The Virtue of Hope

What is hope and how can it be developed?

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Research overview

According to Immanuel Kant, there are three key questions at the heart of human inquiry: What can I know? What should I do? What may I hope for? The global turmoil of recent years has brought this final question to the fore. Fear, anxiety, division, and distrust have increased markedly and yet the human impulse to seek a better future remains an essential part of our psychological and social makeup. Hope is vital to engage challenges and not give up and yet hope can easily become false hope, disconnected from reason and reality and akin to wishful thinking.

In recent years, there has been an increasing amount of conceptual and empirical work on hope and optimism. Philosophers have investigated what has come to be known as the “standard account” of hope – a sum of desire and expectation – questioning its sufficiency and seeking to make distinctions between hope and optimism. Psychologists have developed measures for hope and conducted experimental research, finding hope to be positively correlated with various aspects of health and well-being. Our work seeks to advance understanding of what hope is and how it can be developed both individually and communally, enabling people to find a way forward that avoids both presumption and despair.

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Our work on hope has both conceptual and empirical aspects. Edward Brooks is working on a book that explores the historical understanding of hope as a virtue, offering a constructive account of hope in the context of late modernity. He is also working with colleagues at Harvard University as part of a project to explore how hope and optimism can be better understood and measured. Over two years the group have developed new measures for hope and optimism and pilot studies are underway to investigate hope and optimism amongst students at a US university and employees of a S&P 500 company.

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Hope is essential to overcome fear and anxiety and galvanise constructive action in uncertain and challenging times. However, a desire for sources and voices of hope means that the danger of false hope is never far away.

Better understandings of the nature of hope and how it can be developed are important for individuals and organisations to deeply engage the complexities and difficulties of the present, to avoid quick fixes and empty promises, and commit to the long journey of building back better.

Our research will contribute to public discussion of hope through talks and publications and provide insight to businesses seeking to develop leaders at all levels with a well-grounded hope that helps them to catalyse and maintain committed action in line with personal and organisational purpose.