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Volume 49 • Number 1

January 2012



Propositional Gratitude

by Sean McAleer

A striking feature of recent philosophical writing on gratitude is the disagreement that characterizes it: Saul Smilansky argues that I should be grateful to you for not harming me, while Patrick Fitzgerald argues that I often should be grateful to you for harming me; Christopher Wellman argues that gratitude is a virtue rather than a duty, while Claudia Card believes that gratitude is a duty; Roslyn Weiss argues that gratitude is neither a matter of justice nor an imperfect duty, while Aquinas—okay, not very recent—takes gratitude to be part of justice. Despite this disagreement, contemporary authorsówith one notable exception—share a pronounced topical preference for targeted gratitude (A's being grateful to B for x) over propositional gratitude (A's being grateful that p), treating the latter as a poor, less interesting cousin of the former, when it treats it at all. Perhaps propositional gratitude gets short shrift because of the centrality of targeted gratitude to accounts of political obligation, a tradition stretching back at least to Plato's Crito. Or perhaps discussions of targeted gratitude, with their emphases on when gratitude is owed and what is owed, dominate because so many philosophers see questions of moral requirement or duty as the primary ethical questions. Or perhaps it is due to a more general tendency—still prevalent despite the inroads virtue ethics has made in recent decades— to construe ethics as primarily about doing rather than being. Or perhaps it is some combination of these and other factors.

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ISSN: 2152-1123