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To lose all hope?

The philosophy of hope. What do we really need hope for?
Forfatter: Lars Fr. H. Svendsen
Forlag: Kagge Forlag, (Norge)
HOPE / The good or reasonable hope is to hope for something that lies within the limits of possibility.


Is hope like a swing for those with a fluctuating emotional life? Or is it more like the expectation of yellow cheese for a hungry dog?

The first example is my own, the second belongs to the author, Lars Fr. H. Svendsen. I therefore move more in the emotional sphere than the author of The philosophy of hope.

Bad hope is hoping too much or too little.

Before I read this book, I thought courage could be defined as "daring to hope for more than one is guaranteed", but now I know that it is not courage, but idiots.

Nevertheless: This book I now hold in my hand was – according to the author – written when Russia invaded Ukraine. Aren't the Ukrainians idiots who think they can win over Russia? No, the author does not mean that at all. On the contrary: He believes that we have an ethical obligation to continue to hope, on behalf of ourselves – and on behalf of human life. And of course: on behalf of Ukraine's resistance to Russia. Hope and optimism accompany each other, he writes, and although of course things don't always go as you had hoped, you were in it smallest on the way to a goal before hope was dashed. And then you can't say that hope was wasted either. It is necessary to hope for something that lies within the limits of possibility, even if it is not easy to say where these limits are located at any given time. But then what about Russia's war against Ukraine? Does the author think Ukraine will win?

Bad hope is to hope for too much or too little, writes the author. The good or reasonable hope is to hope for something that lies within the limits of possibility. That seems to be the sum total of what I have learned after reading this book. I kind of knew that from before, but I doubt that I can control the degree of hope according to this rational way of thinking, since I am a human being with a rather fluctuating emotional life. I am more concerned with how to give hope to others who have too little hope, than with telling people that they must hope in a more reasonable way in the future. Life actually consists of deep disappointments and great joys, and the disappointments are a part of life, and not something that is an important point to try to avoid, as I see it.

Lars Fr. H. Svendsen
Lars Fr. H. Svendsen

Rationalist tradition

The philosopher Svendsen, however, pretends to reflect within a far more rationalistic tradition in his book.

This time, it is the philosophy of hope that is his project. But the question is whether hope isn't actually a phenomenon that is difficult to treat philosophically. It takes something more than just a well-developed mind and elegant tournament of philosophical concepts to be able to write well about it. Writing about hope requires personal empathy, nerves, it requires surrender of subjectivity. A form that is too laid back makes the phenomenon disappear while writing about it. For me, it is as if our talented author is not fully present in his own text. Quite the opposite of his book Å understand animal (2018), which was excellent reading.

How does it feel to lose all hope? Svendsen writes sensibly about the fact that we have a duty to hope, and thus he is hit by the same problem that he deals with when he writes about Immanuel Lace. Kant received several existential distress letters from a lady named Maria von Herbert, who, according to Svendsen, was an "avid reader of his [Kant's] works", and who "asked for help, for comfort or advice for death". Svendsen writes that "Kant cannot give the poor reader of Kant's writings a hope in which there is no reality – the best one can hope for is, according to the German philosopher, a 'summum bonum' – 'The highest good' – a state where one can earn happiness – and then one must continue to develop into a state of moral perfection”.

Kant received several letters of existential distress from a lady named Maria von Herbert.

If there is anything this extremely interesting anecdote reveals, it is how little it helps to have all the wise answers as long as you are unable to reach a person in need with your wise words and considerations. Because what's the point then? This anecdote could have been the starting point for some very interesting considerations from Svendsen (who has probably experienced the same problem), but instead this golden opportunity boils away in far too much trouble. Kant was perhaps more concerned with save the philosophy than to save the people? As long as one is more concerned with be a philosopher than of helping people with theirs philosophy, Is there something missing. And I can't help but feel this exact problem when I read Svendsen's book.

'Radical Hopes'

Unfortunately, this is a book about hope that I can't get very excited about. But what causes it?

"Feeling too little or too much can be a moral flaw," writes the philosopher. Well, no danger, then, of my incurring any sort of moral lapse after reading this book. Because it doesn't make me feel either too much or too little, but unfortunately leaves me rather lukewarm. Is lukewarmness a desirable and moral state? Apparently! But I'd much rather have something that smells like exploded dynamite.

Is there nothing good in this book, apart from the aforementioned anecdote? Yes – it does. The presentation of Jonathan Lears 'Radical hope' provides some new and interesting perspectives on the concept of 'hope'. But since hope passes into psychology as much as into philosophy, I think the author would benefit to a greater extent from breaking with the philosophical set-up or the framework he has given himself, and dealing with the broad psychologicale the literature that also exists in the field.

It would add more juice and power, yes, a much-needed blood transfusion to this book, which pretends to be written by a guy who thinks and reflects, but doesn't really feel so deeply that it rubs off on me as a reader. The book is characterized by too much of gray social democracy. But there are still enough good and sensible reflections – to make it worth reading.

Henning Næs
Henning Næss
Literary critic in MODERN TIMES.

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