Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy

, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 41–49 | Cite as

Hope for health and health care

  • William E. StempseyEmail author
Scientific Contribution


Virtually all activities of health care are motivated at some level by hope. Patients hope for a cure; for relief from pain; for a return home. Physicians hope to prevent illness in their patients; to make the correct diagnosis when illness presents itself; that their prescribed treatments will be effective. Researchers hope to learn more about the causes of illness; to discover new and more effective treatments; to understand how treatments work. Ultimately, all who work in health care hope to offer their patients hope. In this paper, I offer a brief analysis of hope, considering the definitions of Hobbes, Locke, Hume and Thomas Aquinas. I then differentiate shallow and deep hope and show how hope in health care can remain shallow. Next, I explore what a philosophy of deep hope in health care might look like, drawing important points from Ernst Bloch and Gabriel Marcel. Finally, I suggest some implications of this philosophy of hope for patients, physicians, and researchers.


Hope Health care Medicine Philosophy Ernst Bloch Gabriel Marcel Thomas Aquinas 



This article was inspired by the hope of Paul H. Wenger, my college roommate and friend of over forty years, in his final year of life. My initial thoughts on hope and medical innovation were presented at the 27th European Conference on Philosophy of Medicine and Health Care, 14–17 August, 2013, in Basel, Switzerland. Thanks to the anonymous reviewers who prompted me to think more deeply about hope.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyCollege of the Holy CrossWorcesterUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of Massachusetts Medical SchoolWorcesterUSA

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