Simmons wonders about the reasons why the phenomenon of gratitude has been neglected in modern philosophy. Mises had an explanation:

It is only the mentality of a capitalistic environment that makes people feel the indignity of giving and receiving alms. Outside of the field of the cash nexus and of deals transacted between buyers and sellers in a purely businesslike manner, all interhuman relations are tainted by the same failing. It is precisely the absence of this personal element in market transactions that all those deplore who blame capitalism for hard-heartedness and callousness. …

Feudal society was founded on acts of grace and on the gratitude of those favored. The mighty overlord bestowed a benefit upon the vassal and the latter owed him personal fidelity. Conditions were human in so far as the subordinates had to kiss their superiors’ hands and to show allegiance to them. In a feudal environment the element of grace inherent in charitable acts did not give offense. It agreed with the generally accepted ideology and practice.

Since our present society is “based entirely upon contractual bonds, … to be an almsman is shameful and humiliating. It is an unbearable condition for a self-respecting man.” (HA, 838-9)

The scope of grace and gratitude then has greatly diminished with the coming of capitalism. Gratitude has been relegated to etiquette.


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