Wednesday, December 28, 2016

After Christmas

The Last Walk 11:
Walking Alone

            It’s been eighty days since Karen died, a bit more than two months since her funeral and memorial service.  I am feeling the pain of my loss more acutely than before, not because of Christmas but because of time away from work.  I don’t have the convenient distractions of class preps and grading of student papers.  Other distractions—holiday concerts, parties, church services, and family dinners—are over.  Since Christmas I’ve had some days “off”; something Karen and I used to welcome when we were together, days for walks, for watching a movie, for creative projects.  Now, when I walk I cannot escape the feeling of loss.  We used to walk these streets together.
            Jerry Sittser, a professor at Whitworth, suffered the simultaneous loss of his mother, wife, and daughter in an auto accident.  Four year later he wrote A Grace Disguised, and a dozen years after that, A Grace Revealed, reflections on God’s work in his life after loss.  (Thank you to Kris Kays, who lent the books to me.)  Sittser says that God can use tragic loss as means of grace.  God wills to redeem us, and he will use even the pain we suffer to work redemption.
            Just to be clear: Sittser does not say, and I do not believe, that God changes evil into good.  A drunk driver killing three members of Sittser’s family was evil.  Karen’s suffering and death from cancer was a bad thing.  The pain I am enduring is not good.  “The last enemy to be destroyed is death,” wrote Paul, and that means that death is a real enemy, God’s enemy as well as ours.
            God does not change evil into good, but he uses evil—even the crucifixion of Jesus—to accomplish good.  God is changing me, remaking me, through pain.  This doesn’t mean pain is a good thing or that God is a vindictive wizard toying with me.  “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself,” and he did this by the cross, by suffering with and for us.  (I’ve written “Atonement as Peacemaking,” which you can find somewhere in the archives of my blog:
            I told my sister-in-law, Evie, that there is a temptation to paper over pain and loss.  There must be lots of ways to do it.  Rush into a new relationship.  Spend lots of money.  Binge on alcohol, food, exercise, or videos.  Bury yourself in work.  And so on.  The effect is to dull the pain, to not feel.  To a degree, distraction works; grading student papers helped me get through the weeks after the memorial.  But now the papers and parties are over, leaving me alone. 
            It’s okay to feel loss.  At the least, it’s real.  I’m not writing a novel or doing abstract philosophy.  (Worthy activities, both of them!  But as existentialists point out, sometimes remote from reality.)  I cannot rewrite this plot; I cannot cancel my loss.  I have to feel it, to let it change me.
            How will the new me be different?  Over thirty-nine years Karen shaped me in ways I cannot know.  I would not want to shed those things.  The new me will be changed through addition.  Immediately, it seems, I have become more aware of death and the limitations of our existence.  Suppose I live as long as my friend Arthur, who died recently at 93.  That would mean two-thirds of my life is already over.  Perhaps I will live as long as my father, in which case four-fifths of my life is over.  “Teach us to number our days,” say the psalms.  The hope of resurrection puts the count of days in new perspective!
            As I walk, I feel a new depth of pain.  Surely what I feel is not unique!  People all around me suffer similar losses.  In imagination, at least, the slow loss of a spouse to Alzheimer’s would be worse—and I have friends who are on that road.  What about divorce?  I’ve only watched from the outside, but it seems that loss (accompanied by resentments, fears, and guilt) could be worse than mine.  What about refugees, who lose their countries?  Jerry Sittser says such comparisons are pointless; there is no measure of psychic pain to compare tragedies.  Instead, I should allow God to remake me, to use my pain to spur compassion.
            My neighbor, who lost her husband years ago, says, “You don’t get over it; you get through it.”  Sittser says tragic loss is not like a disease from which you recover; it’s like an amputation that leaves you changed.  I want to be open to grace, to be changed for the better.  The amputation will always be part of me, and I walk on.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016


