"Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the Sultan of Johor are seen in a blue Proton Saga... "When asked whether there is any tension with the sultan, Dr Mahathir said: “No, I don’t see anything because I went to see him and he drove me to the airport. I don’t want to comment on the sultans because if I say anything that is not good then it’s not nice because he is the sultan”"

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Wednesday, March 06, 2019

In Our Time, Hope

BBC Radio 4 - In Our Time, Hope

"To Hesiod it was for the gullible. But St Paul and Thomas Aquinas turned it into one of the three virtues along with faith and love. Kant made it a cornerstone of his philosophy. While Nietzsche argued it was a delusion...

[On Hope in Hesiod being in Pandora’s jar in the first place] We don't really know. I mean, it's open to interpretation. And when we look at the myth, one important thing is to remember that it's a story of revenge… her name means all gifts but the gift was poisoned. So Hesiod himself doesn't tell us the meaning of the myth. How you interpret it depends mostly on on two things. The first is whether you take hope to be a good or an evil. And the second is whether you take the jar to be a present that keeps hope from us, or whether you take the jar to be a pantry that keeps hope for us. But either way, it's not obvious...

If you say, but hope is a good, then the question which is kept for us by the jar then the question is, as you were saying, why was it in the jar in first place? If you think it's an evil, then the question becomes, well, why would Zeus who was bent on revenge not have released it with the rest? So historically, it felt two main interpretations of the myth.

One is what you could call the pessimistic line. It's the one that one could attribute to Hesiod. That takes... hope to be an evil and the jar to be a pantry. And Hesiod when he tells the myth doesn't say anything about the value of hope. And he uses a neutral Greek word... But further down in Works and Days he calls hope empty, and no good. And the idea is that it deprives men from their industriousness. So the thought is you know, instead of working, better sit down and hope and then presumably starve further down the line. So on that reading, hope is an evil. The jar makes it available to us. And every time we hope, well, we just fall prey to Zeus’s curse.

Now you got the other line - what you could call the optimistic line, which starts with the idea that hope is a good. So the first person who seems to take that line is a sixth century Greek poet called Theognis of Megara. And he says that hope was the only good left to mankind. And Nietzsche when he looks at the myth says that basically we've been taught by Christianity to look at hope as a good. So on that second story, then hope is a good that's in the jar for us to alleviate the evils.

But one thing to note that’s really important is I think you can only read the story in this way if you turn away from the original spirit of Hesiod’s narrative. Namely, that it's a story of revenge because then it's not clear why Zeus would want to help us by giving hope as well as the other evils. And that's a friction point I think that Nietzsche picks up upon...

When she opens it it's on Zeus’s order. But when she closes it that's also on Zeus’s order...

'Paul would have agreed that on a secular reading of the world, the negative narrative is the right one, that if there is no object to hope, that hope is in vain and is an evil'...

If Kant has established these various moral ends are possible the question is, how difficult or easy is it for us to achieve them. And that's where you need hope. Because if they're too easy to achieve, then you will give up and allow God to bring happiness about without your efforts. But if they're too hard to achieve, then you’ll also give up and hope has this nice middle position, will provide you the right kind of motivation. You hope for God's assistance, but you cannot be sure of it. So you have to make some effort while relying also on God's assistance...

If we speak about the young Nietzsche then yes he revisits the story in human all too human. He bites the bullet and he says that hope is an evil and so it was kept in the jar for us. But the reason why hope is an evil is different from Hesiod. And it's a really interesting one. It's not because it makes us lazy, it's because it's fundamentally deceptive and it hides the true nature of life from us.

I mean the young Nietzsche is not particularly optimistic about life, he thinks that it’s endless suffering and what hope does is that it sort of makes us believe that there’s a good just within our reach and instead of doing what would be the right thing which is just give up and die, we carry on and struggle. And the right thing is expressed by the wisdom of cylinders/silliness [sp?] in the birth of tragedy which is that the best thing for you would be not to be born and the second best is to die soon. So hope hides that from us.

But if you read it that way, what's really interesting is that when it gives you a handle on what I've called the optimistic story. The idea that hope is there to help us because on Nietzsche’s reading you can see that the optimistic story itself is an illustration of what he wants to say in the pessimistic story because why do we think that hope is a good in the optimistic story? Well, because we're hoping it's so good. And so we're deceived into reading the story positively whereas in fact it should be read negatively and the very fact we're deceived shows that it works so to speak. Hope is making us do that...

The later Nietzsche… he calls hope a rainbow and he says that we've got to hope to learn anew. And he doesn't give us any theory of hope. But I think there's two things that are worth saying. One is he revisits his early ideas about deception. Yah, hope is deceptive. But that may actually be a good thing because it does help us to live. And now Nietzsche doesn't think that life is fundamentally a bad thing anymore. So hope is a bit like art in that respect. It gives us illusions that allow us basically to carry on living. But on a more positive tone he also thinks that hope has a transfigurative power. So it can make this life better. That's the difference with theological hope, which is all about another life, and he... doesn't say much but he says one thing that's worth quoting. He says let your love of life be love for your highest hope.

So there is a sense in which if you love life, you have to have hope and that hope is going to transfigure your relation to life here and now so hope doesn't work like an aesthetic ideal anymore, it's something that allows you to live in the present but in the light of an imagined imagined good...

Hope is not optimism. And so insofar as these philosophers have hope, it's not simply that things will get better and better. It's that there will be a final state of fulfillment, a final state in which there is a wholeness and the fullness of knowledge and of peace"
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