This paradox of the Stoic philosophy, that he returns a benefit who receives it with good will, is, in my opinion, either far from admirable, or else it is incredible.
For if we look at everything merely from the point of view of our intentions, every man has done as much as he chose to do; and since filial piety, good faith, justice, and in short every virtue is complete within itself, a man may be grateful in intention even though he may not be able to lift a hand to prove his gratitude.
Whenever a man obtains what he aimed at, he receives the fruit of his labour.
When a man bestows a benefit, at what does he aim? clearly to be of service and afford pleasure to him upon whom he bestows it.
If he does what he wishes, if his purpose reaches me and fills us each with joy, he has gained his object.
He does not wish anything to be given to him in return, or else it becomes an exchange of commodities, not a bestowal of benefits.
A man steers well who reaches the port for which he started: a dart hurled by a steady hand performs its duty if it hits the mark; one who bestows a benefit wishes it to be received with gratitude; he gets what he wanted if it be well received.
“But,” you say, “he hoped for some profit also.”
Then it was not a benefit, the property of which is to think nothing of any repayment.
I receive what was given me in the same spirit in which it was given: then I have repaid it.
If this be not true, then this best of deeds has this worst of conditions attached to it, that it depends entirely upon fortune whether I am grateful or not, for if my fortune is adverse I can make no repayment.
The intention is enough.
“What then? am I not to do whatever I may be able to repay it, and ought I not ever to be on the watch for an opportunity of filling the bosom134 of him from whom I have received any kindness?
True; but a benefit is in an evil plight if we cannot be grateful for it even when we are empty-handed.