Sunday, March 27, 2011
First Aired: 
Sunday, April 12, 2009

What Is It

There are two ways to have your desires fulfilled: you can either get what you want (if you're lucky enough) or change your desires.  If we can fit our desires to what we have, we're likely to be a lot happier.  So why do we desire things that are out of reach?  Why do we have desires that make us unhappy?  And what can we do about it?  John and Ken explore the relationship between desire and happiness with William Irvine, author of On Desire: Why We Want What We Want, in a program recorded live at the Illahee Institute in Portland, Oregon.

Listening Notes

Why do I want what I want?  Am I really just a slave to pleasure?  Desires cause me to always want more and never be satisfied, so perhaps they’re the source of unhappiness.  But then again could I be happy if I didn’t have desires to fulfill?  John and Ken ponder these questions, and they have expert William Irvine, author of On Desire: Why We Want What We Want, to help them hammer out the answers.  Irvine explains the difference between terminal and instrumental desires, and why following the chain of our desires can produce unexpected results.  William and John join up against Ken to debate whether intellect or passion wins out in motivating our desires and our resulting behaviors.  Find out who agrees with Hume, and who thinks he had it wrong.

Our hosts go on to talk about various schools of thought and how they tell us we can be happy.  The Buddhists have suggestions on desire, as do the Stoics.  Irvine argues for learning to want what we have rather than seeking what we want.  Ken questions this approach, and points out the role of desire in human progress.  If people had been happy with their lot 10,000 years ago, you might not be reading this summary on the internet right now.  Irvine has a response to this, and the debate continues.  Tune in to find out about desire, pleasure, and how one might live the best life.  You’ll also find out why desires are essential to rationality, and why it might be in your best interest to allow yourself to be labeled as crazy.

  • Roving Philosophical Report (seek to 6:15):  Reporter Julie Napolin looks at popular culture to try and get a handle on what we really desire, and how we achieve it.  She and Portland psychologist Peter Armstrong take a critical look at Tony Soprano and his employment of a psychoanalyst to help him sort out his desires, and determine that getting what we want is not necessarily the key to happiness.
  • 60-Second Philosopher (seek to 49:30): Ian Shoales asks the age-old question, what do women want?  In an attempt to find the answer, he ponders a study of women’s and men’s arousal when viewing various types of sex.  


Comments (1)

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Tuesday, June 15, 2021 -- 5:43 AM

I was not so actively

I was not so actively pursuing philosophy in 2011. Retired for about three years, I was still winding down from an unsatisfying career in government: notice that was government with a small g, nor career politics, with a large P. Finally, I started to read more. Much later I learned that Davidson lumped desire with a class of other goals and objectives he called propositional attitudes. I already knew that John Dewey called beliefs 'shady'. There are a number of these 'attitudes'. Most of them are subject to change. Attitudes are subject to such. Have only seen the term used once in later reading. That was either Goff; Godfrey-Smith; or Strawson (the younger). Davidson was respected, by most accounts. I learned a lot from his work. It is interesting how attitudes can drive social change, or leave it to fester in its' own lack of compassion. More of the latter going on right now...