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The University of Texas at San Antonio Online Magazine

The Reality of Hope

Ten years ago, Jill Graper Hernandez was at a crossroads in life, so much so that her thesis director in graduate school at Texas A&M University noticed a change in her personality, although it was nothing odd or disruptive.


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"One day, he pulled me out of class," Hernandez said, "and he said, 'Graper, what are you doing? You need to decide if these choices you are making are going to be the beginning of you or the end of you.'"

He then suggested that Hernandez read the works of French existentialist Gabriel Marcel (1889–1973). Existentialism, Hernandez said, is an idea that we exist, fundamentally, as bodies. Therefore, any type of experience we have when we think about our place in the world begins with our body—and the limitations of the body.

"The notion of hope is hot, but we don't know what it means...It can give heat to our dreams."

Marcel's philosophy within existentialism is that a meaningful life can be found despite living in a dark and depressing society marred by war, disease and poverty, and complicated by technology and globalization.

His words struck a chord with Hernandez, who went on to earn her doctorate in philosophy in 2006 from the University of Memphis.

"It's weird to think that things like that are life changing, but they are," she said. "Marcel was the first person in philosophy to be able to do that to me."

Marcel's writings had such a profound effect on Hernandez that the assistant professor of philosophy is currently on leave from her academic duties at UTSA to work on her book, which will be titled An Ethics of Hope: Evil, God, and Virtue in the Work of Gabriel Marcel.

Garbriel Marcel

Gabriel Marcel

Jill Hernandez

Jill Graper Hernandez

Marcel's works, Hernandez explained, had been relatively unknown for decades. But a new interest in his beliefs emerged a few years ago, specifically his notion of hope as "opportunities to flourish," the professor said. The re-emergence of Marcel coincided with the 2008 presidential campaign, in which Barack Obama campaigned on the theme of hope.

"Today, [Marcel's] work is in vogue," said Hernandez, who has been teaching ethics, history of philosophy, and philosophical literature courses at UTSA since 2007. "This book is going to be the first that borrows from his literary and personal correspondence."

Although two books have been written on Marcel's thoughts pertaining to metaphysics, Aspects of Alterity (2006) by Brian Treanor, and The Vision of Gabriel Marcel (2008) by Brendan Sweetman, Hernandez said nothing has been written on his ethics, "which is what [my] book is about. And his notion of hope, but not what we understand hope to be."

Her book, she said, will complement the previous books and appeal to students and professionals interested in pluralist philosophy, philosophy of religion and continental philosophy. The writing will be tailored toward someone with a basic knowledge of philosophy but who is not familiar with Marcel.

"I think there are several reasons why [it will be] a great book," Hernandez said. "The notion of hope is hot, but we don't know what it means. This will give people a notion of what hope can do. It can give heat to our dreams.

"It will show people the reason that faith without doing something is wishful thinking. When you have faith that's matched up with that creative hope, then you're able to create opportunities not only for yourself but for other people to be impacted and make this world better."

Hope, as Marcel saw it, has a foundation in reality. For instance, if a person stayed out all night even though he had a test the next day, you might tell that person, "I hope you do well on your test," without any serious consideration that the person will pass his test.

"One of the reasons people are disillusioned with that term is because they equate hope with optimism or wishful thinking. Wishes can be ungrounded, but hope should be grounded in something real," Hernandez said.

"When you have faith that's matched up with that creative hope, then you're able to create opportunities not only for yourself but for other people to be impacted and make this world better."

An example of real hope versus wishful thinking can involve having better health. People who are overweight, diabetic and have high blood pressure must join hope to action and take steps to affect real change in their lives instead of just wishing they were healthier. They can start by exercising and eating healthier foods, Hernandez said.

And those hoping for a better job or more money can start sending their résumé to other employers or take a night class at a local college to gain more marketable skills.

Marcel was a contemporary of the leading existentialist of the day, Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–1980). The two were philosophical rivals, Hernandez said, because Sartre was an atheist and a leftist and Marcel was a Christian theist. Moreover, they were competitors as playwrights, political commentators and scholars.

"Sartre was a type of pop-culture icon, and was able to parlay that to [deserved] success in all of these areas, and Marcel simply wasn't, and couldn't," she said. "And I think that whereas Marcel was deeply disconcerted by Sartre's fundamental atheism, it's unclear as to whether their adversarial relationship was grounded on this, or this was simply another way that it expressed itself."

Popular or not, Hernandez found just what she was looking for in Marcel's writings. "This is poetry to me," she said. "I could write about his works all day long." Once complete, Hernandez will start pitching the book to publishing houses. She "hopes" the book will be successful, and that's hardly wishful thinking.

—Rudy Arispe

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