What Is Desire?

Whilst what we crave is wanting, it seems to transcend all the rest; then, when it has been gotten, we crave something else, and ever does the same thirst of life possess us, as we gape for it open-mouthed.

- Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, III

Podcast of the Day

In this episode, Agnes Callard offers a new account of what it is to want something, and what it means to get the thing you want.

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

Some desires are formed as the result of rational thought processes. Suppose I want lunch.  I conclude that the best way to get it, give that my refrigerator is empty, is to drive to a nearby restaurant. As a result, I form a desire to drive to the restaurant in question. This process is perfectly, admirable rational.

It would be a mistake, though, to suppose that all our desires are formed in this manner.  To the contrary, many of our most profound, life-affecting desires are not rational, in the sense that we don’t use rational thought processes to form them.  Indeed, we don’t form them; they form themselves within us.  They simply pop into our heads, uninvited and unannounced.  While they reside there, they take control of our lives.  A single rogue desire can trample the plans we had for our lives and thereby alter our destinies...

Continue reading William B. Irvine's article on Desire

Further Reading

To desire is to be in a particular state of mind. It is a state of mind familiar to everyone who has ever wanted to drink water or desired to know what has happened to an old friend, but its familiarity does not make it easy to give a theory of desire. Controversy immediately breaks out when asking whether wanting water and desiring knowledge are, at bottom, the same state of mind as others that seem somewhat similar: wishing never to have been born, preferring mangoes to peaches, craving gin, having world conquest as one's goal, having a purpose in sneaking out to the shed, or being inclined to provoke just for the sake of provocation. These varied states of mind have all been grouped together under the heading of ‘pro attitudes’, but whether the pro attitudes are fundamentally one mental state or many is disputed.

In spite of the disputes, it is nonetheless possible to get a fix on desire itself. Desiring is a state of mind that is commonly associated with a number of different effects...

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Desire by Tim Schroeder

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