Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Grateful-That Kind of Gratitude

One kind of expression we find when people talk about gratitude is the grateful-to kind of expression, sometimes called prepositional gratitude:

John is grateful to Mary for her song.

Another kind of expression about gratitude is the grateful-that kind of expression, sometimes called propositional gratitude:

John is grateful that things went so well.

In his SEP article on Gratitude, Tony Manela gives the consensus on which philosophers discussing gratitude have converged:

A consensus is emerging that analyses of the concept of gratitude should be concerned only with the phenomenon expressed by the prepositional sense of the term (Carr 2013; Gulliford, Morgan et al. 2013; Manela 2016a; Roberts and Telech 2019). The consensus is based on the observation that the propositional sense of “gratitude” is more or less identical to another concept: the concept called appreciation or gladness. To say that I am grateful that it did not rain on my wedding day, for instance, is just to say that I am glad it did not. To say that I am grateful that my cancer went into remission is just to say I am glad that it did and that I appreciate the extra life and health that state of affairs entails.

This does indeed seem to be the current consensus, but a consensus of philosophers is not flock of homing pigeons, and I think this is a case in which consensus has converged on the wrong idea, for wrong reasons, to the detriment of the field. Gratitude-that is a form of gratitude. It is not equivalent to appreciation or gladness, which is an identifiably distinct response. Propositional gratitude is related to prepositional gratitude as indefinite to definite, or incomplete to complete. Obviously these get into a number of different issues; here I only give a few points related to them.

I. To say that I am grateful that it did not rain on my wedding day is very different from saying that I am glad that it did not rain on my wedding day, and what is more to the point, feeling grateful that it did not rain is a distinct feeling from feeling glad that it did not rain. One way we distinguish feelings of this sort is by their families of characteristic acts, and the characteristic acts of gratefulness and gladness are different. If I am glad it did not rain, the natural and normal way to express this is well known to everyone -- smiling, or laughing, or celebrating. Gladness disposes to celebration, in a broad sense of the term, even if this remains somewhat inchoate or does not fully develop. But if I am grateful it did not rain, I am saying that the feeling I have is disposing me to act graciously in a way that culminates when developed in thanking, and my expressions of being grateful that it did not rain will be related to thanking, even if they do not result in full-blown giving of thanks; for instance, I might take on myself a special responsibility to make sure this good fortune does not go to waste. We don't generally think of gladness or appreciation as themselves generating responsibilities, but being grateful that something has happened is very often associated with at least a basic kind of responsibility-taking. Being glad that you are alive is a great thing; but being grateful that you are alive calls for responsibility and action.I may be glad that a rock is in a given location, but this does not suggest any particular course of action with respect to the rock; if the rock is about to be destroyed I may be disappointed, but any protest will be based on the feeling the rock's being there is giving me. If I am grateful that the rock is in that location and the rock is about to be destroyed, however, I will have greater motivation to do something to stop its destruction; my protest, moreover, will not be based on my feeling of gratitude but on the reason why I am grateful for its being there.

We may say the same of appreciation. I can appreciate the trees being colorful, but if I am grateful that the trees are colorful, this suggests some deeper reason than talk of appreciation suggests.

Further, suppose that I say I am glad or appreciate that such-and-such happened, and then discover that someone arranged it. I might then be grateful to them, but I also might not; it depends on what it is. Appreciation or being glad about something may be a reason to be grateful to someone who arranges it, but it is not always so. But if I am grateful that such-and-such happened, and discover that someone arranged it, this in and of itself is always at least some reason to be grateful to them; my gratefulness seems then to find an object, my disposition to thank now has an occasion to become active in thanking specifically. There might be something impeding, it might not be universal -- but the move from one seems more straightforward with propositional gratitude than with appreciation.

There are, of course, relations among these things. For instance, one of the responsibilities that the gratefulness-that kind of gratitude might lead me to take on is deliberate appreciation; that something regularly makes me glad may be a reason to be grateful that it does so. But they are not the same; even at first glance there seems room to make a distinction between them.

