Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Natural hope

One of the striking things to me about Aristotle is the pessimism. For instance, in Book IX of the Nicomachean Ethics, we’re told that vicious persons shouldn’t even love themselves, and that when one friend sufficiently outstrips another in moral excellence—whether through the one improving or the other declining—the friendship must be dropped. I do not see the virtue of hope in Aristotle, say, hope that the vicious may improve, too. For the wicked, there is just despair. (Aristotle’s odious doctrine of “natural slavery” has some similarities.)

Christianity, on the hand, professes hope to be a virtue. But the hope that Christianity talks of is a supernatural infused virtue, a virtue that comes only as a gift of God’s grace. And Aristotle, of course, is interested in the natural virtues.

But grace builds on nature. So one would expect there to be a natural counterpart to the supernatural virtue of hope. Compare how there are natural loves that are a counterpart to the supernatural virtue of charity. There should be a natural virtue of hope, too.

But given the dark empirical facts about humanity, a habit of hope apart from grace would seem to be an irrational optimism rather than a virtue.

Perhaps, though, there is something in between irrational optimism and supernatural hope: perhaps there is room for a hope grounded in natural theology. Natural theology teaches that there is a perfectly good God. Yet there is so much that is awful in the world. But given theism there is good reason to think that the future will bring something better, and hence there is a natural justification for hope.

I am not sure I want to say that natural hope requires actual belief in God. But for that hope to be a virtue and (hence) a part of a rational state of mind, it may well require that the hoping individual be in an epistemic position to rationally believe. Thus, for natural hope to be a virtue seems to require that hopers be in a position to believe that there is a God.

Aristotle, of course, did believe in a God, or gods. But these gods were uninvolved with human affairs, and hence not a good ground for hope.

Reflecting on the above, it seems to me that to overcome the pessimism of Aristotle, one needs more than just a remote hope, but a seriously robust hope.


entirelyuseless said...

"But given the dark empirical facts about humanity, a habit of hope apart from grace would seem to be an irrational optimism rather than a virtue."

I don't see how believing in God or grace can make any difference. In other words, if in the whole history of the past, no one ever passed from vicious to virtuous, then you will not expect this to happen in the future either, even with God and grace. On the other hand, if it sometimes happens (which it does), then you should believe it can happen in the future, whether or not you believe in God and grace.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Good point. I wonder if true hope isn't just, however, in a random process, but in something directed in a given direction. (People talk of hoping to win the lottery, but I wonder if that's really hope.) Maybe without theism the passage from vicious to virtuous is just something random rather.

Philip Rand said...

The reason you do not observe the virtue of hope in Aristotle is because hope was the last evil to be released from Pandora's Box.

The ancient Greek view of hope is similar to entirelyuseless's.

This is the cause of entirelyuseless's (though he is not aware of it) perspective.

Philip Rand said...

What I find interesting with respect to theist philosophers is that it is as if they possess Biblical vocabulary, but they are unclear what they want to do with it.

Apolonio said...

A man proposes to a woman and now the woman has hope that she will get married. That seems like a natural hope to me.

So maybe if there is something in nature that is something like a promise (say, the infinite desire of the heart), then one can have hope because of this.