On Desire

On Desire : Why We Want What We Want

3.8 (351 ratings by Goodreads)
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A married person falls deeply in love with someone else. A man of average income feels he cannot be truly happy unless he owns an expensive luxury car. A dieter has an irresistible craving for ice cream. Desires often come to us unbidden and unwanted, and they can have a dramatic impact, sometimes changing the course of our lives. In On Desire, William B. Irvine takes us on a wide-ranging tour of our impulses, wants, and needs, showing us where these feelings come from and how we can try to rein them in. Spicing his account with engaging observations by writers like Seneca, Tolstoy, and Freud, Irvine considers the teachings of Buddhists, Hindus, the Amish, Shakers, and Catholic saints, as well as those of ancient Greek and Roman and modern European philosophers. Irvine also looks at what modern science can tell us about desire-such as what happens in the brain when we desire something and how animals evolved particular desires-and he advances a new theory about how desire itself evolved. Irvine also suggests that at the same time that we gained the ability to desire, we were "programmed" to find some things more desirable than others. Irvine concludes that the best way to attain lasting happiness is not to change the world around us or our place in it, but to change ourselves. If we can convince ourselves to want what we already have, we can dramatically enhance our happiness. Brimming with wisdom and practical advice, On Desire offers a thoughtful approach to controlling unwanted passions and attaining a more meaningful life.show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 336 pages
  • 124.46 x 172.72 x 27.94mm | 317.51g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • black & white illustrations
  • 0195327071
  • 9780195327076
  • 108,510

About William B. Irvine

William B. Irvine is Professor of Philosophy at Wright State University, in Dayton, Ohio.show more

Review quote

"A sweeping review of philosophical, psychological, evolutionary, and religious concepts of desire. The writing is lucid and economical."-PsycCRITIQUES "Irvine has given us a very engaging book on what desire is: how central it is to human existence, what science has to tell us about it, and what we can do with it and about it. He combines knowledge, wisdom and wit with a light but sure philosophical touch."-John Perry, Professor of Philosophy, Stanford University "A sprightly and entertaining book.... Those who would like to understand and control some of their desires will be glad to find this book on the library shelf."-Library Journal "What is delightful about this book is that the usual suspects are not as conspicuous. Instead, the Shakers are discussed alongside Buddha, and Diogenes adjacent to Thoreau.... With clear writing, backed up by careful exegesis and a unique twist to a common thesis, this work is necessary for most undergraduate collections, and for students of philosophy and happiness. Summing Up: Highly recommended."-Choice "William B. Irvine has written a disarmingly seductive and easily readable treatise on the origins, nature, vicissitudes, and 'crises' of desire. He simply and clearly discusses biologically instilled incentive systems, the rich psychological research on the peculiarities of our motivation, and the wisdom of various religious and spiritual traditions. It is a well-informed, wise, informal interdisciplinary book that is highly recommended for the general reader."-Robert C. Solomon, author of The Passions, About Love, The Joy of Philosophy, Not Passion's Slave, and In Defense of Sentimentality "A program of illumination whose goal is to help the reader 'master desire.' That human life depends on desire, or is at the least inseparable from it, Irvine does not dispute, but his purpose is not to glorify this essence that artists celebrate. Exposes 'the secret life of desire': how we experience our wants, from those for basic animal requirements, like food, to abstract goals-the esteem of our fellows, for example-that may feel as necessary as food to complicated creatures who cannot live by bread alone."-The New York Times Book Reviewshow more

Rating details

351 ratings
3.8 out of 5 stars
5 25% (86)
4 42% (148)
3 24% (85)
2 8% (27)
1 1% (5)
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