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Comprehensive Overview of the Concept of Benevolence and Its Theories

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How selfish so ever man be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature which interest him in the fortune of others and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it. That’s what is involved in benevolence. This sentiment like all the other basic passions of human nature is not confined to virtuous and humane people, though they may feel it more intensely than others do. The greatest ruffian, the most hardened criminal, has something of it. The vast majorities of Philosophers and Psychologists have regarded benevolence as any kind act, but also describes the desire to do nice things to others, giving in to others needs without having personal reward as motive or being nice according to what one needs, not just what is easy or convenient.

Benevolence comes from the Latin word Benevolentia, Bene meaning well and Volens, to wish. From the teachings of Swami Sivananda Saraswati, Benevolence is the disposition to do good and seek the well being or comfort of others. It is an act of kindness and generosity. It is the desire to alleviate suffering, or to promote happiness. It is love to mankind and kindness of heart or being charitable. Alms giving, beneficence, benignity, bounty, charity, generosity, goodwill, humanity, kindness, liberty, munificence, philanthropy, sympathy, tenderness- are synonymous with benevolence. One of the healthiest things a person can do is to step back from self-preoccupation and self-worry, and there is no more obvious way of doing this than focusing attention on helping others. This transformation of being and of doing seems to promote emotional and physical well-being, and odds are, will add some years to life. When we get started young, this transformation has life-long health benefits, but there are benefits whenever we get started, even as older adults. The experience of helping others provides meaning, a sense of self-worth, a social role, and generally enhances health.

Butler says that “there are as real and the same kind of indications in human nature, that we were made for society and to do good to our fellow-creatures, as that we were intended to take care of our own life, and health, and private good. ” Those principles in our nature by which we are prompted to seek our own good are comprehended under the name of Self-love; those which lead us to seek the good of others are comprehended under the name of Benevolence. He says under this term is comprehended all feelings and affections which lead us to increase the happiness and alleviate the sufferings of others. First, there is a natural principle of benevolence in man, which is in some degree to society, what self-love is to the individual. And if there be in mankind any disposition to friendship; if there be any such thing as compassion, for compassion is momentary love; if there be any such things as the paternal of filial affections; if there be any affection in human nature, the object and end of which is the good of another; this is itself benevolence, or the love of another. Be it even so short, be it in ever so low a degree, or ever so unhappily confined; it proves the assertion, and points out what we were designed for, as really as though it were in a higher degree and more extensive. Though benevolence and self-love are different; though the former tends most directly to public good, and the latter private; yet there are so perfectly coincident, that the greatest satisfactions to ourselves depend: upon our having benevolence in a due degree; and that self-love is one chief security of our right behaviour towards society. It may be added, that their mutual coinciding, so that we can scarce promote one without the other, is equally a proof that we were made for both.

The Greatest Happiness theory (2011), resting on the principle that “happiness is the only thing desirable, ” has passed away from the Egoistic form to the Altruistic, making its maxim the expression of Benevolence “The Greatest Happiness of the greatest number. ” The theory either assumes that this maxim ought to supply the rule of life, or makes the practical power of the maxim depend on the consideration that, in seeking the happiness of others, we secure our own. “Love is a matter of feeling, not of will or volition, and I cannot love because I will to do so, still less because I ought (I cannot be necessitated to love); hence there is no such thing as a duty to love. Benevolence, however as a mode of action, may be subject to a law of duty”.

From Bible it can be quoted that ‘The generous man will be prosperous and he who waters will himself be watered. ’(Proverbs 11:25) Thiruvalluvar says, it is difficult to obtain another good equal to benevolence either in this world or in that of Gods. Shalom Schwartz (1994) who proposed that there are 10 broad value domains that are universal and fairly comprehensive also advocates Benevolence as one of the values. In his book Unrugged Individualism, David Kelley (2003) describes how benevolence is not altruism and not simply a response to misfortune in others. It is the active pursuit of enormous value that we get from relationships with other people.

