Eastern vs. Western views of hope during our unsettled time: A conflict and resolution

One major conflict between Eastern and Western philosophy is over whether one has any warrant to hope. The Eastern line adheres to the thought: being present with what is present just is freedom, is realization. One attains to ultimate tranquility just when one intuits this, after which time one is fully with what is. Because one is saturated in actuality, one could have no reason to hope that something else could be better since one would have no more thought about anything ever being better or worse or otherwise.

The Western thought permits of a crucial logical distinction between actuality and possibility: what is may not be as good, valuable, honorable, worthwhile, etc., as what could be. Admitting this distinction, one inclines to a variety of mental acts concerned with the future, acts such as intending, wishing, wanting, longing, and hoping. The postulate of hope is that one’s longing for the good, which is as of yet only a logical or empirical possibility, could be fulfilled.

According to the Eastern view, hope is bondage, illusion. In Western eyes, hope arises from a ‘human urge’ to be at home with the good; anything less is unfreedom. Who is right?

One strategy for resolving the conflict would be to distinguish between times. When a historical epoch is stable and the way of life we inhabit is vibrant, then being present with what is present articulates what it is like to become more deeply entwined with this way of life: to be and become in and through it. Yet when an epoch is unstable (as ours is) and our way of life is collapsing, then cultivating a new kind of courage in the face of what is while hoping for an as yet unarticulatable and new vibrant way of life becomes again a vital ‘human urge.’

We are living through unsettled time, and thus hoping re-emerges with force and legitimacy. As Jonathan Lear argues in Radical Hope, hopeful persons are committed to the postulate that ‘something good will emerge from this.’ And–only–thus can we go on.

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