beneficent, egalitarian goals of making the unequal situation of the naturally disadvantaged members of society both better and more equal. His recognition of a positive societal obligation to eliminate or reduce barriers that prevent fair opportunity and that correct or compensate for various disadvantages has implications for discussions of both beneficence and justice in health care, although Rawls himself never pursued these health issues.

Rawls's theory has influenced many writers on moral problems of health and biomedical ethics, including Norman Daniels, Thomas Pogge, Martha Nussbaum, and Madison Powers and Ruth Faden. One of Daniels' main questions is “How can we meet health needs fairly under reasonable limits to resources committed to the task?” The “fairly” part of this formulation may be justice-based, but the notion of “reasonable limits to resources” is closely tied to the problems of the limits of beneficence mentioned previously. Daniels argues that because health is affected by many social factors, theories of justice should not center entirely on access to health care, but also on the need to reduce health inequalities by improving social conditions that affect the health of societies, such as having clean water, adequate nutrition, and general sanitation.

Pogge views the well-being of the worst-off members of global society as the proper starting point for a practical theory of justice, but his theory can also be expressed as an argument from social beneficence. Pogge has been concerned with the sweep of global poverty and its impact on health and welfare—an interest almost identical to the theories of Singer and Powers and Faden. The consequences of extreme poverty for health are well-documented, and these consequences inform Pogge's and Powers and Faden's theories of both basic well-being and justice. Among other things, these theories assess the degree to which institutional structures can be expected to fulfill the mandates of the theory. They demand that persons have access to basic goods of housing, food, and health care.

Recently, so-called “capabilities theory” has, at the hands of some writers, merged concerns of justice and beneficence. This type of theory focuses on distributions intended to enable persons to reach certain functional levels essential for a flourishing life that is protected by social institutions, The idea is to start with an understanding of health and individual well-being and then to connect that account to basic capabilities for achieving levels of functioning essential to well-being—through, for example, proper nutrition and access to health care. Some core capabilities are bodily health, ability to play, ability to affiliate socially, freedom of movement, and adequate educational level. Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum are advocates of a capabilities theory.

Some writers closely connected to bioethics and health policy have moved beyond capabilities theory with a twist toward beneficence and well-being. Powers and Faden provide a theory closely connected to global health policy. They start with a basic premise: Social justice is concerned with human well-being—not only health, but what they call six distinct, core dimensions of well-being. The six are health, personal security, reasoning, respect, attachment, and self-determination. Each of these dimensions is an independent concern of justice. While this list of six dimensions is in some respects similar to Nussbaum's—for example, “attachment” resembles what Nussbaum calls “affiliation”— Powers and Faden reject the language of capabilities as misleading and wide of the target of a theory of justice. Theirs is a list of essential core dimensions of well-being, not core capabilities. Being healthy, being secure, and being respected are desirable states of being, not merely capabilities or functionings. For example, we want not merely the capability to be well-nourished, but to be well-nourished. Justice is concerned with the achievement of well-being, not merely achieving the capabilities to pursue it. In this account, the justice of societies and of the global order can be judged by how well they effect these well-being dimensions in their political structures and social practices. The job of justice is to secure a sufficient level of each dimension for each person and to alleviate the social structures that cause the corresponding forms of ill-being. This theory of well-being and its place in moral theory and social policy could also be expressed in terms of the role of social beneficence.

7. Beneficence in Business Ethics

Business ethics is a second area of applied ethics in which questions about beneficence have emerged as central. Hume's immediate successor in sentiment theory, Adam Smith, held a important view about the role and place of benevolence that has influenced a number of writers in business ethics. Smith argued that the wealth of nations and the well-being of their citizens are dependent upon social cooperation—fundamentally, political and economic cooperation—but that this realm is not dependent on the benevolence of moral relations. Smith proposes that it would be vain for us to expect benevolence in market societies. In commercial transactions the only successful strategy in motivating persons is to appeal to personal advantage: Never expect benevolence from a butcher, brewer, or baker; expect from them only a regard to their own interest. Market societies operate not by concerns of humanity and benevolence, but from self-love.