Riessman defined the “helper therapy” principle on the basis of his observations of various self-help groups, where helping others is deemed absolutely essential to helping oneself. As the saying goes, “if you help someone up the hill, you get closer yourself. ” Riessman observed that the act of helping another heals the helper more than the person helped.

Roots of Benevolence

According to Blum and Hume (1980), benevolence stems from the care-based processes of empathy, sympathy, and compassion. Empathy refers to feeling the same as another — it is a vicarious emotional response that results from apprehending another person’s emotional state (Hoffman, Eisenberg). Closely related to empathy is sympathy — feelings of sorrow or concern for another’s needy situation. Compassion is defined as thoughts and feelings congruent with another’s distress circumstances. These sentiments are believed to form the core motivational bases for prosocial behaviors (i. e. , voluntary acts that benefit others), including, importantly, altruistic behaviors (i. e. , voluntary acts primarily intended to benefit others with little or no regard for self rewards, often high cost action). According to scholars who emphasize the care-oriented nature of humans, benevolence is a natural occurring, intrinsically-based motive that permeates all humans (Hume). Empathy, sympathy, and compassion are evolutionarily adaptive and deeply rooted in biological structures and mechanisms including genes and neurotransmitters e. g. , oxytocin, vasopressin.

Indeed, research demonstrates that benevolent traits are present early in life, present across several social animal species, and there are relatively stable individual differences in these traits across time and space. Moreover, sociocognitive (e. g. , perspective taking skills) and socialization (e. g. , warm parenting, parental inductions) mechanisms have been theorized to facilitate the expression of these benevolent traits and actions, which result in individual differences. Although there is ample evidence on the predisposition to act in benevolent ways, there is also ample evidence on the existence of selfishly-motivated sentiments (e. g. , anger) and traits (e. g. , aggression; Dodge). Those both selfish and selfless motives dynamically co-exist no doubt results in moral dilemmas and in developmental and individual differences in associated moral behaviors.

Elements of Benevolence

Livnat (2004), on the nature of benevolence offers a philosophical analysis of Benevolence. It argues that a benevolent act comprises of three elements; the emotive element, the performative element and the cognitive element.

The emotive element

It refers to the benevolent persons’ care and concern for the object of her benevolence and the motivation that such feelings of care and concern induce in the benevolent person to ease the suffering and promote the welfare of such beneficiary. Hume thinks that natural virtues such as benevolence are best performed from natural motives. Virtue is its own reward in the sense that doing good brings benefits to the actor by virtue of participating in the emotional energy of benevolence.

The performative element

Emotional competences are the true predictors of performance. While the emotive element concerns the benevolent persons’ internal world (her feelings and will), the performative element focuses on the impact that the benevolent person has on the world that lies outside of her (the actual physical acts she performs). The performative element deals with the benevolent persons’ sincere attempt to actualize her motivation to do good.

The cognitive element

Finally, the cognitive element concerns the cognitive competence a benevolent person must manifest when she actualizes her motivation to do good. Such cognitive competence ensures that her attempt to do good will not only be sincere but also be somewhat rational. When someone is being manipulated, coerced or abused (in benevolence perspective), that person ought to confront or flee the situation as soon as possible, for the sake of self but also because of a responsibility to teach abusers that no human being should be treated in such a manner.

In shifting our focus from the elements of a benevolent act to the elements of benevolence as a character trait, we refer to the fairly permanent disposition of the benevolent person to perform benevolent acts. In other words, a benevolent person is a person who tends to care about other human beings, is generally concerned about other peoples’ wellbeing, and is motivated to perform acts which are aimed at doing good (easing peoples’ suffering, promoting their welfare). Moreover, the general disposition to perform benevolent acts entails going beyond the performance of such acts when opportunities to perform them are obvious. A benevolent person certainly does not turn a blind eye to misfortunes of others and to the possibility of helping them. But moreover, a benevolent person is attentive to misfortunes of others and is therefore disposed to do good in situations in which others might fail to recognize an opportunity to do good altogether.

