Analyzing hope can help explain a certain objection that is sometimes made against Just War theory. I start with hope.
There are at least four judgments or moments in hope. First is the judgment of desire. Very little thinking need be involved; one simply recognizes that he wants some outcome. Second is an evaluative judgment. One judges that the thing hoped for is a component of the good, thus an appropriate goal of hope. We often realize that some of the things we want aren’t actually good, so we don’t hope for them. Third is an epistemic judgment. One judges whether the desired goal is likely or unlikely. If the desired good thing is likely to transpire, it is easy to hope for it; we expect the good thing. Fourth is a practical judgment. One judges how important the desired goal is in one’s life as a whole. There are situations in which it is praiseworthy to hope even though the thing hoped for is unlikely to happen, e.g. a person alone and badly injured on a seldom-used logging road might still hope that someone might come by to help.
Now let’s consider Just War theory. Among the various rules promulgated by Just War theorists is one that nations should not fight wars in which victory is unlikely. The rationale for this rule rests on the basic ideas of Just War theory: 1) war is prima facie a bad thing, because it has many bad results, such as destruction of property and people getting killed, 2) nevertheless, some outcomes are even worse than the bad results of war, so 3) wars may be permissible, but 4) wars should only be fought when the evils of the war are less than the evils the wars will prevent. The idea that war may prevent some worse evil is essential to Just War theory. Therefore, if defeat seems likely, a nation should not enter a war, because the evils of the war will not prevent the worse evils, but only add to them.
Notice the parallel between the analysis of hope and the rule against hopeless wars. Both cases ask persons to judge the likelihood of future events. In hope, we judge whether the desired outcome is likely. In war, we judge whether victory is likely.
Notice also that the parallel ends. It is sometimes right and praiseworthy to “hope against hope,” that is, to hope for unlikely outcomes. But Just War theory says it is immoral to fight wars when the chances of victory are small.
It is at this point that many warfare “realists” object to Just War theory. They argue: Just as it is permissible, even morally praiseworthy, to hope for unlikely outcomes in times of peace (a random vehicle may drive along the forest road and the injured person may be saved), it can be morally praiseworthy to hope for military victory even when victory seems unlikely.
Strict Just War theory requires that nations accept defeat without fighting when the chances of victory are small. The objector says we need to make a practical judgment: though victory seems unlikely, nevertheless victory is such an overridingly important goal we may rightly fight when the probability of success is small. In the summer of 1940, Britain stool alone against Nazi Germany. Hitler had conquered Poland, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and France in less than a year of fighting. The British army had lost much of its equipment at Dunkirk. To many minds it seemed Britain’s chances of victory in the war were small. And yet, the objector says, it was right for Britain to fight on.
Just War theory requires a nation’s leaders to judge whether victory is likely, but such judgments can be fraught with error. Given that it is sometimes praiseworthy to hope against the odds, it can be praiseworthy to hope for victory against the odds. Besides, hope itself makes victory more probable.
Against this objection, the Just War theorist may reply in the following way. There is a crucial difference between hoping for unlikely things that do not harm other people and hoping for unlikely things that do harm other people. If the injured man in the woods hopes for a rescue that does not come, no harm has been done. But if Britain had lost the war against Hitler, it would have committed significant evils in vain, gaining nothing of moral worth. War fighters too often loose sight of the evils they inflict on the enemy, but Just War theory insists that wars must be evaluated by their effects on all persons concerned, including the enemy soldier and civilian.
More could be said by both the objector and the Just War theorist. The debate between them interests me, though I side with neither. I am a pacifist. I think the debate shows that many people who profess allegiance to Just War theory (“I am not a pacifist; I believe in the Just War”) don’t really accept the fundamental ideas of Just War.
The debate also shows there may be a gray area between virtue and behavior. Overt behavior is only one component of the syndrome of hope, which includes perceptions, thoughts, and feelings, as well as actions.
Adrienne Martin says it is praiseworthy to hope against hope, and that we may rightly act on the basis of unlikely hopes. A cancer patient may incorporate hope into her thinking, feeling and planning, even when she knows that an experimental drug has only a very small chance of curing her. But Martin also says the hopeful person may also have a “back up” plan. Licensing oneself to hope does not mean that a person deceives herself about the odds. It is not unreasonable or inconsistent to hope for an outcome and act in certain ways anticipating that outcome while at the same time preparing in other ways for the outcome to not occur.