Can Hope Help Us Overcome Obstacles to Doing What We Should?

Hope and the Virtue of Creative Resolve?

  • Philosophy

Principal Investigators

Nicole Hassoun
Associate Professor of Philosophy
Binghamton University


Hope, or at least a certain kind of hope, gives us reason to strive to overcome seemingly insuperable moral problems; hope can give rise to what I call the virtue of creative resolve -- the fundamental commitment to finding creative solutions to what appear to be impossible problems. Where, more formally, creative resolve is an attitude that inclines an agent to: 1) question claims and evidence that amoral requirement’s demands cannot be met; 2) assess such claims and evidence with an awareness of the burdens of judgment and biases which sometimes lend irrational support to them; 3) search for new information and seek out creative ways of fulfilling the demands moral imperatives generate; 4) refuse to treat lack of sufficient evidence for the possibility of meeting the demands as a ground for denying the possibility of meeting them; and, 5) barring sufficient evidence that moral imperatives’ demands cannot be met, act to fulfill them insofar as possible. Creative resolves is an epistemic and moral virtue in that it guards against the epistemic possibility of doing wrong. It requires both faculties and traits and is other-regarding. Creative resolve (and, so, hope) can not only promote the agent’s and community’s intellectual flourishing but, in so doing, help prevent impermissible failures of moral imagination.

Consider why the requisite kind of hope provides reason to cultivate the virtue of creative resolve and try to fulfill moral imperatives’ claims. We have the requisite kind of hope (henceforth simply hope) when we aim to secure a desired end that provides a moral reason for action and trying to secure the end is warranted for all we know. When we desire an end that actually provides a moral reason for action and trying to secure the end is warranted for all we know, we should have creative resolve and try very hard to secure this end. Sometimes avoiding what seems, initially, to be a terrible dilemma, may be difficult. There will be times when the costs of looking for acceptable ways of avoiding moral failure exceed the costs of making a terrible choice. An acceptable alternative may not exist. Still, there is at least a prima facie obligation to do what we can to fulfill moral imperatives’ claims and avoid making tragic choices, even if avoiding them is very difficult, very demanding. As Kant put it:

It does not matter how many doubts may be raised against my hopes from history, which, if they were proved, could move me to desist from a task so apparently futile; as long as these doubts cannot be made quite certain I cannot exchange the duty for the rule of prudence not to attempt
the impracticable (Kant, 1793, 8:309).

This suggests also that the hope moral imperatives provide must be pretty radical. Even when is not clear how to fulfill all potentially competing moral claims, we have reason to try to find ways of doing so.