7.1 Corporate Beneficence

Several problems in business ethics are attempts to come to grips with Smith's view. Discussions of the role of the corporation in society and the very purpose of a corporation as a social institution are examples. It is not disputed that the purpose of a for-profit corporation is to make a profit for stockholders, but there is an intense debate about whether maximizing stockholder profits is the sole legitimate purpose of corporations—as Milton Friedman and others have argued—and whether truly beneficent corporate conduct is justifiable. This question is normative, but there is also the question of moral psychology raised by Smith: Is it reasonable to expect benevolent acts from the business community? Does beneficence have any place in the world of business as we know it?

Corporate social programs often appear to involve a mixture of limited beneficence and self-interested goals such as developing and sustaining relationships with customers. An example is found in public utilities' programs to help customers pay for electricity, gas, oil, phone service, and the like. These programs often decrease rather than increase corporate profits. They are, in effect, a form of corporate philanthropy. The programs locate and attempt to remedy the root causes of bill nonpayment, which typically involve financial distress. The programs also seek to rescue people in the community who are in unfortunate circumstances because of industrial injury, the ill health of a spouse or child, drug dependency, and the like. The company may even pay for consumer advocates, who are social workers trained to deal with customers and their problems. These programs, by design, make life better for various members of the community who have suffered misfortune. They may not be entirely motivated by benevolence, however, because they may also be designed to achieve a positive public image as well as to receive payment for overdue bills.

Some firms have charitable programs that seem to be cases of pure beneficence—that is, not ones admixed with forms of outreach that will help the company. Money is taken directly out of profits, with no expected return of benefits. It has been questioned, however, whether programs of even this description are instances of pure benevolence. In the precedent U. S. case of A. P. Smith Manufacturing v. Barlow (1953), a judge determined that a beneficent charitable donation to Princeton University by the A. P. Smith Co. was a legitimate act of beneficence by responsible corporate officers. However, the judge acknowledged that such beneficence may not be pure beneficence, but rather an act taken in the interest of the corporation by building its public image and esteem. In effect, the judge suggests that such a gift, while beneficent, may not derive from entirely benevolent motives. If beneficent acts by corporations are nothing more than clever ways to maximize profits, then these actions seem to satisfy Friedman's conception.

Whatever the truth about businesses' motives, a separate question is whether businesses have obligations of beneficent action. Stakeholder theory is an example of an approach that answers in the affirmative. In the classical profit-to-stockholder view, stockholders' interests were supreme, but what about the interests of other stakeholders, particularly those whose efforts are necessary for a firm's survival and flourishing? Who deserves to benefit? A stakeholder is any individual or group that can affect or benefit, or be affected by or benefited by, a business organization. Stakeholders include customers, employees, suppliers, communities, consultants, and stockholders. Stakeholder theory is commonly regarded as a theory of corporate responsibility—the theory that managers of a firm have obligations to a specified group of stakeholders. Many of these obligations are ones of beneficence, especially with regard to employees and other stockholders. Stockholder theory, by contrast, is the theory that managers have obligations—conceived as fiduciary duties—only to stockholder interests. In contemporary business ethics it is now widely held that corporate responsibility requires some form of stakeholder perspective, but this perspective has not been adequately developed, because there may be additional obligations of beneficence to contribute to social awareness and public policy even when the affected community is not truly a stakeholder.

But do corporations have obligations of beneficence to some larger community? Many corporations have answered yes to this question. In a statement of “The Johnson and Johnson Way,” the Johnson and Johnson Company credo, it is said that Johnson and Johnson is responsible to the communities in which it thrives, and indeed to the world community. The company asserts an obligation to be good citizens, including offering the support of charities, the encouragement of civic progress, the bettering of public health, and the improvement of education. Johnson and Johnson and many other companies assert that they have obligations to these ends, but to many writers in business ethics this claim of obligations is either misguided or overstated. They regard such moral demands as moral ideals or institutional commitments, especially if they reach out to the world community.

7.2 Corporate Benefit-Paternalism

Paternalism is often found in the practices of business and in government regulation of business. For example, many businesses require employees to deduct money from their salary for a retirement account; they may also deduct salary money to pay for a life insurance policy. If employees do not want these “benefits,” they are not free to reject them. Paternalism is here assumed to be an appropriate liberty-limiting principle. Another commonplace example comes from the construction industry and the chemical industry. If an employee wishes not to wear a particular suit, mask, or other protective device, the company (also the government) will compel it anyway, often (though not always) for paternalistic reasons.

