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What Is the Principle of Charity?

The Principle of Charity is a philosophical guideline urging us to interpret others' statements in their strongest, most persuasive form. It's about seeking understanding before criticism, fostering constructive dialogue. By assuming the best in our conversational partners, we elevate discourse and bridge divides. How might applying this principle change your daily interactions? Join the conversation and share your thoughts.
Esther Ejim
Esther Ejim

The principle of charity states that people ought to be more open and receptive of what other people say. They should try to view the statements of other people from the most positive angles rather than dismissing them as unintelligible. People are different, and everybody thinks and speaks differently. People are products of their environments and are shaped by factors like culture, dialect, level of education, and genetic constitution. A person who lives in a poor neighborhood may not reason in the same way as a person who lives in an affluent neighborhood. This person’s thinking process may be affected by things like a sense of just trying to survive each day. That is not to say that such a person is not bright; the problem might be in the way the person tries to make his or her point.

According to the principle of charity, an Ivy League graduate who grew up in an affluent neighborhood might be tempted to dismiss what a less affluent people are saying simply because he or she does not understand most of the slang in the speech. The principle of charity demands that the listener should make allowances when listening to another person in order to fully grasp the salient points the person is trying to make. This works both ways because the Ivy League graduate might be talking about things that do not matter to the reality of someone less educated in a poor community. Yet by applying the principle of charity, such a person will look for the most convincing parts of the other person’s speech.

Giving to charity is a common way to express feelings of moral obligation.
Giving to charity is a common way to express feelings of moral obligation.

Another example of the application of the principle of charity is when someone is listening to an immigrant try to speak his or her language. The immigrant might be a professor in his or her country of origin, but due to still learning the new language, his or hers thoughts might not come across as intended. By applying the principle of charity, the listener will restructure the words from the immigrant so as to arrange them in a more logical manner that makes better sense to him or her.

Most charitable organizations need to raise donations.
Most charitable organizations need to raise donations.

Another meaning that has been ascribed to the principle of meaning is that most times a failure by any listener to understand what the speaker is saying is not due to a failure by the speaker to say something intelligible. Rather, the fault lies with the listener who has failed to interpret what the speaker is saying in a manner that will make it intelligible to him or her. This is simply a difference in logical wording between various speaking patterns.

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Discussion Comments


@Grivusangel -- Yes, I think it just comes down to acting like a decent human being and being nice to people in general. You don't yell at the pharmacy clerk because your scripts aren't ready. You don't talk to the server at a restaurant as though he or she is your slave. You just use good manners and act right.

Somehow, the principle of charity and acting right seem to be incredibly unfashionable in a lot of circles. It's almost as if you can't be taken seriously unless you act like a jerk and drop the f-bomb in every sentence.


Call me crazy, but it seems the principle of charity all boils down to the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them to do you," and "love your neighbor as yourself." Every major world religion has some form of this in its scriptures or teachings.

Basically, it says treat everyone with respect, no matter their station in life, or by how your station in life relates to theirs. It's very, very simple. Not always easy to do, by any means, but certainly a simple concept to understand, and most of us learn the basics of it in kindergarten when we learn to share and not call our classmates ugly names.

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    • Giving to charity is a common way to express feelings of moral obligation.
      By: Monkey Business
      Giving to charity is a common way to express feelings of moral obligation.
    • Most charitable organizations need to raise donations.
      By: Rawpixel
      Most charitable organizations need to raise donations.