Desire

Edited by Neil Sinhababu (National University of Singapore)
About this topic
Summary Philosophers are interested in desire's role in motivating action, shaping deliberation, giving us reasons, constituting moral judgment, and increasing one's well-being when it is satisfied. There is much debate about which of these roles desire plays, and how it might play them.
Key works David Hume's Treatise of Human Nature is the locus classicus for defenses of desire's role in motivating action and constituting moral judgment.  Michael Smith's The Humean Theory of Motivation is the most-discussed contemporary defense of a Humean theory of motivation, while Neil Sinhababu's The Humean Theory of Motivation Reformulated and Defended provides an empirical argument for the theory. Timothy Schroeder's Three Faces of Desire is a leading contemporary discussion of the psychology and neuroscience of desire -- particularly its connections to motivation, pleasure, and reinforcement learning. In Praise of Desire by Nomy Arpaly and Timothy Schroeder discusses the nature of desire and its role in constituting moral agency. Mark Schroeder's Slaves of the Passions is the most prominent contemporary defense of a Humean account of reasons, which treats reasons as considerations promoting desire-satisfaction.
Introductions Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Desire
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  1. Abstract rationality: the ‘logical’ structure of attitudes.Franz Dietrich, Antonios Staras & Robert Sugden - 2024 - Economics and Philosophy 40 (1):12-41.
    We present an abstract model of rationality that focuses on structural properties of attitudes. Rationality requires coherence between your attitudes, such as your beliefs, values, and intentions. We define three 'logical' conditions on attitudes: consistency, completeness, and closedness. They parallel the familiar logical conditions on beliefs, but contrast with standard rationality conditions like preference transitivity. We establish a formal correspondence between our logical conditions and standard rationality conditions. Addressing John Broome's programme 'rationality through reasoning', we formally characterize how you can (...)
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  2. How Does Pornography Change Desires? A Pragmatic Account.Junhyo Lee & Eleonore Neufeld - forthcoming - The Philosophical Quarterly.
    Rae Langton and Caroline West famously argued that pornography operates like a language game, in that it introduces certain views about women into the common ground via presupposition accommodation. While this pragmatic model explains how pornography has the potential to change its viewers’ beliefs, it leaves open how pornography changes people’s desires. Our aim in this paper is to show how Langton and West’s discourse theoretic account of pornography can be refined to close this lacuna. Using tools from recent developments (...)
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  3. Desiderative Lockeanism.Milo Phillips-Brown - forthcoming - Australasian Journal of Philosophy.
    According to the Desiderative Lockean Thesis, there are necessary and sufficient conditions, stated in the terms of decision theory, for when one is truly said to want. I advance a new Desiderative Lockean view. My view is distinctive in being doubly context-sensitive. Want ascriptions exhibit a remarkable context-sensitivity: what a person is truly said to want varies by context in a variety of ways, a fact that has not been fully appreciated. Others Desiderative Lockeans attempt to capture the context-sensitivity in (...)
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  4. Urges.Ashley Shaw - forthcoming - Philosophical Review.
    Experiences of urges, impulses, or inclinations are among the most basic elements in the practical life of conscious agents. This article develops a theory of urges and their epistemology. The article motivates a tripartite framework that distinguishes urges, conscious experiences of urges, and exercises of capacities that agents have to control their urges. The article elaborates the elements of the tripartite framework, in particular, the phenomenological contribution of motor imagery. It argues that experiences of urges and exercises of control over (...)
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  5. The Desire for God: Movement and Wonder in Aristotle's Metaphysics.Joshua Duclos - manuscript
    In book Λ. of the Metaphysics, Aristotle suggests that an unmoved, unmoving being (God) is the source of all movement in the cosmos. He explains that this being instigates movement through desire. But how does desire affect movement? And what would make Aristotle’s God an object of desire? I attend to both questions in this paper, arguing that God’s existence as pure actuality (energeia) is crucial to understanding God’s status as the primary and ultimate source of wonder, and that it (...)
