Philanthropy, meaning “humanity loving,” is a word whose origins can be traced to ancient Greece and playwright Aeschylus’ description of Prometheus in his play Prometheus Bound.
By the 1700’s English lexicographer, Samuel Johnson added to the definition by defining philanthropy as, “Having a good-natured love of mankind.”
This good-natured aspect was made manifest during The Scottish Enlightenment when the act of becoming philanthropic was perceived as a “fitness” or, as a way of living in harmony with nature and one’s circumstances. Doing good deeds was proposed as an essential key to human happiness, and helped to build a commonwealth community. Thus, volunteering became a popular pastime among the wealthy, and societies, gentleman clubs, and mutual associations began to flourish.
In the above painting, the morally out-of-shape gentleman, however, whose philanthropic fitness has been woefully unrealized, laments: HE TRIED TO BE A GOOD PERSON, BUT JUST COULDN’T DO IT.