Professor Genda of the University of Tokyo presents the results and interpretations of an empirical study on the state of hopelessness in Japanese society. By examining Genda’s scientific approach to the definitions of hope, the sources of hope, and the characteristics of a hopeful society, we may uncover the conceptual basis of his claims. Synthesizing this empirical research with a survey of philosophical traditions, it is evident that Genda’s social science observations are rooted in a perception of hope as a civic virtue. Further analysis of “Hope and Society in Japan” reveals an omission of conceptual support for his argument on hope as a story, which requires an account of hope as an intuition of life’s goodness. Despite their positioning within a scientific study, Genda’s arguments and inferences provide readers with a deeper philosophical grasp on the nature of hope.
In order to determine whether Genda’s portrayal of hope corresponds with the accepted definition of virtue, we must compare his analysis with components of virtue provided by various philosophers. Aristotle defines a virtue as a mean between extremes of deficiency and excess. “Hope and Society in Japan” implies the importance of balanced hope by distinguishing between attainable and unattainable hope. As one extreme, total hopelessness creates a detrimental “sense of stagnation,” preventing individuals and society from flourishing (Genda, 10). On the other extreme end, most of the study participants with extravagant, unrealistic hopes were unhappy (6). As Genda’s report indicates, attainable hope is a mean between extremes of hopelessness and unattainable hope. “Hope only leads to a strong sense of happiness when it is attainable,” he concludes (6). With this nuance, Genda’s description of hope is consistent with Aristotle’s definition of virtue.
Virtue is rooted in reason. To create attainable hope, one must employ reason to learn from the present and make informed predictions of future possibilities. One must rationally consider past experience, current opportunities and limitations, and likely future consequences. Analytic philosopher Victoria McGeer grounds this argument, as she articulates, “[Hope] is … a way of actively confronting, exploring, and sometimes patiently biding our limitations as agents” (104). Genda indicates this rational element of hope in his discussion about possibilities. Based on the study results, Genda deduces that hope is influenced by one’s degree of possibilities, which depend on affluence, age, employment, education, and health. Reason informs our perception of future possibilities. Through this perception, we formulate hope. Quoting Ishikura Yoshihiro, Genda writes, “’Hope is not simply the future, either, but depends on each individual’s evaluation of the current situation’” (18). This process of informed evaluation and rational prediction is inherent to Genda’s conception of hope, further proving its compatibility with the notion of hope as virtue.
Another significant component of a virtue is the effort and cultivation that is necessary to acquire and refine it. Phillip Pettit asserts, “[Hope] does not come cheap… It requires the active adoption of a particular attitude, a positive piece of mental self-regulation” (158-159). McGeer argues that hope is a capacity that requires practice, experience, and communal support to become good hope. Genda’s notion of hope resonates with these thoughts. “Hope and Society in Japan” explains that people learn, through life experiences, supportive relationships, and overcoming setbacks, to refine their hopes into attainable, beneficial hopes. “Many of hopes turn to despair,” Genda states, “But the repeated modification of hope leads to motivation” (15). In Genda’s article, attainable hope, as a virtue, is reached through effort and cultivation.
A final element of virtue to consider is its duality in worth both as a tool and in and of itself. Alan Mittleman affirms, “Virtues… display a polarity of both instrumental and intrinsic value” (13). Luc Bovens confirms the instrumental and intrinsic value of hope. He argues, “Hope is instrumentally valuable in that it has an enabling function, in that it counteracts risk aversion, and in that it spawns more attainable constitutive hopes” (670). Bovens subsequently proves the intrinsic value of hope in its nature, the pleasures of anticipation, its epistemic value, and its ties to love and self-worth. Genda’s discussion clearly exhibits the instrumental value of hope on personal and societal levels. He writes that hope is a “driving force … to awaken [one’s] potential value and strive to fulfill it” (13). In this way, hope is instrumental in motivating persons and communities to work for progress and advancement. Hope enables one to work, innovate, and communicate better. Genda’s portrayal of hope’s instrumental value echoes Mittleman’s description: “Hope is a civic virtue, however, in so far as it helps to promote civic association, cooperation, initiative, and effort on behalf of the common good” (12).