An ongoing example of paternalism is the restriction for paternalistic reasons (there might be other reasons as well) of various pictures, literature, or information—often violent depictions—on the internet, in bookstores, and in video stores. Customers may wish to purchase or receive information about these products, but paternalism thwarts their preferences. Arguments are put forward maintaining that those exposed to violent conduct will harm themselves by such exposure—for example, pornography might reinforce their emotional problems or render them incapable of love and other distinctively human relationships.

A classic problem of paternalism in business ethics derives from the principle of caveat emptor—Latin for “let the buyer beware.” This property-law-derived principle is a general principle governing sales: A buyer is responsible for determining any unfitness in a product and is not due any form of refund or exchange unless the seller has actively concealed the unfitness. The buyer is free to make the purchase or not make it. Paternalistic restrictions on purchasing have the objective that buyers not harm themselves or not fail to receive benefits that they otherwise might not receive. For example, the control and inspection of pharmaceutical products and controlled substances–through government policies and licensed pharmacies—has often been justified by appeal to paternalism. Many believe that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the U.S. is fundamentally a paternalistic agency that operates to protect the public even while some members of the public do not approve of the protections afforded.

As the marketplace for products has grown complex and the products more sophisticated, buyers have become more dependent upon salespersons to know their products and to tell the truth about them. An enduring question in business ethics is whether a salesperson's role should be viewed as that of paternalistic protector of the interests of the buyer. Suppose, for example, that a consumer wants a sprinkler system in his yard to water his grove of evergreens. He loves the sound and look of sprinklers. However, these sprinklers are worthless for appropriate watering of the roots of his evergreens: The owner needs drip-hose for his large collection of pine, spruce, cedar, and cypress. Should a salesperson insist on selling only drip-hose, refusing to sell sprinkler heads; or should the salesperson acquiesce to the customer's strong preference for sprinklers?

Traditionally salespersons have not viewed their obligations of beneficence in this way, but perhaps paternalistic beneficence would be a commendable change of practice?

Bibliography

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  • –––, 1998, “Is There a Right to Health Care and, if so, What does it Encompass?,” in Helga Kuhse and Peter Singer (eds.), A Companion to Bioethics, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, pp. 316–28.
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  • Feinberg, Joel, 1988, The Moral Limits of the Criminal Law, 4 volumes, New York: Oxford University Press.
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  • Hume, David, 1751, An Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals, Tom L. Beauchamp (ed.), Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.
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  • Kant, Immanuel, Ethical Philosophy, second edition, James W. Ellington (trans.), Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1994.
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  • Livnat, Yuval, 2004, “On the Nature of Benevolence,” Journal of Social Philosophy, 35: 304–317.
  • Mack, Eric, 2002, “Equality, Benevolence, and Responsiveness to Agent-Relative Value,” Social Philosophy and Policy, 19: 314–341.
  • Mill, John Stuart, Utilitarianism and On Liberty, in the Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1969.
  • Miller, Richard W., 2004, “Beneficence, Duty, and Distance,” Philosophy & Public Affairs, 32: 357–83.
  • Murphy, Liam B., 1993, “The Demands of Beneficence,” Philosophy and Public Affairs, 22: 267–92.
  • –––, 2000, Moral Demands in Nonideal Theory, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
  • Narveson, Jan, 2003, “We Don't Owe Them a Thing! A Tough-Minded but Soft-Hearted View of Aid to the Faraway Needy,” The Monist, 86: 419–33.
  • Nussbaum, Martha C., and Amartya Sen (eds.), 1993, The Quality of Life, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Pellegrino, Edmund, and David Thomasma, 1988, For the Patient's Good: The Restoration of Beneficence in Health Care, New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Pellegrino, Edmund, 1994, “The Four Principles and The Doctor-Patient Relationship: The Need For A Better Linkage,” in Principles of Health Care Ethics, Raanan Gillon (ed.), 1st ed. London: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Pogge, Thomas W. (ed.), 2007, Freedom from Poverty as a Human Right: Who Owes What to the Very Poor?, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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  • Powers, Madison, and Ruth R. Faden, 2006, Social Justice: The Moral Foundations of Public Health and Health Policy, New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Richardson, Henry S., 2012, Moral Entanglements: The Ancillary-Care Obligations of Medical Researchers, New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Sen, Amartya, 1992, Inequality Reexamined, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
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  • –––, 1993, Practical Ethics, 2d edition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • –––, 2009, The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty, New York: Random House.
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  • Smith, Adam, 1776, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976.
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  • U. S. Supreme Court, 2006, Gonzales v. Oregon, 546 U.S. 243.