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  6. Armchair Evaluative Knowledge and Sentimental Perceptualism.Michael Milona - 2023 - Philosophies 8 (3):51.
    We seem to be able to acquire evaluative knowledge by mere reflection, or “from the armchair.” But how? This question is especially pressing for proponents of sentimental perceptualism, which is the view that our evaluative knowledge is rooted in affective experiences in much the way that everyday empirical knowledge is rooted in perception. While such empirical knowledge seems partially explained by causal relations between perceptions and properties in the world, in armchair evaluative inquiry, the relevant evaluative properties are typically not (...)
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  7. Underspecifying Desires.Richard Jefferson Booth - 2023 - Linguistics and Philosophy (5):1-30.
    According to a simple theory of the relationship between 'want' ascriptions and the desires they ascribe, when I learn that ⌜A wants p⌝ is true, I learn that the truth of p is necessary and sufficient for satisfying one of A’s desires. I argue that this simple theory is false: ⌜A wants p⌝ can be true and underspecific: p may be necessary but not sufficient for the satisfaction of one of A’s desires. I show that existing semantics for 'want' cannot (...)
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  8. What’s the Linguistic Meaning of Delusional Utterances? Speech Act Theory as a Tool for Understanding Delusions.Julian Hofmann, Pablo Hubacher Haerle & Anke Https://Orcidorg Maatz - 2023 - Philosophical Psychology 36 (7):1–21.
    Delusions have traditionally been considered the hallmark of mental illness, and their conception, diagnosis and treatment raise many of the fundamental conceptual and practical questions of psychopathology. One of these fundamental questions is whether delusions are understandable. In this paper, we propose to consider the question of understandability of delusions from a philosophy of language perspective. For this purpose, we frame the question of how delusions can be understood as a question about the meaning of delusional utterances. Accordingly, we ask: (...)
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  9. How to keep up good appearances: Desire, imagination, and the good.Uku Tooming - 2021 - European Journal of Philosophy 30 (3):1147-1160.
    It is not uncommon to think that having a desire involves taking its object to be good in some sense. This idea has been developed in two directions: either toward a view that understands the positive evaluation in terms of a judgment or belief or a view according to which the relevant evaluation is perception-like. In this article, I defend a novel proposal that takes the positive evaluation of the object of desire to be a kind of imagining.
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  10. Lacking, needing, and wanting.David Hunter - 2023 - Analytic Philosophy 64 (2):143-160.
    I offer a novel conception of the nature of wanting. According to it, wanting is lacking something one needs. Lacking is not a normative notion but needing is, and that is how goodness figures in to wanting. What a thing needs derives from what it is to be a good thing of its kind. In people, wanting is connected to both knowledge and the will. A person can know that she wants something and can act on that knowledge. When she (...)
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  11. On preferring.Kyle Blumberg - 2022 - Linguistics and Philosophy 45 (6):1315-1344.
    In this paper, I draw attention to comparative preference claims, i.e. sentences of the form \S prefers p to q\. I show that preference claims exhibit interesting patterns, and try to develop a semantics that captures them. Then I use my account of preference to provide an analysis of desire. The resulting entry for desire ascriptions is independently motivated, and finds support from a wide range of phenomena.
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  12. Curious to Know.Eliran Haziza - forthcoming - Episteme:1-15.
    What is curiosity? An attractive option is that it is a desire to know. This analysis has been recently challenged by what I call interrogativism, the view that inquiring attitudes such as curiosity have questions rather than propositions as contents. In this paper, I defend the desire-to-know view, and make three contributions to the debate. First, I refine the view in a way that avoids the problems of its simplest version. Second, I present a new argument for the desire-to-know view (...)
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  13. Does Hope Require Belief?Michael Milona - 2022 - American Philosophical Quarterly 59 (2):191-199.