II. Manela argues the identity of propositional gratitude and appreciation at greater length in his article, "Gratitude and Appreciation". He does consider there the proposal that being grateful that something happened involves a tendency to return just like being grateful to someone for something. ('Tendency to return' is perhaps not the right phrase for the thankful tendency actually associated with gratitude, but whether or not there is some better phrase will likely not change much.) His response to it is that while being grateful to someone for something entails some such tendency to return, but cases of being grateful that something occurred do not. If, to take a somewhat simpler example than he uses, John is not grateful that it did not rain on his wedding day, we would not call him an ingrate. I'm not sure that this would always be true, but let's assume it. How is it really different from many cases of being grateful to someone for something? We are benefited by people all the time; in many of these cases we would take gratitude to be a good response but not necessarily regard someone as an ingrate if they did not feel grateful. (Indeed, many of our gratitude practices are designed to function even if they are not backed by feelings, but only the abstract recognition of the value of a properly grateful response.) Likewise, if we say that John is grateful that it did not rain on his wedding day, but never makes a return, we would not say he was an ingrate. But it's been noted since Seneca writing on benefits that gratitude does not always require return in a robust sense; sometimes a thankful spirit ready for an opportunity (which depending on the circumstances may not ever come) suffices. And there are many circumstances in which we might be grateful to someone but have no way to render return. For instance, I might really need some kind of information, and find that someone did it a hundred years ago, and feel gratitude toward them for doing it. No return directly to them is possible. We might then as a substitute simply appreciate them in memory, or, recognizing that no direct return is possible, we might just leave it at our thankful feeling toward them. When we render grateful returns, we often decide what is an appropriate return on the basis of features of the benefactor or their situation; sometimes those features render return impossible or moot or merely mental. This is particularly relevant here. Since being grateful that something occurred does not have a benefactor directly in view, the kind of thing that would normally specify a particular way to render return is not there, so you often wouldn't expect anything definite. The obvious way to think of it is to think that gratitude-that is generally a sort of gratitude that is running without what is required to result in a complete grateful expression.

(It is not especially relevant to my argument here, but Manela also has some responses to positions arguing that some of the features he attributes to prepositional gratitude are not strictly required; for instance, the idea that perhaps you can be grateful to inanimate objects. He tries to dismiss this as being due to anthropomorphism, but as far as I can see, this is simply irrelevant. OK, suppose it's due to anthropomorphism; it's still the case that someone is grateful to an inanimate object. Manela tries to conclude that it needs to be an agent to be warranted, but warranted or not, it's still an actual case of being grateful to an inanimate object -- and he doesn't actually establish that it is unwarranted, because he has not established that anthropomorphism is unwarranted. There is in fact a case of undeniable prepositional gratitude that almost always involves some degree of anthropomorphism already -- for instance, if you are grateful to a dog for saving you from a fire. Since this is an animate case, I take it that Manela would allow it, but we can hardly help anthropomorphizing animals, and there seems to be no problem with that, at least to a moderate degree, for most practical purposes. And, as I've noted before, on some quite respectable account of emotional expression in art, the natural world, even inanimate objects and scenes are rationally counted as genuinely expressive even though we know that no actual emotion is expressed, due to sharing features with human expressions, so some things that would likely be counted by Manela as anthropomorphism would on those views be rational and warranted. Manela seems to think that there is some fact about gratefulness that floats away from our actual cases of gratefulness, so that we can dismiss some of the latter as not 'real' gratefulness. But this seems entirely arbitrary,and runs the risk of somewhat dishonest characterization of actual human experience, falsifying the real responses of people by pretending their responses are some abstract scheme of what he assumes to be a more rational way to respond.)

All of this is just Manela arguing that there are significant differences between the two, but he also argues specifically that gratefulness-that is just appreciation. His argument mostly just consists of him identifying general similarities and doubting that there could be a distinction between the two. I've already questioned whether propositional gratitude is really unconnected to a tendency to return in the way appreciation is, but let's assume that Manela is right here. There are others, as I've also noted: Being grateful that something is the case is often in practice associated with responsibility in ways that mere appreciation is not; they seem to be related to motivation differently; gratitude-that seems to flow immediately into gratitude-to when a benefactor is discovered, whereas appreciation does not seem to have the same natural flow. And most importantly, we regularly express it in terms more appropriate to gratitude than mere appreciation.

