On Desire by William B. Irvine
Why We Want What We Want

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Synopsis

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--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.
 

About William B. Irvine

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William B. Irvine is Professor of Philosophy at Wright State University, in Dayton, Ohio.
 
Published November 1, 2005 by Oxford University Press, USA. 340 pages
Genres: Health, Fitness & Dieting, Religion & Spirituality, Law & Philosophy, Professional & Technical. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for On Desire

The New York Times

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To complicate our insatiability further, our brains have "desire-generating systems," a dominant verbal system that produces "rational" (instrumental) desires and - perhaps more important - rationalizes those desires that arise from other, unconscious systems.

Nov 06 2005 | Read Full Review of On Desire:Why We Want What We...

The New York Times

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Beyond this, chains of desire often interlock, as when the desire for fame is connected with the desire to seduce beautiful women, another terminal desire that may inspire its own chains of instrumental ones.

Nov 06 2005 | Read Full Review of On Desire:Why We Want What We...

Publishers Weekly

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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?

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The New Yorker

Online version of the weekly magazine, with current articles, cartoons, blogs, audio, video, slide shows, an archive of articles and abstracts back to 1925

Oct 31 2008 | Read Full Review of On Desire:Why We Want What We...

The New Yorker

Online version of the weekly magazine, with current articles, cartoons, blogs, audio, video, slide shows, an archive of articles and abstracts back to 1925

Oct 31 2008 | Read Full Review of On Desire:Why We Want What We...

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