In this century, the topic of gratitude has received little more than passing attention from major moral theorists, yet, in earlier periods of Anglo-American moral philosophy, ingratitude was treated as a serious vice. Terrance McConnell provides the first contemporary philosophical exploration of the phenomenon of gratitude. Arguing that it is both an obligation and a moral sentiment, he discusses ways in which gratitude seems to conflict with other important theses in ethical theory. McConnell offers examples from several contexts, including political and filial obligations and relations between friends and casual acquaintances.
Sometimes gratitude seems to be merely a matter of etiquette requiring only a trivial response, but at other times it is clearly a matter of morality that demands nearly the impossible. McConnell describes conditions that generate debts of gratitude, the requirements of such debts, and the relationship between moral requirements and feelings or emotions. He discusses the question of whether gratitude toward someone interferes with the impartiality that is morally required in other situations. He also shows how various moral traditions - utilitarianism, Kantianism, and the ethics of virtue - can account for some, but not all, aspects of the morality of gratitude.
In his final chapters, McConnell considers whether gratitude can provide an adequate foundation for political and filial obligations. He argues that these obligations are not best understood in terms of owing blind obedience, but instead involve contributing to the well-being of the state and one's parents in more significant ways. In addition to providing a unique treatment of gratitude, the author demonstrates that focusing on a particular moral requirement enables us to raise many central questions in ethical theory and provides a vehicle for evaluating moral theories.
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