Benevolence, or good will, are terms indicating a charitable disposition to do good in regard to others, and to act with genuinely compassionate and kind considerations of their needs and desires. It is embraced as a vitally important ethicalvirtue in most human societies, religions, philosophies and cultures.

Alphabetized by author or source:
A · B · C · D · E · F · G · H · I · J · K · L · M · N · O · P -Q · R · S · T · U · V · W · X · Y · Z · Anon · See also · External links

A[edit]

B[edit]

  • I wish the art of benefiting men had kept pace with the art of destroying them; for though war has become slow, philanthropy has remained hasty. The most melancholy of human reflections, perhaps, is that, on the whole, it is a question whether the, benevolence of mankind does most good or harm. Great good, no doubt, philanthropy does, but then it also does great evil. It augments so much vice, it multiplies so much suffering, it brings to life such great populations to suffer and to be vicious, that it is open to argument whether it be or be not an evil to the world, and this is entirely because excellent people fancy that they can do much by rapid action — that they will most benefit the world when they most relieve their own feelings; that as soon as an evil is seen "something" ought to be done to stay and prevent it.
  • Do you want to see the most beautiful thing I've ever filmed? It was one of those days when it's a minute away from snowing, and there's this electricity in the air, you can almost hear it. And this bag was just, dancing with me, like a little kid beggin' me to play with it — for fifteen minutes. And that's the day I realized that there was this entire life behind things, and this incredibly benevolent force that wanted me to know that there was no reason to be afraid, ever. Video's a poor excuse, I know. But it helps me remember — I need to remember. Sometimes, there's so much beauty in the world — I feel like I can't take it, like my heart is just going to cave in.
  • It is of no consequence what the principles of any party, or what their pretensions, are; the spirit which actuates all parties is the same; the spirit of ambition, of self-interest, of oppression, and treachery. This spirit entirely reverses all the principles which a benevolent nature has erected within us; all honesty, all equal justice, and even the ties of natural society, the natural affections.
  • Power gradually extirpates from the mind every humane and gentle virtue. Pity, benevolence, friendship, are things almost unknown in high stations.
    • Edmund Burke, in A Vindication of Natural Society: or, a View of the Miseries and Evils arising to Mankind from every Species of Artifical Society (1756)
  • A man full of warm, speculative benevolence may wish his society otherwise constituted than he finds it, but a good patriot and a true politician always considers how he shall make the most of the existing materials of his country. A disposition to preserve and an ability to improve, taken together, would be my standard of a statesman. Everything else is vulgar in the conception, perilous in the execution.
    • Edmund Burke, in Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790)
  • But deep this truth impress'd my mind-
    Thro' all His works abroad,
    The heart benevolent and kind
    The most resembles God.
    • By Robert Burns in Robert Burns; James Currie; Gilbert Burns (1820). The Works of Robert Burns;: With an Account of His Life, and a Criticism of His Writings, : to which are Prefixed, Some Observations on the Character and Condition of the Scottish Peasantry. T. Cadell and W. Davies, … and A. Constable and Company, Manners and Miller, Fairbairn and Anderson, A. Black, W. and C. Tait, at Edinburgh; and G. Clark, at Aberdeen.. p. 153. 

C[edit]

  • ...hidden from all but the eye of God, and of rare benevolence, the minister of God.
  • The administration of government lies in getting proper men. Such men are to be got by means of the ruler's own character. That character is to be cultivated by his treading in the ways of duty. And the treading those ways of duty is to be cultivated by the cherishing of benevolence.
  • Benevolence is the characteristic element of humanity.

