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Magnanimity

Magnanimity

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Magnanimity (derived from the Latin roots magn- great, and animus, mind, literally means greatly generous) is the virtue of being great of mind and heart. It encompasses, usually, a refusal to be petty, a willingness to face danger, and actions for noble purposes. Its antithesis
Antithesis
Antithesis is a counter-proposition and denotes a direct contrast to the original proposition...

 is pusillanimity. Magnanimity is a latinization of the Greek word megalopsuchia which means greatness of soul and was identified by Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

 as "the crowning virtue". Although the word magnanimity has a traditional connection to Aristotelian philosophy, it also has its own tradition in English which now causes some confusion.

Noah Webster
Noah Webster
Noah Webster was an American educator, lexicographer, textbook pioneer, English spelling reformer, political writer, editor, and prolific author...

's 1828 Dictionary of the American Language defines Magnanimity as such:


MAGNANIMITY, n. [L. magnanimitas; magnus, great, and animus, mind.] Greatness of mind; that elevation or dignity of soul, which encounters danger and trouble with tranquility and firmness, which raises the possessor above revenge, and makes him delight in acts of benevolence, which makes him disdain injustice and meanness, and prompts him to sacrifice personal ease, interest and safety for the accomplishment of useful and noble objects.


In his Nicomachean Ethics
Nicomachean Ethics
The Nicomachean Ethics is the name normally given to Aristotle's best known work on ethics. The English version of the title derives from Greek Ἠθικὰ Νικομάχεια, transliterated Ethika Nikomacheia, which is sometimes also given in the genitive form as Ἠθικῶν Νικομαχείων, Ethikōn Nikomacheiōn...

, Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

 considered it the suitable virtue for a great man, arising from his other virtues.

Edmund Spenser
Edmund Spenser
Edmund Spenser was an English poet best known for The Faerie Queene, an epic poem and fantastical allegory celebrating the Tudor dynasty and Elizabeth I. He is recognised as one of the premier craftsmen of Modern English verse in its infancy, and one of the greatest poets in the English...

, in The Faerie Queen, had each knight allegorically represent a virtue; Prince Arthur represented "magnificence", which is generally taken to mean Aristotelian magnificence. The uncompleted work does not include Prince Arthur's book, and the significance is not clear.

Democritus
Democritus
Democritus was an Ancient Greek philosopher born in Abdera, Thrace, Greece. He was an influential pre-Socratic philosopher and pupil of Leucippus, who formulated an atomic theory for the cosmos....

 states that "magnanimity consists in enduring tactlessness with mildness".

As an adjective, the concept is expressed as "magnanimous", e.g. "He is a magnanimous man." An example of referring to one as magnanimous can be seen in Hrólfs saga kraka
Hrólfs saga kraka
Hrólfs saga kraka, the Saga of King Hrolf kraki, is a late legendary saga on the adventures of Hrólfr Kraki and his clan, the Skjöldungs. The events can be dated to the late 5th century and the 6th century. It is believed to have been written in the period c. 1230 - c. 1450...

 where King Hrólfr Kraki changes the name of a court servant from Hott to Hjalti for his new-found strength and courage, after which Hjalti refuses to taunt or kill those who previously mocked him. Because of his noble actions, the king then bestows the title Magnanimous upon Hjalti.

One form of magnanimity is the generosity of the victor to the defeated. For example, magnanimity has been codified between societies by the Geneva Conventions.

Magnanimous relief efforts can serve to offset the collateral damage of war.

C. S. Lewis
C. S. Lewis
Clive Staples Lewis , commonly referred to as C. S. Lewis and known to his friends and family as "Jack", was a novelist, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian and Christian apologist from Belfast, Ireland...

, in his book The Abolition of Man
The Abolition of Man
The Abolition of Man is a 1943 book by C. S. Lewis. It is subtitled "Reflections on education with special reference to the teaching of English in the upper forms of schools," and uses that as a starting point for a defense of objective value and natural law, and a warning of the consequences of...

, refers to the chest of man as the seat of magnanimity, or sentiment, with this magnanimity working as the liaison between visceral and cerebral man. Lewis asserts that in his time, the denial of the emotions that are found in the eternal, the sublime, that which is humbling as an objective reality, had led to "men without chests".

Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

is famously quoted as saying "In War: Resolution. In Defeat: Defiance. In Victory: Magnanimity. In Peace: Goodwill."