Fundamental Hope and Practical Identity

610a28d49ac14df09d3f7e90d167bd1c?s=47 Titus Stahl
September 17, 2015

Fundamental Hope and Practical Identity


Titus Stahl

September 17, 2015


  1. 2.

    Introduction We want to explain the rationality and value of

    forms of hope that play an important role in human life. When hope plays a crucial role in how people see and interpret life, we call it fundamental hope. We argue that fundamental hopes are rational because they are constitutive for the practical identity of agents. 1. The “Orthodox Definition” and Adrienne Martin‘s Incorporation Thesis 2. Critique of Martin’s instrumentalism 3. Hope and Practical Identity 4. Conclusion 2
  2. 3.

    The Orthodox Definition A person hopes for an outcome O,

    iff 1. she desires O, 2. she believes that O is possible, but not certain. But are those conditions sufficient? The same desire and belief can lead a person to despair (A. Meirav) We assume that it is necessary to also endorse these beliefs and desires in a way that is particular for hoping. 3
  3. 4.

    Martin’s Incorporation Thesis If a person hopes for an outcome

    O, this involves that: 1. She desires O (= is attracted to O) 2. She believes O to be possible (but not certain) 3. She engages in (at least some of) the activities characteristic for hoping: planning (usually with a backup plan), fantasizing (imagining O as a part of a narrative), entertaining feelings such as anticipation 4. She treats her belief about the possibility of O as licensing these activities („enabling-condition“ for 5)) 5. She treats her attraction to O as a practical reason to engage in the activities characteristic of hope 4
  4. 5.

    Incorporation Thesis Hope requires incorporating the desire for the outcome

    into one’s agency, i.e., to hope requires treating the desire as a reason to perform hopeful activities. A hoping person not only performs certain activities, but also sees herself as justified in doing so. 5
  5. 6.

    Incorporation Thesis Normative question: When is it rational to hope?

    Martin: 1. Desire/Attraction: not subject to normative governance 2. Belief: theoretical norms 3. „Licensing“ and „treating as a reason“: practical norms, namely „norms of rational end promotion“ “hope is successful as the state it is, so long as it promotes [the agent’s] rational ends to do these things [i.e. engaging in hopeful activities]” 6
  6. 7.

    Critique of instrumentalism Martin’s instrumentalism is normatively inadequate. She evaluates

    hope exclusively in regard to the question how “giving in” to the attraction would affect the promotion of our rational ends. 7
  7. 8.

    Two cases Two cases: Hoping to win the Nobel Prize:

    The fact that my hope promotes my pursuit of some (remote) rational end does not make this hope rational. Not giving in to hope: Even if hope promotes ends, rejecting it is not necessarily irrational. Instrumental benefit is not the decisive factor that allows us to distinguish rational from irrational hope. 8
  8. 9.

    Conclusion Martin’s account of incorporation correctly emphasizes that hope is

    not just desiring plus believing, but also taking a stance towards one’s attitudes. But her instrumentalist approach cannot fully capture the value of hope. We would like to argue that fundamental hopes can be intrinsically valuable when they form part of a certain kind of outlook that is itself intrinsically valuable. In particular, one reason to engage in hopeful activities can be that these hopeful activities are essential for the hoping person to be the person that she is. 9
  9. 10.

    Two cases Consider, again, two cases: Hopeful cancer patient: Hopes

    for recovery although she knows that chances are small. Such hope could be rational even if no goals are promoted by her having such attitudes. Political activist: Hopes for progressive world-wide political change although she knows that chances are small. She can take herself to have a reason to sustain hope, even if neither the political goal nor any other goals of her are promoted by her having this hope. 10
  10. 11.

    Value of hope In both cases, it seems to be

    true: that the fact that the person has that kind of hope is part of her practical identity (i.e. an outlook which supports seeing the world under some description that makes certain values visible), that it can be rational for such a person to judge that loosing access to that perspective would be a deteroriation of her practical identity, that it can be rational for such a person to see her identity as intrinsically valuable, that the value of hope is thus not instrumental (hope is valuable because it is necessary to realize some other value), but intrinsic (hope is valuable because it forms an essential part of something intrinsically valuable). 11
  11. 12.

    Consequences This has consequences for the analysis of hope. Fundamental

    hope: A person has fundamental hope for an outcome O: 1. if she believes O to be possible 2. if she desires O in a way that involves anticipating O, fantasizing about O’s realization, etc. 3. if she takes her belief in (1) to licence the activities that express the desire in (2) 4. if she takes the essential role of these elements for her practical identity as a reason to incorporate them into her agency. The person does not need to consciously be aware that these conditions hold. 12
  12. 13.

    Rational hope When is it rational to have fundamental hope?

    Our suggestion: It is rational to engage in fundamental hope if one has reason to think that one’s practical identity (that is supported by this hope) is valuable. 13
  13. 14.

    Questions remaining Three questions remain: 1. What exactly is this

    “practical identity” you are talking about? 2. Are we sometimes also justified in losing our hopes? 3. Are all hopes fundamental or are there also “mundane” everyday hopes (that maybe conform to the orthodox definition)? 14
  14. 15.

    Practical identity Practical identity: “a description under which you value

    yourself and find your life to be worth living.” (Ch. Korsgaard) Basic idea: We can only “unify” our agency if we have some description of ourselves under which we value ourselves (which entails a general perspective on what is valuable). 15
  15. 16.

    Practical identity But this seems only to entail that we

    need some practical identity (but we might be never justified in upholding one specific version) An argument by Charles Taylor: Practical identities are based on “strong evaluations” which are incommensurable. From the perspective of one practical identity, all others might reasonably bee seen as deterioriation. But this does not exclude changes of identity or learning processes. 16
  16. 17.

    When to lose hope When should we lose hope? We

    might lose the belief in the possibility of the outcome occuring. We might discover, from within our moral outlook, that our identity is not as valuable as we thought: We might discover that it is not a feature of a valuable identity to take some probability belief as licensing (classic case of aging leftists). We might discover that some attraction is not a feature of a valuable identity. (Taylor’s racism case) 17
  17. 18.

    Mundane hope Are all hopes fundamental? My hope that there

    will be something tasty on offer for lunch is not supported by its essential role for my practical identity. Thus, there seems to be a class of hopes for which the analysis does not hold. But: 1. Maybe such hopes are not particularly reasonable or valuable attitudes (we have no reason to keep them up, although they might be perfectly permissible). 2. The hopes might not be valuable as tokens, but as types (each individual hope can be lost without irrationality, but a disposition to entertain such hopes might still be essential for our practical identity). 18
  18. 19.

    Summary Both the orthodox conception and Martin’s theory cannot properly

    account for the value of fundamental hope. Our analysis of hope is more helpful for understanding the central role of hope in human life. Hope can not only be instrumentally valuable but also intrinsically valuable, because fundamental hope is essential for who we are. What makes the life of the hopeful person better is not that she is more effective, but that her hope enables her to remain the person that she is. 19