What is the essence of hope? I will define hope as the conviction that what is not yet realized or possessed is possible. To lose hope is to give up on possibility.
Hope is the belief that the current state of things is never permanent. Even if the current state of things happens to be good, hope knows there is always growth. Obviously, hope is tied to aspiration, as one who has no hope—no conviction of the possibility of what is yet unrealized—cannot aspire.
Hope is not some version of the power of positive thinking wherein such a power on its own can produce a desired end. Hope is surely not wishful thinking. It is not what I would like to happen if I could have things my way. Hope offers no guarantees. Hope does not promise that life or the world will get better. Hope only insists on the possibility.
It also seems to me that hope, true hope, can only aspire to the good. One does not hope or aspire to evil. Hope, in its very idea, is oriented toward something brighter. Hope, one might say, is of a hopeful character! Of course, one can use the word “hope” in a perverted way such as hoping one’s enemy will come to misfortune and pain. But that seems to me to be more of a disordered desire than the kind of thing hoping is.
As much as hope is tied to aspiration, it would seem to be likewise tied to agency. One is no more going to do what one is not convicted is possible no more than one will aspire to it. If you do not act like you have the conviction on the possibility of something, no one is going to believe that you do.
Hope, as a conviction about the possible, is always future-oriented. One does not hope for what one already possesses. Imagine winning a Nobel Prize and, in your speech, saying that you hope you win the Nobel Prize. Yes, that would be absurd. Hope is lived in the space between the there and the not there yet.
Do not think, however, that because hope is oriented to the future, insofar as it is about the possible, that it does not touch the present. In light of what I wrote above about agency, if I hope for the possibility of something in the future then I have cause to act now to bring it about. Hope is a great motivator.
Hope, also noted above, is not a guarantee. Hope offers only possibility. What is hoped for may be or, just as well, may not be. In other words, the possibility that hope is aimed at is contingent. It does not come about on its own. What hope does, however, is to empower me to strive for the possible that I desire. To hope is to cooperate with possibility.
I defined hope as the conviction that what is not yet realized is possible. Characteristic of hope is that it is aimed at that which is good and that, while it is oriented to the future, is what motivates the one who hopes to act in the present. Another important characteristic of hope is the awareness that perfection has not yet arrived and will not, either for each of us as individuals or for our shared political life. There will never be a time when there will not be something good to which to aspire. There is never a time wherein you can say you can’t or don’t need to become a better person or that, collectively, we can say we can’t or don’t need to become a better people.
Another way to say it is that there is never a time when there is no longer possibility.
The idea that there is nothing left that is possible, that all possibility has been realized is, I think, a strange (and sad) idea.
I want to be a person of hope. That is to say, I want to be a better person. I want to believe that there can be a better world for others. Is justice possible? Is peace possible? I think here of Aristotle-esque reasoning. If something is not impossible then we admit of its possibility. No matter how improbable or unlikely you might think achieving these are, it is against reason to say that things like justice or peace are impossible. To say that justice or peace are impossible is to claim that they by necessity cannot be. So, since I cannot logically say that it is necessary that justice and peace cannot be, it must be the case that they are possible.
What is possible I can hope for. So, I will hope. Won’t you join me?