Philosophy Colloquium
Nancy Sherman
Afterwar: the Role of Hope

Returning service members often carry the weight of their war in messy moral emotions that are hard to process and sometimes hard to feel. Some of these emotions can get sidelined in clinical discussions of posttraumatic stress, when the stressor is narrowed to exposure to life threat, and symptoms are streamlined to hyper-vigilance, numbing, and flashbacks. In recent years, a number of military psychological researchers and clinicians have pressed to expand the clinical focus and recognize the prevalence and distinctiveness of a dimension of psychological stress that is moral—hence the notion of moral injury and its emotions and interventions. Still what often goes unremarked in that research is the ubiquity (and sometimes, naturalness) of moral emotions such as guilt, shame, resentment, disappointment, empathy, trust, and hope outside the clinical arena. These can be a part of healthy processing of war, and part and parcel of ordinary practices of holding persons responsible and subject to normative expectations, or what the British philosopher Peter Strawson famously called “reactive attitudes.”

In this essay, which draws from my forthcoming book, Afterwar (Oxford University Press, May, 2015), I explore the idea of hope in persons as a kind of a positive reactive attitude that focuses our attention on pockets of good will in self or others, and on occasions for aspiration and investment. I am also interested in hope for outcomes, and how the two kinds of hope support each other.

With 2.4 million U.S. service members returning from a decade of war in which many have served long, multiple, deployments in complex and challenging partnerships, a philosophical discussion of reactive attitudes in the context of war is timely. And that the issues span more general concerns in moral psychology is a welcome way of bringing the moral psychology of soldiering into more mainstream philosophical discussion. In this essay, I explore moral injury and healing through soldiers’ own voices, based on extensive interviews I have conducted.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

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