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On ambivalence and hope (in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research)

Mark D. White

There are two very interesting papers in the new issue of Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (83/1, July 2011), listed below. I find the description of the ambivalent and conflicted self in the first one very familiar (or do I?), and the second addresses something I've wondered about for a while: the nature of hope.

"Ambivalence, Valuational Inconsistency, and the Divided Self" by Patricia Marino

Consider a person whose evaluative stance toward life is riddled with a particular kind of affective conflict: he is attracted to seemingly incompatible goods; he values various things that he knows cannot co-exist; he is drawn to ways of life that are not compatible or reconcilable. I have in mind here not the hypocrite, who says one thing and does another, nor the waffler, who feels differently at different times and in different circumstances. Nor am I concerned here with mere conflicts of desire. Instead the person I am describing is one who has an honest, stable, but inconsistent evaluative stance toward the world—not divided merely about what he wants, but about what he feels is worth wanting. This person may not be logically inconsistent—he does not believe any contradictions—rather, his endorsed attitudes and desires fail to add up to an internally coherent, unified, evaluative outlook on life. He cares about things that essentially conflict, about things that cannot fit together. He is, in a sense I define more precisely below, valuationally inconsistent.

Of course, this person will find it hard to be satisfied with the world. But some philosophers think there is something else wrong with such inconsistency, and something worse: that such inconsistency is somehow intrinsically bad for an agent, rendering him irrational, self-undermining, or non-autonomous. Here I argue against this view: there is nothing much wrong, I claim, with valuational inconsistency, at least from the point of view of the self. In particular, such "inconsistency" raises the same difficulties for an agent as ordinary conflictedness, of the kind most of us, with our multiple life roles and overlapping concerns, experience every day. Of course, claims of rationality are always difficult to assess, given the plasticity of the term. I will argue here for four specific conclusions about valuational inconsistency: it does not render a person unable to act; it does not render a person’s actions ineffective because of vacillation; it does not undermine a person’s autonomy; and it need not make an agent dissatisfied with himself. My defense, then, concerns the claim that valuational inconsistency is bad for an agent. I leave aside, here, the question of whether such inconsistency is bad from a broader moral, pragmatic, or social point of view. 

"Hopes and Dreams" by Adrienne M. Martin

It is a commonplace in both the popular imagination and the philosophical literature that hope has a special kind of motivational force. This commonplace underwrites the conviction that hope alone is capable of bolstering us in despair-inducing circumstances, as well as the strategy of appealing to hope in the political realm. In section 1 of this paper, I argue against this commonplace that hope’s motivational essence is not special or unique—it is simply that of an endorsed desire. The commonplace is not entirely mistaken, however, because standard ways of expressing hope do have motivational influence that is different in kind from that of desire. In sections 2 through 4, I examine one of these ways of expressing hope, fantasizing, and argue that fantasies can present us with reasons to modify our goals and projects in multiple ways.


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