Jean-Marie Guyau 1895

The Philosophy of Hope

Source: Pages Choisies des Grands Écrivains. Paris, A. Colin, 1895;
Translated: for by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2009.

When we hope for something grand, we draw from the beauty of the goal the courage to brave all obstacles. If the chance of reaching it diminishes, the desire grows proportionally. The farther from reality lies the goal, the more desirable it is, and since desire is the supreme force it has the greatest amount of force at its service. The vulgar goods of life are so small a thing that in comparison the ideal conceived must appear immense: all of our petty joys are shattered before that of realizing an elevated idea. This idea, even if it amounts to almost nothing in the realm of nature and even of science can, in relation to us, be everything: it’s the offering of the poor. To seek the truth: this act offers nothing of the conditional, the doubtful, the fragile. We have something in our hands, not the truth perhaps (who will ever hold it?), but at least the spirit that wants to discover it. When you stubbornly halt before some too narrow doctrine, it’s a chimera that flees from your fingers; but carry on, keep seeking, keep hoping: this alone is not a chimera. The truth is found in movement, in hope, and it is with reason that we have proposed as a complement to positive morality a “philosophy of hope.” A child saw a butterfly poised on a blade of grass; the butterfly had been made numb by the north wind. The child plucked the blade of grass, and the living flower that was at its tip, still numb, remained attached. He returned home, holding his find in his hand. A ray of sunlight broke through, striking the butterfly’s wing, and suddenly, revived and light, the living flower flew away into the glare. All of us, scholars and workers, we are like the butterfly: our strength is made of a ray of light. Not even: of the hope of a ray. One must thus know how to hope; hope is what carries us higher and farther. “But it’s an illusion!” What do you know of this? Should we not take a step for fear that one day the earth will slide away from under our feet? Looking far into the past or the future is not the only thing; one must look into oneself. One must see there the living forces that demand to be expended, and we must act.