The Virtues and Vices of Hope

A joint research seminar of Campion Hall and the Aquinas Institute, Blackfriars Hall, open to graduate students and academics in the University of Oxford.

It is widely recognized that hope is a perennial feature of what it means to be human. Today, it is also an especially timely quality: in the face of unprecedented social, political, and ecological challenges, and with escalating anxiety about what we will pass on to future generations, our capacity to sustain our hope acquires an existential urgency. Across disciplines, there is therefore a growing interest in hope: in psychology, politics, and ecological ethics, as well as philosophy and theology.

This seminar engages, not so much with the question, ‘Should we hope?’ but ‘How should we hope?’ While some contemporary writers advocate embracing hopelessness (Nelson, De La Torre), it is difficult to see how meaningful human agency can be sustained without hope. Moreover, the fact that hopes can be unrealistic, fragile, misdirected, or passive does not entail that all hopes or modes of hoping should be rejected. Hoping well is an ‘art’ (McGreer). When we hope well, what do we hope for, on what grounds, in what way? What is it to be a well-formed or badly-formed hope? In a word, what are the virtues and vices of hope?

The theologian and philosopher Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) ‘provides perhaps the most systematic exposition of the virtues and vices of hope in the history of Western religious and political thought.’ (Michael Lamb) To a sophisticated moral psychology of the the act of hope, and its connection with human agency, Aquinas adds an ethical account of moral hope and theological hope as virtues, together with their opposed vices that distort or undermine hope. The resources of Aquinas’s multi-faceted account of hope continue to inform contemporary philosophical and theological accounts, as well as providing points of dialogue with other disciplines.

To explore the question of the virtues and vices of hope, this seminar will take Aquinas as a central reference point, but also:
1) engage different disciplines (theology, philosophy, politics, psychology, ecological ethics),
2) examine both classical sources and contemporary writers,
3) explore different fields of application, including politics and the ecological crisis.

If you are interested in attending this seminar series, please contact Dr Daniel De Haan (

Sorry, there are currently no talks scheduled in this series.