published on October 16, 2015
Robert C. Roberts
The Normative and the Empirical in the Study of Gratitude
Recent empirical work on the virtue of gratitude raises questions about the limits of that research and its methods to address normative questions about gratitude. I distinguish two kinds of norms for the emotion of gratitude—norms of genuineness and norms of excellence. I examine two kinds of empirical studies that aim to establish or contribute to the norms for gratitude: a so-called “prototype” approach, and a narrative vignettes approach, finding the latter far superior, and suggest various refinements that might improve accuracy. The main emotion types, of which gratitude is an example, have a conceptual structure that must be reflected in any normative analysis, and is far better reflected in the vignettes approach. Ultimately, however, formulation of norms of genuineness and of virtue must come from one or another tradition of careful reflection and debate about such concepts as gratitude; and the representatives of such traditions are philosophers and theologians.