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Thursday, April 16, 2009

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Gratitude

Dear friends,

This Sunday we are discussing Gratitude. There are many things we ought to be grateful for in our lives, but as I point out in my rather short essay, who benefits when we express gratitude?

One thing we ought to be grateful for and we know who will benefit is that the Madrid vs Barcelona game is not until Sunday 3 May. So the odds are in our favour that football WON’T interfere with our meeting this Sunday.

Take care and see you Sunday

Lawrence


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Gratitude

Gratitude is considered to be a positive emotion. And as the Wikipedia article points out gratitude had not been an issue in psychology until the positive psychology movement. We are also told that in philosophy, Adam Smith considered gratitude in the context of moral philosophy. Maybe it is religions that have made the most extensive “use” of this emotion. Specifically, the gratitude towards god for being born, our well being, our life and out material wealth.

The article also identifies a possible meaning or definition of gratitude as a) a person receives valuable help, b) costly to the benefactor and c) benevolent intentions.

But the biggest challenge for gratitude, I submit, is not the giver but rather the receiver and the emotional and epistemic state of mind of the receiver. For someone to be grateful that person must first accept that the help they have received is something they are not reasonably entitled to receive. Maybe we can distinguish acts that elicit gratitude and act done from duty. Although we might also be grateful for some acts done from duty. For example, when someone has the authority to give us something, a loan, a free booklet or catalogue, and we have no right to that thing. Of course, this last idea introduces such issues as natural justice, rules and regulations and fairness not to mention discrimination and favouritism.

We might interpret “something” as something having a material, physical or monetary wealth. Or at least something that can be easily measured, either as an act of help or value to the receiver. But sometimes we experience acts for which we are grateful for but do not necessarily involve any inconvenience to the giver or real valuable help to the receiver. For example being given directions when were lost or looking for an unfamiliar place. Let’s not be pedantic here and regard the time spent giving the instructions as valuable.

However, what determines whether a person is grateful when they receive help from a giver? I would argue that one factor would be whether the person who receive help are themselves givers of help and people are grateful for their help. What are the chances of someone (A) being grateful towards others (x) if others are never grateful of any help they (A) might offer? We are more likely to be grateful, I would argue, if others are grateful for what we do to them; these others need not be the same people, but people we generally meet in life.

I would also conclude from this argument that gratitude is a consequence of cooperation amongst people. We mustn’t forget that gratitude involves giving something at a cost but no return, and receiving something at no cost to us. Gratitude is also linked, I would submit, to altruism. Why should we help others when there is no evident direct benefit fro us?

And considering the givers situation, we can also argue that an act that can also elicit gratitude is also an act based on complex epistemological and mental state of affairs. The giver, must first of all recognise that the person who needs help, actually needs help and secondly the giver also recognises the kind of help the person needs. If the situation requires that we help someone cross the road safely it does not make much good to offer them a thousand Euros; not I must emphasis such a receiver won’t be grateful and more importantly nor do I want to discourage any such acts of generosity. But you get my point. Empathy is an important moral and psychological motivator for rational beings.

We have also developed a language to express our emotion of gratitude. Of course, I am only able to give examples of this language for English. And although I have no doubt to believe that all natural languages have language structures to express gratitude I am equally certain that these expressions do not necessarily convey the same specific idea nor, more importantly, when to use these expressions.

Words and expressions such as grateful, gratitude, thank you, I appreciate that, I’m indebted to you, are generally used to express gratitude. In fact, language plays a central role when we express and describe our emotions.

And many times language is used in favour to physical force. For example, today we revert to legal argument when we have a dispute with others; we no longer accept in our society to solve differences through physical force. In effect we also use language to influence others.

We can therefore also ask ourselves: who benefits from expressions of gratitude? Earlier I suggested that gratitude might be a consequence of cooperation and altruism. But what are we trying to achieve when we say thank you? It might be the thing to do and certainly a polite thing to do when someone does something for us. But still this does not explain who benefits. Are we making the giver feel good about their action? Does the word “thank you” affect the pleasure parts of the brain in the same way maybe a strawberry ice cream affects the pleasure part of the brain? Do we do and say these things because we get a kick out of them?

Or do we express gratitude to express recognition of the superiority, power, hierarchal position the giver has on us. Maybe a primeval instinct to recognise those who are more powerful than us. In the same way primates use grooming to those above them in the hierarchy as a sign of submission, friendship and maybe even gratitude for letting them stay in the troupe.

Of course, whatever the motivations and benefits of gratitude might be, it is certainly an emotion we can use more often. But can we be too grateful? Are there limits to how grateful we ought to be?

Take care

Lawrence






Gratitude. (2009, March 17). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 16:06, April 16, 2009, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Gratitude&oldid=277834768





from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Gratitude





1 comment:

Daniel Brenton said...

This post was highlighted in the April 17 edition of Gratitude Watch.Thank you for promoting the value of gratitude.

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