Can you demonstrate that gratitude is a basic, universal moral obligation?

I would tease this question out into four separate parts:

1. Is the response of gratitude a collectively useful, prosocial trait or cultivated habit? Absolutely. I think the more grateful people can be for all aspects of their existence (indeed, even suffering if it is instructive), the more happiness they are likely to experience consistently, and the more harmonious and cooperative civil society will be.

2. Does a gratitude response automatically invoke direct reciprocity? This is a bit of a stumbling block for me. Some people will be inspired to reciprocate, but it seems burdensome to make this an automatic “rule.” Reciprocity may be expected as a more generalized social guideline (for example, “do unto others as you would have done unto you), but immediate payback seems both awkward and forced; it seems more legalistic than constructively relational. Also, the desire to reciprocate may be expressed towards others (i.e. “give it forward”), towards that person’s conception of their group (their family, community, culture, nation, etc.), or towards that person’s conception of the Divine. So I think the answer here is a qualified “no.”

3. Is direct reciprocity a reasonable moral expectation? Indirect reciprocity, as a more generalized societal expectation of normalized behavior, sure. Direct reciprocity, as an interpersonal rule, again no.

4. Where should either gratitude or reciprocity originate? For me this is the crux of the matter. If my gratitude - and any attempts at reciprocity - aren’t an authentic expression of who I am and how I genuinely feel, then I am thinking, feeling and acting artificially. At the same time, I also believe that gratitude and a desire to reciprocate should be prominent aspects of my character; they should be virtues that I cultivate.

In practice, then, my primary obligation will be to have integrity with my own character and the virtues I esteem. And complying with that obligation is its own primary reward. Concurrently, because I am a social creature and dependent on my community and relationships for every aspect of my existence (including the inculcation of the very virtues that I value), I will actively aim to engage all of society - inclusive of strangers, enemies, friends and family - with an equivalent quality of gratitude and reciprocation. As an operational ideal, I would not want to reprioritize how my own character was expressed according to who saved my life, or how much money I owe someone, or how attractive I find someone, or how long they’ve been my friend, or what bad things they’ve done to me in the past. Why? Because that would mean I am adapting who and how I fundamentally am to every situation in a chameleon-like way…and that smacks of insincerity and, frankly, duplicity. Either I am living according to my values, or I’m not. In day-to-day decisions, of course, I will most likely shift the intensity and duration of this self-expression, connection and relating according to the type of relationship and level of intimacy I have with a given person. But, specifically in terms of lending money, I would still be guided more by the level of need, the immediacy of crisis, the efficacy of what I am being asked to give vs. other ways I could help, etc. than by some previous event that implies indebtedness.

My 2 cents.

From Quora question:


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