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July 28, 2005



Initially I thought perhaps hope precluded knowledge. It does sound weird to think that you hope that p but know ~p. That seems more like wishing than hoping. But I suspect that what is really going on is that hope and certainty don't mix. The thought that hoping that p rules out knowing that ~p is just a confusion due to the tendency to think of paradigm cases of knowing as involving some high degree of certitude. It seems you can properly say that you hope that p when a third party can rightly say you know ~p and perhaps know better than to hold out hope.

It is interesting that some natural assertions involving 'hope', like assertions that involve 'believe' may not express hope. For example, I think that if you are reasonably certain that p you can't hope that ~p although you can properly say 'I hope I'm wrong'.

[p.s., Your comments clock is wonky. It isn't near 2:04 a.m.]


My first impulse was the reverse: hope is compatible with certainty, but not with knowledge. Hope seems to me to be an anticipation of what we do not already have, in a broad sense of 'have'; while everything we know we already 'have' in a sufficiently relevant sense, some contingent things of which we are certain do seem reasonable objects of hope, when our certainty is such that we have to concede that we might be wrong. For instance, I am fairly certain the sun will rise tomorrow, but if I haven't taken any trouble to trace the reasons why the sun will rise, I can reasonably say that I hope that the sun will rise tomorrow, and this seems to be rather more than just desiring it. This is because, when I merely assume that the sun will rise tomorrow because it always has risen before, there is still an appearance of contingency to the event as I assess it. If, however, I had actually taken the trouble to eliminate the unlikely scenarios (various celestial events) on which the sun wouldn't rise tomorrow, the appearance of contingency begins to vanish. So I think hope is compatible with knowledge in a broad sense of the term; but as this knowledge becomes more strictly rigorous, there is less of the sort of (appearance of) contingency hope requires.

If this is remotely right, then hope perhaps involves acceptance of the possibility that what is hoped for really has a chance of happening, and concession that it might not. If you take certainty in a strict sense, it rules out hope; if you take knowledge in a strict sense, it rules out hope; but in the broader, weaker senses in which we often use them, they both are compatible with hope.

I think you're both right that mere wishes or velleities, although often called 'hope', are a different sort of thing.

This is a great topic.

John Bengson

Hey Shieva,

I share the intuition that hope and certainty don't mix. But I have a question about precisely what the claim that they "don't mix" amounts to. On the one hand, you write,

"...it seems silly to hope to find [a second even prime] number."

On the other hand, you write,

"It seems odd to hope for what one is certain is true."

Is the idea that hoping for what one judges to be certain seems silly (which I take to mean something like "seems irrational")? Or is the thought that such a thing seems odd, in the sense that you have the intuition that if one is certain that p, then one cannot hope that p?

For what it's worth, Descartes gave an analysis of hope in his "Passions of the Soul" that may be relevant. He seems to think that the latter claim is right: certainty precludes hope. I don't have the text in front of me at the moment, but I think he says something like the following:

A subject S hopes that p just in case S desires that p and S judges that p is possible, though not certain.

Descartes goes on to claim that when one judges that p is certain, one has confidence, not hope. That is,

S is confident that p just in case S desires that p and S judges that p is certain.

This analysis of confidence strikes me as wrong: surely I can be confident that p without desiring that p. But the analysis of hope seems better off. Of course, it may have problems of its own (any suggestions?). But in any case, it respects the--or, at least, my--intuition that certainty precludes hope, while acknowledging the connection between hope and desire.

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