On Benefits Book II, XXXV

Wherefore, give me your attention, and you will soon perceive that I say nothing to which you can object.

That benefit which consists of the action is repaid when we receive it graciously; that other, which consists of something material, we have not then repaid, but we hope to do so.

The debt of goodwill has been discharged by a return of goodwill; the material debt demands a material return.

Thus, although we may declare that he who has received a benefit with goodwill has returned the favour, yet we counsel him to return to the giver something of the same kind as that which he has received.

Some part of what we have said departs from the conventional line of thought, and then rejoins it by another path.

We declare that a wise man cannot receive an injury; yet, if a man hits him with his fist, that man will be found guilty of doing him an injury.

We declare that a fool can possess nothing; yet if a man stole anything from a fool, we should find that man guilty of theft.

We declare that all men are mad, yet we do not dose all men with hellebore; but we put into the hands of these very persons, whom we call madmen, both the right of voting and of pronouncing judgment.

Similarly, we say that a man who has received a benefit with goodwill has returned the favour, yet we leave him in debt nevertheless⁠—bound to repay it even though he has repaid it.

This is not to disown benefits, but is an encouragement to us neither to fear to receive benefits, nor to faint under the too great burden of them.

“Good things have been given to me; I have been preserved from starving; I have been saved from the misery of abject poverty; my life, and what is dearer than life, my liberty, has been preserved. How shall I be able to repay these favours? When will the day come upon which I can prove my gratitude to him?”

When a man speaks thus, the day has already come.

Receive a benefit, embrace it, rejoice, not that you have received it, but that you have to owe it and return it; then you will never be in peril of the great sin of being rendered ungrateful by mischance.

I will not enumerate any difficulties to you, lest you should despair, and faint at the prospect of a long and laborious servitude.

I do not refer you to the future; do it with what means you have at hand.

You never will be grateful unless you are so straightaway.

What, then, will you do? You need not take up arms, yet perhaps you may have to do so; you need not cross the seas, yet it may be that you will pay your debt, even when the wind threatens to blow a gale.

Do you wish to return the benefit?

Then receive it graciously; you have then returned the favour⁠—not, indeed, so that you can think yourself to have repaid it, but so that you can owe it with a quieter conscience.