    This paper interrogates a widely accepted view about the nature of hope. The view is that hoping that p involves a belief about the prospects of p. It is argued that taking hope to require belief is at odds with some forms of recalcitrant hope and certain ways in which hope patterns similarly to other emotions. The paper concludes by explaining why it matters whether hope requires belief.
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  14. Who Cares About Winning?Nathaniel Baron-Schmitt - 2023 - European Journal of Philosophy 31 (1):248-265.
    Why do we so often care about the outcomes of games when nothing is at stake? There is a paradox here, much like the paradox of fiction, which concerns why we care about the fates and threats of merely fictional beings. I argue that the paradox threatens to overturn a great deal of what philosophers have thought about caring, severing its connection to value and undermining its moral weight. I defend a solution to the paradox that draws on Kendall Walton's (...)
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  15. Desire-Based Theories of Reasons and the Guise of the Good.Kael McCormack - 2023 - Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy 9 (47):1288-1321.
    I propose an account of desire that reconciles two apparently conflicting intuitions about practical agency. I do so by exploring a certain intuitive datum. The intuitive datum is that often when an agent desires P she will seem to immediately and conclusively know that there is a reason to bring P about. Desire-based theories of reasons seem uniquely placed to explain this intuitive datum. On this view, desires are the source of an agent’s practical reasons. A desire for P grounds (...)
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  16. Anger and its desires.Laura Silva - 2022 - European Journal of Philosophy 29 (4):1115-1135.
    The orthodox view of anger takes desires for revenge or retribution to be central to the emotion. In this paper, I develop an empirically informed challenge to the retributive view of anger. In so doing, I argue that a distinct desire is central to anger: a desire for recognition. Desires for recognition aim at the targets of anger acknowledging the wrong they have committed, as opposed to aiming for their suffering. In light of the centrality of this desire for recognition, (...)
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  17. Wanting and willing.Eric Marcus - 2020 - European Journal of Philosophy 29 (4):887-899.
    How homogenous are the sources of human motivation? Textbook Humeans hold that every human action is motivated by desire, thus any heterogeneity derives from differing objects of desire. Textbook Kantians hold that although some human actions are motivated by desire, others are motivated by reason. One question in this vicinity concerns whether there are states such that to be in one is at once take the world to be a certain way and to be motivated to act: the state-question. My (...)
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  18. The Imaginal as Spectacle: An Aristotelian Interpretation of Contemporary Politics.Abigail Iturra - 2021 - Interfere 2:35-49.
    Our contemporary politics faces the paradoxical problem that while we are inundated with images on our screens, we nevertheless seem to lack creative political imagination to conceive of solutions to our global problems. One account for this paradox is Chiara Bottici’s suggestion that the constant stream of virtual images produced qualitatively alters them to such an extent that they become ends in themselves: thus, spectacularizing our politics. My claim, against Bottici’s, is that it is not the case that the increase (...)
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  19. Do affective desires provide reasons for action?Ashley Shaw - 2020 - Ratio 34 (2):147-157.
    This paper evaluates the claim that some desires provide reasons in virtue of their connection with conscious affective experiences like feelings of attraction or aversion. I clarify the nature of affective desires and several distinct ways in which affective desires might provide reasons. Against accounts proposed by Ruth Chang, Declan Smithies and Jeremy Weiss, I motivate doubts that it is the phenomenology of affective experiences that explains their normative or rational significance. I outline an alternative approach that centralises the function (...)
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  20. Faith and Reason.Elizabeth Jackson - 2022 - In Mark A. Lamport (ed.), The Handbook of Philosophy and Religion. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield. pp. 167-177.
    What is faith? How is faith different than belief and hope? Is faith irrational? If not, how can faith go beyond the evidence? This chapter introduces the reader to philosophical questions involving faith and reason. First, we explore a four-part definition of faith. Then, we consider the question of how faith could be rational yet go beyond the evidence.
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  21. Defending the motivational theory of desire.David Pineda Oliva - forthcoming - Theoria : An International Journal for Theory, History and Fundations of Science.
