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Adopting roles: Generosity and Presumptuousness

  • Rowland Stout (a1)

An understanding of generosity must be central to an understanding of our moral nature, yet there is no good philosophical account of generosity. This is exemplified in Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, where interesting accounts of liberality (using your wealth well) and magnificence (spending large amounts of money well) are provided in Book IV, but none of generosity. Hutcheson and Hume were interested in benevolence, but benevolence is not the same thing as generosity either. For Hume, benevolence is ‘desire of the happiness of the person belov'd, and an aversion to his misery.’ (Treatise, So, acting benevolently, for Hume, is acting from this sentiment for the sake of someone else's wellbeing. Picking up litter that somebody else has dropped is not benevolent on this account, but I think it may count as generous behaviour. And conversely, I will argue later that benevolent actions that are presumptuous and intrusive are not generous.

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Brandom, R. (1994) Making it Explicit, (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press).
Derrida, J. (1992) Given Time: 1. Counterfeit Money, (tr. Kamuf, P.) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).
Heyd, D. (1982) Supererogation: Its Status in Ethical Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
Heyd, D.Supererogation’, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2012 Edition), Zalta, Edward N. (ed.), URL =
Langford, M. (1988) ‘Supererogation and Friendship’, in Cauchy, V. (ed.) Philosophy and Culture, vol 3 (Montreal: Montmorency), 441445.
Wolf, S. (2001) ‘The Moral of Moral Luck’, Philosophical Exchange 31, 419.
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Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements
  • ISSN: 1358-2461
  • EISSN: 1755-3555
  • URL: /core/journals/royal-institute-of-philosophy-supplements
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