1. unselfish concern for human beings, esp. as shown by voluntary service or donations:[uncountable]

  2. [countable] a philanthropic act or donation.

  3. [countable] a philanthropic institution.

[Word Reference]

Judging from WordReference Random House Learner's Dictionary, “philanthropy” as an uncountable noun seems to mean a mental state (unselfish concern for human beings).

However, Merriam Webster Learner’s Dictionary defines “philanthropy” as [noncount] : the practice of giving money and time to help make life better for other people.

Does “philanthropy” as an uncountable noun refer to your intention/a mental state? Or does it include your real efforts and donations?

  • I think this question is really not interesting. You could take any abstract word and ask the same question of it. – Lambie Nov 11 at 16:49
  • Many libraries were built in the US, thanks to the philanthropy of Andrew Carnegie. – Hot Licks Nov 11 at 19:50

I believe the uncountable definition is referring to the concept (an abstraction or metaphysical postulation); i.e. neither a specific act, nor a specific mental state. An act of philanthropy is a demonstration of the concept. In the absence of an action or an actor (one to attribute the mental state to), the concept still remains.

I would draw an analogy to “Love”. One may exhibit love, and one my experience love. But in the absence of an actor or an act, the concept of love remains; e.g. “Love is in the air”, in this usage love is an intangible and innumerable concept.

LINK: Conceptual example as to the abstract usage of Love

Looking to the Philosophy of Plato, Philanthropy, as to the definition the OP question looks to understand, is a “Form”. Experience (the mental-state), action, and observation (phenomena) are all metaphorical “shadows” of the ethereal Forms that underlie “reality”. These issues are still debated in the philosophical field of Metaphysics.

LINK: Plato Theory of Form by Erica Cummings

  • I have to disagree on philosophical terms. There's no love in whatever air Venus has. And it's difficult to class someone as philanthropic if they don't actually show it in some concrete way. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 10 at 14:47
  • @EdwinAshworth Does that then demonstrate the difference between philanthropy and generosity? I saw philanthropy as a continuing rather than instantaneous action in terms of outcome. So philanthropy works like moving the wheel to steer a ship. – tu-Reinstate Monica-dor duh Nov 10 at 23:38
  • @ tu-Reinstate Monica-dor duh It's meaningless to talk about 'love', 'generosity', 'faith' etc as abstract concepts. James 2:17 Cambridge Bible for Schools & commentary: << 17. Even so faith, if it hath not works [is dead]. This then is St James’s objection to the 'faith' of which he speaks. It is, while alone (literally, by itself), with no promise or potency of life, and it is, therefore, dead, and being so, as we scarcely call a corpse a man, is unworthy of the name of faith. >> (The 'works' need not always be physical acts.) – Edwin Ashworth Nov 11 at 15:59
  • @EdwinAshworth Your Venus comment is comical but misleading. Love may potentially exist in all environments. At the darkest depths of the oceans, and perhaps elsewhere in the farthest reaches of the universe. Some may perceive the simplest molecular bond or fused atoms as love. Plato would argue Love like Philanthropy that the OP question looks to understand is a Form, of which the experience of, action of and observation of are all metaphorical shadows of the Form. – PV22 Nov 11 at 17:48
  • @EdwinAshworth There is probably no Philanthropy currently on Venus, I’ll give you that. – PV22 Nov 11 at 18:45

It means both, and sometimes it is difficult to determine which is meant, or if there is a real distinction.

Some other character traits which have characteristic behaviours have the same ambiguity, eg: generosity, stinginess. Others do not seem to.


Collins recognizes the plural form of the noun, in BrE.

philanthropies in British : plural noun


As also does the OED :

  1. A philanthropic action, movement, or agency; a charity. Chiefly in plural

1991 P. C. Newman Merchant Princes v. 124 On February 16, 1889, while inspecting the Winnipeg General Hospital, one of his favourite philanthropies, he died of a heart attack.

1854 H. D. Thoreau Walden 85 If you should ever be betrayed into any of these philanthropies, do not let your left hand know what your right hand does, for it is not worth knowing.

Oxford English Dictionary

My own understanding of the meaning in its usage is that different philanthropies have different motivations and methods in regard to their diverse philanthropic activities.

The word appears to be used as a synonym for 'charities'. 'Charity' is a similar expression to 'philanthropy' but both can be pluralised.

There may be a significant difference in the usage between AmE and BrE.

  • 1
    OP is asking about the non-count usages. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 10 at 14:43

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