6. The Rationality of Hope

    The attack on hope, described in the previous chapter, doesn’t have to condemn all hope.  Hope is only bad, the objector could say, when it leads us to make foolish decisions.  If we circumscribe our hopes so that we hope only in accord with the probability of the outcomes we desire, hope would cease to be so dangerous.  “Audacious” hope is a vice, but tamed and reasonable hope could be a virtue, though a minor one.
    The attack on hope rests on the modern “orthodox” definition of hope: “to hope for an outcome is to desire it while believing it is possible but not certain.”   Since there is a wide field of probability between impossibility and certainty, “hope” thus defined names very different cases.  We can hope for probable outcomes and be rewarded (usually) with satisfaction.  We can hope “audaciously” and be punished (almost always) with despair.
I said in chapter 4 that Adrienne Martin protests against the “orthodox definition” of hope because it sweeps too much together under the vague term “desire.”  The syndrome analysis replaces “desire” with “syndrome” and allows that hope includes thoughts, perceptions, and motivations as well as feelings. 
    Martin also complains that the orthodox definition of hope makes it impossible to explain the way different people respond to cases of “hoping against hope,” that is, cases in which the probability of the desired outcome is very low.  Notice that Critchley, discussed in chapter 5, aimed his criticism at precisely such cases.  Audacious hope is bad, Critchley argued, precisely because the desired outcome is unlikely.  But before we can judge whether hope is good or bad, we must see whether the proposed definition is accurate.
If hope is simply desire for some outcome combined with the belief that the outcome is possible, why is it that people who have the same desire for an outcome and the same belief about its likelihood can have very different levels of hope?   The defender of the orthodox definition might suggest that the person with greater hope somehow has stronger desires for the good outcome or surreptitiously assigns a higher probability to it.  Martin gives good reasons to suppose these answers are insufficient.
    Consider two terminal cancer patients, Alan and Bess.   They both recognize that the experimental drug offered to them has an extremely low chance of success.  But Alan hopes only a little or not at all.  Bess hopes strongly.  How should we explain the difference between them?  Is Bess somehow deceiving herself about the odds?  Does Bess desire life more than Alan?  Even if one of these options could explain a particular case, would this be true in every case?  Martin points to a fact that many people have experienced: over a period of time, perhaps a single day, our subjective sense of the probability of some event may change without strengthening or weakening our hope for that event.  Hope seems to be something much more complicated than merely desire + probability judgment.  Martin concludes that hope cannot be adequately captured in the orthodox definition.
    Martin offers her “incorporation analysis” as alternative to the orthodox definition.  We need to see that there are two judgments made by the person who hopes.  In the cancer case, Bess does not deceive herself into thinking the drug has a greater chance of success.  Hope is not the same as wishful thinking.  When we estimate the likelihood that our desired outcomes will occur, Martin says we ought to make our judgments in accord with ordinary standards of reason and evidence.  However, the fact that the desired outcome is improbable does not imply that one cannot hope for it. Instead, the person who hopes then makes a second, practical, judgment.  The person who hopes sees that the desired outcome is important to her.  On the basis of these two judgments—that the desired outcome is possible, and that it is important—the person who hopes “licenses” herself to build a syndrome of hope.  Thus, Martin says that hoping for an outcome has four parts:

1.    Be attracted to the outcome in virtue of certain of its features;
2.    Assign a probability between and exclusive of 0 and 1 to the outcome;
3.    Adopt a stance toward that probability whereby it licenses treating one’s attraction to the outcome (and the outcome’s attractive features) as a reason for certain ways of thinking, feeling, and/or planning with regard to the hoped-for outcome; and
4.    Treat one’s attraction and the outcome’s attractive features as sufficient reason for those ways of thinking, feeling, and/or planning.

If hope is merely desire + probability judgment, as modern philosophers seem to think, then it seems the wise advice is to trim one’s hopes to fit probability.  People who hope for improbable things will very likely have their hopes squashed.  We all know or ought to know this.  Therefore, people who hope for improbable things most likely are simply deceiving themselves.  In very many cases, hope is irrational.  If you want to avoid the crushing disappointment of dashed hopes, don’t deceive yourself.  Don’t get your hopes up.
Simon Critchley says we should limit our hopes to those that are realistic.  Against such so-called “realism,” Martin’s incorporation analysis says that hope can be rational even when the probability of the hoped for outcome is very small.  Martin invites us to consider Andy, in The Shawshank Redemption.   Andy and his friend, Red, are convicts in the Shawshank prison.  Red warns Andy explicitly against the dangers of hope.  “Let me tell you something, my friend.  Hope is a dangerous thing.  Hope can drive a man insane.”   If you hope, you get crushed.  Red’s advice mirrors the advice of modern philosophers like Critchley.  Against Red’s advice, Andy hopes to escape from prison. 
Andy’s hope is entirely consistent with a belief that successful escape is very unlikely.  Martin insists that hopeful people must judge the probability of their desired outcomes by ordinary standards of reason and evidence.  This is Martin’s point 2. 
But Andy’s thought process goes further, to a second judgment.  He recognizes that his hoped-for escape is a very important goal; in Martin’s words, he decides that his “attraction to the outcome (and the outcome’s attractive features)” is “a reason for certain ways of thinking, feeling, and/or planning.”  This is Martin’s point 3.
The first judgment, a judgment of probability, is governed by ordinary standards of reason and evidence.  The second judgment, a licensing judgment, is governed standards of practical rationality.  Practical judgments must take into account a person’s moral obligations, projects, relationships, abilities, and so on.  Given Andy’s situation—a life sentence for a crime he did not commit—the very low probability of escape can still function as organizing grounds for his hope.  He entertains certain thoughts.  He lets himself feel certain feelings.  He imagines certain future scenes.  He plans and executes certain actions.  In the story, Andy eventually escapes.  But the value of hope does not depend on this happy outcome.  Andy’s hope sustained him through many years of imprisonment, and he would have enjoyed this benefit even if his escape failed in the end.  The moral of the story is expressed in Andy’s words to Red: “Remember, Red, hope is a good thing.  Maybe the best thing, and no good thing ever dies.”
Paraphrased, Martin’s position is something like this: hope, understood as an incorporation of a syndrome of thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and motivations into one’s life, can be rational, even in cases when the hoped for outcome is very unlikely. 
Critchley’s criticism of audacious hope focused on political examples.  Martin’s argument depends on individual cases.  Can her defense of hope’s rationality be extended to politics?
Yes.  Consider the hopes of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza.  They want to live in a peaceful independent state, with secure land rights and human dignity.  Very often, “realism” teaches that these dreams are unlikely.  Israeli occupation of the West Bank seems permanent.  Martin’s analysis suggests that such people may still hope.  Without deluding themselves about the likelihood of a secure independent state, they may incorporate hope for such a state into their lives.  In point of fact, many Palestinian people find such hope to be a crucial part of their lives.  It sustains them through generations of occupation.
It hardly needs to be said that Israelis also have room for hope, focusing peaceful relations with Muslim neighbors.
Of course, some instances of “hope” fail to be rational.  If a person allows his desire for a certain outcome to skew his estimation of its probability (the first judgment), his hope would be irrational.  Probability judgments must be made according to ordinary standards of reason and evidence.  It is also possible that a person could misjudge the practical importance of some desired outcome; this would produce another kind of irrational “hope.”
Silly illustration #1: Ben is a Cubs fan.  On September 12, he reads that the Cubs are “only” 15 games from first place.  He estimates that the Cubs will probably win the division, so he licenses himself to hope for a Cubs pennant.  This estimation of probability violates ordinary standards of reason and evidence.
Martin says that people who hope for very improbable things frequently have back up plans.  “Hope for the best, plan for the worst.”   Bess hopes that the experimental drug will cure her, but hoping does not mean she deceives herself about the probable outcome.  She may well make plans for her death (e.g. preparing a will, etc.). Similarly, in the Shawshank case, Andy’s hope does not mean he thinks it is likely that he will escape.  In the story, he writes letters for many years to ask for money for the prison library in order to improve conditions of long-term prison life for himself and other prisoners.
Silly illustration #2: Pasadena resident Charley reads that there will be a partial eclipse of the sun visible in Seattle on January 2, if it is not raining.  Charley is not interested in astronomy.  Though he has tickets to the Rose Bowl where his beloved UCLA Bruins will play on January 1, Charley decides to fly to Seattle on that day, hoping to see the eclipse.  Given Charley’s life goals, this “hope” violates the notion that practical judgments are subject to standards of practical reason, because Charley’s “hope” does not reflect something important to him.
    So yes: hope may be irrational.  It is irrational to let our hope influence our judgment of the probability of the outcome we want.  It is also irrational let hopes for trivial outcomes play a big role in one’s life.  And on Martin’s account, there is no contradiction between hoping for an outcome and having an alternative plan in case one’s hope does not came true.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016


