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An Intellectual History

Peter J. Leithart

Publication Year: 2014

Gratitude is often understood as etiquette rather than ethics, an emotion rather than politics. It was not always so. From Seneca to Shakespeare, gratitude was a public virtue. The circle of benefaction and return of service worked to make society strong. But at the beginning of the modern era, European thinkers began to imagine a political economy freed from the burdens of gratitude. Though this rethinking was part of a larger process of secularization, it was also a distorted byproduct of an impulse ultimately rooted in the teachings of Jesus and the apostle Paul. Christians believed that God stood at the center of the circle of gratitude. God was the object of thanksgiving and God gave graciously. Thus, Christians taught that grace cancelled the oppressive debts of a purely political gratitude. Gratitude: An Intellectual History,/i> examines changing conceptions of gratitude from Homer to the present. In so doing, Peter J. Leithart highlights the profound cultural impact of early Christian “ingratitude,” the release of humankind from the bonds of social and political reciprocity by a benevolent God who gave—and who continues to give—graciously.

Published by: Baylor University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. viii

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pp. ix-x

I received assistance from many people on this project. Donny Linnemeyer was an indispensable assistant in researching the crucial thinkers of the early modern period and the Enlightenment. Ryan Handerman provided me with a translation of the entry on gratitudo from Johannes de Bromyard’s Summa Praedicantium. Gary Glenn shared his work on Locke, Joan Tronto provided...

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Introduction: Of Circles, Lines, and Soup Tureens

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pp. 1-16

So far as I can reconstruct it, this book originated in frustrations with indexes, Google, and Amazon.com. For a decade or more, I have been intrigued by the way the concept of “the gift” has spread from cultural anthropology into philosophy and theology. I share the enthusiasm for this category...

Part I: Circles

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One: Circles of Honor

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pp. 19-40

Reciprocity was written into the language of archaic Greece. Ancient Greeks had no specific word for “thanks” or “gratitude,” and the word “grace” (charis, pl. charites) did double duty, naming both a gift and response. Charis means “pleasure” or “favor” and then, also, anything that brought pleasure...

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Two: Benefits and Good Offices

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pp. 41-56

Romans were unique in antiquity. In no other society were the ruling classes so thoroughly bound together by beneficia and gratia, by gifts and reciprocal gratitude. In no other society did the unequal relationships between benefactors and their beneficiaries, patrons and their clients, play such a...

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Three: Ingrates and the Infinite Circle

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pp. 57-78

Christians exasperated Romans. They were sacrilegious atheists who defied the Roman gods. Bringing a new religion into the empire was well and good, for tolerant religious diversity was the genius of the empire. But proclaiming a god so large and jealous that he displaced all others was intolerable. Symmachus...

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Four: Patron Saints and the Poor

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pp. 79-96

The fourth-century Christian writer Lactantius has been called the “Christian Cicero.” That epithet is testament to his still-classical Latin style, but he deserves the title for his substantive contributions as well, for in a brief section of his Divine Institutes, he offers a Christian reformulation of the...

Part II: Disruptions

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Five: Monster Ingratitude

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pp. 99-120

From its earliest emergence and throughout the Middle Ages, the Christian church’s central religious rite was the Eucharist, a thanksgiving offering and meal, which became known as the Mass (from the dismissal at the end of the Latin mass, ite missa est). Medieval Christians viewed it as a gift exchange...

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Six: The Circle and the Line

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pp. 121-142

The revolutionary changes in European society, politics, and church during the sixteenth century produced a “crisis in the economy of obligation.”1 Christians were divided on what they could expect from the Eucharist, or from the alms they offered. Neighboring towns no longer shared a common...

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Seven: Methodological Ingratitude

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pp. 143-160

“She certainly did not hate him. No, hatred had vanished long ago.” In its place was something more than respect, something beyond esteem. “It was gratitude.—Gratitude, not merely for having once loved her, but for loving her well enough to forgive all the petulance and acrimony of her manner in...

Part III: Reciprocity Rediscovered,Reciprocity Suspected

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Eight: Primitive Circles

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pp. 163-180

In the beginning there was Boas. Then there was Thurnwald. Then there was Malinowski. And in the last days there came one named Mauss to proclaim the good news of the gift, which descended from exotic Polynesia and Melanesia to the decadent capitalist West. For centuries, Europeans and Americans had encountered “primitive"...

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Nine: Denken ist Danken

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pp. 181-194

Anthropologists were not the only moderns to turn their attention back to the gift tradition of the West. In both Continental and Anglo-American philosophy, the past century has seen a comparatively small burst of interest in the topic.1 Among philosophers working in the “analytical” tradition...

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Ten: Gifts Without Gratitude

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pp. 195-216

Mauss’ rediscovery of reciprocity challenged post-Enlightenment ethics and philosophy from various directions. Kantian ethics had advocated about disinterested good will, and benevolence especially had to be disinterested. If benevolence aimed at winning some reward from the beneficiary, it was no...

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Conclusion: A Theistic Modernity

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pp. 217-230

What a long, strange trip it’s been, and it will be helpful to summarize at this point by returning to the illustration I offered in the introduction. Grandma has given you an ugly and useless soup tureen as a wedding gift. Should you put it away in a closet? Should you use it to feed the cat? Should you...


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pp. 231-300


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pp. 301-330

Scripture Index

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pp. 331-333

Index of Authors

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pp. 334-336

Subject Index

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pp. 336-340

E-ISBN-13: 9781602584518
E-ISBN-10: 1602584516
Print-ISBN-13: 9781602584495
Print-ISBN-10: 1602584494

Page Count: 350
Publication Year: 2014