Before answering the question above, there are some things that need to thrash out such as what it is all about, are all desires good or bad, where does it come from, and how it is different from longings. While this word seems to be common and can be easily understood, it is interesting to fully understand as this word seems to bear a consequential outcome on the part of the individual seeking its full satisfaction. The word ‘desire’ though defined in various ways is quite difficult to define because of its varied implication.
Dictionaries define it as a “wish or long for; also craving or covet. It also has been defined as “to ask for; request, or to want sexuality. According to the New World Dictionary, the etymology of the word desire is from the Middle English desiren and Anglo French desirer or desiderare meaning “to await from the star” (Your Dictionary . com). The Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza some times defines desire as “appetite together with consciousness of the appetite” (Cited by Gliies Deleuze and Robert Hurley 1968, p. 20).
But Deleuze and Hurley noted that Spinoza’s definition of desire was only nominal citing Spinoza’s statement (“we neither strive for, nor will, neither want, nor desire anything because we judge it to be good; on the contrary, we judge something to be good because we strive for it, and desire it” (p. 21). However, they pointed out that this definition becomes a real one if “the cause of this consciousness” is added. Thus, it appears that the real definition of desire is “appetite together with the consciousness of it, and is the cause of this consciousness” (p. 1).
It also appears that the character of the definition of the word desire in a real sense is causal or genetic. Are all desires good or bad? The word desire is often linked to the want for sexuality perhaps because it was popularized in the New Testament by the Apostle Paul in his exultation to the Galatians associating desire to sexual cravings more popularly known as the desires of the flesh. But desires are obviously not all bad or good as it has been also used to describe ones longing for God’s presence.
Desire has been used prominently by King David all throughout the book of Psalms to express his longings for God’s presence and his intentions to worship Him. The Psalmist however, presents a parallel pattern between the wicked and the godly people. Psalm chapter 10 implies that the desires of the wicked are all evil and his ways “are always grievous” (v. 5), while the humble people desires what is good (Psalm 37: 4). From these biblical concepts, desires can be either good or bad depending on the character of the person.
It appears that when a person is wicked, all the desires of his heart is evil and may cause harm to others. But if the person is godly, it appears that his desires are good and may not inflict harm on others. But this biblical analysis of the concepts of desire does not necessarily answer the question whether we should satisfy all our desires as it impossible to predict that all that we would desire are good. There are at least some standards by which to determine if the thing that we desire is good. First is the intuitive reason.
Russell Kirk stated that when radicals deny the existence of intuitive reason “they lose any standard for determining what is good and what is bad, and therefore cannot possibly know how to do good to people, or how to seek their own good” (Russell, p. 138). In this case the good is determined through the big picture, that is, in relation to good of others. Second, if the desired benefits will not hurt others. Of course desires are often subjective which means for one’s own good, but this should not be at the expense of others. Desire therefore is not simply some thing that we want to have.
It is something that we are craving. It something that might even harms others when its full satisfaction is followed but it may also something that will provide satisfaction and comforts when it is fully satisfied. Where does our desire come from? Everyone has a desire whether it is good or bad and desires are either for personal gains or for a noble purpose of helping others. Sexual desire may come from a feeling towards the opposite sex and its objective is the sexual pleasure. Reginald Firehammer implies that desires are inherent in human being.
Firehammer says “they are motivators of action” (par. ), and that the individual should identify what is it that he or she desires before doing an appropriate response. This is exactly in line with what Spinoza called ‘consciousness to appetites. ’ Firehammer points out that it is what makes human distinct from other creatures which rely on instincts. Human being are volitional and he is conscious in choice to do what “his desires prompt him to do” (Firehammer, par. 3). Firehammer stressed that human desires are not endowed as part of human nature but are developed through learning and experiences as one is growing up.
On the other hand, not all human desires are developed through learning and experiences. Firehammer calls those desires that are basic as “biological drives or urges” (par. 6). These biological drives or urges are those that are an end in itself. Desires for cold drink, or hot shower, or for something to eat belong to this drives and urges that are in it self are an end. Those that are developed are those that are to be accomplished such as the desire to obtain higher education or desire to succeed in the undertakings that one chooses to fulfill.
Although fulfillment of both desires can be satisfying and pleasurable, they differ in terms of their ends. The biological drives or urges are what Firehammer calls “felt desire,” in other words; feelings are the result of fulfilling the satisfaction of such desires. How is desires compared to other emotions? The question is important because it gives us clear understanding of desire compared to other passions. While desires are feelings, it is often the source of wrong behavior as it is that which motivates it. Thus, when someone is acting a different behavior, that person is motivated to act that way by his own desires.
