Review of Stan van Hooft, Hope
Sophia, Volume 50, Number 4
By Nancy Snow
An excerpt: In five chapters, an introduction, and a short epilogue, Stan van Hooft conveys in highly readable and non-technical prose most of what is important about hope. He distinguishes hope from hopefulness, and uses the Aristotelian template of virtue as a mean between extremes to conceptualize each. Hope is a mental state consisting of cognitions and motivations that moves us to strive for a desired end. Though hope includes desire among its motivational components, it goes beyond desire. Though similar to wish, hope is much stronger and is distinguished from wish in other ways. Wishes, for example, can be for the impossible, such as objects of fantasy, and can pertain to the past. Hope, by contrast, must be for what is contingent, that is, for that which is possible but not certain, and is future-oriented. Hope is also distinguished from fear, and, interestingly, from prayer, though, like prayer, hope has the structure of supplication insofar as it is a form of appeal to forces beyond our control for something we desire. Though hope is not a virtue in Aristotle’s catalogue, van Hooft understands hope using an Aristotelian framework. Hope the virtue is a mean between despair and resignation on one extreme, and presumption, the conviction that all will go well for us, on the other. Van Hooft identifies ten conditions that a mental state must satisfy in order to count as hope (p. 46).
Hopefulness lies deeper in our psyche than hope, and is a wellspring from which hope springs and from which it takes its character. It is a disposition or orientation to be positive and open to possibility. It is related to the qualities of joyfulness, trust, and courage. In an interesting depth analysis of hopefulness, van Hooft suggests that it lies at a deep reach of our subjectivity, countering deep-seated fears and anxieties that pervade our lives, such as the fear of death. As with hope, hopefulness the virtue is a mean between extremes – those of cynicism, which is a deficiency of hopefulness, and naivety and fantasy, both of which involve having an unrealistically rosy disposition. As with hope, genuine hopefulness must pass the test of the ten conditions.
Hope and hopefulness are the subjects of the first two chapters. In the next three, van Hooft goes on to explore these conceptions in the context of health care, politics, and religion. These chapters contain robust and rich discussions. However, a methodological concern should be noted. In each of these chapters, van Hooft applies the ten conditions to discussions of hope, arguing that hope as it arises in these contexts satisfies the ten conditions, and thus, truly counts as hope according to his lights. Yet, ‘hope’ is defined and used in various ways in literature on health care, politics, and religion. Sometimes, as in the political arena, the word ‘hope’ is used, but not defined. It could well be that the definitions and uses of ‘hope’ in these contexts overlap significantly with the ten conditions of hope and hopefulness, and consequently, are close enough to van Hooft’s Aristotelian conceptions to defuse this methodological concern. Yet, some recognition of this issue would have been helpful.