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Humanity (virtue)

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Humanity is a virtue linked with altruistic ethics derived from the human condition. It signifies human love and compassion towards each other. Humanity differs from mere justice in that there is a level of altruism towards individuals included in humanity more so than in the fairness found in justice.[1]: 34  That is, humanity, and the acts of love, altruism, and social intelligence are typically individual strengths while fairness is generally expanded to all.[clarification needed] Humanity is one of six virtues that are consistent[clarification needed] across all cultures.[1]: 28 

The concept of "humanity" goes back to the development of "humane" or "humanist" philosophy during the Renaissance (with predecessors in 13th-century scholasticism that stressed a concept of basic human dignity inspired by Aristotelianism) and the concept of humanitarianism in the early modern period, resulting in modern notions such as "human rights".

While these theories and concepts of kindness and altruism are found within humanity, the actions of humans in general needs further study to ascertain whether or not we can apply such virtues to humanity in general or whether these ideals are only truly found in smaller numbers.

Historical perspectives[edit]

Confucian philosophy[edit]

Confucius said that humanity, or "Ren" (), is a "love of people" stating "if you want to make a stand, help others make a stand."[1]: 40  That is, the Confucian theory of humanity exemplifies the golden rule. It is so central to Confucian thought that it appears 58 times in the Analects.[2]: 296  Similar[clarification needed] to the Christian process of seeking God, Confucius teaches seeking Ren to a point of seemingly divine mastery until you are equal to, or better than, your teacher.[2]: 298  The Confucian concept of Ren encompasses both love and altruism.[2]: 312 

Greek philosophy[edit]

Plato and Aristotle both wrote extensively on the subject of virtues, though neither wrote about "humanity" as a virtue, despite highly valuing love and kindness, two of the strengths of humanity.[citation needed] Plato and Aristotle considered "courage, justice, temperance" and "generosity, wit, friendliness, truthfulness, magnificence, and greatness of soul", respectively, to be the virtues.[1]: 40 

Abrahamic religion[edit]

Abraham is a central figure in both Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.

Kindness, altruism, and love are all mentioned in the Bible. Proverbs 19:22 states "the desire of a man is his kindness." On the topic of altruism, emphasis is placed on helping strangers (Hebrews 13:1) and the biblical adage "it is better to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35).

Humanity is one of Thomas Aquinas' "Seven Heavenly Virtues".[1]: 48  Beyond that, humanity was so important in some positivist Christian cultures that it was to be capitalized like God.[3]: 426 

Strengths of humanity[edit]


Love has many different definitions ranging from a set of purely biological and chemical processes to a religious concept. As a character strength, love is a mutual feeling between two people characterized by attachment, comfort, and generally positive feelings. It can be broken down into three categories: love between a child and their parents, love for your friends, and romantic love.[1]: 304  Having love as a strength is not about the capacity to love, but about being involved in a loving relationship.

Love, in the psychological sense, is most often studied in terms of attachment to others. A degree of controversy surrounds defining and researching love in this way, as it takes away the "mystery of love."[1]: 306  Because love is mysterious, to an extent, it is most often studied in terms of attachment theory, because it can be studied in the way across ages[clarification needed]. In infants, attachment is studied through the Strange Situation Test. Attachment to an individual, usually the mother, is determined by how distressed the infant becomes when the mother is taken out of the experimental setting.[1]: 308  There are several models of adult attachment including the Adult Attachment Interviews and Adult Attachment Prototypes. Generally adult attachment models focus on the mental representation of the visible signs of attachment seen in infants.[1]: 311 

Negative affect states result from lacking love. One study found that children raised in an environment that did not allow children to become attached to their preferred caregivers experienced attachment disorders.[4] Individuals who develop securely attached have a lower likelihood of depression, high-self esteem, and less likelihood of divorce.[1]: 315 


Giving alms to poor children can be considered an act of altruism or generosity.

The strength of kindness encompasses things like altruism, generosity, helpfulness and a general desire to help people: a disposition for helping humanity. The following statements are from the Values in Action (VIA) psychological assessment, which aims at measuring people's strengths in kindness: "others are just as important to me", "giving is more important than receiving", and "I care for the ungrateful as well as the grateful".[1]: 326  Kindness, as a part of humanity, is deeply rooted in philosophical and religious traditions, each having words for the altruistic love aspect of kindness, such as agape in Greek, chesed in Hebrew, and the Latin word philantropia, the root of the word "philanthropy."[1]: 326  Kindness is promoted through school community service programs and national programs like AmeriCorps. While gender differences in kindness are statistically significant, they are minimal, and the methods of testing used may not always have construct validity.[1]: 333 

Kindness is most often measured by using an ad hoc metric, usually not as a trait. The Self-Report Altruism Scale and the Altruism Facet Scale for Agreeableness Measure of the Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R) psychological assessment are often used to ask people how often they engage in altruistic behaviors and to gauge their concern for others.[1]: 328  The former, however, only asks about 20 specific altruistic acts, leaving out a wide range of altruistic behaviors.

There are numerous benefits from kindness and altruism on both sides of the action. For some, the motivation to be kind comes from a place of egoistic motivation, and thus the benefit to them is the positive affect state they receive from the action.[5] One study found that being kind develops pro-social skills in children, which positively effects their attachments and relationships.[6] Additionally, volunteerism in the elderly has shown to lead to decreased risk of early death, and to mental health benefits.[1]: 329  There is a difference between altruism as a trait and as an act.[1]: 329 

Social intelligence[edit]

Being able to actively engage in a conversation is often considered a sign of social intelligence.

