Retrospect and Prospect
Can one write a philosophy book as a series of short essays? Perhaps only in draft form; so far what I am calling the “Hope Book” seems choppy and disjointed. I’ve adopted this mode of presentation as a way to squeeze writing into the school year. I’m able to average about 1000 words a week. The project certainly needs editing. In anticipation of that task, here is a progress report, a look back and a look ahead.
In chapter 1, I described the basic structure of hope: that it combines a desire for some good thing that is judged to be possible, neither certain nor impossible. Chapter 2 listed four categories of hopes: immoral hopes (e.g. Don Juan’s hope to seduce his neighbor), innocent but unimportant hopes (e.g. that the Mariners win the pennant), morally praiseworthy hopes (e.g. Bernie’s hope to provide for his children after he dies), and the theological virtue of hope (which, for Aquinas, focuses on eternal friendship with God). I mean that list to be suggestive, not definitive; there may be other important kinds of hope, and particular examples may lie in the imprecise boundaries between the four kinds. In chapter 3, I introduced C.R. Snyder’s hope theory, which defines hope as entirely cognitive and claims significant therapeutic success. Chapter 4 presented Adrienne Martin’s “syndrome” account of hope, which makes hope something more complicated than Snyder’s formula: pathways + motivation = hope. Chapter 5 recounted an argument by Simon Critchley against hope—that is, an argument that many of our hopes are irrational and unwise. In particular, Critchley complains about hope’s bad influence on public policy. If the subject is “audacious hope,” Critchley sides with Nietzsche, not Obama. In chapter 6, I turned to Adrienne Martin’s “incorporation thesis” to defend the rationality of hope against the philosophers’ typical modern criticism of hope, which Critchley illustrates. Martin argues that there are two judgments in hope: a probability judgment that some outcome is possible and a practical judgment that the desired end is important enough to “license” oneself to hope for it. Martin concludes that hope for very unlikely things can still be rational.
Chapter 8 introduced Michael Bishop’s theory of positive causal networks, which he intends as a paradigm theory of positive psychology. PCNs are “homeostatic property clusters,” says Bishop, and they are a real feature of the world. In chapter 9, I dealt with a side issue. Bishop’s theory will be controversial among moral philosophers, because he explicitly argues that wicked people can have happy lives, that human flourishing and moral goodness do not implicate each other. Whether or not Bishop adequately defends his thesis on that point, in chapter 10 I argued that Bishop’s PCN theory gives helpful insight into hope. Bishop’s book rather cavalierly treats hope as merely hopeful feelings, but his theory actually fits Martin’s syndrome account of hope very well. Hope is complicated; it includes perceptions, beliefs, attitudes, and actions—and more perhaps. The various parts of hope reinforce each other just as Bishop’s PCN theory says the parts of a causal network reinforce each other.
Having noticed the likeness between PCN theory and the syndrome account of hope, in chapter 11 I moved to the question of how we can develop hope. We can learn to perceive the world in accord with knowledge, as when we train ourselves to see the world turning beneath a stationary sun. So we can, I suggested, train ourselves to perceive the world in a hopeful way. (Thick masonry prison walls become not just a barrier but also an escape route.) Chapter 12 pressed the point a bit further. We can attend to the world with hope, as the wounded hiker listens for any sound of a passing vehicle. Chapter 13 returned to Snyder’s hope theory. While the hope theory definition of hope is too simplistic, it does point to ways we can grow in hope: by thinking of pathways around barriers and by recognizing in ourselves motivation to use those pathways.
I want to discuss at least as many aspects of hope in the succeeding chapters, but of course, since I haven’t written them yet, their contents are not yet determined. In a preliminary way, here are upcoming topics:
*Should a person prioritize his hopes? Soren Kierkegaard wrote about hope as a “task.” He thought a life could be concentrated into a central hope. He suggested examples from literature and imagination of a life’s central hope. But as a Christian, he also criticized many possible central hopes. Our “task” of hope, he wrote, is to build a life around the right central hope.
*Kierkegaard wrote as a Christian. Does his notion of the task of hope square with biblical teaching about hope? Is there a doctrine of Christian hope in the New Testament? N.T. Wright, a bishop in the Church of England and a well-known Bible scholar, says there is. He also complains that many contemporary Christians seem ignorant of the Bible’s teaching. Many church people today, Wright says, have adopted notions of hope from popular culture rather than their own tradition.
*Wright and Jurgen Moltmann try to describe an “ethics of hope.” So far this book has focused on hope as a virtue in the lives of individuals. Is it possible that hope could be an organizing principle in a social ethic? What is the “ethics of hope”?
*Is hope—as related to social questions—a purely Christian concern? Jonathan Lear writes about “radical” hope, based not on Christian theology but on the observation that the goodness of the world is greater than our conceptual grasp of it. Is Christian hope, based on a transcendent God, a version of “radical” hope?
*It seems to me that Lear’s argument for a secularized radical hope ought to be paired (conceptually anyway) with “radical” fear. I’m not enthusiastic about this idea, but it may need attention.
*Thomas Aquinas identified two vices that contend against hope: despair and presumption. Since I have written a few chapters about how to hope, perhaps I should have already included comments on these vices; how not to hope. But the vices of hope impede our social hopes as much as the hopes of our individual lives, so reflections on despair and presumption will be appropriate at that time.
I’m pretty sure that won’t be everything, but it is enough for now.