"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

Friday, 1 November 2013

All about doing good…

  Benevolence refers to the character trait or moral virtue of being disposed to act for the benefit of others.  
Beneficence  is the act of doing good, being kind or charitable; it includes all actions intended to benefit others. In bioethics the two words are entirely different and the principle of beneficence refers to a moral obligation to act for the benefit of others - most acts of beneficence are therefore in some way obligatory.  Beneficence may be considered to include four components: (1) one ought not to inflict evil or harm (sometimes called the principle of nonmaleficence); (2) one ought to prevent evil or harm; (3) one ought to remove evil or harm; and (4) one ought to do or promote good.

Kindheartedness is sympathy arising from a kind heart; having a kind disposition.

Generosity is the quality of being kind and generous; the quality or fact of being plentiful or large.

Munificence is liberality in bestowing gifts; extremely liberal and generous of spirit.

Altruism is unselfish concern.

Magnanimity means munificence; liberality in bestowing gifts; extremely liberal and generous of spirit.  (This is where we start going round in circles and discover a number of the words are entirely synonymous.) But magnanimity can also mean courageously noble in spirit and heart; generous in forgiving an insult or injury; free from petty resentfulness or vindictiveness.

The above words are all still currently in use.  Sadly a word that means benevolent in speech – benedicence – has fallen out of use.  Perhaps nowadays we are more inclined to do good than to speak kindly.


  1. I had not come across the word munificence before, but I like your explanation of how it differs from magnanimity. Sad indeed that benedicence has fallen out ouf use.

  2. Many of the words do seem to help define each other -- yet i wonder how benevolent a person is if their beneficence is forced. If i'm understanding the differences between these correctly.

  3. The root of the word 'benevolence' is quite interesting. It literally means the money the lords are required to give to the king. It was first imposed by Edward IV in the late 1400s, who "asked" his subjects to donate money as a gesture of good will.

  4. "Benevolence" has an interesting origin. It was originally a required payment to a king, first imposed by Edward IV in the late 1400s, as "token of good will." What a guy!