Author(s)Manela, Anthony Adam
Contributor(s)Little, Margaret O
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Most people take three platitudes about gratitude for granted:
1) gratitude entails a set of strict obligations;
2) these obligations are owed to the benefactor; and
3) the benefactor does not have a right to the fulfillment of these obligations.
These three platitudes present a tension. A tradition in law and moral philosophy dating back to the natural lawyers holds that owed obligations always correlate to rights held by the person to whom the obligation is due. My strict obligations to you to keep a promise, to tell the truth, or to refrain from harming you all correlate to rights you hold against me. If the three gratitude platitudes are true, then gratitude appears to be an exception to this "correlativity thesis." The goal of this dissertation is to assess each of the gratitude platitudes and the correlativity thesis to see which of them needs to be rejected or revised.
After presenting an account of gratitude, I argue in chapter 3 that there are indeed obligations of gratitude: certain acts or omissions a grateful beneficiary morally must do, which admit of no latitude, and are wrong to fail to do. In chapter 4, I show that obligations of gratitude are owed to the benefactor in all the significant ways a promissory obligation is owed to a promisee. In chapters 5 and 6, I argue that while a benefactor does not have a right to demand gratitude, she does have an imperfect right to gratitude: standing to resent and remonstrate with an ungrateful beneficiary. I argue that one common version of the correlativity thesis, that directed moral obligations entail standing to demand (a perfect right), is inconsistent with the facts about gratitude, and should be rejected. In its place, we should accept a modified version of the correlativity thesis: moral obligations correlate to rights, which may be perfect or imperfect. I conclude by discussing ramifications the rejection of the common correlativity thesis has for arguments about obligations of friendship and political obligation.
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