    In this paper I offer a defense of the motivational theory of desire. According to the motivational view, a desire is basically a disposition to bring about the desire's content. First, I argue that two rival views on the nature of desire, the evaluative theory and the deontic theory, fall prey to the problem of the death of desire and that, when one tries to develop a plausible version of these theories which is able to overcome this problem, one ends (...)
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  22. Sacred Music, Religious Desire and Knowledge of God: The Music of Our Human Longing.Julian Perlmutter - 2020 - London, UK: Bloomsbury Academic.
    Many people find sacred choral music profound and deeply evocative, even in societies that seem to be turning away from religious belief. In this book, Julian Perlmutter examines how, in light of its wide appeal, sacred music can have religious significance for people regardless of their religious convictions. -/- By differentiating between doctrinal belief and the desire for God, Perlmutter explores a longing for the spiritual that is compatible with both belief and 'interested non-belief'. He describes how sacred music can (...)
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  23. The nature of desire.Panos Theodorou - 2021 - Philosophical Psychology 34 (3):448-452.
  24. Mill’s proof and the guise of the good.Francesco Orsi - 2021 - Philosophical Explorations 24 (1):93-105.
    The guise of the good doctrine is the view that whatever we desire, we desire it under the guise of the good, i.e. it appears good to us in some way. In this paper I first clarify the role that the doctrine of the guise of the good plays in the first step of J. S. Mill’s proof of the principle of utility (in which he shows that one’s happiness is desirable as an end). Then I provide textual evidence in (...)
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  25. True Grit and the Positivity of Faith.Finlay Malcolm & Michael Scott - 2021 - European Journal of Analytic Philosophy 17 (1):(A1)5-32.
    Most contemporary accounts of the nature of faith explicitly defend what we call ‘the positivity theory of faith’ – the theory that faith must be accompanied by a favourable evaluative belief, or a desire towards the object of faith. This paper examines the different varieties of the positivity theory and the arguments used to support it. Whilst initially plausible, we find that the theory faces numerous problematic counterexamples, and show that weaker versions of the positivity theory are ultimately implausible. We (...)
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  26. Explaining Imagination.Peter Langland-Hassan - 2020 - Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    ​Imagination will remain a mystery—we will not be able to explain imagination—until we can break it into parts we already understand. Explaining Imagination is a guidebook for doing just that, where the parts are other ordinary mental states like beliefs, desires, judgments, and decisions. In different combinations and contexts, these states constitute cases of imagining. This reductive approach to imagination is at direct odds with the current orthodoxy, according to which imagination is a sui generis mental state or process—one with (...)
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  27. Love and Desire: A Heideggerian Ontological Analysis.Abigail K. Iturra - 2019 - Women in Philosophy Journal 10:31-62.
  28. Why Technoscience Cannot Reproduce Human Desire According to Lacanian Thomism.Christopher Wojtulewicz & Graham J. McAleer - 2019 - Forum Philosophicum: International Journal for Philosophy 2 (24):279-300.
    Being born into a family structure—being born of a mother—is key to being human. It is, for Jacques Lacan, essential to the formation of human desire. It is also part of the structure of analogy in the Thomistic thought of Erich Przywara. AI may well increase exponentially in sophistication, and even achieve human-like qualities; but it will only ever form an imaginary mirroring of genuine human persons—an imitation that is in fact morbid and dehumanising. Taking Lacan and Przywara at a (...)
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  29. Why Technoscience Cannot Reproduce Human Desire According to Lacanian Thomism.Graham McAleer & Christopher M. Wojtulewicz - 2019 - Forum Philosophicum: International Journal for Philosophy 24 (2):279-300.
    Being born into a family structure—being born of a mother—is key to being human. It is, for Jacques Lacan, essential to the formation of human desire. It is also part of the structure of analogy in the Thomistic thought of Erich Przywara. AI may well increase exponentially in sophistication, and even achieve human-like qualities; but it will only ever form an imaginary mirroring of genuine human persons—an imitation that is in fact morbid and dehumanising. Taking Lacan and Przywara at a (...)
