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The Notion of Desire in Philosophy

So many questions have arisen since the dawn of time about the notion of desire. Philosophy has made it an activity. Philosophers have long dealt with this notion. And even today, this notion continues to interest the men that we are. What is desire? How does philosophy define desire? What is the difference between desire and need? What is man’s desire? Do we know what we want? Am I the slave of my desires? Do we have to give up our desires to be free?

Definition of Desire Am I the slave of my desires?

Desire is a tension born from a lack that targets an object or a subject whose possession is likely to provide satisfaction, and therefore pleasure.

To desire means to be in search of what one lacks and the lack of which causes suffering. As long as the desired object is only desired (so as long as the desire is not satisfied) pleasure is only presupposed. This is the reason why possession of the intended object is only likely to put an end to the suffering caused by the lack. Desire is an impulse of a force that we see in us and that leads us to tend towards an object or a subject. This active force animates the subject who experiences it. To desire is therefore at the origin to note that we desire, that it desires in us: we do not choose to desire such and such a thing, we observe that we experience desire for such and such a thing as if the desire was built in us, beyond our will. Desire is, therefore, unreasonable, thoughtless, it possesses us and we are not masters of it at the start. To master one’s desires, it is, therefore, necessary to be aware of them, to think them, to reason them.

Everyday Language Confuses Desire, Need, and Will. We Must However Distinguish Them.

The need arises from nature; like us, animals have needs that they must meet in order to live. Will is a positive decision-making power that is generally regarded as quality. On the contrary, desire is a fundamentally contradictory notion. Desire is an aspect of our condition that can be considered unfortunate. Yet it is also at the source of our greatness.

Desire is the “essence of man” according to most philosophers. The word “desire” evokes the following concepts: need, will, desire, wish, tendency, inclination, inclination, inclination, desire, fantasy, love, passion. If we take the word “desire” in the broadest sense, it designates all that, that is to say, all that, in man, is inclined (towards something).

Thus conceived, desire is the source of all emotions (or passions, feelings, affections, affects). Indeed, all feelings exist only because we desire certain things: desire divides the world into things to seek and things to flee, that is, into good and bad. All emotions flow from this primitive sharing: if we are sad, it is because we get something that we don’t want or that we don’t get something that we want; if we are happy, it is for the opposite reasons; and the same goes for all other emotions: all arise from a certain desire.

To better understand the notion of desire, we will see it from several perspectives and in relation to other notions.

Desire, Passions, and Reason

In this very general sense, desire is to be opposed to consciousness (thought, reason, and the faculty of representation). All human beings can be understood from these two dimensions. On the one hand, reason unites everything that is of the order of knowledge and consciousness; on the other hand, desire unites everything that is of the order of the trend.

We can then study the relationships between reason and passions, that is, between representation and desire. Is it the representation that arouses the desire or the desire that produces the representation? On the one hand, I have to see something and understand by thinking that it is good for me to want it. And we must admit that desire is sometimes triggered by a representation: when, for example, I meet a woman in the street, and this perception (image, representation) triggers a desire in me. But it also happens that it is a desire that produces a representation or gives rise to a thought. For example, in dreams, it is our desire (according to Freud, anyway) that produces mental images. The same goes for artistic creation. These reciprocal influences are intertwined in the case of action “in finality”: the desire for a certain end (e.g.: a house) stimulates our reason which then indicates to us the means to be implemented to achieve the goal that we fixed ourselves. So in this case a desire stimulates reason, which in turn orients and determines the desire. More generally, desire determines our thinking because it determines the angle from which we look at everything, and this angle very often determines what we will think of the thing in question.

We Desire to Enjoy

In short, the reason could not exist without passions and passions could not exist without reason, as Kant and here Rousseau recognizes: “It is through the activity [of the passions] that our reason is perfected; we seek to know only because we desire to enjoy, and it is not possible to conceive why he who has neither desires nor fears would take the trouble to reason. The passions, in their turn, derive their origin from our needs, and their progress from our knowledge; for one can only desire or fear things on the basis of the ideas one can have of them, or by the simple impulse of nature. “Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality.

Desire and Need

We often distinguish between desire and need. The need would be at the same time more “necessary” and more “natural”, whereas the desire would fall under the artificial and superfluous fantasy; so that the needs would be the same for all men, while the wants would be different for everyone. But these two concepts, the “necessary” and the “natural”, are both problematic. In fact, it is very difficult to precisely delimit desire and need. Another way to distinguish desire and need would be to introduce a relationship with others: while the need is personal, the desire for anything that is not necessary is perhaps essentially determined by those around us.

Desire and Will

What is the difference between desire and will? There are things you want but don’t want: for example, coming to class. It is that desire corresponds to our primary inclination, while will designates the result of elaboration by reason.

