Machine vs Bugs
Detectorists, Series 3

Three Philosophers Discuss Hope

Someone recommended this podcast to me, and I in turn recommend it to you. The topic is Hope:

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the philosophy of hope. To the ancient Greeks, hope was closer to self-deception, one of the evils left in Pandora's box or jar, in Hesiod's story. In Christian tradition, hope became one of the theological virtues, the desire for divine union and the expectation of receiving it, an action of the will rather than the intellect. To Kant, 'what may I hope' was one of the three basic questions which human reason asks, while Nietzsche echoed Hesiod, arguing that leaving hope in the box was a deception by the gods, reflecting human inability to face the demands of existence. Yet even those critical of hope, like Camus, conceded that life was nearly impossible without it.

The guests are:

Beatrice Han-Pile, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Essex

Robert Stern, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield

Judith Wolfe, Professor of Philosophical Theology at the University of St Andrews

And they know their stuff. Or at least they were able to convince this non-philosopher that they do. I was especially impressed with Dr. (I assume) Wolfe, who, whether she's Christian or not, certainly has a deep understanding of Christianity. 

Click here to listen. I guess you can also download it to your phone etc. though I did not. I don't do podcasts very often, because usually when I want to listen to something music wins out. 

What struck me most about this discussion is right there in the description: that the hope left in Pandora's jar was originally considered to be a bad thing. As a child I learned of Pandora in the pages of Compton's Pictured Encylopedia, and I thought the significance of the story was that the gods did not make the opening of the jar a complete triumph for evil. I guess I thought that the presence of hope meant that there was actually some chance of its being fulfilled. It never occurred to me that it was a twisting of the knife: that we are condemned to futility while always falling into the illusion that things might be otherwise. Sisyphus will keep pushing that rock forever, but he'll also forever think "I just know it's going to work this time."

Personally I'm inclined to agree with those who consider hope of any except the Christian sort to be at very best something to treat with caution and skepticism. It's like alcohol: too much will only make you sick.

This discussion of hope is part of a BBC radio series called "In Our Time," and judging by this program, and by the titles of others in the series, a great deal of it would be worth hearing: see this list of episodes. "Eclectic" is an understatement: in recent weeks consecutive programs dealt with Samuel Beckett, Papal Infallibility, and Venus (the planet, not the goddess). 



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Thanks for this! I hope to listen to it soon. I have heard a few episodes of In Our Time and have always found it to be worthwhile.

Pandora's name has always puzzled me. Are the troubles gifts? Did they say "jar"? It's a box isn't it?


You're welcome. And your story about the mattress is funny.

Cross-posted with Janet, obviously.

It's complicated, but the gifts suggested in the name were hers, not a reference to the contents of the...vessel...which apparently was a jar, and "box" is a mistranslation.

Whenever I am in the middle of something miserable and frustrating like the mattress removal, I try to remember that in the future it will be a good story.

I kept trying to remember this during the long exodus from group insurance to government healthcare.

There's a lot of art down the drain.


That's a mixture, too. The picture in the encyclopedia I mentioned definitely shows a jar. It's attributed to Gabriel von Max. But I spent at least 20 minutes last night looking for the picture online and couldn't find it.

I didn't really have that much trouble switching insurance. I was surprised. Maybe that's because I didn't try to understand it.

And am going to get a very unpleasant surprise sometime.

Thanks for this. I added it on my podcast app.

You're welcome. I think you'll find it interesting.

A lot of the problems had to do with my husband not being able to get Medicare until July, and my having to jump through the hoops to get ACA coverage. However, while the Part B was a breeze, there were many weird glitches along the way toward getting a Medigap and Drug Plan.


Judith Wolfe is apparently the "founding general editor of the Journal of Inklings Studies" (

Yes, I saw that. Seems unlikely (very unlikely?) that she would have that position and not be a Christian.

Thanks for this tip, Mac. I'll listen to the episode on hope when I get a chance, but yesterday I listened to the recent one on Horace, whom I've been reading lately, and I really enjoyed it.

There are a number that I'd like to hear, but chances are fair that I won't actually do it, because of the time required.

Me too. Just glancing down the list of recent shows: Emmy Noether, Papal Infallibility, Four Quartets, Shakespeare's Romans, Sir Gawain! Gadzooks. There are far too many interesting podcasts in the world.

There really are. Which is another reason that I don't often listen to them. The selection is just overwhelming. The same is true of things to read, and music, and those two are generally of greater interest to me.

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