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  30. The Lower Bounds of Desire.H. Shevlin - 2017 - Journal of Consciousness Studies 24 (5-6):251-258.
    One influential philosophical account of desire treats it as a species of propositional attitude, possessing broadly the same kinds of content as belief while differing in direction of fit. However, this arguably neglects more basic forms of desire. It seems an open possibility, for example, that animals that lack propositional attitudes might still have simple desires mediated by sensations like hunger and thirst. In this essay, I will argue the case for the existence of these basic desires, and suggest a (...)
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  31. Belief, Desire, and Giving and Asking for Reasons.Donald W. Bruckner & Michael P. Wolf - 2018 - Philosophia 46 (2):275-280.
    We adjudicate a recent dispute concerning the desire theory of well-being. Stock counterexamples to the desire theory include “quirky” desires that seem irrelevant to well-being, such as the desire to count blades of grass. Bruckner claims that such desires are relevant to well-being, provided that the desirer can characterize the object in such a way that makes it clear to others what attracts the desirer to it. Lin claims that merely being attracted to the object of one’s desire should be (...)
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  32. Deformed Desires and Informed Desire Tests.Anita Superson - 2005 - Hypatia 20 (4):109-126.
    The formal theory of rational choice as grounded in desire-satisfaction cannot account for the problem of such deformed desires as women's slavish desires. Traditional “informed desire” tests impose conditions of rationality, such as full information and absence of psychoses, but do not exclude deformed desires. I offer a Kantian-inspired addendum to these tests, according to which the very features of deformed desires render them irrational to adopt for an agent who appreciates her equal worth.
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  33. Reason, Persons, and Artworks.Christopher Theodore Williams - 1993 - Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh
    The dissertation seeks to articulate a Humean conception of an embodied person, according to which our beliefs and actions are essentially dependent upon certain "seemingly trivial" and intellectually opaque properties of our imagination and character. This conception is opposed to rationalism, which I take to be the view that our beliefs and actions should ideally be caused by rule-governed, intellectually transparent mental operations. I present two Hume-derived critiques of rationalism. ;The first critique concerns our beliefs. If we attempt to base (...)
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  34. The Practical Given.Paul Edward Hurley - 1988 - Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh
    I demonstrate that the two major ethical traditions agree that there are given desires which provide extra-rational practical reasons. Empiricist theories ground ethics in such desires, but the extra-rationality of this foundation appears to lead to stultifying subjectivism. Rationalist theories justify the appeal to an independent Kantian Reason as necessary to gain control over such desires. But the status of these desires as providing motivating reasons guarantees that such independent Reason can never be more than one among competing sources of (...)
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  35. The Reasonable Origins of Desire in Hegel's Philosophical Psychology.R. Michael Olson - 1998 - Dissertation, Emory University
    This study is an examination of the manner in which intelligence mediates desire. Its central claims are that all desire is necessarily determined as such by the capacity of intelligence and that the specific quality of desire as animal or human is therefore conditioned by the specific power of intelligence possessed by the desiring creature. In looking at human desire, it is further argued that the presence of rational intelligence introduces instability in the natural soul that in turn conditions its (...)
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  36. Dretske and Socrates: The Development of the Socratic Theme That "All Desire is for the Good" in a Contemporary Analysis of Desire.Naomi Reshotko - 1990 - Dissertation, The University of Wisconsin - Madison
    I compare two theories of motivation: The Socratic Theory of Motivation and Fred Dretske's attempt to vindicate the use of desires in folk-psychological explanations. I find that, although Socrates ' theory is, at first glance, counterintuitive, while Dretske's provides persuasive analyses of beliefs and desires, there is a way of developing Dretske's theory which produces a theory that is parallel to the Socratic Theory of Motivation. In fact, if we substitute "all desire is for homeostasis" for the thesis that "all (...)
