Hoping to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals: For and Against

Abstract

Inspiring hope was one of the goals behind creating the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, hope is not always taken seriously, or, if taken seriously, it is not always spared from criticism. Against such views, this article defends the cultivation of hope as justifiable and good – and thus also as a relevant consideration in policymaking. The considerations for and against hope are illustrated throughout by application to the SDGs but the argument should be generalizable to other policy contexts. Given the broad range of definitions of hope in the literature, the article first grapples with the concept itself. It settles on an understanding of hope as a desire for and mental emphasis on an object which is believed to possibly, but not certainly, come about. Based on this concept, the article then shows that the belief in the possibility of achieving the SDGS as well as the desire to achieve them and the mental emphasis on achieving them is justifiable. Justifiability is a low bar and the next step therefore consists in an examination of five considerations which are relevant in a moral “cost-benefit analysis” of hope: the temptation to wishful thinking, the disappointment of seeing hopes go unfulfilled, the distraction from other goals, the motivating power of hope, and the pleasure of hoping. The first three speak against hoping, though their weight depends on the probability of the object of hope coming about. The last two speak in favour of hoping. While the case for hope should not rest too strongly on its motivating power given that this case is beset by uncertainty, the pleasures of hoping are sometimes not given enough weight. The latter is often wrongly taken to be too superficial a benefit. The final section points out that the moral evaluation of hope depends on who cultivates hope in whom.

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