5. The Attack on Hope

            In chapter 4, I promised to explore Adrienne Martin’s defense of the rationality of hope—and I will, but not in this chapter.  Before defending hope, we must give space to the argument against hope.  Since the seventeenth century, modern philosophers have thought that to hope for an outcome is to desire it while believing it is possible but not certain.  Is hope, so understood, a good thing?
            In April 2014, Simon Critchley wrote an essay for The Stone, one of the opinion pages for the New York Times, entitled,  “Abandon (Nearly) All Hope” that captures the modern objection to hope.[1]  Writing at Easter time, Critchley meditates on the dangers of Barack Obama’s campaign theme, “audacious hope.”  Obama picked up the phrase from his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, Jr. and said that this audacity is “the best of the American spirit.”  It is “the audacity to believe despite all the evidence to the contrary.”[2]  If that’s what hope is, Critchley thinks it’s dangerous, a vice rather than a virtue.
            Political decisions based on hope rather than realism lead to disaster.  Critchley reminds us of Thucydides’ account of the Melians, when besieged by the Athenians.  The Athenian army was clearly stronger, and the Athenian navy controlled the waters around Melos.  Still, the Melians hoped: they hoped they might hold out for a long time, they hoped their allies, the Spartans, would come to relieve them, and they hoped to win honor for standing against oppression.  The Melians refused to surrender.  Their patience exhausted, the Athenians conquered the city, killed all the men, and made slaves of the women and children.  Critchley says:

Thucydides offers no moral commentary on the Melian Dialogue. He does not tell us how to react, but instead impartially presents us with a real situation. The dialogue is an argument from power about the nature of power. This is why Nietzsche, in his polemics against Christianity and liberalism, loved Thucydides. This is also why I love Nietzsche. Should one reproach Thucydides for describing the negotiations between the Athenians and the Melians without immediately moralizing the story and telling us how we should think? Not at all, Nietzsche insists. What we witness in the Melian Dialogue is the true character of Greek realism.[3]

            Here is the heart of the attack on hope.  Because it is unrealistic, hope can (and often does) make our lives worse.  Critchley applies the lesson to contemporary politics, thinking in particular (in 2014) about Obama’s policies toward the Middle East.  But his warning can be easily applied to individual lives.  Imagine the tragedies people make of their lives by “audacious hope” in regard to gambling, investments, business decisions, or marriages.  Against evidence to the contrary, they hope that this horse will win, this penny stock will prosper, this business partner will have integrity, or this potential spouse will understand me.
            Now hope is a positive emotion, the objector will say.  It feels good; no one denies that.  But when we act on the basis of hope rather than on realism, we court catastrophe.  When catastrophe comes, we feel despair.  And it’s not only the case of a bad feeling replacing a good feeling.  In many cases the disaster created by audacious hope leaves us objectively worse off.
Critchley concludes his essay with criticism of politically liberal idealism, but his words apply equally well to individual hopes:

