Gratitude and the creation of value

Date of Completion

January 1997






I describe a model of moral development, one which involves a cycle of value-giving and value receiving. The cycle begins with disinterested care or love. Value may be created in one to whom care is given and, once created, it is experienced by the receiver as self-esteem, i.e., as a sense of moral worth. Self-esteem is a crucial ingredient of, and necessary requirement for, happiness, i.e., an experience of having ones needs fulfilled. When accompanied by humility and the realization that ones needs might not have been met, happiness may inspire not just appreciation but also gratitude. Genuine gratitude finds expression in a grateful return which is expressed as a grateful obligation which is natural, internal and free. Gratitude inspires care which is able, when other factors are present, to complete a valuing cycle.^ Moral development entails the growth of moral virtue which involves both moral sensitivity and moral gracefulness. Moral sensitivity is moral understanding; moral gracefulness is moral integrity which involves a kind of effortlessness when it comes to living well. I do not identify sufficient conditions for the development of moral virtue--rather I identify certain necessary conditions. I claim that a particular quality of care characterized by disinterested love is necessary for the development of moral virtue for these reasons: First, in nurturing a sense of moral worth, care predisposes a person towards relationships with others which are characterized by the giving and receiving of value; such giving and receiving of value is the essence of moral virtue. Secondly, as mentioned, care is necessary for the development of gratitude which provides motivation for engaging in moral behavior especially supererogatory behavior in which benefit is provided for another; such behavior is a necessary element within a gift-valuing cycle. ^