Debts of Good Will and Interpersonal Justice

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Debts of Good Will and Interpersonal Justice

ABSTRACT: A debt of good will (utang na loob in Filipino) is incurred when a person becomes the beneficiary of significant assistance or favor given by another. Usually, the beneficiary is in acute need of the assistance given or favor granted. This provides an opportunity for the giving of help to serve as a vehicle for the expression of sympathy or concern. The debt could then be appreciated as one of good will because, by catering to another person's pressing need, the benefactor is able to express positive dispositions towards the beneficiary. It is not merely the receipt of the assistance or favor that puts the recipient in a position of indebtedness. The indebtedness is created by the benefactor's kagandahang loob (good will). An act can be considered to convey kagandahang loob only if it is done out of kusang loob (roughly, free will); and can only be considered to have been done out of kusang loob if the agent (1) is not acting under external compulsion, (2) is motivated by positive feelings (e.g. charity, love or sympathy) towards the beneficiary, and (3) is not motivated by the anticipation of reward. These conditions entail debt-of-good-will relationships where the benefactor has no right to demand reciprocity but the beneficiary has a "self-imposed" obligation to repay kagandahang loob with kagandahang loob. Debts of good will are about some forms of justice. But we should not reduce all talk about debts of good will to talk about justice.

Debts of gratitude are, in general, incurred by people who receive help or favors from others. But to say that a person has a debt of gratitude is not merely to say that he should be thankful for the assistance given. The indebtedness concerned is not confined to actual benefits received. In recognizing a debt of gratitude, one also recognizes the good will manifested by the benefactor in providing assistance or granting a favor.

For this reason, this paper refers to "debts of good will" instead of "debts of gratitude." The contention is that the former terminology focuses attention on important features of the concept that the words "debt of gratitude" fail to capture.

Another reason for the use of the preferred term in this paper is that the equivalent of "good will" in the Filipino language – kagandahang loob – has an important significance in related ethical theory.

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