The Principle of Hope contains three volumes, divided into five parts, and fifty-five chapters. The three volumes roughly correspond to Hegel's division of his system into interrogations of subjective, objective, and absolute spirit. The first volume queries "Little Daydreams" (Part One), "Anticipatory Consciousness" (Part Two") and "Wishful Images in the Mirror" (Part Three). The latter studies analyze the utopian dimensions of fashion, advertising, display, fairy tales, travel, film, theater, jokes, and other cultural phenomena. The second volume (Part IV) depicts "Outlines of a Better World," focusing on social and political utopias, including technological, architectural, and geographical utopias, as well as quests for world peace and a life of leisure. Volume three (Part Five) discusses "Wishful Images of the Fulfilled Moment," including morality, music, images of death, religion, morning-land of nature, and the highest good.
Just as Hegel's philosophy articulated the odyssey of spirit through history and culture, so too does Bloch's philosophy chart the vicissitudes of hope. For Bloch, hope permeates everyday consciousness and its articulation in cultural forms, ranging from the fairy tale to the great philosophical and political utopias. For Bloch, individuals are unfinished, they are animated by "dreams of a better life," and by utopian longings for fulfillment. The "something better" for which people yearn is precisely the subject-matter of Bloch's massive The Principle of Hope, which provides a systematic examination of the ways that daydreams, fairy tales and myths, popular culture, literature, theater, and all forms of art, political and social utopias, philosophy, and religion -- often dismissed tout court as ideology by some Marxist ideological critique -- contain emancipatory moments which project visions of a better life that put in question the organization and structure of life under capitalism (or state socialism).
Bloch urges us to grasp the three dimensions of human temporality: he offers us a dialectical analysis of the past which illuminates the present and can direct us to a better future. The past -- what has been -- contains both the sufferings, tragedies and failures of humanity -- what to avoid and to redeem -- and its unrealized hopes and potentials -- which could have been and can yet be. For Bloch, history is a repository of possibilities that are living options for future action, therefore what could have been can still be. The present moment is thus constituted in part by latency and tendency: the unrealized potentialities that are latent in the present, and the signs and foreshadowings that indicate the tendency of the direction and movement of the present into the future. This three-dimensional temporality must be grasped and activated by an anticipatory consciousness that at once perceives the unrealized emancipatory potential in the past, the latencies and tendencies of the present, and the realizable hopes of the future. Above all, Bloch develops a philosophy of hope and the future, a dreaming forward, a projection of a vision of a future kingdom of freedom. It is his conviction that only when we project our future in the light of what is, what has been, and what could be can we engage in the creative practice that will produce a world in which we are at home and realize humanities deepest dreams.
In his magnus opus, Bloch carries though both a thorough examination of the ways that hope and visions of a better world exist in everything from daydreams to the great religions, and cultural studies which trace throughout history anticipatory visions of what would later be systematized, packaged, and distributed as socialism by Karl Marx and his followers. Consequently, Bloch provides a critical hermeneutic of the ways that cultural history and socio-economic developments point to socialism as the realization of humanities deepest dreams and hopes, and that encourages us to look for the progressive and emancipatory content of cultural artifacts (rather than the merely ideological and mystificatory).