Liberality and liberalism

One should understand memetic fields as gravity fields with one or few tightly connected memes that warp the space around so that memes in its vicinity get attracted bt that meme in the center of the gravitational pool. The gravitational attraction in this context means that attracted memes change their polarity. That means that they change their meaning for their observers (communication recipients).

It follows from the above statement that the meaning of a particular meme is defined by the memetic field(s) of a recipient (intersubjectivity) and the topology of memetic fields that exist objectively embodied (phenotypes) as artifacts. I will skip the intersubjectivity part in this post and focus on »objectively« existing memetic fields with articles, books, and dictionaries as prime examples.

Let us scrutinize »liberality« as a meme that appears within various memetic fields.

What becomes immediately intuitively clear on a methodological level is, that we can measure memes that are affected by the center of gravity while we can only compare various centers of gravity. If we leave aside that memetic pools should be understood as fractals, meaning that one particular memetic center of gravity is at the same time as being the center also a meme polarised by a larger memetic pool with another center of gravity – and so on ad infinitum, we should understand that in each particular case, we measure a meme as being affected by gravity and not as being a center for another memetic field.

Liberality is illuminating for our purpose because archaeology clearly shows how this meme was affected by particular pools in time and how it changed its polarity. It is not the ambition of the following overview to give a comprehensive list for I only want to prove the concept of memetic pools.


In the Book III of Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle defines liberality as the right disposition with regard to spending money  (Aristotle 2003).

What is important in relation to the contemporary situation is that Aristotle never mentions the state as being generous, but only an individual. It is the individual who is the focus of Ethics, while the state is the subject of Politics. It is thus the individual that represents the gravity center of the memetic field that liberality is part of. To spend his own money is a trait of liberality for Aristotle.

Thomas Aquinas

It is no surprise that Thomas Aquinas treats liberality (Aquinas 2018, 739-741) in accordance with Aristotle as a potential virtue. Liberality deals, first and foremost, with money. A liberal man is an open-handed man, who is ready to”liberate” money from his own possession, and thus shows that he is not inordinately attached to it.

It seems that liberality is the greatest of the virtues. For every of man is a likeness to the divine goodness. (idib., 741)

Liberality is, for Aquinas, tied to an individual, money, as for Aristotle, but with the addition of God. Still, one cannot trace even a hint of any collective in the vicinity of liberality.


Making a step from scholasticism to enlightenment, we encounter the emergence of completely novel memetic attractors for liberality.

Rousseau’s thinking has had a profound influence on later philosophers and political theorists, although the tensions and ambiguities in his work have meant that his ideas have been developed in radically incompatible and divergent ways. In modern political philosophy, for example, it is possible to detect Rousseau as a source of inspiration for liberal theories, communitarian ideas, civic republicanism, and in theories of deliberative and participatory democracy. (Bertram 2020)

It should not surprise us that enlightenment stepped away from Aristotle, which was a necessary consequence of its fight against scholasticism. What is instructive for our archaeology of »liberality« is that it takes only a blink of an eye to reposition the meaning from individual liberality to communitarianism. The material meme of liberality stayed the same, while the strategic meme of liberality changed its polarization by being entrapped in another memetic field.

Bacon and Whigs

An interesting development of liberality happened from 1790 to 1840 whit Whig politics in UK and US influenced by Francis Bacon. 

The great preoccupation with civil and religious liberty correlated with, and made sense within a broader liberality of sentiment that implied generosity and comprehensiveness. This kind of liberality discourse was widespread among the Foxite Whigs. Sir James Mackintosh told Lord Holland in 1805 that whatever was liberal was generous.  (Bord 2009, 79-80)

As if they would openly reject Rousseau’s communitarian ideas back to generosity. So conservatives linked liberality to generosity, while progressives powered by Rousseau linked it to communitarianism. This is yet another confirmation of the Political Brane Topology as explained in Homonism (Drapal 2022, 164-166).

There is no urgent need to excavate all traces of the meme liberal in the 20th century, for, as we shall see, the whole history is represented in today’s dictionaries.

The Google dictionary:


  1. 1.

willing to respect or accept behavior or opinions different from one’s own; open to new ideas.

“they have liberal views on divorce”

  1. 2.

relating to or denoting a political and social philosophy that promotes individual rights, civil liberties, democracy, and free enterprise.


  • narrow-minded
  • bigoted


  1. 1.

a supporter of policies that are socially progressive and promote social welfare.

  1. 2.

a supporter of a political and social philosophy that promotes individual rights, civil liberties, democracy, and free enterprise.

“classical liberals emphasized the right of the individual to make decisions, even if the results dismayed their neighbours or injured themselves”

What is interesting in Google’s case is that the adjective explanation does not correspond to the noun one. The first one relates to an individual, while the 1.1. of the noun one relates to a social dimension.

Merriam Webster:

1aof, relating to, or based on the liberal arts

liberal education

1b archaicof or befitting a man of free birth

2amarked by generosity: OPENHANDED

a liberal giver

2bgiven or provided in a generous and openhanded way

a liberal meal


3 obsoletelacking moral restraintLICENTIOUS

4not literal or strictLOOSE

a liberal translation


especiallynot bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or traditional forms

6a: of, favoring, or based upon the principles of liberalism

6b capitalizedof or constituting a political party advocating or associated with the principles of political liberalism

Where Liberalism means:

1the quality or state of being liberal

2a  often capitalized a movement in modern Protestantism emphasizing intellectual liberty and the spiritual and ethical content of Christianity

ba theory in economics emphasizing individual freedom from restraint and usually based on free competition, the self-regulating market, and the gold standard…

ca political philosophy based on belief in progress, the essential goodness of the human race, and the autonomy of the individual and standing for the protection of political and civil liberties

specifically such a philosophy that considers government as a crucial instrument for amelioration of social inequities (such as those involving race, gender, or class)

d capitalized the principles and policies of a Liberal party

The dictionary’s examples present us with a term (a material meme) within various memetic fields. In the particular case of the memes liberal and liberalism, all historical sediments are reflected even if they are incoherent, meaning that they put particular material memes within contradicting memetic fields. It is no surprise that such material memes that are tied to different strategic memes with opposing polarities provoke social unrest as they enter into intersubjectivity circles that cannot be aligned.


Aquinas, Saint Thomas. 2018. The Summa Theologica: Complete Edition. Coyote Canyon Press.

Aristotle. 2003. The Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle, by Aristotle. Translated by D.P. Chase. The Project Guttenberg.

Bertram, Christopher. 2020. ‘Jean Jacques Rousseau’. In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta, 2020th ed. Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University.

Bord, Joe. 2009. ‘Liberality’. In Science and Whig Manners: Science and Political Style in Britain, c. 1790–1850, edited by Joe Bord, 79–101. Studies in Modern History. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK.

Drapal, Andrej. 2022. Homonism. Scholars’ Press.

Andrej Drapal