The word desire is one of the basic terms in psychology that covers a wide range of phenomena such as wanting, needing, craving and wishing. All of these are discussed in connection with theories of instinct and emotion, libido and love, motivation and purpose.

All of Us Have Desires

According to John Dewey (1859-1952), “these desires are the ultimate moving springs of action… the intensity of the desire measures the strength of the efforts that will be put forth.” The range and variety of desire is enormous, spanning sexual pleasure, wealth, power and knowledge.

According to Aristotle (384-322 BC), desire is to seek “something we do not have” and “which we need.” Man’s natural desire to know impels him to learn. Every act of learning which satisfies this natural desire causes a changed condition of his mind, from ignorance to knowledge.

The role of desire in human life – especially emotional desire – is intimately connected with good and evil, virtue, duty and happiness. Until quite recently the subject was mainly discussed in books on ethics, politics, or in works of imagination rather than psychology.

Great Minds Think Alike

Aristotle and Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) had similar views of desire in human nature. What Freud described as the conflict between the “pleasure-principle” (the id) and the “reality-principle” (the ego), Aristotle treats as a conflict between the passions (emotions) and reason (thought). What Freud said of the reality-principle – that it “demands and enforces the postponement of satisfaction… and the temporary endurance of pain” is similar to the traditional role of reason or duty in the moral life. Where moralists spoke of the necessity for moderating emotional desires, Freud refers to the need for “domesticating them as one would train a beast to serve the ends of human life.”

Neither Aristotle nor Freud believed that man’s animal appetities are in themselves bad. Rather, if they are undisciplined or out of control they cause disorder in the individual life and in society. Some moralists, however, took the opposite view – that desire is intrinsically evil.

Moderating Desire to Attain Peace

“What we do not have,” says the Roman Poet Lucretius (50 BC) “seems better than everything else in all the world – but should we get it, we want something else.” As often as man gains something new, he discovers that he is not beffer off. Either our desires are unsatisfied and so we suffer the agony of frustration, or they are satisfied and we become “desperate with boredom.” Hence freedom from all desires, not just their moderation, seems recommended for peace of mind.

This report is not a diagnosis. We hope this information can guide you toward improving your life.

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