Hope, Optimism, and God

We awarded roughly $305,000 in funding for new work in philosophy of religion, theology, and religious studies on hope, optimism, and other related states.

Hope is a familiar concept in theological discourse as one of the three theological virtues alongside faith and love. However, its nature and norms, as well as its role in various practical arguments pertaining to the supersensible, have been underexplored by philosophers.

Some of the fundamental questions that need more attention include: What is hope and what are its norms? What connections are there between hope and optimism and some of the classical debates in philosophy of religion? Can hope or hopefulness be a virtue? If so, is it an epistemic virtue or a moral one, or some sort of hybrid?

Practical arguments for and against religious theses are arguments that are motivated by appeal to non-epistemic goods. Pascal's wager advocates the pragmatic acceptability of religious belief in a case where theism (at least weakly) dominates other options. Kant recommends religious faith in both God and the afterlife as a practically rational response to our awareness of moral obligation and the sacrifices that it demands. William James defends our “right to believe" various religious theses on the basis of practical rather than epistemic considerations. Some forms of anti-religious argument (from facts about evil, for instance) may also be based in practical considerations. We are interested in projects that would reconsider, reconstruct, and critically evaluate these and other kinds of practical religious arguments.

Hope and/or optimism may be involved in the conclusions of some practical arguments. Data from the social sciences suggest that, on average, people who believe certain religious doctrines are more hopeful and optimistic than those who do not. Could an appeal to this kind of positive correlation actually motivate practical arguments? If hopefulness and optimism often attend religious belief of some sort, could they be some of the good outcomes at which a practical argument for religion aims?

Some practical arguments don't seek to motivate rational belief in their conclusions, but rather something weaker like faith, acceptance, or even mere hope. More research is needed on whether and in what ways rational hope should be regarded as a better or worse outcome than rational belief.

Hope and/or optimism may also be involved in the inputs of practical arguments. Perhaps one has to be generally hopeful or optimistic in order to find certain theistic hypotheses plausible or to take certain religious possibilities seriously. Or perhaps if one rationally hopes for certain things, then one ought also accept certain doctrines (about the existence of God, the afterlife, or future moral progress) or engage in certain religious practices.

We were interested in proposals that exhibited a willingness to grapple with, and attempt to impose some order upon, the diversity of viewpoints in this area. We funded projects that addressed at least one of the Research Questions.