Historically, philosophers have understood hope in relation to an individual's character and have questioned whether or not hope is rational. American pragmatists, however, have tended to characterize hope as fundamentally social and have been concerned with the problems that arise when different hopes for a better future conflict with one another. Pragmatism's philosophy of social hope is often referred to as meliorism, the idea that the world can be made better with human effort. But in a democratic, open society, what makes the world “better” is debatable given the fact that sometimes the attainment of what is hoped for disallows others to flourish. In this article, I reconstruct the radically democratic and inclusive ideal of social hope first by making a distinction between expectant hope and hope in action. I then introduce a historically informed and pluralistic idea of empathy, what I call relational empathy, and suggest that the practice of relational empathy can serve as a vehicle for hope in action and affords us the opportunity to widen the windows of our perception, challenge our biases, and practice democracy as a way of life.

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