What is hope? It seems to me that hope is the expectation that something, usually positive, is going to occur, but without demonstrable proof that it will come to pass. Obviously, we do not hope for what has already happened, and almost as clearly we do not hope for what we are convinced will happen. No one hopes that a stone will fall when it is released, even though there is no logical necessity involved when it does fall under normal gravitationally bound circumstances. But then, what serves as the basis for hope?
Certainly human nature demands it, hope seeming to be an almost universal necessity of the subjective conditions of human existence. But is that a basis for hope, or merely a description of why we need it. It still remains to be discovered how we can hope. I think, ultimately, it does offer a sort of explanation, however. In the final analysis, we choose any number of reasons for hope, but we almost invariably do choose to hope, not because we are compelled by one of these reasons, but by the sheer tenacity of human existence to will itself a better life, or at least the idea of a better life. The loss of this will seems to be frequently be accompanied by a corresponding loss for the will to continue that existence itself.
I have been struggling with this matter for some time now, as the belief system that supplied the basis for my own hopes has continued to deteriorate despite my objections to this fact. An insidious and creeping cynicism and despair has been moving in, acting as a solvent for whatever basis I previously held for grounds for hope. And yet I continue to hope, although I no longer have the same hopes. They are much more modest now, and perhaps admittedly irrational and groundless even in the most superficial analysis of them. I merely hope that there is a basis for hope, that I can find some point of solid ground upon which to stand and on which to leverage the rest of my life.
I have been reduced to this through a mixture of temperament and circumstances, neither of which are fully under my control. It is near precisely the same sentiment the Dostoevsky had Ivan express in the passage I had earlier quoted from the Brothers Karamazov. I have no rational grounds for hope, love, joy, and a whole host of human responses to the world that seem baseless but are nevertheless necessary for us to function effectively in our environment. I have the hope of a skeptic, the same hope expressed by Sextus Empericus in his Outlines of Pyrrhonism: “the Sceptics keep on searching”. This in itself expresses a sort of hope, for one would not search for what cannot be found, and so the search is an act of hope, that something can be found, that something eventually will be found.
This is my hope, but like the skeptic, I have no basis for it other than the tenacity of the human will to almost perversely persevere in the face of all doubt and dissuasion. I cannot give up on hope because I cannot give up on living. I am driven to live, and so I am compelled to believe, however irrationally, that life is somehow worth the effort. And if it does not seem to be so now, than I must at least believe that it holds the potential to do so in the future. It is the nature of the beast, a drive that has been pounded into us at an almost sub-cellular level through eons of evolutionary force. And so I hope, not just in the face of unbelief, but even in the midst of unbelief’s overwhelming embrace of rationality.
And this is why I do not believe humans are rational creatures. There is no evidence for it. We again and again demonstrate the fact that we are not driven or even governed by reason. We are fundamentally irrational, although we are very clever in applying reason to our irrationality, even at fooling ourselves into thinking that this application of rationality is what moves us and defines us. But it is not so. I have been driven in my pursuit of Truth and reason to the acknowledgment and acceptance of this point. I am not rational, although I am capable of using reason, it is insufficient to either define my existence or sustain it in the face of my subjective reality. And so I bow to these twin forces of hope and unbelief, so characteristic of the human condition that they may as well be called the two sides of the human coin. I am plagued with doubt and unbelief, and yet I persist in hope, even if that hope is the barest thread of belief that there is something to hope in.