D[edit]

  • "Business!" cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. "Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!"
  • We have every reason to conclude that moral action extends over the whole empire of God, that Benevolence exerts its noblest energies among the inhabitants of distant worlds, and that it is chiefly through the medium of reciprocal kindness and affection that ecstatic joy pervades the hearts of celestial intelligences, for we cannot conceive happiness to exist in any region of space, or among any class of intellectual beings, where love to the Creator and to one another is not a prominent and permanent affection.

E[edit]

  • Religion, in its purity, is not so much a pursuit as a temper; or rather it is a temper, leading to the pursuit of all that is high and holy. Its foundation is faith; its action, works; its temper, holiness; its aim, obedience to God in improvement of self, and benevolence to men.
    • Jonathan Edwards, as quoted in Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895) by Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, p. 494.

F[edit]

  • In strange and uncertain times such as those we are living in, sometimes a reasonable person might despair. But hope is unreasonable and love is greater even than this. May we trust the inexpressible benevolence of the creative impulse.

G[edit]

  • There's no room in America for thought control of any kind, no matter how benevolent the objective.
    • Jim Garrison, his response to the Warren Commission in an NBC News White Paper (15 July 1967)
  • Is the force of self-love abated, or its interest prejudiced, by benevolence? So far from it, that benevolence, though a distinct principle, is extremely serviceable to self-love, and then doth most service when it is least designed…. And then, as to that charming delight which immediately follows the giving joy to another, or relieving his sorrow, and is, when the objects are numerous, and the kindness of importance, really inexpressible, what can this be owing to but a consciousness of a man’s having done something praiseworthy, and expressive of a great soul?

H[edit]

  • The impulse of power is to turn every variable into a constant, and give to commands the inexorableness and relentlessness of laws of nature. Hence absolute power corrupts even when exercised for humane purposes. The benevolent despot who sees himself as a shepherd of the people still demands from others the submissiveness of sheep. The taint inherent in absolute power is not its inhumanity but its anti-humanity.
    • Eric Hoffer, in The Ordeal of Change (1963), Ch. 15: "The Unnaturalness Of Human Nature"
  • Anti-intellectualism … first got its strong grip on our ways of thinking because it was fostered by an evangelical religion that also purveyed many humane and democratic sentiments. It made its way into our politics because it became associated with our passion for equality. It has become formidable in our education partly because our educational beliefs are evangelically egalitarian. Hence, as far as possible, our anti-intellectualism must be excised from the benevolent impulses upon which it lives by constant and delicate acts of intellectual surgery which spare these impulses themselves.

I[edit]

J[edit]

  • Those who live by mystery & charlatanerie, fearing you would render them useless by simplifying the Christian philosophy — the most sublime and benevolent, but most perverted system that ever shone on man — endeavored to crush your well-earned & well-deserved fame.
  • Epictetus and Epicurus give laws for governing ourselves, Jesus a supplement of the duties and charities we owe to others. The establishment of the innocent and genuine character of this benevolent moralist, and the rescuing it from the imputation of imposture, which has resulted from artificial systems, invented by ultra-Christian sects, unauthorized by a single word ever uttered by him, is a most desirable object, and one to which Priestley has successfully devoted his labors and learning.
  • I say, that this free exercise of reason is all I ask for the vindication of the character of Jesus. We find in the writings of his biographers matter of two distinct descriptions. First, a groundwork of vulgar ignorance, of things impossible, of superstitions, fanaticisms and fabrications. Intermixed with these, again, are sublime ideas of the Supreme Being, aphorisms and precepts of the purest morality and benevolence, sanctioned by a life of humility, innocence and simplicity of manners, neglect of riches, absence of worldly ambition and honors, with an eloquence and persuasiveness which have not been surpassed. These could not be inventions of the groveling authors who relate them. They are far beyond the powers of their feeble minds. They shew that there was a character, the subject of their history, whose splendid conceptions were above all suspicion of being interpolations from their hands.
  • It is, indeed, at home that every man must be known by those who would make a just estimate of either his virtue or felicity; for smiles and embroidery are like occasional, and the mind is often dressed for show in painted honor, and fictitious benevolence.