III. Manela tells a number of stories to try to motivate his account of the differences between prepositional and propositional gratitude. Of course, in a sense all that anyone does when they tell stories like this is to try to convince someone that an idea makes a kind of narrative sense, which is a weak, albeit sometimes important, foundation. We can point to a number of things in actual practice that need to be taken seriously. For instance, the fact that we use the word 'grateful' at all in this context is relevant. Nor is it the only gratitude-relevant word we use. Consider the word 'thankfully': "I went to his house and, thankfully, he was there." That's very definitely a gratitude-expression, and that's very definitely describing propositional, not prepositional, gratitude. People who are expressing propositional gratitude will sometimes say things like, "It was a gift from the gods", despite not believing in gods, or "The fates have looked kindly on me", despite not thinking that there are fates. And people expressing propositional gratitude will sometimes verbalize it with nothing more than "Thank you!" despite not speaking to anyone particular. Now some of these may be linguistic relics of cases where people were actually expressing prepositional gratitude (to gods or God), and Manela in fact attempts to say precisely this, but it again is irrelevant. The fact of the matter is that people who are definitely not expressing prepositional gratitude still take them to be appropriate verbal expressions of their experience. And there are lots of them. This in itself suggests that people are recognizing some close kinship between prepositional and propositional gratitude, one that they do not necessarily associate with gladness or appreciation.

Manela wants to say that all of this is conflation; this response should be seen as what it is -- an attempt to take a vast quantity of evidence against his view and pretend that it is not really there, as if vast portions of the human race were unable to use the word 'gratitude', and indeed most other gratitude-expressions, correctly. It's entirely reasonable for people to respond to his arguments with nothing more than, "We know what we mean, and we are using the word because it is appropriate; stop calling us liars or fools."

IV. It is widely recognized that we can have a spontaneous impulse to gratitude in the face of some things that we find beneficial, prior to consideration of a benefactor. William Whewell, for instance, says, "While enjoying the bounties of nature, the sentiment of gratitude spontaneously rises up in the unperverted heart." He is very clear that this sentiment is prior to concluding that there is any benefactor. And, as he notes, this is insisted upon by Kant, too: Kant holds that, in a moral state of mind, faced with beauty, we can naturally feel a need to be grateful, which becomes gratitude. That is, the origin of the gratitude is not direct consideration of benefactors, but a spontaneous feeling, perhaps arising from another feeling (like moral sentiment) or a recognition of an analogy (the world seems like a gift), and this in itself results in gratitude. Both Whewell and Kant hold that there is a relation to benefactors here, but it lies in the fact that when we feel gratitude, we look for a benefactor. The gratitude comes first; and then in light of that we recognize someone as benefactor, or else suppose or posit that there is a benefactor. Both Whewell and Kant think this is a reasonable way to follow through on our spontaneous impulse of gratitude. But the gratitude would be there even if the situation were more like that depicted by Marvin Gardner in The Flight of Peter Fromm, i.e., if we concluded that there was no benefactor at all, because it did not first depend on identifying a benefactor.

V. It makes sense to hold that gratitude-that is an inchoate or incompletely formed version of the kind of gratitude that we get in gratitude-to. I've already noted the ease with which gratitude-that often flows into gratitude-to. Manela focuses on cases where you can have gratitude-that without gratitude-to, but this would not be surprising; nothing requires that the process always complete. Indeed, in some of Manela's cases it would be common for people to assume that the character is deliberately blocking or impeding, or at least not removing an impediment, to completion, and thus is blameworthy. It would make sense of why Whewell and Kant think being grateful that something is the case leads us naturally to look for a benefactor to which we could be grateful, and why Gardner thinks that it could raise that temptation even if it is resistible. It would make sense of people who don't believe in gods, or fates, or God, still think it natural to express their gratitude-that in these terms, and the durability of that language. It would make sense of the occasional cases in which people do try to render some kind of return, even if purely symbolic or by a kind of role-playing, given their propositional gratitude.

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