In what sense can foreign aid be understood as a moral practice? Is there any empirical substance to this claim? This article reconceptualises a type of foreign aid in which this claim is most plausible – grants by multilateral aid agencies – as a contemporary form of beneficence, a trans-historical phenomenon. Drawing on Aristotelian virtue ethics, it identifies such donations as a moral practice with deep roots in Western history. This analysis substantiates a view of the relations between states that goes beyond the simple notion of reciprocity emphasised by neoliberals. It concludes with the political implications of identifying donor states with moral distinction.