A mountain climber for example is motivated by a desire to climb the highest peak of any given mountain. His desires are fulfilled when he gets to the peak and he is satisfied. Desire as a motivator of human behavior can cause a person either to excel by doing all his best or to display wrong behavior particularly when a person is so engrossed to fulfill his desire. A person who murdered somebody is motivated by anger and the desire to take revenge by planning his action of killing the other person. But a person who is motivated by a desire to excel becomes successful in his or her endeavors.
However, Firehammer stated that there are many people who have the desires that are not in line with what their nature requires. These people according to him desire to do things that are harmful not only to others but to themselves too. Firehammer identified this kind of desire as the one which is a product of learning and experience. This implies that every person from birth can be presumed to grow up as better individual. But as he encounters different experiences and as he learns from those experiences, he begins to form his own desires either it is good or bad.
From this it follows that if he gains positive experiences, he would develop noble desires, but if his experiences are bad, he will be motivated by bad desires too. In this case, desires are product learning and experiences. Firehammer stated that experiences introduced us to everything such as food, activities, and other sensations that help us develop our own desires. Firehammer’s discussion of his ideas about desire seemed to be very practical and informative as it is obviously product of analysis of the human behavior.
It is quite easy to agree with Firehammer as it happens in real life situation anywhere any time. Different concepts of desires Plato In his “Republic,” Plato considers desire as an option for a just person to gain good things that he does not have. He stated “I said—the just does not desire more than his unlike, whereas the unjust desires more than both his like and his unlike? ” (p. 76). Plato emphasized that desiring good things that one does not have is more important to a just man than anything else. For Plato, the universal object of desire is the good.
He stated “for good is the universal object of desire, and thirst being a desire, will necessarily be thirst after good drinks; and the same is true of every other desire” (p. 257). However, Plato’s concept of desire seemed to have some problem as it as obvious there are many potential objects of desires. Though it is ideal if everyone would desire good things, but this quite impossible as perhaps even the best of men may have their own personal desires that may not be good to the society. Thus, although Plato’s concept of desire is ideal, it is also impossible. The Eastern tradition
Nevertheless, for all its wishes desires has been considered as the basic obstacle to achieving personal happiness and social harmony. Desires has generally been classified as either inspiring and edifying or either self-destructive or disparaging to any given social organization. In the Eastern tradition, Buddhism for example, the word for desire is Tahna meaning “thirst, craving, wanting, desire, yearning, and longing” (New World Encyclopedia). According to the Buddhist teaching, “Tanha” is linked in the twelve Nidanas which is trace the origination of sufferings. In the Buddhist teaching of “tanha” this word presents a threefold craving.
First is the sensual craving (kama-tanha) the craving for eternal existence (bhava-tanha) and the craving for self-annihilation (vibhava-tanha). The sensual craving is the desire for the enjoyment of the five sense objects, which is perhaps equivalent to the biological drives or urges, while the craving for existence is “the desire for continued or eternal life, reffering in particular to life in those higher worlds called fine-material and immaterial existences” (Mahathera, N. p. 20).
The craving for self-annihilation as Mahathera pointed out, is the “outcome of the belief in annihilation” (p. 0). It means the materialistic idea of the real self which is “annihilated at death and which does not stand in any causal relation with the time before death and the time after death” (p. 20). The Buddhist believed that not getting what one desires result to sufferings. Mahathera stated, “And what is the suffering of not getting what one desires? To beings subject to birth there comes the desire: Oh, that we were not subject to decay, disease, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair, the desire comes to them: Oh, that we were not subject to these things!
Oh, that these things were not before us! But this cannot begot by mere desiring; and not to get what one desires is suffering” (p. 8). The Buddhist teaching of desires maybe strange to many since most people have a preconceive idea about what desire is. That desires are either good or bad and that there are more people who have rather selfish or evil desires than those whose desires are noble and good for the majority. However, in the context of Buddhism, desires are meant only the things that are good and beneficial. Thus, failure to satisfy all desires results to sufferings and miseries.
But this does not apply out side of the Buddhist realm as there are diverse concepts of desires which are not applicable to the different segments of the society. Therefore, in general, the Buddhist concepts of desire cannot be the basis for answering the question whether all desires should be satisfied. The Epicurean notion of desire The Epicurean notion of desire is that it is the source of life’s burden. It means that if one have many desires, the more his or her life will be complicated. In line with this concept, Nasser Ghaeme and Paul R.
McHugh stated, “in general Epicurus held that the secret to eudaemonia was fewer emotional attachments” (p. 119). They pointed out Epicurus teaching that we would be happier if we “had fewer desires, and if we held those we had less strongly” (p. 119). Epicurus particularly applied this idea to the three most important matters, sex, death, and anger. Epicurus opposed the concept of sexual desire in the context of marriage asserting that sexual desires could be satisfied “simply and healthily outside of marriage” (Ghaemi & McHugh, p. 119). Epicureans’ claim that if we had fewer desires we would show less anger and fight less frequently.
