When is it Rational to Hope?

Hope, Optimism, Knowledge, and God

  • Philosophy
  • Philosophy of Religion
  • Epistemology

Principal Investigators

Matthew A. Benton
Postdoctoral Research Associate
University of Notre Dame


As a philosopher who works in epistemology, I am especially interested in the relationship between knowledge and hope. Hoping for a particular outcome is an attitude which seems rational only when one does not know that the outcome obtains: one typically only hopes for things to be the case when one doesn’t know that they are the case. In this way hope is like fear: we typically only fear outcomes which we don’t know to obtain. But then under what evidential conditions is it rational to hope? Are there any general normative principles to be discovered here? A related interest concerns the conceptual differences (if any) between hope and optimism: does hope imply optimism? Can one be hopeful without being optimistic? Additionally, there is the question of what it means to have hope in a person or a social institution, as opposed to hoping for an outcome.

Finally, I’m interested in the role of hope, optimism, or other “practical” or “emotive” notions in philosophy, especially in philosophy of religion. In particular, there are well-known applications of hope to moral arguments for the existence of God, and there are also applications of optimism to arguments appealing to the problem of evil. One broad topic worth investigating is how (or whether) philosophers should distinguish between the “practical” and the “theoretical.” Another question is whether the deployment of “practical” or “emotive” premises in “theoretical” arguments is suspect, and if so, why.