Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Dupery through Hope

Today I'm giving a dinner talk at five o'clock at the campus Center for Spiritual Life in their "Food for Thought" series. Each speaker is asked to take as his or her topic: "What Matters Most to Me and Why." I heard that past speakers have given answers ranging from "human dignity" to "shoes."

I'm going to talk about hope. I'm going to begin by talking about the life-opening semester I had my sophomore year in college when I was simultaneously taking a religion course at Wellesley with Mr. Denbeaux and a philosophy of religion course at MIT with Mr. Brody. The MIT class reviewed the various arguments for the existence of God (the cosmological argument, the teleological argument, the ontological argument - all bad) and the various definitional attributes of God (omniscience, omnipotence, omni-benevolence - all subject to crippling paradox). At Wellesley, on the other hand, Mr. Denbeaux told us that the characteristics of God were just "patience, long-suffering, and love." At Wellesley, Mr. Denbeaux told us that people who complained about inconsistencies in the Gospel record were like people who refused to listen to a warped record played on a fourth-rate stereo - despite the technical flaws, you could still "hear the music."

It was that semester that I read for the first time the most beautiful philosophy essay ever written, "The Will to Believe" by William James. James is arguing against another philosopher, William Clifford, who has a hatred of credulity; Clifford claims that it is always wrong to believe anything without sufficient evidence. James counters that someone like Clifford may succeed in avoiding any errors, but he will also miss out on believing crucial and beautiful truths. This, too, is a form of dupery, and "Dupery for dupery, what proof is there that dupery through hope is so much worse than dupery through fear?"

So I decided then and there always to let myself err on the side of being duped by hope. I read "The Will to Believe" to the man I eventually married, to make the case for taking a chance on love. I became a children's book author, because the distinguishing mark of children's books is not that they have happy endings - many do not - but that they have hopeful endings: or should! I hate the ones that dupe children through fear. And if anything requires hope, it's the enterprise of writing, word after word, line after line, page after page, with no guarantee whatever that it's any good, or that anyone will ever read it, or care about it in any way.

Dupery for dupery, what proof is there that dupery through hope is so much worse than dupery through fear ?


  1. I found your blog! I just wanted to say once again how wonderful your talk was. I was alternately moved, amused, struck by your insights and most of all in awe of your ability to tell a story. And I LOVE your blog- I used to write one too until I gave it up to write the old diss but one day I will write again!

  2. Thank you for this beautiful post, Claudia! I choose dupery through hope, too.

  3. Deepa, I can't wait till your diss is done and you're back to blogging. It meant so much to me to have you come to the talk. Clara, I knew from our kindred spirtedness that you would have to be a dupery-through-hope person, too!

  4. I like the way you think. Gathering the threads and figuring out the whys.
    Thanks again.

  5. "Better risk loss of truth than chance of error,-that is your faith-vetoer's exact position."

    I don't know if that *is* the faith-vetoer's position - I think it's a strawman. I don't really believe anyone becomes a religious skeptic out of fear of being duped. I, myself, wouldn't deny religious claims with any measure of certainty, but I also wouldn't say that religion is a "living option" for me. Or maybe it simply isn't a "forced option" (to put it in James' terms). I live comfortably from day to day in a thoroughly agnostic haze, and I feel no urgency in resolving the matter once and for all. I am not in a "mountain pass" where I will be "frozen to death" if I stand still. I am in a garden, admiring the scenery.

    However, I am a fervent fan of the notion of dupery through hope vs. dupery through fear. It's a running theme in my familial life. My parents are self-proclaimed "realists," so you can imagine which dupery they adhere to. One day, maybe I'll bring them around.

  6. I think you're right, Leah, that for most faith-vetoers, if not for all, faith just isn't a live option, rather than their making a deliberate choice to avoid dupery. For me, James is most convincing as he defends dupery through hope more generally, rather than in the specific faith context.