Hope Without Optimism – Terry Eagleton

This is a collection of writings about hope, not really addressing optimism much other than to disparage it. I was hoping (without optimism) that it would be a bit more technical in nature, but instead it is quite discursive and pulls in references to pretty much everything you could think of and lots you couldn’t. Eagleton is vastly more well-read than I will ever be and I couldn’t really say he wears his learning lightly. Still, I enjoyed reading the book, getting lost in a few rabbit holes while looking up some of his offhand references. There is a lot in it.

So far, so intellectually worthy; but the other good thing about this book it that it’s quite fun to read. Here he disagrees with Wittgenstein’s view on whether dogs can be hopeful:

It is true that one cannot speak of a dog’s secret ambition to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or enjoy a quiet candlelit dinner with Scarlett Johansson, but one can surely speak of its hope to be thrown a bone.

He remarks that Wittgenstein didn’t like dogs, but that is based on a single instance of Wittgenstein complaining about a dog barking noisily. Barking dogs irritate me too, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like dogs at all. Here Eagleton doesn’t let the facts get in the way of a good story, and in this case I think that’s a good call. The philosophy here is on the heavy side but the tone is light, and while the book can be hard to unravel at times, it is mostly an interesting and amusing read.

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