Philanthropy (from Greek φιλανθρωπία) etymologically means "love of humanity" in the sense of caring, nourishing, developing and enhancing "what it is to be human" on both the benefactors' (by identifying and exercising their values in giving and volunteering) and beneficiaries' (by benefiting) parts. The most conventional modern definition is "private initiatives, for public good, focusing on quality of life". This combines the social scientific aspect developed in the 20th century with the original humanistic tradition, and serves to contrast philanthropy with business (private initiatives for private good, focusing on material prosperity) and government (public initiatives for public good, focusing on law and order).[1]

Instances of philanthropy commonly overlap with instances of charity, though not all charity is philanthropy, or vice versa. The difference commonly cited is that charity relieves the pains of social problems, whereas philanthropy attempts to solve those problems at their root causes (the difference between giving a hungry man a fish, and teaching him how to fish for himself). A person who practices philanthropy is called a philanthropist.


The Ancient Greek view of philanthropy — that the "love of what it is to be human" is the essential nature and purpose of humanity, culture and civilization — was intrinsically philosophical, containing both metaphysics and ethics. The Greeks adopted the "love of humanity" as an educational ideal, whose goal was excellence (arete)—the fullest self-development, of body, mind, and spirit, which is the essence of liberal education. The Platonic Academy's philosophical dictionary definedPhilanthropia as: "A state of well-educated habits stemming from love of humanity. A state of being productive of benefit to humans." Just as Prometheus’ human-empowering gifts rebelled against the tyranny of Zeusphilanthropia was also associated with freedom and democracy. Both Socrates and the laws of Athens were described as "philanthropic and democratic".


The total economic collapse attending the Fall of Rome and leading to the Dark Ages dissolved Classical civilization, replacing it with Christian theology and soteriology, administered through the Roman Catholic Church's ecclesiastical and monastic infrastructures. Gradually there emerged a non-religious agricultural infrastructure based on peasant farming organized into manors, which were in turn organized for law and order by feudalism. For a thousand years Classicalhumanism hibernated in forgotten manuscripts of monastic libraries.