The Philosophy of Hope and Optimism

We awarded roughly $530,000 in funding for new work in philosophy on hope, optimism, and other related states.

Construed either as an individual attitude or as an embedded trait, hope bears in significant ways on a person's character, behavior, well-being, and attitude toward the future. But there is little consensus among philosophers about what hope actually is. Historical and contemporary philosophers disagree about whether hope is a propositional attitude, an emotion, a virtue, or some hybrid state. And even those who agree about what kind of thing hope is offer a range of different analyses of it.

Optimism is also clearly an important feature of human life, one that has interesting connections to rationality and irrationality. For example, empirical research indicates that many of us exhibit optimism bias -- the tendency to overestimate the chance that good things will happen and underestimate the chance that bad things will happen. Although not directly truth-conducive, such bias is significantly correlated with several measures of mental health. And though a few philosophers have noted the tensions between optimism bias and epistemic rationality, there is more work to be done.

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.