Negative Feelings of Gratitude

Journal of Value Inquiry 50 (1):129-140 (2016)
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Philosophers generally agree that gratitude, the called-for response to benevolence, includes positive feelings. In this paper, I argue against this view. The grateful beneficiary will have certain feelings, but in some contexts, those feelings will be profoundly negative. Philosophers overlook this fact because they tend to consider only cases of gratitude in which the benefactor’s sacrifice is minimal, and in which the benefactor fares well after performing an act of benevolence. When we consider cases in which a benefactor suffers severely, we see the feelings associated with gratitude can be negative, and even quite painful. I conclude with a discussion of the implications negative feelings of gratitude have for the normative question of when gratitude is owed, and for the descriptive claim in positive psychology that gratitude enhances wellbeing.
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