You can have all kinds of reasonable hopes, it seems to me, the kind of modest, pragmatic and indeed deliberately fuzzy conception of social hope expressed by an anti-Platonist philosopher like Richard Rorty. But unless those hopes are realistic we will end up in a blindly hopeful (and therefore hopeless) idealism. Prodigal hope invites despair only when we see it fail. In giving up the former, we might also avoid the latter. This is not an easy task, I know. But we should try. Nietzsche writes, “Hope is the evil of evils because it prolongs man’s torment.” Often, by clinging to hope, we make the suffering worse.[4]
            We can sharpen Critchley’s point.  If hope, whether we call it “audacious” or not, leads us to act in ways that often make our lives objectively worse, hope is not a virtue.  For modern philosophers like Nietzsche or Critchley, only reasonable hopes count as virtues.  In many cases, hope is not reasonable, and when it is not reasonable, hope is a vice.
            Nietzsche and Critchley picture the contest as one between hope and realism, and they come down on the side of realism.  If they had used an older term from the virtue tradition, they might have opposed hope to “prudence,” the antique translation of phronesis (usually rendered as “practical wisdom”).  Aristotle counted phronesis as a crucially important virtue, since a person needs it to rightly practice courage, generosity, friendship, or any other moral virtue.  But Aristotle said nothing about hope as a virtue; hope enters the virtue tradition through Christianity.  So here is another way to conceptualize the attack on hope.  If hope is to be counted a moral virtue, it should be governed by prudence (phronesis, practical wisdom).  Since “audacious hope” runs free of prudence, it is no more a virtue than the so-called “courage” of the foolhardy soldier who races toward the enemy forces alone.
            Now despite this attack, I think hope is a virtue.  But the attack on hope, whether couched in Nietzsche and Critchley’s terms or in Aristotle’s, helps us to appreciate the importance of the next chapter, where we will examine Adrienne Martin’s defense of hope’s rational status.

[1] Simon Critchley, “Abandon (Nearly) All Hope.”  The Stone.  Collected at
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid

Wednesday, December 7, 2016


4. The Syndrome Account of Hope

            Hope is directed toward possible future goods, and “true” hope is directed toward possible future genuine goods (so that we may regard Hitler’s hope of conquering Poland as a vice rather than a virtue).  But what is hope?
            In the last chapter, we saw that C.R. Snyder’s hope theory defines hope in purely cognitive terms.  Hope is the sum of perceived capabilities to produce routes to desired goals, along with the perceived motivation to use those routes.  Snyder and his colleagues recognized that his theory contrasts with earlier thinking by psychologists, who thought of hope mainly in terms of positive feelings.  On Snyder’s view, right thinking (that is, hope) will lead to positive affect (that is, “hopefulness” or feeling hopeful).  Accordingly, hope therapy focuses on cognitive changes.
            Philosophers have generally defined hope very differently.  Their analysis starts with Thomas Aquinas.
Aquinas, as I explained in chapter 1, distinguished the passion of hope from the virtue of hope.  Passion and virtue both look to the future, but passions aim at goods in this world while the virtue of hope aims at a transcendent good, eternal friendship with God.  Aquinas further distinguished between concupiscent and irascible passions.  Hope, both as natural passion and theological virtue, is irascible.  That is, hope moves us to overcome obstacles.
Later philosophers often ignored the complexities in Aquinas’ account.  Hope, whether passion or virtue, desires a future good, and that good is seen as possible (neither certain nor impossible).  For these philosophers, hope is a desire combined with the judgment that the thing desired is possible.  Notice that the judgment in this definition is very different from the cognitive elements of Snyder’s definition.  The modern philosophers’ definition of hope includes a judgment about the probability of some desired future good whereas the judgment in Snyder’s theory concerns a person’s ability to think up pathways and her motivation to use those pathways.
As Adrienne Martin points out, most modern philosophers, from the 16th century forward, dispensed with the categories (“concupiscent” and “irascible” passions) that Aquinas used.[1]  For them, and probably for most contemporary readers, a passion is just a motivating emotion.  Many philosophers of the last four centuries simply substitute “desire” for “passion,” which produces what Martin calls the “orthodox”[2] definition of hope: “to hope for an outcome is to desire it while believing it is possible but not certain.”[3]  There is ironic humor in Martin’s use of “orthodox,” since modern philosophers would blanche at being described that way.
Martin objects to the orthodox doctrine, in that it is overly simplistic.  First, it leads to an equally “orthodox” modern conclusion about hope: We ought to regulate our hopes by their probability.  The more unlikely the good we desire, the less rational it is to hope for it.  I will discuss Martin’s objection to this advice concerning the rationality of hope in my next chapter.
Martin’s second objection, which will occupy the rest of this chapter, concerns the notion of “desire.”  The “orthodox definition” oversimplifies hope, making “desire” cover too much ground.  Borrowing a word from Margaret Walker, she says hope is a “syndrome” that combines feelings, thoughts, modes of perception, and motivations.[4] 
Let’s explore this “syndrome” idea with an example.  Imagine a man, call him Alfred, living in 1730.  Alfred is sick with some condition that makes it hard to breathe.  His doctor tells him he has “consumption,” the disease we call tuberculosis.  Alfred’s doctor recommends treatment of one sort or another.
Alfred knows, as do most people in his age, that consumption is a dread disease.  Most people who get it waste away and die.  But some victims do get better.  Medical advice doesn’t seem to make much difference.  (Tuberculosis bacteria would not be identified for another 150 years.  In fact, the “germ” theory, that many diseases are caused by microorganisms, had not been invented in 1730.)
We can imagine that many “consumptives” in Alfred’s day had no hope of cure.  They firmly expected their disease to end their lives.  Imagine, though, that Alfred hopes to recover from his consumption.  How might this hope be expressed?
Feelings.  Perhaps this is the most obvious expression of hope.  Compared to other consumptives, Alfred is more cheerful.  His moods are “brighter.”  He smiles more.  But it is hard to describe Alfred’s feelings without also mentioning other aspects of his hope.
Thoughts.  Alfred’s hope is expressed sometimes in beliefs, such as: “Some consumptives do get well,” or “My doctor may be wrong about my condition,” or “God may see fit to heal me.”  Other times, Alfred’s thinking consists of imagination; he pictures to himself what it would be like to breathe freely again, or he sees himself taking on long-term projects, e.g. marrying and having a family.
Perceptions.  Alfred’s hope changes the way he experiences the world.  He wakes up and breathing seems easier today—“Perhaps my recovery has begun.”  On another occasion, he feels weak or out of breath, but he perceives this as a temporary setback.  It’s easy to imagine a contrast case, a consumptive who lives out his final months or years in despair; he interprets every new pain as a sign of approaching death.
Motivations.  Alfred’s hope spurs him to act on his doctor’s advice.  That is, if he trusts the doctor’s expertise; it’s possible that Alfred hopes for a cure, but not through medicine, in which case his hope might spur him to use some nature cure recommended by the village healer-woman.  In hope, Alfred might make plans for the farm he will buy after he marries.
Such an example Martin’s objection to the “desire + probability judgment” definition of hope is correct, at least in regard to “desire.”  From here on, I will adopt the “syndrome” definition of hope.  Hope is a syndrome of feelings, thoughts, perceptions, and motivations aimed at a future good.
            Martin aims her criticism primarily at modern philosophers’ overly simplistic definition of hope.  It turns out that it also reveals a weakness in Snyder’s hope theory.  Hope theory assumes that the cognitive elements of hope are the essential part, that cognitive changes drive affective changes.  The syndrome definition of hope suggests this is too simple.  Phenomenologically, hope is complicated.  I will return to this idea in a later chapter, when I discuss Michael Bishop’s theory of positive causal networks.  Before that, though, we need to explore Adrienne Martin’s defense of the rationality of hope.

