Do people owe a debt for investments made in them which they never had an option to refuse? Some examples might be: Debt to society for paying for your childhood education Debt to parents for raising you Should it be considered ungrateful for someone to discontinue their affiliation with the investor if they feel that the relationship isn't beneficial to them?

You pose the question twice: first by asking if people owe a debt and second by asking if behaving in certain ways would be ungrateful. I think the difference matters.

I don't know whether a child owes a debt to her parents—at least not in a certain strict sense. The primary use of the language of debt deals with contracts, promises and, in any case, cases of mutual consent. There are other uses, but the further they are from the primary ones, the harder it is to be sure of their force. Fortunately, it doesn't matter. Suppose we agree that the child doesn't literally owe her parents a debt for raising her—even if they did it lovingly, conscientiously and well. But would it be ungrateful for her to turn her back on her parents because, say, her new social circle made it embarrassing for her to have these people as parents?

I think the answer is obvious enough.

Asking what the daughter owes to her parents invites quibbles and evasion. But moral language is broader and more supple than the legalistic part. Someone who turned their back on parents who had done their best just because the relationship was no longer beneficial to them sounds like a selfish jerk. We should repay our debts when we have them, but we should also not be selfish jerks.

J. L. Austin once remarked that we'd do well to worry less about the beautiful and more about the dainty and the dumpy. The same point goes for moral language. This case is a good illustration.

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