Rousseau's Quarrel with Gratitude

Patrick Coleman

in Anger, Gratitude, and the Enlightenment Writer

Published in print December 2010 | ISBN: 9780199589340
Published online January 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191723322 | DOI:
Rousseau's Quarrel with Gratitude

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This chapter examines the tension between Rousseau's two approaches to gratitude. The first, developed in political works from Discours sur l'inégalité to the Contrat social, is that the personal obligation of gratitude to benefactors should be replaced by the impersonal obligations of equal citizens under the law. As in Hobbes, individuals would then be free from dependence on other people's arbitrary will. The second approach, illustrated in La Nouvelle Héloïse and the last of the Rêveries, defines gratitude as a free response to a gift and as a sign of refined sensibility. It is a disposition that should be cultivated because it allows those who experience it to become more fully human and to motivate the performance of one's duties. Asking whether citizens should be grateful to the Legislator who facilitates the social contract, and whether people owe gratitude to God for letting them be themselves (as in the Savoyard vicar's ‘Profession of Faith’ in Emile) offers an interpretive key to the complexities of Rousseau's thought.

Keywords: benefactor; gift; obligation; sensibility; political philosophy; Hobbes; religion

Chapter.  16263 words. 

Subjects: Literature

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