Gratitude and social justice: A preliminary defence of ingratitude

Research output: Contribution to conferencePapers


Research-based calls for gratitude have gained prominence in western popular culture in the last decade. Gratitude has been observed, in psychological and philosophical literature, to bring personal benefits, including helping one endure life’s challenges and be kind to others, and it is related to the notion of “checking your privilege” (i.e. acknowledging one’s advantages and good fortunes). This work in progress aims to destabilize this discourse in contexts of difference and inequality. In relation, it develops a defence of ingratitude. Self-serving aspects of promotions of gratitude in research and in popular culture are brought to light, as the presentation asks whether ingratitude might be an appropriate moral stance in some circumstances to engage social justice. To explore gratitude and ingratitude in circumstances that contrast with the happy middle-class contexts most often examined, examples are drawn from literary works by Black American novelist Toni Morrison. Toni Morrison’s characters are rarely grateful, but when they are, their gratitude is exposed as smug, unattractive pleasure to gain unfair advantage over others. Characters sometimes chide each other for ingratitude, yet their moralizing reveals gratitude as a relative and subjective value in contexts marked by difference and inequality, which potentially embraces inequality in its self-serving attention to difference and individual comparison. Philosophical analyses of gratitude and ingratitude are therefore juxtaposed with literary examples to reveal tensions related to gratitude for social justice or as a venue to altruism. Copyright © 2014 44th the Philosophy of Education Society of Australasia (PESA) Annual Conference.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2014


Jackson, L. (2014, November). Gratitude and social justice: A preliminary defence of ingratitude. Paper presented at the 44th the Philosophy of Education Society of Australasia (PESA) Annual Conference, Kingsgate Hotel, Hamilton, New Zealand.


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