Philosophy and Hope (Academic)

The artist’s job is not to succumb to despair but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence. ~ Gertrude Stein

For the last few weeks I’ve been discussing hope, and I’d like to now briefly summarize the standard account of hope among professional philosophers.Here’s how the discussion of hope begins in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Hope is not only an attitude that has cognitive components—it is responsive to facts about the possibility and likelihood of future events. It also has a conative component—hopes are different from mere expectations insofar they reflect and draw upon our desires.2

So hope encompasses both cognitive and non-cognitive aspects of the mind. The cognitive component assesses possibilities and probabilities, the non-cognitive component has to do with desires.

In the “standard account,” hope consists of both a belief in an outcome’s possibility and a desire for that outcome. Here is the“standard account,” as defined by R. S. Downie:

There are two criteria which are independently necessary and jointly sufficient for ‘hope that’. The first is that the object of hope must be desired by the hoper. […] The second […] is that the object of hope falls within a range of physical possibility which includes the improbable but excludes the certain and the merely logically possible.

Or, as J. P. Day writes, “A hopes that p” is true iff “A wishes that p, and A thinks that p has some degree of probability, however small” is true.

The standard definition of “hoping that,” conforms to my definition of wishful hoping. But it doesn’t address the attitudinal hoping that motivates me to act, rather than despair. So nothing about the standard definition gainsays the kind of hope that I advocate.

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1. My summary borrowed from the entry on hope in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

2. Conation is any natural tendency, impulse, striving, or directed effort.[1]

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