In Hope Lies All Possibilities

Hope implies a deep-seated trust in life that appears absurd to those who lack it … The worst is always what the hopeful are prepared for. Their trust in life would not be worth much if it had not survived disappointments in the past, while knowledge that the future holds further disappointments demonstrates the continuing need for hope … Improvidence, a blind faith that things will somehow work out for the best, furnishes a poor substitute for the disposition to see things through even when they don’t.”  ~ Christopher Lasch

For the last few weeks I have been writing about the concept of hope. I recently found an insight from the work of my graduate school mentor and dissertation director Richard J. Blackwell. I have written previously about the profound effect that Professor Blackwell had on my philosophical development.

The January 1999 edition of the philosophical journal, The Modern Schoolman, was titled: “Philosophy and Modern Science: Papers Presented in Honor of Richard J. Blackwell.” (For those unfamiliar with the academy, it is a high and rare honor to have an edition of a professional journal devoted to your work.)The introduction of that work was penned by Professor Richard Dees, now of the University of Rochester. Dees begins thus:

The articles gathered here honor the legacy of Richard J. Blackwell, a dedicated scholar, a consummate colleague, and above all, a much-loved and much-revered teacher … During his tenure, he has directed a program in the history and philosophy of science, written five books on topics ranging from the logic of discovery to his now-famous work on Galileo, translated four other books of historical significance, held the Danforth Chair in Humanities, won the Nancy McNair Ring Outstanding Teacher Award, directed over 30 dissertations, and guided literally hundreds of students.

After describing Blackwell’s many philosophical projects, and introducing the articles written in his honor by the distinguished scholars, Dees summarizes Blackwell’s conclusions about the Galileo affair—the work for which he became most well-known. In this concluding paragraph that I found a pearl of wisdom. Dees writes:

So, for Blackwell, the real lesson of the Galileo Affair is … what it shows us about our own intellectual enterprises. When a standpoint becomes over-intellectualized, it becomes so rigid that no changes are possible without destroying the view itself. In the seventeenth-century, that danger lay primarily in the system-building philosophy that dominated the Catholic Church and the intellectual climate of Europe … The … question is whether the Catholic Church—or any organized religion—can open up its inquiries into the nature of reality in the same way that science has. Blackwell thinks that such a change is possible, but not without reconceptualizing the very structure of traditional Christian thought. As long as faith is considered the key virtue, any religion can fall too easily into dogmatism. Instead, he suggests, hope should be the center of our thought, for in hope lies all possibilities. (emphasis mine)

I believe that Professor Dees describes Blackwell’s overall philosophical attitude perfectly. And, since I’m fortunate to still correspond with Professor Blackwell, I can say that he has maintained this positive, optimistic, or hopeful attitude despite age, pain and infirmity. I am blessed to have known him. And I’d like to thank Professor Dees for his clear and eloquent prose.

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