There may be some truth in this claim as when one is governed by many desires life is more complicated. But when there is only a single desire, it could either served as inspiration or a guide towards achieving a certain goal. Desire in this case is viewed as a negative trait that only brings heavy burden when have plenty of. Therefore, in the Epicurean teaching, not all desires should be satisfied. Moreover, they seemed to suggest when it is necessary to satisfy one’s desire, it should not be the strongest one, but the one that we held less. The Sufism and Stoicism
Not only had the Epicurean held that desires are the source of life’s burden but also Sufism (or an Islamic religious sect) and Stoicism. According to Ghaemi McHugh disinterest in desires and attachments is also a central feature in Sufism and the concept of desire is linked with the lower self and is opposed to the intellect. Followers of this religious sect of Islam viewed desires as evil and to be renounced in order to be able to worship God which is the greatest merit and honor. Desires in Sufism are considered as belonging to carnal inclinations.
In Stoicism on the other hand, they held that expression of one’s desires should be discouraged until such a time that they could be brought under control and ordered according to nature. According to the teachings of Stoicism, the mark of the virtuous person is that one is not dependent on others for one’s well-being. For Stoicism, desires are associated to with virtues and that a virtuous person should avoid following its wishes. Scott B. Rae pointed out that in Stoicism’s teachings; the ultimate goal of a virtuous person “is to desire and to be without feeling until one’s desire could be controlled adequately” (Rae, p. 8).
Rae adds that the virtuous person “was the one who is able to control his or her desire and not desire things that the world could not provide” (p. 58). Apparently, both these groups viewed desires as something that one should be careful of and something that is intrinsically evil. Of course, in their own right they may reason to hold these ideas about desires but this could not be applicable outside of their own spheres. In other words, this cannot also be the basis to get answer to the question whether all desires should be satisfied.
Admittedly, they have strong points just like all the other views discussed in this paper as well as weak points. Strong points of Sufism is that while they held a view that desires are sensual or carnal inclinations, they emphasized that desires should be held until they be ‘brought under control’ and tamed according to nature. A weak point is that this could not be applied as a general principle. The Aristotelian and Socrates Concept of desire For Aristotle, desires have something to do with pleasures but it could easily lead even a good ruler to tyranny.
His view is that most people are slaves of their pleasures and many are even obsessed with chasing apparent but unsatisfying pleasures whether it is about wealth or sensual pleasures. Aristotle believes that desire is something that manipulates one’s behavior. He pointed out that when a ruler of a polis is driven by desire, it will lead him to become tyrant and when these desires are release, it will have no limit. Aristotle stated “For desire is a wild beast, and passion perverts the minds of rulers, even when they are the best of men.
He further adds, “Because both tyrant and subjects are driven by desire, tyranny, which is not limited by anything, is capable of any evil” (As cited by Roger Boesche, p. 60). Aristotle’s concept of desires is realistic and could be applied as a general principle that could provide answer to the question of satisfying all our desires. His idea of desires as ‘something that manipulates’ is true not only to the people of his time when he made his observation but also to our time, regardless of our belief system.
When one has a strong desire whether in matters of religious belief, sensual, or a desire for power, he is manipulated or she is manipulated by such desire. If it has to do with religious belief, one becomes fanatic, if it is a desire for power, a person becomes a tyrant, if it is sensual, he becomes a rapist. Socrates’ concept of desire is that is something very dangerous to one’s soul. Socrates held that the soul is a “helpless prisoner chained in the body viewing reality only through its prison bars” and is “affected by the prisoner’s own active desires” (Stambaugh, p. 9).
He viewed desires as “something dangerous. Joan Stambaugh cited that for Socrates, “The task of the soul is to realize the deceptiveness of the senses, and try to abstain from all desires…. ” (p. 9). Like Aristotle, Socrates held that desires are dangerous when it manipulates someone’s behavior. Conclusion After examining the different views and concepts about desires, there are now sufficient information and basis to answer the question ‘should all desires be satisfied. We come now to the conclusion that everyone has desires whether they are personal and selfish, sensual, a desire for power, or a noble one, and that desires are product of learning and experiences.
If one belong to a certain group where desires are directed towards religious or noble interest, the answer is yes, because it outcome is determined already. It will contribute to a greater cause of preserving a better and safer society in particular, and a better world in general. However, desires that are selfish, evil, or sensual leads to the deterioration of the society and to a chaotic world in general. Therefore, everyone should guard their own desires and put off those desires that will only bring harm not only others but also to the person that pursued such desires.