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.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016


A Hope Primer 1:

            In 2008 Barak Obama’s campaign for president energized a new generation of voters with the slogan “hope and change.”  Given the partisan nature of politics in America, his opponents were happy to mock Obama’s slogan in 2010 and again in 2014.  In various ways they asked voters, “Is this what you hoped for?  Is this the change you wanted?”
            Obama’s campaign wasn’t the first time hope played an explicit role in American politics.  An older generation of voters can remember 1992, when Bill Clinton’s campaign presented him as “the man from Hope,” playing on Clinton’s home town in Arkansas.
            Politicians don’t have to use the word “hope” to incorporate this theme.  In 1984 Ronald Reagan’s campaign famously trumpeted, “It’s morning in America,” and asked voters why they would want to go back to the bad, dark times before Reagan’s first election.  The message was not just that economic indicators had improved under Reagan; the “morning in America” slogan emphasized a change in collective feeling, from the pessimism of the Carter years to the ebullient optimism of Reagan.
            Going back further, historians and economists debate whether Franklin Roosevelt’s programs to lift the country out of the Great Depression really worked.  But they almost all agree that Roosevelt’s confidence and sunny disposition, which he masterfully communicated in radio talks, helped Americans believe in a better future.
Some political commentators claim that this appeal to hope resonates deeply and uniquely with the American spirit.  “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” Roosevelt said.  Americans loved that, perhaps more than other peoples.  I have no proof that the United States is any different from other countries in this regard; it seems almost axiomatic that candidates for office will claim that things will get better if they are elected and their policies enacted.  In America at least, and maybe universally, hopefulness would seem to be an asset to politicians.
There are other appeals, besides hope, to win elections.  Politically speaking, fear may be as potent as hope when appealing for votes.  Lyndon Johnson’s campaign in 1964 evoked deep fears of nuclear war with its famous “daisy” commercial; the ad implied that electing Barry Goldwater could lead to disaster.  At various times in American history, politicians have sought votes by appealing to hate of immigrants or racial minorities; for example, in 1968 George Wallace won the electoral votes of several states in a campaign based on racism.
I point to these political examples not to begin a study of politics, nor even to compare a politics of hope to a politics of fear or hate.  My goal is to invite the reader to consider this concept of hope.  Outside of politics, many people are familiar with hope as an important word in religion, psychology, and philosophy.  Consider just a few particulars.
Religion.  The New Testament often mentions hope along with other traits that should mark the Christian character.  In 1 Corinthians 13:13, Paul wrote “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love.  But the greatest of these is love.”  Thomas Aquinas wrote that faith, hope, and love were “theological” virtues, distinguished from the natural virtues, such as courage and temperance, because faith, hope and love had God as their object and were “infused” in the believer by God.  In our time, theologians like N. T. Wright and Jurgen Moltmann argue that hope should be seen as a central feature in Christian theology.  Wright is pointedly critical of the poor job many churches and church leaders have done in explicating Christian hope.
Psychology.  In recent decades the broad movement called positive psychology has included an emphasis on hope; C.R. Snyder and his colleagues have introduced “hope theory” and “hope therapy,” and they have conducted an enormous amount of empirical research showing that hopefulness correlates well with positive life outcomes.  Therapeutic interventions that increase hopefulness, as measured by simple “hope scales,” fairly reliably improve life for patients.  Michael Bishop’s “network theory” of human happiness mentions hope only in passing, but I will argue his theory (combined with Adrienne Martin’s notion of hope as a “syndrome”) neatly expands and corrects Snyder’s “hope theory.”
Philosophy.  Immanuel Kant famously included hope among the three foundational questions of philosophy: What can I know?  What ought I to do?  For what may I hope?  The 20th century Christian existentialist Gabriel Marcel saw hope as central to his response to the crisis of modern life.  Philosophers writing in the Thomist tradition, such as Josef Pieper, have extended Aquinas’s analysis of hope.  More recently (2006), Jonathan Lear invited readers to consider “radical hope,” which he found exemplified in the life of Chief Plenty Coups, the last great chief of the Crow nation.  More recently still (2014), Adrienne Martin explored hope as a paradigm virtue in How We Hope: A Moral Psychology.
In what follows I will draw on these and other sources to present a primer on hope.  My sources come at hope from different disciplines.  What they say is sometimes contradictory, but on most points I think they can be read as complementing each other.  I think we can learn something useful about hope from all of them. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A new start

The Hope Book

            I woke up today not knowing what to write.  That’s not good, since I face a self-imposed deadline.  Every week I need a new essay.
At the end of September 2015 I posted the last chapter of Castles to this blog.  I still haven’t risen to the task of editing Castles for publication.  Maybe next summer.
Since October 2015 I’ve continued to write something every week for “Story and Meaning.”  It’s been a mixture: humor (“Driverless Cars”), economics (“Work,” a series of four essays), thoughts about personal identity (“Discrete Events and Narrative Lives,” again in four parts), ten “Last Walk” essays, and more than 25 essays on aspects of hope.
It may be time to start putting order into the hope project.  I say, “maybe,” because my philosophy projects usually develop slowly.  It took seven years to write The Virtue of Civility in the Practice of Politics and at least as long to finish Why Faith is a Virtue.  I started working on hope in 2014.  It might be that I need a good deal more thinking before I write the hope book.
Further, life overtakes philosophy, as I said in the first “Last Walk” essay.  It would be disingenuous for me to write a philosophy book about hope and not address personal issues arising from Karen’s cancer and death.  Karen and I are both Christians; what does Christian hope look like from the inside?
Despite these cautions, next week I will begin posting bits of my new project: The Hope Book.  If you’ve been reading “Story and Meaning,” some of it will seem familiar, as I’ll be rearranging material from earlier entries.
Fortunately, I’ve already written a lot in addition to the hope essays I’ve posted to “Story and Meaning.”  I can draw on papers I’ve read at philosophy conferences and a long unpublished essay called “A Hope Primer.”  I won’t have to write something completely new each week.
Writing The Hope Book in this way will be an experiment, an attempt to write analytic philosophy in bit and pieces.  It could fail miserably.  In that case I will go back to a tested procedure: write one or two conference papers every year, and then collect/condense them into a book once the project is mature.

As background for The Hope Book, here are the authors who have most influenced my thinking about hope (so far):
Mark Bernier, The Task of Hope in Kierkegaard
Michael Bishop, The Good Life
Simon Critchley, “Abandon (Nearly) All Hope.”  New York Times, April 20, 2014        
Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Stephen King, The Shawshank Redemption, novella and movie (1994). Jonathan Lear, Radical Hope
Adrienne Martin, How We Hope
Jurgen Moltmann, Ethics of Hope
            Charles Pinches, “On Hope,” in Virtues and Their Vices
Louis Pojman, “Faith, Hope, and Doubt,” in Philosophy of Religion
C.R. Snyder (ed), Handbook of Hope
            N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope

            Additionally, three authors provide the background for almost all my work in ethical theory:
            Robert Adams, A Theory of Virtue
            Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue
            Iris Murdoch, The Sovereignty of Good