In this paper, I will attempt to provide an account of hope by drawing on the American Pragmatism of John Dewey. For Dewey, experience is primarily affective: for an experience to be an experience, it must possess quality that allows it to stand out from our ongoing experience. This quality organizes what Dewey calls situations, or the basic elements of experience, such that they can be intelligible. It is through reflection in experience that this quality becomes apparent, and it is through reflection that experiences are organized into an experience. Put another way, a thunderstorm possesses a quality in experience that allows it to stand out from other storms in experience, and this quality is made present through reflection upon the experience.
Further, awareness of this qualitative unity, and the ways it organizes experience, directs how individuals make actual some possibilities in experience and not others. To this end, it is the qualitative nature of experience that allows us to understand which possibilities are available, which possibilities can be made actual through transacting with the world. To this end, I argue that hope is the felt sense of the range of possibilities for growth immanent in a situation. To describe a situation as "hopeless," or "without hope," is to say that possibilities in a situation cannot be made actual, or that the range of possibilities in a situation preclude growth.
Thus, this paper aims to explore hope as our felt awareness of the possibilities within a situation, possibilities that, in our view, offer the maximum potential for our growth and development of situations in line with the ends we project for ourselves and others in our society. To be hopeful, therefore, is not just a mental state, but an affective organization of situations as we transact with them and with others in them. Put another way, hope is our sense of how we are in situations, more specifically if the possibilities for ourselves are aligned with the qualitative unity of the situation itself.
Further, for Dewey, persons, too, can be situations. To describe someone as "hopeless," is to describe them of incapable of growth, or transformation in such a way that both the individual and the environment are changed through their transactions. This description is not always negative. For example, a "hopeless romantic" describes a person whose mode of transaction by means of the environment is incapable of changing from their "romantic" outlook broadly construed. There are no ways of transacting with the world beyond the romantic for such an individual.
Conversely, a statement like "hope springs eternal," describes the the way in which there are always possibilities immanent in a situation should an individual be oriented to view them as such. Or to be Jamesian, provided that these options are "live options" for the individual. Put another way, the felt sense of the presence of live options, even if these options are present at a pre-rational, pre-conscious level, is enough to constitute a situation as hopeful or hopeless.
And finally, a statement like "rebellions are built on hope," expresses the fundamental ground that rebellions are built upon an awareness that there are other possibilities for creative responses to the environment that may enable broader forms of human flourishing. That said, for the pragmatist, the question remains: under what conditions does a situation become hopeless? Does a lack of hope mean that the only available possibilities in the situation are those which hamper growth? How might we ensure situations remain hopeful? This paper will seek to provide a ground for the answer to these questions.