Hope Defined

Many disagree over what the true definition of hope is and whether it is an attitude, an emotion, a virtue, or a mixture of these but almost everyone agrees that hope has heavy influence over a person’s beliefs, personality, behaviour, welfare, and attitude towards the future and life in general.

Hope, by text book definition is the feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen and a feeling of trust. I personally see hope as a feeling that things will get better in the future even when things are bad at the moment, however through history there have been numerous differing accounts and interpretations of hope.


Philosophically, hope is linked to optimism which in turn is connected to a man named Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz who in his book, Theodicy by Freiherr von Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, stated the hopeful philosophy that we live in the best of all worlds. This hopeful view on life was later mocked in Voltaire’s 1759 satire ‘Candide’, which lead to Leibniz becoming a large mockery for his view, writing “stunned, stupefied, despairing, bleeding, trembling, said to himself: — If this is the best of all possible worlds, what are the others like?”, some may believe that Voltaire was correct in questioning Leibniz’s philosophy and will deem his hopeful view foolish and unrealistic, others may agree with Leibniz and believe in the hope that the world we live in is the best we could and that he’s fair to trust in this idea.

(Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz)

Reasons for why people may have agreed with Voltaire could be because people have had different, more troubling experience in life, leading to their more pessimistic view on the world, or they may simply find the idea of us living in the best world, when terrible things happen every day ridiculous, and even insulting to those who suffer in our world, for surely if Leibniz’s philosophy is correct, and we live in the best world, then we shouldn’t have suffering?

There are also those who agree with Leibniz, the people may believe in this philosophy because they’ve had mostly positive events happen in their lives so they may see the world through slightly rose-tinted glasses or simply believe hope is a much stronger power than given credit for. Others may believe this philosophy because sometimes you need to hold onto a source of hope as big as this, as sometimes that’s all some people have, because many would say that having a negative attitude would only worsen a situation.

Regardless, Leibniz philosophy of hope and optimism perfectly encapsulates the two big types of views on hope.


Ancient Greek

One of the earliest accounts we have of hope being thought about is in Ancient Greece, where in many thought, hope an attitude for people who have insufficient knowledge or are easily swayed by wishful thinking, because of this hope had a very negative reputation and as an attitude that could mislead and blind actions and people, because of this, people preferred to think about life in a more negative or realistic way so as to not seem blinded by hope. In an ancient text called ‘Thucydides’, it is simply stated that those who hope usually have a poor understanding of their situation, fail to come up with good plans, and things go badly for them in war.

However in Hesiod’s version of the tale of Pandora. The story famously goes that once all the evils had escaped from Pandora’s jar, only hope (elpis) was left, given that hope was said to be small it could be that the meaning of the tale is that even when all evil has been freed to the earth, there is still a small chance of hope remaining with mortals, however another view on the story is that, because hope was in the box with the evil hope is seen as another type of evil, albeit with more positive repercussions than others, this seems more likely for the era it was written in given the general view on hope at the time period.


Interestingly, it is the foremost view of the story that has become prevalent nowadays, with most believing the small hope to represent a constant hope even in the face of evil and adversity, the more hopeful story of Pandora’s Box is even told to younger school children nowadays to teach them to have hope, I remember being read the book and then being told what the meaning we should take away from it was.

Another perspective on hope from Ancient Greece which does not give hope nearly as much negative connotation is from Plato, who believes that our entire agency in life is concerned with the future which connects to hope. Another ancient text called ‘The Philebus’ also represents hope as an essential part of human agency and desire.

(Plato – Greek Philosopher)


While many views before Christianity became prevalent hold hope more as an attitude to reality and the life around us which is based on a lack of knowledge on the subject of what is true or good and that this means any contribution to good or noble action could only happen accidentally, if at all. Many Christian philosophers such as Augustine and Thomas Aquinas view and construct hope as one of the most central virtues of a believer in faith and that hope,  when it is to justify an action in a way which is not bound to knowledge that humans have, is a part of a rational faith.

Augustine of Hippo talks of hope in his book Enchiridion on Faith, Hope and Love. Hope is greatly distinguished from faith in his book by two features; the first feature is the idea that hope is correlated directly to events in the future, while faith is more in relation to past events, for example, Christ’s resurrection. The second feature is that hope only has links to what is good for the hopeful person, while faith can be related more to what is bad, for example, facing punishment for committing a sin.


Augustine also makes note of the importance of having hope in life after death. Augustine noted the differences between the actual earthly city from the heavenly city that only exists in the hope placed in God.

Augustine also once sent a letter to Macedonius, a public official, in which he emphasizes that the hope for a future life is what drives all true happiness, both on the level of an individual person and of the state, showing that, at least in Augustine’s mind, hope shouldn’t be an individual believers concern only but also a concern for statesmen that are in charge of supporting collective happiness of a community.

While Augustine focused heavily on hope in relation to the Christian beliefs, Thomas Aquinas book Summa theologiae contains a large talk over the topic of hope that also talks about forms of hope that are not connected to faith. Aquinas argued that hope is a desire which takes priority over human’s immediate impulses. Aquinas argued that hope is always directed at a good which we see in the future. However, unlike a simple desire, what a person hopes for is an unlikely outcome or outcome that is hard to achieve but which is still possible.

Aquinas has a very mixed view. He agrees that on the one hand, a lack of experience can make someone unaware of obstacles they face. This can promote a hope that is more irrational and unrealistic. But Aquinas also believes that on the other hand, hope can promote a more balanced agency: as he believes that hope will naturally include both knowledge of the possible and knowledge of the difficulties that remain for someone to reach the desired outcome, and that this can motivate people to spend more energy and time on their activities.

Hope in Media

Children’s media as a general rule of thumb will follow the idea of having hope, this is probably because the lesson of being hopeful for things to be better at a later date is a nice lesson to teach younger audiences, some people however have argued that teaching children to have too much hope can have bad downsides, such as not putting in hard work and instead relying on the idea that hoping hard enough will help them get through without work.

For example, Disney’s Cinderella has a strong emphasis on hope, through the film the titular character, Cinderella, strongly hopes that her dream of meeting a prince and having a happy ever after will come true, this is her main reason for staying optimistic through the film and against the harsh home conditions she lives in. Cinderella’s hope is also her strongest character trait which leads to most people rooting for her, people see her as strong because of how she never allows herself to lose hope and never becomes pessimistic about her situation. The film teaches the message that having hope in your dreams will eventually lead you to having a happy ending and your dreams will come true. Some parents have argued that teaching children, particularly young girls, to just have hopes and dreams of a prince coming and taking away their problems hard enough and it will come true is a bad message Cinderella and many other films like it carry, on the other side of the argument though many say that it’s unrealistic to believe that children, when they grow up, will genuinely believe hoping in a dream but not putting any work into it, or hope that someone else will solve their problems and also say that the parent should have a hand in stopping those ideas from manifesting into actual beliefs the children would believe in.


Hope in adult media is treated differently however, adults, generally, have a more realistic, and some could say negative, world view which leads to them not having as much confidence in hope as a child would. It’s much harder to find adult media about finding or keeping hope to the same extent as children’s media.

Plato.stanford.edu. (2017). Hope (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). [online] Available at: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hope/#AnciAccoHope [Accessed 4 May 2017].


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