Each man is a multitude of desires, a “civil war”. From this struggle, under the arbitration of reason, there results in a decision and an action: this is what we call, after the fact, our “will”. From this, we can deduce the characteristics of will as opposed to desire: will have a dimension of rationality, and often of morality, that desires do not always have.

Nietzsche also remarks that will, unlike desire, has an element of command: when we want, we feel that something in us commands – and that something in us is obeying us. This keen observation empirically confirms the idea that the will is a tendency that has repressed others: what submit to the will are other desires.

Desire and Aversion

Desire and aversion are opposite concepts. But on a deeper level, they are similar: in both cases, it is a driving tension: whether one flees or pursues, in both cases one run. The lion and the gazelle are both running. Moreover, from the biological point of view, the faculty to desire and to fear cannot be dissociated: they work together. Every animal separates the world into “good” and “bad”, in things to be reached and things to be avoided: desire and fear are the two faces of this primary polarization of the world by the animal. Desire is a kind of compass which simultaneously indicates north and south, what is to be pursued and what is to be avoided. Desire is the polarization of the world, one might say: the polarization that structures our “world”, it is understood that here “world” designates the world as it appears to us, the subjective world of each living being.

Fear Is Not the Same Feeling As Greed

However, if desire and fear are structurally similar (they push for action, for a change), they are not experienced (felt) in the same way: fear is not the same feeling as greed. The fox does not feel the same as the rabbit. Running away from the sticks and chasing the carrot are two things that get you going, but they are experienced very differently.

Some philosophers minimize this difference: by emphasizing that all desire is lack, and therefore suffering, they make desire the escape from suffering, which makes the difference between desire and fear very tenuous.

Desire Is Not Aversion

But precisely, one can oppose such a conception the fact that desire is not aversion, that it is felt in a very different way. And so we could insist with Spinoza on the difference between joyful passions (joy, love, desire, etc.) and sad passions (sadness, hatred, fear, etc.), and invite us to seek the former rather than the latter. Let’s try to be driven by desires rather than dislikes! said, Spinoza. In other words: do not follow the course of philosophy for fear of the sanction, but for the desire to have the bac and to increase your intelligence therefore your power.

Excess of Desire

Desire – from the Latin desiderare: to regret the absence of someone or something – can be defined as a tendency, an effort, towards something, accompanied by the awareness of this inclination. It is therefore distinguished from the need for better and for worse. For the better, because desire is a powerful motivation for all human actions and endeavors: “Nothing great has been accomplished in the world without passion” (Hegel). And for the worse, because the desire, far from being extinguished when it reaches its object, sharpens and transfers to another object. This is why Socrates in the Gorgias compares man to the Danaids, condemned to fill a pierced barrel until the end of time.

Desire and Recognition

Desire can be considered as the essence of man as a power of affirmation and creation (Spinoza, Ethics, 3). Desire, however, is “negative” in the sense that it is willingly aggressive, even destructive when it encounters obstacles. The other, or the desire of the other, will most often be this obstacle. In what is called “the dialectic of master and slave”, Hegel explains that every man seeks confirmation of his worth by attempting to impose his point of view on others. And this “struggle for recognition” can lead to violent conflict. “All consciousness, he writes, pursues the death of the other.” The victor is the master, the vanquished, the slave.

Positivity of Desire

The ancients have often condemned desire in the name of happiness “As for desire, for the moment, give it up completely: because if you want one of the things that do not depend on us, you will not be happy, it is inevitable ”Epictetus, Manuel. Following Descartes and Spinoza, the moderns have insisted more on the positivity of desire. To desire, of course, is to take risks. But while our passions, which are the heightened forms of our desires, can be dangerous because they expose us to frustration and grief, they both have our strength and honor us. What would life be worth without desire? For Nietzsche, we must not give up our desires. We must try to embellish them, to magnify them, or even to “sublimate” them.

Desire and Time

Desire is part of the waiting time because desire is both wanting to possess the coveted object and at the same time postponing this moment to continue to desire because the fulfillment of desire means the death of desire. To satisfy it is to annihilate it. During the waiting period desire never ceases to feed on itself, on the work that the imagination produces.

In this sense, desire is the product of an intellectual construction in which the desiring subject imagines, idealizes the object, and projects himself. During the waiting period, the subject feels pleasure in desiring, that is to say in constructing his desire and enters into a paradoxical game during the waiting time, wishing at the same time that the waiting time ends with the realization of the desire and postponing this moment to prolong the pleasure of desiring.

We can observe that desire is part of strength and weakness: strength because it is an impulse that pushes us to act, weakness because it is synonymous with lack, and a paradoxical game over time. Does the fulfillment of a desire lead to satisfaction or disillusion? Can what the real offers an answer for what the imagination has produced?

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