In our second On the Square piece today, Alma Acevedo asks: To whom is Richard Dawkins grateful when he expresses “an abstract gratitude that I am alive to appreciate these wonders, when I look down a microscope it’s the same feeling, I am grateful to be alive to appreciate these wonders”?
Unlike “being comfortable,” which requires the preposition with (as in “I feel comfortable with these shoes”), if any, “being grateful” calls for a to another person. Gratitude is not a self-enclosed or self-sufficient feeling but a human person’s response to another person or persons—whether human or divine—for benefits, gifts, or favors received from them, such as the gratitude due to caring parents, loving friends, and dedicated teachers or mentors. As Kant succinctly observes, “The duty of gratitude consists in honoring a person because of a benefit he has rendered us” (italics added). When gratitude is due to a country, an organization (e.g., a school, a hospital, a shelter), or some other collective, it is owed to them as communities of human persons, not as impersonal institutions.