[1] Martin, Adrienne.  How We Hope (2014). 4-5.
[2] In this context, Martin’s “orthodox definition” means something like “the definition of hope commonly accepted by modern philosophers except for those who follow Thomas Aquinas.”  One detects a bit of ironic humor in this usage. 
[3] Ibid. 5.
[4] Ibid. 5-6.

Friday, December 2, 2016


3. The Psychological Structure of Hope

The reader could be forgiven for asking: haven’t I been talking about the psychological structure of hope already?  I have.  But now we find our exploration of hope enriched by contemporary work in positive psychology.  Positive psychology is a broad movement in late 20th century psychology that moves the focus of psychology from mental illness (fixing what is wrong) to the achievement of satisfactory life (pursuing and enjoying what is right or healthy). 
Charles R. Snyder (1944-2006) wrote the first textbook in positive psychology and was a leader in the field.  He spent his career as a teacher, researcher, and theorist at the University of Kansas.  In the 1970s and 1980s, while conducting research on the excuses people give for failing to reach goals, Snyder theorized that excuses help people distance themselves from failures.  But as he listened to his research participants, they had something more to say.  Excuses were only part of the story.  Yes, they wanted to distance themselves from failures, but they also wanted to decrease the distance to their positive life goals.  Reflection on this research led Snyder to propose “hope theory.”[1]
Snyder’s core definition: Hope is the sum of perceived capabilities to produce routes to desired goals, along with the perceived motivation to use those routes.[2]
Much of human life is teleological; that is, we pursue goals.  Snyder offers a simple diagram:

But we often encounter obstacles that keep us from reaching our goals.  This gives us a more complicated diagram. 

Two things are needed to reach life goals when obstacles get in the way, Snyder thought.  A person needs to be able to think up “pathways” around the obstacle that may enable her to reach the goal, and she needs to have “agentic motivation” to invent these pathways and put them into practice.