K[edit]

  • Benevolence is a duty. He who frequently practises it, and sees his benevolent intentions realized, at length comes really to love him to whom he has done good. When, therefore, it is said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” it is not meant, thou shalt love him first, and do good to him in consequence of that love, but, thou shalt do good to thy neighbour, and this thy beneficence will engender in thee that love to mankind which is the fulness and consummation of the inclination to do good.

L[edit]

  • At one time the benevolent affections embrace merely the family, soon the circle expanding includes first a class, then a nation, then a coalition of nations, then all humanity, and finally, its influence is felt in the dealings of man with the animal world. In each of these stages a standard is formed, different from that of the preceding stage, but in each case the same tendency is recognised as virtue.
    • W. E. H. Lecky, History of European Morals from Augustus to Charlemagne (2nd edition, Vol. 1, London: Longmans, 1869), Ch. 1, p. 103
  • TO LOVEis to find pleasure in the happiness of others. Thus the habit of loving someone is nothing other than BENEVOLENCE by which we want the good of others, not for the profit that we gain from it, but because it is agreeable to us in itself.
    CHARITYis a general benevolence. And JUSTICEis charity in accordance with wisdom. … so that one does not do harm to someone without necessity, and that one does as much good as one can, but especially where it is best employed.

M[edit]

  • Every soul, the philosopher says, is involuntarily deprived of truth; consequently in the same way it is deprived of justice and temperance and benevolence and everything of the kind. It is most necessary to keep this in mind, for thus thou wilt be more gentle towards all.
  • Art thy not content that thou hast done something conformable to thy nature, and dost thou seek to be paid for it? Just as if the eye demanded recompense for seeing, or the feet for walking. For as these members are formed for a particular purpose … so also is man formed by nature to acts of benevolence.
  • It is the business of the benevolent man to seek to promote what is beneficial to the world and to eliminate what is harmful, and to provide a model for the world. What benefits he will carry out; what does not benefit men he will leave alone.
    • Mozi, Mozi (5th century BC) Part I
  • All the calamities, strifes, complaints, and hatred in the world have arisen out of want of mutual love. Therefore the benevolent disapproved of this want.
  • When ruler and ruled love each other they will be gracious and loyal; when father and son love each other they will be affectionate and filial; when older and younger brothers love each other they will be harmonious. When all the people in the world love one another, then the strong will not overpower the weak, the many will not oppress the few, the wealthy will not mock the poor, the honoured will not disdain the humble, and the cunning will not deceive the simple. And it is all due to mutual love that calamities, strife, complaints, and hatred are prevented from arising. Therefore the benevolent exalt it.
    • Mozi, in Mozi, as translated by W. P. Mei, Book 4; Universal Love II

N[edit]

  • Genuine benevolence is not stationary, but peripatetic. It goeth about doing good.

O[edit]

P[edit]

  • We can’t consider that women have kinky tastes, can we? No, because women are naturally benevolent and nurturing, aren’t they? Everything is so damn Mary Poppins and sanitized.
    • Camille Paglia, in Sex, Art and American Culture : New Essays (1992), The Rape Debate, Continued, p. 65
  • The benevolent affections will not revolve around selfishness; the cold-hearted must expect to meet coldness; the proud, haughtiness; the passionate, anger; and the violent, rudeness. Those who forget the rights of others, must not be surprised if their own are forgotten; and those who stoop to the lowest embraces of sense must not wonder, if others are not concerned to find their prostrate honor, and lift it up to the remembrance and respect of the world.
    • Albert Pike, in Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry (1871), Ch. XXII : Grand Master Architect, p. 193
  • You cannot make a pair of croak-voiced Daleks appear benevolent, even if you dress one of them in an Armani suit and call the other Marmaduke.
    • Dennis Potter, in "Occupying Powers," The Guardian (28 August 1993); the quote is from the James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival (27 August 1993) and refers to John Birt and Marmaduke Hussey, who were then Director-General and Chairman of the BBC.

Q[edit]

  • Proportion thy charity to the strength of thy estate, lest God proportion thy estate to the weakness of thy charity; let the lips of the poor be the trumpet of thy gift, lest in seeking applause, thou lose thy reward. Nothing is more pleasing to God than an open hand and a close mouth.-

R[edit]

  • I decided that the only form of government was a benevolent despotism, tempered with assassination. Then I went home again, hopeless. I am still hopeless, for that matter. We will commit the same follies again. Nothing teaches us.

