His [St. Augustine's] Letter 211 (c. 424) contains the phrase Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum, which translates roughly to “With love for mankind and hatred of sins.” The phrase has become more famous as “love the sinner but hate the sin” or “hate the sin and not the sinner” (the latter form appearing in Mohandas Gandhi’s 1929 autobiography).

I would happily embrace Augustine's maxim, but feel that Gandhi's individualization of it, to 'sin' and 'sinner', in place of 'sins' and 'sinners', distorts it into something unacceptable.

I'm just asking whether any philosopher has pointed that out, or made a similar claim about the particularization of similar ethical maxims.

  • 7
    Clearly, it is not beyond all recognition since you relate the two without any evidence that Gandhi even had Augustine's phrase in mind when he wrote his, and take both without context. Christians seem to be happy enough with Gandhi's version, see Christianity SE
    – Conifold
    Aug 16, 2019 at 0:39
  • 6
    The individization of the phrase is older than Gandhi. Vivekananda was using the phrase in India in the 1890s; in the West, the Philokalia has the individuation in several places. Aug 16, 2019 at 13:39
  • i understand that this is primarily opinion based, but not necessarily only so... and that answer (which won't be forthcoming) would be amazing!
    – user38026
    Aug 16, 2019 at 18:02
  • I must commend your astute observation in how a small lexical change makes for a non-trivial semantic difference. As for what Gandhi wrote and what St Augustine I don't know. However the two statements do have a different flavor. I may attempt to say more but first here are two answers of mine : one and two. Do they find some resonance?
    – Rushi
    Aug 18, 2019 at 5:12
  • 3
    The quote says the latter form appears in Gandhi's autobiography, not that he came up with it, he was probably just repeating a common maxim--the second-to-last paragraph of this answer mentions various Christian writers publishing basically the same phrase in the 1700s. Also, Augustine did write an "individualized" statement with a similar idea here: "No sinner is to be loved as a sinner; and every man is to be loved as a man for God's sake".
    – Hypnosifl
    Jan 15, 2020 at 21:02

1 Answer 1


I think we usually don't need to compare these two. But if we compare them we would find both of their significance. The first one doesn't consider each individual specifically; I feel. When we put the first one into practice there is a great chance of dilemma in many occasions. There is a possibility of ignoring that particular sinner's individuality/mind. Most often the person who is treating a sinner may ignore the quality 'love'. I mean, loving his 'essence' (soul)...(Even if he didn't forget one or two qualities for humanity.)

Often, circumstances make a sinner. If you hate the sinner always, how could he become a good person? Just remember the (author's) background of the Ramayana--Story of Ratnakara (Valmiki). Would we ever get that great Epic if he were ignored? How did Rama always treat Ravana (in the Ramyana)? What was his attitude towards him?

So, I would say that the first one pleases most people, but the second one pleases the wise as well as the sinner and gives a motivation for him to become good. Certainly, you can please most people with the first statement. So you may give the first one as an advice to (almost) anybody; but not the second one. (Suppose) When dealing with a sinner sometimes you become a 'sinner' by accident. How should we treat you then? Just remember that.

If you wish to take the essence of both, I would say: The usage 'love for mankind' made the first statement 'milk' and the usage 'love the sinner' made the second 'butter'.

I'm just asking whether any philosopher has pointed that out, or made a similar claim about the particularization of similar ethical maxims.

I don't know whether anybody had ever tried to discriminate the individualization of Gandhiji's words.

So, to your question,

Does Gandhi's paraphrase of Augustine's phrase distort its meaning?

If churning is any kind of distortion or deformation, Gandhiji's statement is also a distortion; otherwise not. This might mislead the people who can't assimilate the meaning in its correct sense. If you use these words of Gandhiji for advice, many will misunderstand you and your idea.

  • interesting opinion, thanks
    – user38026
    Aug 16, 2019 at 17:18

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