Community & Government

Hope and Optimism, Love and Loss

Cornel West

Lesson time 11:39 min

In this lesson, Cornel unsettles the mind and empowers the soul by illuminating the delicate interplay between hope, optimism, and despair.

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Topics include: Processing Grief Philosophically


[JAZZ MUSIC] - I think it's very important to always draw a distinction between hope and optimism. Hope and optimism are two very, very different things. Hope is about making a leap beyond the evidence that is given to you. Optimism usually looks at the evidence and sees whether it's possible to infer that things are going to get better. So you see, hope is over against the evidence sometimes. Optimism oftentimes, again, has to do with being a spectator. How do things look, how are things going down there. Is the evidence allowing us to lead us toward a conclusion that we ought to be optimistic. Whereas hope is in the mess, in the muck, in the mire, in the funk. And it helps create new evidence. Because when you are in the funk, in the mire, in the mess, your actions, your attitude, your inspiration, your impact on others can create new evidence. And so it's dynamic., It's forever changing, because you are a participant. You're not a spectator. So that from the very beginning, hope is something that is much deeper then optimism. And it's no accident then that hope and despair go hand in hand. Hope is a wrestling with the despair. Over and over again, but never allowing despair to have the last word to dampen your fire to sustain your hope in your quest for truth, goodness, beauty, and maybe the Holy. I mean, great Ludwig Beethoven used to get up every morning and he said-- [CLASSICAL MUSIC] He would say, "how do I look unflinchingly at all of the evil in the world and still attempt to not just love beauty, but create something beautiful?" And this is Beethoven not just writing the "Eroica," or "The Third Symphony" or "The Ninth Symphony," or "Opus 131," one of the saddest pieces of music, and yet some of the most sublime pieces of music ever written, right before he died. But this is the same Beethoven who was losing his hearing and is going deaf more so, day by day, week by week. How can somebody going deaf still write such beautiful music. So when he talks about the darkness of the world, the dimness of the world, it's not just what is going on in Vienna. It's just it's not just Napoleon, expansion and domination, and his critique of expansion and domination. It's that "Ode to Joy," the very end of "The Ninth Symphony." A deaf man, a grand figure, genius, tied to a tradition, holding on to hope for his very life with his very life. Is he wrestling with despair? Absolutely. Absolutely. So that when we talk about hope, when we talk about despair, when we talk about optimism, we really are talking about our conception of what it means to be human in time and the three dimensions of time-- the past, the present, and the future. And what will be our relation to the future in light of our present given our understanding of the past. And will we have hope. And when you say have hope, hope is not just a virtue-- it is a. Verb you have to be a hope to really have hope. [JAZZ MUSIC] One the wonderful...

About the Instructor

Cornel West is one of the most profound, diverse, and intellectual thinkers of our time. Now he’s inviting you into the depths of his brilliant mind to teach you how thinking like a philosopher can help you navigate your personal relationships, your decision-making, and your everyday life by looking at the world from a completely different point of view.

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Cornel West

Distinguished philosopher Cornel West teaches you how to think more deeply, connect more closely, and live a more fruitful and meaningful life.

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