David Carr

The Transcendent Character of Human Gratitude and its Meaningful Limits

Volume 9 () / Issue 1, pp. 22-37 (16)
Published 05.10.2022

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This article addresses two key – ultimately connected – themes. The first concerns the question of whether gratitude as a response to human or divine benefaction of theologically, normatively, or affectively 'higher' conception may be usefully regarded as continuous with or emergent from more basic and/or instrumental modes of natural human or non-human association and transaction of evolutionary or other natural (empirical) conditioning. The second is that of the limits of meaningful or intelligible human gratitude: In particular, of whether any idea of so-called existential or ontological gratitude or general thanks or appreciation – towards some divine creator or otherwise – makes much coherent sense. This article returns a generally negative response to both of these questions. While evolutionary or other empirical scientific accounts of human nature must fall short of accounting for the distinctive nature of human personhood in default of which such complex notions as love, benevolence, and gratitude can make little real sense, there can be no meaningful gratitude for life or existence above and beyond particular appreciation or thanks for the actual substantial benefits or favors of that life.