Zachary Vereb

Philosophies of Hope for the 21st Century: Pandemics, Environment, Kant

2020/21 Keele Royal Institute of Philosophy Lecture

As is well known, we live in unprecedented times. While self-interested short-sightedness and anti-intellectualism exacerbate the COVID-19 pandemic, human-caused climate change unrelentingly looms on the horizon. Scientists, engineers, and policy-makers all have their roles to play with these difficult challenges, and they are often quite aware of those roles. Philosophers, on the other hand, occupy an ambiguous space. Some fixate on abstract theoretical or historical problems, many of which focus on the past and present alone. These problems are indeed intellectually important, but philosophy should not forget its normative potential with regard to our predicament. This paper aims to explore the philosophical role that hope can play, and the sorts of practical implications and heuristics that fall out of such investigations. Many who explore the question of hope do so from a theistic perspective, and yet our problems require global cooperation across cultural and religious lines.
In this talk, I present a secular interpretation of Kant’s philosophy of hope and human progress relevant to our present crises, environmental and pandemic. I argue that there lies a hidden, future-oriented potential in the philosophical tools that Kant develops, and that we would be wise to appropriate and mobilize these as assets for today. By outlining a Kantian-inspired philosophy of hope and progress, this paper aims to show how Kantian philosophy, among other philosophies of hope, can be relevant for our future. In addition, it attempts to set the foundation for broader engagement with non-philosophers by offering blueprints for a sustainable and just future, all the while avoiding the temptations of irrational, magical, and nihilistic thinking. 
About the speaker:
Zachary Vereb is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the interdisciplinary Public Policy Leadership Department at the University of Mississippi. There, he instructs in the ethics of leadership and public policy, critical thinking, and communication. He completed his doctorate in philosophy at the University of South Florida, under the guidance of the late Martin Schönfeld. Dr. Vereb’s research focuses on environmental philosophy, with a special interest in Kant and climate change. 
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