Although Genda never explicitly asserts the intrinsic value of hope, it is evident in the fact that he chose to research and write about hope in the first place. The motivation for investigating and trying to resolve the state of hopelessness in Japan is based on an understanding of hope’s value in itself. Genda’s study reveals the intimate connection between joy and hope. The article summarizes, “As shown in the data, attainable hope leads to a sense of happiness in the present” (25). The act of hoping is intrinsically tied to personal happiness. Hope is also intrinsically valuable in the communal sense, as the article reads, “A desirable society is one where many individuals can have hope as long as the possession of hope leads to happiness” (10). Readers understand the worth of hope as both instrumental and intrinsic. By synthesizing “Hope and Society in Japan” with a range of philosophical assertions, we may conclude that Genda bases his scientific claims on the notion that hope is a virtue.
Genda’s conception of hope relies deeply on his description of hope as a story. He articulates that societal triumph over communal challenges depends on societal hope. In order to obtain this hope, a society must create, maintain, and commit to a shared orientation towards the future. Genda believes that hope as a story produces “the will to face the looming future” (26). This claim resonates with the philosophy of Jonathon Lear, who investigates the Crow Indian transition to the reservation in the face of potential cultural devastation. With the destruction of the traditional Crow lifestyle, Lear writes, “The issue is that the Crow have lost the concepts with which they would construct a narrative” (32). Lear demonstrates that the Crow can only survive if they imagine a new, shared narrative that is open to new, uncertain possibilities of the future. To do so, Lear explains, “One needed some conception of—or commitment to—a goodness that transcended one’s current understanding of the good” (92). Genda’s argument clearly parallels much of Lear’s thought in his explanation of society’s dependence on a communal narrative and direction toward the unknown future. Like Lear, Genda asserts the necessity of a commitment to a future good. He writes, “…As energy for advancing toward the future, [we] need a fiction to show a positive direction” (24). A society’s story must orient the community towards a good future, “something bright ahead,” in order to foster instrumental, attainable hope as a civic virtue (23).
What is it about hoping that affirms a future good? Why does hope verify our belief in a bright future? How do we, as rational human beings, accept a story oriented in a positive direction? Genda fails to provide conceptual support to answer these important questions about the nature of hope as a story. By committing to a future good, the hoper more deeply asserts the goodness that is inherent to our existence. Alan Mittleman establishes this theory with his words, “Whether we project hope towards the future, and thereby intend the good we seek to flourish in time to come, or sense in our present hopefulness a good which we want to endure, hope recognizes the goodness that grounds life” (157). The act of hoping expresses an intuition of life’s goodness. This fundamental element of hope is necessary to support Genda’s argument. A society can only accept a story that points toward a good future if the community senses the basic goodness of life. This intuition transcends daily challenges and struggles, enabling us to construct a fiction that shows “a positive direction,” like Genda describes (24). Without elucidating hope as an intuition of life’s goodness, Genda’s interpretations and suggestions lack sufficient conceptual clarity and support.
That being said, Genda’s discussion of hope as story does, in and of itself, assume the goodness of life as the natural basis for his claims. “Hope and Society in Japan” asserts life’s fundamental goodness by expressing the need for a shared story about a future good, a narrative that implicitly recognizes the value of life. This intuition of goodness is intimately entwined in Genda’s portrayal of hope—a hope that is compatible with the philosophical definitions of virtue. With deep analysis and exploration, this empirical study reveals a conceptual illustration of the nature of hope as a virtue and an intuition of the goodness of life.
By Lucille Marshall. Written for The Problem of Hope in a Secular Age with Professor Alan Mittleman at the Jewish Theological Seminary
Bovens, Luc. “The Value of Hope.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 59.3 (1999): 667. Web.
Genda, Yuji. “Hope and Society in Japan.” University of Tokyo (2008)
Lear, Jonathan. Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2006. Print.
McGeer, Victoria. “The Art of Good Hope.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 592.1 (2004): 100-27.
Mittleman, Alan. Hope in a Democratic Age: Philosophy, Religion, and Political Theory. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.
Pettit, Philip. “Hope and Its Place in Mind.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 592.1 (2004): 152-65.