In the fifteen years after 1990, Snyder and his team of colleagues and students at the University of Kansas built an impressive array of research on this fundamental idea.  They devised the Adult Dispositional Hope Scale, the Adult State Hope Scale, the Children’s Hope Scale, the Young Children’s Hope Scale and the Adult Domain-Specific Hope Scale.[3]  The scales are composed of a surprisingly small number of items, less than 20 in every case.[4]  Using their hope scales on a variety of populations (college students, children, adults, and senior adults), the Kansas researchers made several claims: the hope scales give reliable information, comparable to other accepted psychological inventories[5]; high hope scores correlate well with positive life outcomes[6]; and therapeutic interventions can be devised to increase clients’ hope.[7]  Further, Snyder offered a possible explanation for a surprising but well-documented finding about psychological therapy, i.e. that various psychological approaches for producing change in clients appear to be equally effective.  Therapeutic interventions based on seemingly very different psychological theories all have a common feature of offering hope to clients.  Perhaps it is hope, and not the particular theoretical construct, that really matters.[8]
Snyder and his colleagues claim that both parts of hope—agency and pathways thinking—aare necessary to increase hopefulness and improve life outcomes.  A client suffering from depression (or some other presenting problem) might perceive himself as being unable or without desire to do anything in regard to his goals (a lack of agency), unable to think of ways to achieve his goals (lack of pathways thinking), or both.  Hope therapy aims to discover which deficits are present and help the client come to perceive himself as being able in both areas.  Self-perception is crucial; if a client sees himself as motivated and willing to use appropriate methods of achieving his goals, and sees himself as able to invent appropriate methods of achieving his goals, he exhibits hope.
Snyder and his research team applied this analysis to many areas of life.  The Domain-Specific Hope Scale includes social relationships, academics, romantic relationships, family life, work, and leisure activities.[9]  Hope therapy is appropriate, they claimed, with every age group from young children to the elderly.
Hope therapy aims at changing the way clients think.  “In hope therapy, change is initiated at the cognitive level, with a focus on enhancing clients’ self-referential agentic and pathway goal-directed thinking.”[10]  Snyder and his colleagues thought that affective changes—that is, changes in a client’s feelings—would follow from changed thinking.  This put hope theory and hope therapy in sharp contrast to much previous psychological interest in hope, which thought of hope primarily in terms of positive emotions.
Hope theory says that hope is goal-directed (teleological), but it doesn’t say much about which goals are appropriate.  It is the client who decides which areas of life are important to her and what her goals are in those areas.  In the previous chapter, I divided hopes into four kinds: immoral hope (such as Don Juan’s hope to seduce his neighbor), innocent hope (the fan’s hope for a pennant), praiseworthy hope (a man’s hope to provide for his children after he dies), and theological hope (the hope for eternal friendship with God).  Snyder’s hope therapy does not speak to such distinctions. Therapists may have to help clients make their amorphous goals more specific, and they may actively redirect clients’ thinking so they can acknowledge their own abilities to conceive of goals and pathways to them. 
Perhaps for the purposes of therapy, that is enough.  I will return to categories of hope and the things we hope for in a later chapter.
I will not try to describe hope therapy in greater detail now.  Suffice it to say that Snyder and his colleagues produced (and after Snyder’s death his colleagues are still producing) a generous supply of research and “how to” materials for psychological professionals. 
How does hope theory as presented by Snyder and his colleagues square with the description of hope I have been developing?  I offer three observations.
First, Snyder’s hope theory and the definition I proposed in chapter 1 are both teleological.  Hope looks toward the future.
Second, crucial to Snyder’s theory is the idea of “blocks” to goals.  This matches a feature of Aquinas’s analysis of hope that I haven’t yet explained.  According to Aquinas, human passions come in two kinds.  “Concupiscent” passions move one to attain something perceived as good (e.g. hunger or sexual desire), or avoid something perceived as evil (e.g. sadness or hatred).  “Irascible” passions move one to overcome some threat or difficulty that stands in the way of one’s goals (e.g. courage or anger).  Concupiscent passions may encounter obstacles—I may have to earn money to buy the food I desire—but the obstacle/difficulty is not essential to the passion.  Sometimes the food I desire is immediately available.  In contrast, irascible passions are always marked by difficulty or obstacle; the defining feature of an irascible passion is that it overcomes some hindrance.
Aquinas included hope among the irascible passions.  On Aquinas’s account, hope is the passion that moves us to attain a possible but difficult good.  It is interesting that Snyder’s theory agrees with this insight.  Without the notion of “blocks” to goals, and the accompanying idea of “pathways” around the blocks, Snyder’s theory would be insignificant.
Third, there is an apparent contradiction between Snyder’s theory, which is emphatically cognitive, and the “syndrome” concept of hope I will introduce in my next chapter (borrowing from Adrienne Martin).  The syndrome definition explicitly includes perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and motivations as parts of hope.  On Snyder’s account, if a person perceives himself as having motivation to think up and use pathways to his goals and perceives himself as able to think up pathways to his goals, he exemplifies hope.  Everything is cognitive.  The “syndrome” concept of hope is emphatically wholistic, not purely cognitive.  I will explore these differences in the next chapter.

