By Nancy Snow, Science of Virtues scholar
Landscapes of Hope: The ‘What,’ ‘Why,’ and ‘How’ of Hope
Hope is a virtue studied by surprisingly many
disciplines. My research reviews
disciplinary literature on hope, with the aims of describing an integrated
conception of hope that spans these literatures, and arguing that the core of
this conception can be considered an Aristotelian-type virtue.
Integrated conception of hope: ‘Hope’ can refer both to an attitude toward particular
ends and to a general disposition. To
hope for a particular end is to perceive it as a good, desire it, regard its
occurrence as uncertain – either probable or possible – and use imagination and
agency in efforts to attain it. We can
also describe hope as the general disposition of ‘hopefulness’ – a dynamic
orientation toward the future, characterized by the general expectancy of
positive outcomes and openness toward future possibilities, even when those
possibilities outstrip our conceptual repertoire. As with hope for particular ends, imagination
and agency animate and inform hopefulness.
Hope has a complex and positive emotional tone, and is at home among a
network of other emotions and emotionally toned mental states. Hope is social in nature in the sense that
individual hopers are aided and abetted by social support. Hope’s motivational force can be
profound. People who lack hope seem to
lack zest for life. In a deep sense,
then, hope, both in the sense of hope for particular ends, but especially in
the sense of hopefulness, seems to be a sine
qua non of human life and agency.
Hope’s pragmatic rationality lies in its ability to motivate us despite
sometimes overwhelming odds, though its ability to do this can be epistemically
irrational. Hope has a religious or
spiritual dimension that can enable hopers to transcend the difficulties of
their situation, especially the feeling of entrapment or captivity. Hope in all of its complexity has been widely
found to be beneficial to persons suffering from physical and mental illness,
whether in the process of recovery and cure, in the ongoing management of
chronic illness, or in the context of palliative care for terminal illness.
In the Christian tradition, hope is a
central theological virtue, along with faith and love. Hope has an eschatological dimension, pulling
Christians toward an afterlife with God, and energizing believers to work for
the kingdom of God on earth. The logic
of hope follows the logic of Christ’s death and resurrection: in moments of
despair, entrapment, or captivity, hope appears to believers as a manifestation
of God’s redeeming grace, reminding us of the horizon beyond human time and of
possibilities beyond those immediately knowable in the present. For Jews during the Holocaust, God’s voice
commanded them to hope; for post-Holocaust Jews, God’s command is the imperative
to nurture and affirm their Jewishness, for in doing so, they deny the triumph
of evil over the chosen people of God.
Anthropological studies show that hope
can be a method of knowing. As such, it
is a disposition of cognitive openness to new ideas, enabling the knower to
have flexibility and receptivity, as well as patience, resilience, and
perseverance. Ethnographic studies of
hope across cultures teach us that hope is deeply embedded in cultural
traditions and contexts. How hope is
conceptualized, as well as its potential efficacy, depends upon the cultural
assumptions and frameworks in which it is embedded. Pragmatic social hope, which extols the
American democratic vision, is embedded in the cultural and political
traditions of the United States.
Philosophers and cultural theorists maintain that expanding democracy
can both result from and foster hope across the globe. An important function of societies is to
distribute hope to their members, thereby creating nations of carers. When societies fail to distribute hope,
nations of worriers can result. The
capacities of societies to distribute hope can be weakened by the forces of
global capitalism, yet economic growth can, in some cases, foster hope and
confidence. Hope can be nurtured in both macro- and
micro-institutional contexts, and can be used to overcome fear in societies.
Various hope theorists regard hope as
an innate feature of the human psychological economy, though some regard it as
purely learned. A middle view is the
notion that hope is both innate and shaped by environmental factors. A depth psychological account of hope locates
it deep within human consciousness, but acknowledges that how we hope is shaped
by our material circumstances. A
distinction can be made between conceptions or definitions of hope, and modes
of hoping. Twelve such modes have been
identified in hope literature, with the suggestion that all of these modes are
to be found in actual hopers.
tenets of hope: The core of the integrated conception
– what is essential to hope – can be expressed in thirteen tenets:
Hope is both innate and socially
learned or shaped, where what is meant by saying that “hope is innate” is that
hope has a neurophysiological basis in human beings, but is brought to
expression through the interplay of biological factors with environmental,
including social, influences.
How hope is conceptualized and how people
hope, that is, modes of hoping, are contextualized within social, cultural, and
The structure of hope is that it is a
belief/desire complex, where one desires some ‘X,’ and believes it possible,
but not certain, that one will attain it.
This structure is teleological and
forward-aiming; hope moves us toward some future goal.
The ends for which we hope are
sometimes difficult, requiring effort, resilience, and perseverance.
Hope is a powerful motivator, spurring
hopers on to achieve their specific goals.
Hopefulness, or dispositional hope, is
an attitude of openness to future possibilities. It is the sine
qua non of a life of vigor, vitality, and engagement.
Good hoping contributes to effective
Hope is positively emotionally toned,
and clusters with other positive emotions and mental states, as well as with
motivating traits such as resilience and perseverance.
10. Hope can offer its possessors many diverse benefits.
11. Hope is strongest when socially supported.
12. Societies are important distributors of hope.
13. There are different modes of hoping, that is, ways in which
people hope, some of which have been identified by hope theorists.
the agenda: Hope has traditionally been regarded
as a theological and/or moral virtue.
The next steps in my research agenda are to spell out how and why hope
is a moral virtue and argue that it is also a civic and intellectual
virtue. As well, I will investigate
pathways for cultivating hope, and examine the phenomenon of false hope.
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