Furthermore, she is inclined to search actively for opportunities to do good, she possess at least minimal cognitive competence necessary for identifying such opportunities. Her care for others may sometimes also motivate her to increase her cognitive abilities beyond the level at which all human beings function.

Theories of benevolence

Hume’s theory

Hume presented a new catalog of moral virtues in An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, published in 1751. Motives of benevolence are all important in moral life according to Hume. He calls benevolence as a principle in human’s nature, in opposition to all the theories of Egoism. Mandeville’ (1723), Hobbs’ (1986) theory all says that the motive underlying human action is private interests and they are naturally neither sociable nor benevolent. Hume argues that benevolence is an original feature of human nature and also uses the term to designate a class of virtues rooted in goodwill, generosity and love directed at other. He finds benevolence in many manifestations: friendship, charity, compassion etc. Hume does not reject all aspects of the egoists’ claims about the absence of impartial benevolence in human motivation. Principally, he sees human nature in the domain of moral context as a mixture of benevolence and self love. These elements vary by degree from person to person, so we cannot know whether in that person benevolence typically dominates and control self love or the converse.

Utilitarian theory

The principles of utility or yhe greatest principle were found to be the basic foundation of morals declares John Stuart Mill. Actions are right in proportion when they promote happiness for all beings and wrong when they produce the reverse. Mill and other utilitarians mean that an action or practice is right if it leads to greatest possible balance of beneficial consequences or to the least possible balance of bad consequences. Mills’ theory is welfare oriented but also an aggressive 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.

Kant’s theory

For Hume, it’s benevolence: the desire to help others. The benevolent person wants to help others and feels good about doing so. For Kant, the central cases involve overcoming one’s natural inclinations. Benevolence, like self-interest, might lead one to do one’s duty but it isn’t the same thing as the motive of duty and actions motivated by it rather than the motive of duty lack moral worth.

Kant agrees with Hume that the benevolent person has good qualities. He just denies that these qualities are relevant to the special value of moral worth. Hume agrees with Kant that a person can be motivated to do the right thing against his natural inclinations.

Caveats

Four caveats are obvious, and these have so colored the literature that the benefits of giving are sometimes obscured. First, “doing unto others” to overwhelming degrees can become stressful in itself, and will have adverse health consequences, as in the case of those family caregivers of loved ones with dementia who are unable to find respite support. Another example involves occupational altruism, as in the case of the clinician or fireman, which can include a level of stress under overwhelming circumstances that is difficult to endure and leads to professional burnout. Thus, the American College of Physicians recommends steps to avoid physician burnout, including balance between work and family, boundary setting, and good care of the self including having fun.

Second, there are altruistic individuals who are neglectful of self-care and who seem joyless. Psychoanalytic reflection suggests that such persons manifest “pseudo-altruism, ” which masks some underlying psychic conflict or lack of self-acceptance, and contains self-destructive elements. This “pseudo-altruism” has been differentiated from true generativity. However, there are many passionate people who find noble causes of such great personal meaning that their capacity to give seems boundless. Psycho-analytic writing tends to see such generous lives under the rubric of “the problem of altruism, ” grounded in an unfounded Freudian suspicion of altruism beyond kin.

Third, as feminist literature underscores, there are instances when caring for others can be manipulative, coercive, and abusive. And yet feminist ethics has maintained a strong commitment to the ethics of care, replete with such cautions. When someone is being manipulated, coerced or abused, that person ought to confront or flee the situation as soon as possible, for the sake of self but also because of a responsibility to teach abusers that no human being should be treated in such a manner.

Fourth, too often people think of giving “unto others” in terms of a self-destructive dance of suicidal altruism. While it is remarkable to study cases where a soldier sacrifices himself by falling on a grenade or a fireman dies in a towering inferno – and to laud such noble actions – this presentation focuses on the 99 percent (using a symbolic number) of everyday kindness and helping that brings to the giver a feeling of meaning, buoyancy, and warmth.

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