[1] Snyder (2000).  5-8.
[2] Ibid. 8.
[3] Lopez, et al.  “Diagnosing for Strengths.” 58.
[4] Ibid. 76-84.  The Domain Specific Hope Scale uses more questions, but no more than 9 in any particular domain.
[5] Ibid. 60.
[6] Lopez, et al. “Hope Therapy.” 123.
[7] Ibid. 123-125.
[8] Snyder and Taylor. 89-90.
[9] Lopez, et al. “Diagnosing.” 77-81.
[10] Lopez, et al. “Hope Therapy.” 126.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


2. Hopes

In its basic structure hope is directed to possible future genuine goods.  This chapter will explore that idea.
The notion of telos—an end or goal—is built into hope.  Since people aim at many different goals, there will be many kinds of “hope.”  Some hopes, like Gollum’s hope to recover the one ring of Sauron after Shelob kills the hobbits, are immoral.  Is it surprising that “hope” can aim at a bad thing?
As far as I know, philosophers have not addressed this question in regard to hope, but they have wondered about a parallel question in regard to courage.  Everyone recognizes that courage is an important virtue.  Life confronts all of us, at some time or another, with danger; seeing the danger, we are tempted to do what we should not do or leave undone things we ought to do.  Courage is the virtue of correctly facing danger so that we are not diverted from right behavior.  So far, so good.
But what should we say about the “courage” of a Nazi prison camp guard?  (This is the usual example in the literature, but we can easily think of others.  Consider the courage of a 21st century suicide bomber as she takes her place among shoppers in a crowded market.)  The prison camp guard faces dangers that tempt him from doing his duties, as he understands them.  He certainly seems to exhibit courage in the performance of those duties.  But his courage serves the evil purposes of a prison camp; it seems that it would be better, all things considered, if he exhibited cowardice.  Perhaps more prisoners would survive if he were a coward.   
Philosophers respond to this question in different ways.  Some insist that a virtue must be a good thing, so the prison camp guard’s “courage” is actually only a simulacrum of courage.  The virtues imply one another, these writers say.  The Nazi prison camp guard lacks the virtue of justice (as witnessed by his willingness to serve a thoroughly evil regime), with the result that his seeming courage is actually a vice.  Other philosophers deny that the various virtues imply one another.  On their view, it’s possible to possess and practice some virtue(s) without having some other virtue.  They say the prison camp guard and the suicide bomber may be exemplars of courage even though their lives, taken as a whole, are vicious.
In one sense—a practical sense—we don’t need to settle this debate.  Both sides would agree that the moral ideal incorporates many virtues.  No morally serious person would aim to develop courage without justice.  We can treat the debate as semantic.  One side defines courage more narrowly than the other.  Once we are clear about how this or that author uses “courage,” we can read him or her accurately.
Now, Thomas Aquinas uses “hope” in a specific narrow sense.  Hope (like faith and love) is a “theological” virtue, he says.  True hope aims at our highest and best end, friendship with God = felicity in heaven.  Hope shares the basic structure of the natural passion of hope, in that it aims at a future possible good.  But natural man knows nothing about his true end, eternal friendship with God.  Even the greatest of pagan philosophers, Aristotle, who has much to teach us about other virtues, such as courage and temperance, says nothing about the theological virtues.  To this day, philosophers in the Thomist tradition, such as Josef Pieper, will use Aquinas’ language.  Strictly speaking, they will say, “hope” should be reserved for the theological virtue.  But they will also say, with Charles Pinches, that “hope grows from hope.”  We can learn about theological hope by examining natural hope.
The very structure of hope is teleological.  The ends we hope for matter.  Here are four general categories. 
(1) Some hopes are immoral, as when “Don Juan” (there are many such characters on my television) hopes to seduce his neighbor’s wife.  Hitler hoped to establish a thousand year Reich.  The immoral nature of the goal infects the hope.
(2) Some hopes are morally permissible, but seemingly unimportant; for example, I hope the Mariners will win the pennant next summer.  My neighbor may hope her roses flourish.  Someone might argue that the innocence of such hopes makes them morally praiseworthy, and there is much to be said for such a view.  “Innocent” hopes may be individually unimportant, but a life without any such hope would be dull indeed.  Of course, there is a danger that someone might give so much attention to an innocent hope (watching scores of baseball games each summer) that he neglects some moral duty, in which case the innocent hope has ceased to be innocent.
(3) Some hopes are morally praiseworthy, even though they seem to be detached from friendship with God or the coming of God’s kingdom.  Consider my friend Bernie, who is dying of brain cancer.  He hopes to provide, by means of life insurance and investments, for his children.  Surely this is a worthy hope.  Bernie is also an atheist.  He has no hope of friendship with God, nor does he hope that God’s will be done on earth.  Bernie could hope for a more just society in the future, and in a metaphorical sense he might be said to hope for the “Kingdom of God,” but only in a metaphorical sense.  There are many others like Bernie, who hope for human flourishing without any reference to friendship with God.  Such morally praiseworthy hopes are not theological hope, as Aquinas defines it.  Yet they are important, and that is why we find secular philosophers giving more and more attention to hope as a virtue.
            (4) The theological virtue of hope aims for eternal friendship with God, according to Aquinas.  It seems to me we must add as a corollary: theological hope aims for the Kingdom of God.  Jesus proclaimed the coming of the kingdom; Christians may properly hope for it. 
            The boundaries between these categories are not bright and clear.  Consider aspects of the kingdom of God: for peace among nations, justice for powerless people, or the conversion of non-Christians to faith in Christ.  Suppose someone focuses her hope on peace in some particular place—e.g. peace between rebels and government in Colombia.  Does her hope fit in category 3 or category 4?  It is a morally praiseworthy hope and it does partake of one aspect of God’s Kingdom.
            In this book I will use “immoral hope” to describe things like Gollum’s hope or Don Juan’s hope.  I will use “hope” for all morally licit hopes.  I quite agree that some hopes are more important or “higher” than others, and I will use various locutions to indicate differences.  But since the basic structure of hope is the same, I will use “hope” generically.

