Radical Hope, notes from: Johnathan Lear. Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006.

Radical Hope, notes from: Johnathan Lear. Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006.

I’m technically on sabbatical right now (technically because I’m teaching and in the office almost every day, unless traveling for research), but I’m trying to get more reading done to support next steps for transformational and radical collaboration in the digital age. Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation is an excellent read and my notes on it are below.


Johnathan Lear. Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006.

After this nothing happened” (2).

“what philosophers call the principle of humanity: that we should try to interpret others as saying something true—guided by our own sense of what is true and what  they could reasonably believe” (4).

“Aristotle says that true excellences of character—what are called the virtues—have in common that they tend to strike the mean between excess and defect. Given a particular life-challenge, a courageous person will act in a way that avoids the excess of foolhardy recklessness, on the one hand, but also the defect of cowardliness on the other. The courageous person will in any given circumstances be able to find the appropriate way to behave courageously. This is what it is to strike the mean: to find an appropriate way to behave in circumstances in which it is possible to do too much or too little.” (17)

“we cannot understand what bravery is unless we grasp the goals that the bravery is in service of” (21).

Quote from Richard White on “the closing of a middle ground” page 29-30

“For the problem goes deeper than competing narratives. The issue is that the Crow have lost the concepts with which they would construct a narrative. This is a real loss, not just one that is described from a certain point of view. It is the real loss of a point of view.” (32)

“breakdown of intelligibility” (34)

“In the absence of a liveable conception of the good life, the scope of practical reason became attenuated.[…] But with the destruction of the telos, there was no conception of the good life to provide a larger context for the significance of one’s acts. People continued to prepare meals, but now it was only cooking-in-order-to-survive.[…] People continued to act practically, but they lost the rich framework in which such acts made sense.” (57)

“Courage is a state of character that is manifested in a committed form of living” (65).

“Might there be a certain plasticity deeply embedded in a culture’s thick conception of courage?” (65)

Types of dreams: “no-account dreams”, “wish dreams”, “property dreams”, and “’medicine dreams’ or visions. These gave powerful insight into the future” (67)

“The tribe’s problem was not just that they did not know what the future had in store; they lacked the concepts with which to experience it. Their situation bears some resemblance to the pressures scientists experience before a scientific revolution. Challenges build up, there is ever more pressure to explain things in the traditional ways, yet there is an inchoate sense that the old ways of explaining are leaving something unsaid. And yet one doesn’t yet have the concepts with which to say it.” (78)

“Young Plenty Coups dream was an act of radical anticipation in this sense: it did not merely try to predict future events; it gave the tribe imaginative tools with which to endure a [end page 78] conceptual onslaught.” (78-79)

“If we think of the virtues, or human excellences, as they are actually taught by cultures across history, it is plausible to expect that the virtuous person will be ready to tackle the wide variety of challenges that life might throw his way. It is unclear that there is anything in such training that will prepare him for the breakdown of the form of life itself. […] The situation we are dealing with here, however, is the breakdown of a culture’s sense of possibility itself. This inability to conceive of its own devastation will tend to be the blind spot of any culture.” (83)

“Radical Hope versus Mere Optimism” (113)

“For if a dream can itself be a response to reality, it is at least possible that certain uses of this imaginative capacity might help us to respond better to the world’s challenges than we would be able to do without it. And if that is so, certain capacities of imagination might actually be constituents of a courageous soul.” (117)

“We thus have room for the idea of imaginative excellence when it comes to ethical life” (117)

“A crucial aspect of psychological health depends on the internalization of vibrant ideals—the formation of a culturally enriched ego-ideal—in relation to which one can strive to live a rewarding life. Without such ideals, it is difficult to see what there is to live for. Many factors contribute to the alcoholism and drug abuse that plague the Indian reservations; no doubt, unemployment and poverty play crucial roles. But there is also the psychological devastation for young teenagers when they cannot find ideals worthy of internalizing and making their own.” (140)