Social intelligence is the most recently-discerned of the three strengths associated with humanity. The Character Strengths and Virtues (CSV) psychological assessment defines social intelligence as the ability to understand "relationships with other people, including the social relationships involved in intimacy and trust, persuasion, group membership, and political power."[1]: 339 

Intelligence has many psychological definitions, from Weschler's intelligence to the various theories of multiple intelligences. The CSV divides intelligence into hot and cold, hot intelligence being those intelligences related to active emotional processes.[1]: 338  People with high social intelligence are very self-aware, and are effective organizers and leaders.[1]: 338  Additionally, it[ambiguous] combines elements of the other two hot intelligences, personal and emotional intelligence—personal intelligence being the internal counterpart to social intelligence and emotional intelligence being the capacity to understand emotions. The CSV highlights three social intelligence measurement scales: Factor Based Social Intelligence Tasks, Psychological Mindedness Assessment Procedure, and Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test.[1]: 334 

Social Intelligence research is limited. However, there is much literature on the characteristics associated with social intelligence. Zaccaro et al. found social intelligence and perceptiveness to be integral to effective leadership; that is, good leaders are "social experts."[7] Emotional intelligence, too, plays a role in leadership. Another study found that emotional intelligence enables leaders to better understand their followers, thereby enhancing their ability to influence them.[8]

Psychological research on humanity as a virtue[edit]

Virtue and wellbeing[edit]

Although only a relatively new field of inquiry for psychological researchers, character strengths[9] and virtues[10] have been consistently measured in psychometric surveys and have been shown to be positively associated with psychological and subjective wellbeing.[11] Even among those who endorse a spiritual/theistic worldview, these salutary associations appear to be better explained by humanity/civility rather than by faith in a supernatural being.[12]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t Peterson, Christopher; Seligman, Martin E.P. (2004). Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification. Washington, D.C.: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-530387-2.
  2. ^ a b c Chan, Wing-Tsit (January 1955). "The Evolution of the Confucian Concept Jên". Philosophy East and West. 4 (4): 294–319. doi:10.2307/1396741. JSTOR 1396741.
  3. ^ Coit, Stanton (July 1906). "Humanity and God". International Journal of Ethics. 16 (4): 424–429. doi:10.1086/206237.
  4. ^ Smyke, Anna T.; Dumitrescu, Alina; Zeanah, Charles H. (August 2002). "Attachment Disturbances in Young Children. I: The Continuum of Caretaking Casualty". Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 41 (8): 972–982. doi:10.1097/00004583-200208000-00016. PMID 12162633.
  5. ^ Dovido, John F.; Allen, David A.; Schroeder, Judith L. (August 1990). "Specificity of Empathy-Induced Helping: Evidence for Altruistic Motivation". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 59 (2): 249. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.59.2.249.
  6. ^ Zeece, Pauline Davey (18 March 2009). "Using Current Literature Selections to Nurture the Development of Kindness in Young Children". Early Childhood Education Journal. 36 (5): 448. doi:10.1007/s10643-009-0306-3. S2CID 143846116.
  7. ^ Zaccaro, Stephen J.; Gilbert, Janelle A.; Theor, Kirk K.; Mumford, Michael D. (Winter 1991). "Leadership and Social Intelligence: Linking Social Perspectiveness and Behavioral Flexibility to Leader Effectiveness". Leadership Quarterly. 2 (4): 334. doi:10.1016/1048-9843(91)90018-w.
  8. ^ George, Jennifer M. (2000). "Emotions and Leadership: The Role of Emotional Intelligence". Human Relations. 53 (4): 1043. doi:10.1177/0018726700538001. S2CID 145349886.
  9. ^
    • Isaacowitz, D.M.; Vallant, G.E.; Seligman, M.E.P. (2003). "Strengths and satisfaction across the adult lifespan". International Journal of Aging and Human Development. 57 (2): 181–201. doi:10.2190/61EJ-LDYR-Q55N-UT6E. PMID 15151189. S2CID 8366635.
    • Park, N.; Peterson, C.; Seligman, M.E.P. (2004). "Strengths of character and well-being". Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. 23 (5): 603–619. doi:10.1521/jscp.23.5.603.50748.
  10. ^
    • Fowers, B.J. (2005). Virtue and psychology: Pursuing excellence in ordinary practices. American Psychological Association.
    • Toner, E.; Haslam, N.; Robinson, J.; Williams, P. (2012). "Character strengths and wellbeing in adolescence: Structure and correlates of the Values in Action Inventory of Strengths for Children". Personality and Individual Differences. 52 (5): 637–642. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2011.12.014.
    • Ryan, Richard M.; Deci, Edward L. (2001). "On Happiness and Human Potentials: A Review of Research on Hedonic and Eudaimonic Well-Being". Annual Review of Psychology. 52: 141–166. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.52.1.141. PMID 11148302. S2CID 2889167.
  11. ^ Schuurmans-Stekhoven, J.B. (2011). "Is it God or just the data that moves in mysterious ways? How well-being research might be mistaking faith for virtue?". Social Indicators Research. 100 (2): 313–330. doi:10.1007/s11205-010-9630-7. S2CID 144755003..
  12. ^ Schuurmans-Stekhoven, J.B. (2013). "'As a Shepherd Divideth his Sheep from the Goats': Does the Daily Spiritual Experiences Scale Encapsulate Separable Theistic and Civility Components?". Social Indicators Research. 110 (1): 131–146. doi:10.1007/s11205-011-9920-8. S2CID 255002643.