The Agent-Relative Probability Threshold of Hope

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Abstract

Nearly all contributors to the philosophical analysis of hope agree that if an agent hopes that p, she both desires that p and assigns to p a probability which is greater than zero, but less than one. According to the widely-endorsed Standard Account, these two conditions are also (jointly) sufficient for ‘hoping that’. Ariel Meirav has recently argued, however, that the Standard Account fails to distinguish hoping for a prospect from despairing of it – due to cases where two agents equally desire an outcome and assign to it the same probability, yet one hopes for the outcome while the other despairs of it. I argue, against Meirav, that these putative counterexamples depend crucially on the assumption – previously unquestioned – that the degree of probability necessary for hope is invariant across individuals. If the probability threshold is instead understood as agent-relative, the difficulty disappears. Further, I argue that there is strong independent reason for taking the probability threshold of hope to be agent-relative, based on similarities to the widely-accepted agent-relative probability thresholds of industriousness and risk aversion. And I conclude by noting how the agent-relative modification to the Standard Account is better equipped than is Meirav's positive view to yield intuitive results.

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