Skip to main content

Liberality, Virtue of

LIBERALITY, VIRTUE OF

Liberality is the virtue disposing a person to the observance of a reasonable mean between the opposite extremes of prodigality and stinginess in making expenditures intended for the benefit of others. Although liberality is the virtue that regulates and controls the appetite for external goods, the desire and use of these goods to the benefit of others enters prominently into its concept, and indeed constitutes its principal concern. Generally speaking, men are sufficiently disposed by nature to seek and use such goods to their own pleasure and advantage, and so need no virtue to equip them for this. Moreover, what they spend upon themselves is often spent in the exchange of one kind of possession for another and thus involves no real outlay. What a man needs to be strengthened to is a readiness to use these goods to the benefit of others besides himself. Liberality differs from justice because what is given is not strictly owed; from mercy, because it is not evoked by the need of the beneficiary; from gratitude, because its gifts are not viewed as a return for favors received. Although it differs from charity in that its proximate motive is the inherent fitness of a spirit of generosity in human relationships, it may well be activated at the command of charity, and it is a disposition that lends itself readily to the service of that virtue.

It is characteristic of the liberal man to be generous in giving to others, but his generosity should not be out of proportion to his means, nor should a man let it render him incapable of satisfying the demands of justice, piety, or charity, nor should it entail the sacrifice of other virtuous good. Excess in liberality is the sin of prodigality, but generosity, prudently moderated, becomes the socially developed man and the Christian, and therefore St. Paul urged the Ephesians to labor, working with their hands, that they might have something to share with their neighbors (Eph 4.28). The virtue of liberality in a man is not necessarily measured by the actual quantity of his benefactions, but often depends more upon the disposition with which he gives (Mk 12.4144).

Bibliography: thomas aquinas, Summa theologiae, 2a2ae, 117119. b. h. merkelbach, Summa theologiae moralis, 3 v. (Paris 1949) 2:840842.

[p. k. meagher]

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Liberality, Virtue of." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Dec. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Liberality, Virtue of." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 16, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/liberality-virtue

"Liberality, Virtue of." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Retrieved December 16, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/liberality-virtue

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.