Thursday, November 17, 2016


1. The Basic Structure of Hope

In one sense, everyone is familiar with hope.  Consider Thomas Aquinas’s example of a dog.  If the dog sees a rabbit too far away, it won’t chase the rabbit, because it has no hope of catching it.  But if the quarry is closer, the dog chases it, hoping to catch it.  When the dog catches the rabbit, she no longer hopes, because she has what she wanted.[1]
Aquinas’s imagined dog illustrates crucial components of hope.  First, the dog wants the rabbit.  Since Socrates, philosophers have taught that people only desire things they judge to be good.  So hope is directed toward the good (or what a person thinks is good). 
Second, the dog’s desire for the rabbit is for something she does not have.  Sometimes we desire things we already have, as when I desire to be with my family while eating Thanksgiving dinner with them.  Hope’s desire, unlike desires for things I have already, is usually directed toward the future. 
Is this always the case?  Consider a family whose loved one was a passenger on an airplane that has gone missing.  They have received no news about whether the plane crashed or about possible survivors.  Perhaps we would say that they hope that their loved one survived the crash, if indeed there was one.  This seems to be a hope for something in the past rather than the future.  We do speak this way (e.g. “I hope she survived”), but the example confuses what actually happened with our knowledge of what happened.  Whatever happened in the past is fixed; it isn’t subject to change or chance.  Imagine the family learns there was a crash and their loved one died.  They might wish things had happened otherwise, but they no longer hope that that things had happened otherwise.  About the family who does not yet know what happened to the missing plane, it would be more accurate to say they hope they will learn that the loved one survived.  So, yes: hope is directed toward the future.
Third, the dog judges that it may catch the rabbit.  Hope’s desire is directed toward possible things.  We don’t hope for things that are impossible (the rabbit that is too far away) or things that are already achieved (the rabbit in the dog’s mouth, the family gathered at the table).
Hope, then, is directed toward possible future goods (or what a person thinks to be good).  But what is it?
Aquinas would say that so far we have only described a natural passion, something we share with higher animals, which must be distinguished from the virtue of hope.  As a passion, hope moves us to act; it has what Aquinas would call an appetitive function.  At the same time, the natural passion of hope also includes a kind of intellectual judgment; it judges that the desired future good is possible, neither impossible nor actual.  In natural hope, then, there is room for both appetite and intellect.  Aquinas thought these features of natural hope carried over to the virtue of hope; the virtue of hope, though focused on something very different than natural hopes, also combined appetite (of a kind—our desire for friendship with God is both like and unlike our desires for natural goods) and intellect.
In one way or another, philosophers who write about hope endorse this analysis.  In hope there is a combination of desire/feeling/emotion on one side and judgment/rationality/intellect on the other.  And this suggests a question: How ought the two “parts” of hope be put together?  Should rationality control emotion?  Do the feelings associated with hope overpower reason?  I will return to this question later.
We need to see that if hope is an appetite directed toward possible future goods, there are going to be many kinds of “hope,” varying according to the ends that people desire.  Think of Gollum, guide and would-be nemesis for Frodo and Sam in The Lord of the Rings.  Gollum leads the hobbits on a secret path through the mountains into Mordor, a path that will expose them to the terror of Shelob.  Gollum hopes Shelob will kill the hobbits and discard their clothing—including the one ring, which Gollum will then reclaim.  Gollum clearly hopes, in the sense that his appetite is directed to a possible future “good,” yet his hope is evil.
Ordinarily we think of hope as a virtue.  But hope can only be a virtue when our appetites are directed toward genuine goods.  Though he desires it, possession of the one ring is not a good for Gollum; in fact, the ring causes his death and desire for it destroys his soul.  It is possible for human beings to desire false goods and worship false gods.
We should modify our first analysis of hope.  Hope is directed to possible future genuine goods. 
But which goods are genuine goods?  To return to Aquinas; he says the natural passion of hope is not the same thing as the virtue of hope.  In a very recent essay, Charles Pinches quotes Josef Pieper, “It would never occur to a philosopher unless he were also a Christian theologian, to describe hope as a virtue.  For hope is either a theological virtue or not a virtue at all.”[2]  Pinches agrees with Pieper and says that among philosophers “…few would think of hope as a virtue, that is, something that perfects us, what we must practice as a habit, be trained in, and work properly to preserve.”[3]  I think this is clearly false.
Historically speaking, Pinches and Pieper may be right, but in recent years non-Christian and atheist philosophers have paid attention to hope as a virtue.  Jonathan Lear, Jill Graper Hernandez, and Adrienne Martin are all interested in how hope contributes to a flourishing human life and how we may train ourselves in it.
We should not say that only the best and highest good is a genuine good.  There are many goods—at the minimum, morally permissible ends—that human being desire.  We just need to recognize the great diversity among goods.  Pinches himself writes: “hope grows from hope”; that is, the virtue grows out of the passion.[4]  We can learn about higher hopes by comparing them with lower ones.

[1] Summa Theologiae I-II.40.3.
[2] Pinches (2014). 349.
[3] Ibid. 349.
[4] Ibid. 349.