Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Adam Cureton

Committee Members

Jon Garthoff, Kristina Gehrman, Allen Dunn


We all understand what it means when someone says they are grateful. Sometimes they are describing something internal such as a feeling or an attitude towards something. Other times they are describing an act of gratitude such as a return favor. Sometimes they express gratitude for a state of affairs. Other times they express gratitude to a person for providing some benefit to them. Yet we can always piece together what is being communicated. The problem, however, is that these various ways of describing gratitude pull us in opposite directions and it is not obvious how these descriptions all relate back to the same concept.In this dissertation I first attempt to distinguish gratitude from other closely related concepts such as thankfulness or appreciation. I suggest that gratitude is always directed to a benefactor while the object of thankfulness is a state of affairs. Even if we agree that gratitude is directed to a benefactor for some benefit, does the gratitude take the form of a feeling or a duty to act? It is not immediately clear. I suggest that gratitude is best understood as both a virtue and a duty because the content of virtue is best understood, at least in part, in terms of principles.The principles of gratitude help us to distinguish gratitude from other closely related virtues such as justice or generosity, but we can only fully understand the virtue of gratitude by appealing to the ideal of gratitude. The ideal of gratitude involves more than merely acting on the right principles. It involves acting on the right principles in the right way, at the right time, and knowing when certain principles do or do not apply. At the end of the dissertation I apply this account of gratitude to a difficult case involving egg donation between sisters. In doing so I show how this view of gratitude is able to capture many of our intuitions about gratitude in a coherent and unified way.

Files over 3MB may be slow to open. For best results, right-click and select "save as..."