Graduate Summer 2021: Benjamin Randolph

“Does Critical Theory Need Hope?”

Department of Philosophy. 

I’ve tentatively titled my dissertation “Does Critical Theory Need Hope?”. This question is, actually, quite controversial. For one thing, most of hope’s conceptual history is embedded in theological tradition, and many critical theorists want to approach the concept on a strictly secular basis. There are, consequently, disagreements about whether hope can be secularized. For another, when philosophers have tried to provide a secular conception of hope, they have based it on historical progress, claiming that because history is a process of moral development, we can expect increasingly just and free societies in the future. This progressivism, too, has come in for withering criticism. Finally, some have argued that we can’t even be moral without hope, since otherwise we would believe that moral action is ineffective and groundless. In my dissertation, I clarify these controversies and then present novel responses to them. I argue that secularizing hope depends on sustained reflection on its theological moorings; that hope does depend on progress but that we are not entitled to say that history is a process of moral development; and that, though we cannot be moral if we despair of all possibilities of future improvement, we can be nonetheless be moral without hoping.