S[edit]

  • "Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, that ye may be the sons of your Heavenly Father, who makes the sun to shine on the good and on the evil, and the rain to fall on the just and unjust." How monstrous a calumny have not impostors dared to advance against the mild and gentle author of this just sentiment, and against the whole tenor of his doctrines and his life, overflowing with benevolence and forbearance and compassion!
  • JesusChrist represented God as the principle of allgood, the source of all happiness, the wise and benevolent Creator and Preserver of all living things. But the interpreters of his doctrines have confounded the good and the evil principle.
  • It is necessary that universal benevolence should supersede the regulations of precedent and prescription, before these regulations can safely be abolished. Meanwhile, their very subsistence depends on the system of injustice and violence, which they have been devised to palliate.
  • When our passive feelings are almost always so sordid and so selfish, how comes it that our active principles should often be so generous and so noble? When we are always so much more deeply affected by whatever concerns ourselves, than by whatever concerns other men; what is it which prompts the generous, upon all occasions, and the mean upon many, to sacrifice their own interests to the greater interests of others? It is not the soft power of humanity, it is not that feeble spark of benevolence which Nature has lighted up in the human heart, that is thus capable of counteracting the strongest impulses of self-love. It is a stronger power, a more forcible motive, which exerts itself upon such occasions. It is reason, principle, conscience, the inhabitant of the breast, the man within, the great judge and arbiter of our conduct.
  • But man has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favour, and shew them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them. Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this. Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such offer; and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of. It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the bakerthat we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity, but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities, but of their advantages.

T[edit]

  • Successful people are always looking for opportunities to help others.
    Unsuccessful people are always asking, "What's in it for me?”
    • Brian Tracy, as quoted in The Lost Art of General Management (2004) by Rob Waite, p. 96

U[edit]

  • Government is either organized benevolence or organized madness; its peculiar magnitude permits no shading.

V[edit]

W[edit]

  • If to be venerated for benevolence, if to be admired for talents, if to be esteemed for patriotism, if to be loved for philanthropy, can gratify the human mind, you must have the pleasing consolation to know that you have not lived in vain.
  • To enlarge the sphere of social happiness is worthy of the benevolent design of a Masonic institution; and it is most fervently to be wished, that the conduct of every member of the fraternity, as well as those publications, that discover the principles which actuate them, may tend to convince mankind that the grand object of Masonry is to promote the happiness of the human race.
    • George Washington, in a letter to the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (January 1793), published in The Writings Of George Washington (1835) by Jared Sparks, p. 201
  • A benevolent disposition is, no doubt, a great help towards a course of uniform practical benevolence; but let no one trust to it, when there are other strong propensities, and no firm good principle.

X[edit]

Y[edit]

Z[edit]

Anonymous[edit]

  • When it comes to giving, some people stop at nothing.
    • Widely used anonymous saying, dating to at least The Catholic Digest, Vol. 27 (1963) where it is tenuously credited to Mary C. Dorsey, p. 141
  • The trouble with some folks who give till it hurts is that they are so sensitive to pain.
    • Anonymous saying quoted in “The Speaker's Quote Book: Over 5,000 Illustrations and Quotations for All Occasions”, p. 211
  • In order to appreciate the luxury of giving, one must have been, at some time, poor.
    • Anonymous saying quoted in “The Speaker's Quote Book: Over 5,000 Illustrations and Quotations for All Occasions”, p. 211

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

You smile with pomp & rigor, you talk of benevolence & virtue;
I act with benevolence & virtue & get murdered time after time. ~ William Blake
A man full of warm, speculative benevolence may wish his society otherwise constituted than he finds it, but a good patriot and a true politician always considers how he shall make the most of the existing materials of his country. ~ Edmund Burke
Confucius:What can a man do with the rites who is not benevolent? What can a man do with music who is not benevolent.
Epicurus:A beneficent person is like a fountain watering the earth and spreading fertility: it is therefore more delightful and more honourable to give than receive.
Martin Luther King Jr.:Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.
Eleanor Roosevelt:When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?
Government is either organized benevolence or organized madness; its peculiar magnitude permits no shading. ~ John Updike

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