Martha Nussbaum

Start Free Trial

Compare and explain the positions of Nussbaum and the Stoics on hope.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Martha Nussbaum's most extensive recent commentary on hope can be found in The Monarchy of Fear. This book is primarily about the climate of fear Nussbaum sees as dominating contemporary politics and the dangers of basing political judgments on fear. Chief among these is the tendency to seize on the simplest solution available.

Nussbaum sees hope as the opposite of fear. She cites Martin Luther King Jr. as a political leader who was particularly adept at combatting fear with hope and basing constructive solutions on the latter. Nussbaum says that when political life seems to offer only nihilism, hope can come from sources such as the arts, protest movements, critical thinking, and religion. All these can be effective in negating fear.

The classical Stoic attitude to hope is expressed by Seneca, who also compares hope to fear in his letters to Lucilius. Whereas Nussbaum sees them as opposites, Seneca thinks hope and fear are so similar as to be essentially the same thing, saying: "Cease to hope and you will cease to fear." For the Stoics, hope and fear were both undesirable, since they both connected well-being to external events. Seneca says that both fear and hope force the mind to focus on the future and on events over which we have no control. This is irrational and prevents us from adapting to and making the best of our present circumstances. Hope, like fear, leads to a mind that is fretful and anxious, the exact opposite of the Stoic ideal.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial