Project description

Fundamental Hope. Individual, Social and Political Per­spectives” is a research project funded by the “Hope and Optimism Project” at Notre Dame University and Cornell University.

Its principal investigators are

What is the project about?

This is a research project in philosophy. We are primarily interested in two questions.

  • The first question concerns what hope is. Many people think that to hope for something (like for winning the lottery) is a combination of two attitudes. First, the belief that the hoped-for outcome is possible (but not certain), and second, a desire for the outcome.
    But this cannot be right. We often think that something is possible and we desire it, without hoping for it. Think, for example, of someone who is unjustly imprisoned under a cruel dictatorship. That person might belief that there is a chance of ever being released, but that this chance is very, very small (let’s say: one millionth of a percent). She might also desire very much to be released. These two attitudes can lead her to despair which is the opposite of hope. A second reason to reject the analysis is that it does not make clear what we have reason to hope for. For example, many people wish that there is no one in the world who has to go hungry. Assume now that a person believes that two events are possible: First, there could be a global political initiative of restructuring the world economy which would solve the problem of hunger. Second, there could also be some great scientific discovery that would allow everyone to just synthesize their food out of organic waste. All reasonable people will believe that both outcomes are possible, even though unlikely. But many people who hope for political change do not hope for the other event equally, even though it is not obvious which of the both events is more likely. We therefore need an account that gives us a better explanation why people hope (rationally) for some things, but not for others.
  • The second part of the project does not concern the hopes of individuals, but of groups. People can share certain hopes. In times of great political change, often whole nations are animated by the hope for a better future. We want to investigate what collective hope is – is it just a sum of the hopes of individuals? Or can we say that groups have hopes of their own which are not the same things as the hopes of the individual group members? And we want to investigate the value of hopes in societies. For example, some scholars believe that a society is only truly good when it allows people to hope for a better future and when those who participate in politics share certain hopes together. A society in which there are no shared hopes might not only be a society which is not particularly attractive, it might even fail to be a democratic society.

These questions will be investigated by us, together with other philosophers and scholars throughout 2015 and 2016. We will keep you updated on this website, so please check back often!


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