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  37. Abstract Sex: Philosophy, Bio-technology and the Mutations of Desire; The Sex Appeal of the Inorganic: Philosophies of Desire in the Modern World. [REVIEW]Stella Sandford - 2004 - Radical Philosophy 127.
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  38. BLIGH, S. M. -The Desire for Qualities. [REVIEW]J. Laird - 1912 - Mind 21:274.
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  39. The Definition of Desire.H. Sidgwick - 1892 - Mind 1:94.
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  40. Desire, Belief and Rational Action.T. E. Wilkerson - 1986 - Ratio (Misc.) 28 (2):114.
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  41. The Desire Theory and Metaethics.Richard Francis Foley - 1975 - Dissertation, Brown University
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  42. Theory of Purposive Behavior, Desire, and Belief, with Applications to the Issues of Materialism and the Objectivity of Value Judgments.Gregory Dean Weber - 1980 - Dissertation, Indiana University
    I examine the relations of three kinds of mental state--desire, belief, and purpose--to their manifestations in behavior, and derive from these relations certain consequences for the philosophy of mind and the philosophy of value. -/- Part I deals with how a purpose that is actually being acted upon is manifested in behavior. Tolman and Pepper held the thesis T: An agent A acts with purpose G if and only if A "persists until" G and A is "docile" with respect to (...)
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  43. Narrative, Desire and Historicity.Lahcen Haddad - 1993 - Dissertation, Indiana University
    The dissertation deals with the possibility of historicizing the fundamental connection between narrative and desire. Using Lacanian psychoanalysis both as a methodological tool and an object of study--along with other post-modern theories of culture--I have provided a topography of the theoretical ramifications of desire and narrative. I have then outlined a theory of historicized narrative desire which looks at both notions in terms of how they modify and inform different cultural products. ;My premise is that, as a linear form, narrative (...)
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  44. La monnaie vivante.Pierre Klossowski - 2002 - Rivages.
    La 4ème de couv. indique : "Pour l'avoir relu plusieurs fois, je sais que c'est le plus haut livre de notre époque. On a l'impression que tout e qui compte d'une façon ou d'une autre - Blanchot, Bataille, Par-delà le Bien et le Mal aussi - on y conduisait insidieusement : mais voilà, c'est dit maintenant, et de si haut que tout recule et ne compte plus qu'à demi. C'était cela qu'il fallait penser : désire, valeur et simulacre - triangle (...)
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  45. « Mon Seigneur Et Mon Dieu, Je Désire Te Louer De Tout Mon Coeur ».G. Nossent - 2000 - Nouvelle Revue Théologique 122 (2):260-273.
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  46. Menschliche Psyche und Gottesverhältnis: Kierkegaard versus Freud.Jörg Disse - 2003 - Theologie Und Philosophie 78 (4).
    Compares Freud's conception of religion being negative for the health of our psyche to Kierkegaard's theory of stages culminating in the necessity of a relationship to God for self-realization.
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  47. Desire and the Future.Tim Taylor - 2010 - Philosophy Pathways 151.
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  48. Ultimate Desires. [REVIEW]F. T. R. - 1958 - Review of Metaphysics 12 (2):323-323.
    A dime-novel dust cover and misleading title disguise this work on the desires lying at the basis of ethics.--R. F. T.
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  49. The Genesis of Desire.Jean-Michel Oughourlian - 2009 - Michigan State University Press.
    We seem to be abandoning the codes that told previous generations who they should love. But now that many of us are free to choose whoever we want, nothing is less certain. The proliferation of divorces and separations reveal a dynamic we would rather not see: others sometimes reject us as passionately as we are attracted to them. Our desire makes us sick. The throes of rivalry are at the heart of our attraction to one another. This is the central (...)
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  50. Drawn by Desire.Tracey D. Hagan - 1991 - Semiotics:86-94.
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