The Reality of Hope
Ten years ago, Jill Graper Hernandez
was at a crossroads in life, so much so that her
thesis director in graduate school at Texas A&M
University noticed a change in her personality,
although it was nothing odd or disruptive.
"One day, he pulled me out of class," Hernandez said, "and
he said, 'Graper, what are you doing? You need to decide if
these choices you are making are going to be the beginning
of you or the end of you.'"
He then suggested that Hernandez read the works
of French existentialist Gabriel Marcel (1889–1973).
Existentialism, Hernandez said, is an idea that we exist, fundamentally,
as bodies. Therefore, any type of experience we
have when we think about our place in the world begins
with our body—and the limitations of the body.
Marcel's philosophy within existentialism is that a meaningful
life can be found despite living in a dark and depressing
society marred by war, disease and poverty, and complicated
by technology and globalization.
His words struck a chord with Hernandez, who went on to
earn her doctorate in philosophy in 2006 from the University
"It's weird to think that things like that are life changing,
but they are," she said. "Marcel was the first person in philosophy
to be able to do that to me."
Marcel's writings had such a profound effect on Hernandez
that the assistant professor of philosophy is currently on leave
from her academic duties at UTSA to work on her book, which
will be titled An Ethics of Hope: Evil, God, and Virtue in the Work of Gabriel Marcel.
Marcel's works, Hernandez explained, had been relatively
unknown for decades. But a new interest in his beliefs emerged a
few years ago, specifically his notion of hope as "opportunities
to flourish," the professor said.
The re-emergence of Marcel
coincided with the 2008 presidential
campaign, in which
Barack Obama campaigned
on the theme of hope.
"Today, [Marcel's] work is
in vogue," said Hernandez,
who has been teaching ethics,
history of philosophy,
and philosophical literature
courses at UTSA since 2007.
"This book is going to be the first that borrows from his literary
and personal correspondence."
Although two books have been written on Marcel's
thoughts pertaining to metaphysics, Aspects of Alterity (2006)
by Brian Treanor, and The Vision of Gabriel Marcel (2008) by
Brendan Sweetman, Hernandez said nothing has been written
on his ethics, "which is what [my] book is about. And his
notion of hope, but not what we understand hope to be."
Her book, she said, will complement the previous books
and appeal to students and professionals interested in pluralist
philosophy, philosophy of religion and continental philosophy.
The writing will be tailored toward someone with a basic
knowledge of philosophy but who is not familiar with Marcel.
"I think there are several reasons why [it will be] a great
book," Hernandez said. "The notion of hope is hot, but we don't
know what it means. This will give people a notion of what
hope can do. It can give heat to our dreams.
"It will show people the reason that faith without doing
something is wishful thinking. When you have faith that's
matched up with that creative hope, then you're able to
create opportunities not only for yourself but for other people
to be impacted and make this world better."
Hope, as Marcel saw it, has a foundation in reality. For instance,
if a person stayed out all night even though he had
a test the next day, you might tell that person, "I hope you do
well on your test," without any serious consideration that the
person will pass his test.
"One of the reasons people are disillusioned with that
term is because they equate hope with optimism or wishful
thinking. Wishes can be ungrounded, but hope should be
grounded in something real," Hernandez said.
An example of real hope versus wishful thinking can involve
having better health. People who are overweight, diabetic
and have high blood pressure must join hope to action
and take steps to affect real change in their lives instead of
just wishing they were healthier. They can start by exercising
and eating healthier foods,
And those hoping for a
better job or more money
can start sending their résumé
to other employers or take a
night class at a local college
to gain more marketable skills.
Marcel was a contemporary
of the leading existentialist
of the day, Jean-Paul
Sartre (1905–1980). The two
were philosophical rivals, Hernandez said, because Sartre
was an atheist and a leftist and Marcel was a Christian theist.
Moreover, they were competitors as playwrights, political
commentators and scholars.
"Sartre was a type of pop-culture icon, and was able to
parlay that to [deserved] success in all of these areas, and
Marcel simply wasn't, and couldn't," she said. "And I think that
whereas Marcel was deeply disconcerted by Sartre's fundamental
atheism, it's unclear as to whether their adversarial
relationship was grounded on this, or this was simply another
way that it expressed itself."
Popular or not, Hernandez found just what she was looking
for in Marcel's writings. "This is poetry to me," she said. "I could write about his
works all day long." Once complete, Hernandez will start pitching the book to
publishing houses. She "hopes" the book will be successful, and that's hardly