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On Desire
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Table of Contents

Introduction Part One: The Secret Life of Desire Chapter 1: The Ebb and Flow of Desire Chapter 2: Other People Part Two: The Science of Desire Chapter 3: Mapping Our Desires Chapter 4: The Wellsprings of Desire Chapter 5: The Psychology of Desire Chapter 6: The Evolution of Desire Chapter 7: The Biological Incentive System (BIS) Part Three: Dealing with Our Desires Chapter 8: The Human Condition Chapter 9: Religious Advice Chapter 10: Religious Advice Continued-Protestant Sects Chapter 11: Philosophical Advice Chapter 12: The Eccentrics Chapter 13: Conclusions

About the Author

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

Reviews

Irvine (philosophy, Wright State Univ.) believes that while some desires develop from our rational concerns, others simply appear unbidden-and those are by no means restricted to our natural appetites and bodily responses. Here he explores desire through discussions of psychology, "biological incentive," "the human condition," religion, and philosophy. His account of "religious advice," particularly the long discussion about such Protestant sects as Mennonites, Shakers, and others who specialize in controlling and reducing desire, is the most interesting. The philosophers whose teachings he examines include the Stoics and Epicureans; Zen Buddhists get a brief mention as well. This is a sprightly and entertaining book, but readers will wonder whether they have fallen into a philosophers' game. On the face of it, the itch for ice cream, the lust aroused by a Vegas showgirl, and the search for the beatific vision do not have much in common except that they can all be lumped together by the word desire. Are pangs of hunger and impulses to the good connected by anything more than a word? Still, those who would like to understand and control some of their desires will be glad to find this book on the library shelf.-Leslie Armour, Dominican Coll. of Philosophy & Theology, Ottawa Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

"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 "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 sweeping review of philosophical, psychological, evolutionary, and religious concepts of desire. The writing is lucid and economical."--PsycCRITIQUES "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 Review "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 "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 "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 "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 sweeping review of philosophical, psychological, evolutionary, and religious concepts of desire. The writing is lucid and economical."--PsycCRITIQUES

While most contemporary philosophers mull over theoretical matters and shy away from giving advice on how to live, Irvine plumbs the age-old question: how do we master our desires? When it comes to desire, he says, "we are like a vacation home owner who, regardless of who shows up at the door... welcomes the visitor and convinces himself that he must have invited the visitor." Our evolutionary past, Irvine claims, has wired us for endless dissatisfaction since, from an evolutionary standpoint, it doesn't matter if we're miserable as long as we survive and reproduce. Early humans who basked in contentment, he argues, were less likely to survive than ones with a nagging itch to better their lot. Given this treadmill, how can we lead happy, meaningful lives? Irvine shares the advice of those who claim that "undesirable desires arise because we care what other people think of us." Examining teachings of Zen Buddhists, the Amish, the Hutterites, Hellenistic philosophers (the Stoics, Epicureans and Skeptics) and others, he concludes, "the best way to gain... lasting satisfaction... is to change not the world and our position in it but ourselves... we should work at wanting what we already have." This is no easy task, and Irvine admits that readers seeking further instruction had best look elsewhere. (Oct.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

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