Hope Through the Centuries

In late November 2018, Prof. Judith Wolfe, Professor of Philosophical Theology and Programme Director of ITIA’s M.Litt. in Theology & the Arts, was a guest on Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time.

In Our Time is one of BBC Radio 4’s most well-known programmes, featuring lively academic discussions of a huge range of topics, from the Abbasid Caliphs to Zeno’s Paradoxes.

Prof. Wolfe joined the programme for an episode on hope as philosophers and theologians had understood it through the centuries. The BBC’s programme notes offer this introduction: To the ancient Greeks, hope was closer to self-deception, one of the evils left in Pandora’s box or jar, in Hesiod’s story. In Christian tradition, hope became one of the theological virtues, the desire for divine union and the expectation of receiving it, an action of the will rather than the intellect. To Kant, ‘what may I hope’ was one of the three basic questions which human reason asks, while Nietzsche echoed Hesiod, arguing that leaving hope in the box was a deception by the gods, reflecting human inability to face the demands of existence. Yet even those critical of hope, like Camus, conceded that life was nearly impossible without it.

You can listen to the 43-minute episode here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m00017vl.

It’s become a custom of the show to keep the microphones on for a few minutes after the live radio programme, as the speakers chat about issues they’ve left out during the broadcast. The bonus clip linked here, which discusses the place of fairy stories (and particularly J.R.R. Tolkien) in the philosophy of hope, is taken from that bonus material.  Wolfe – Hope and Fairy Tales



  • Judith Wolfe is Professor of Philosophical Theology at the University of St Andrews, and Director of the M.Litt. in Theology & the Arts in its School of Divinity.

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