George Hammond: Intelligent Desiring
Monday Night Philosophy asks (on a Tuesday afternoon): What are we doing here? And answers: We are pursuing desires — because we are pursuing happiness, and happiness results from fulfilling a desire. But since unhappiness results whenever we don’t fulfill a desire, and since that happens so often, individual life is sometimes seen as a perilous journey, a valley of tears, or even a worthless endeavor, to be escaped via the nothingness of Nirvana, or by retreating to Heaven, or by merging with Oneness.
So what’s wrong with this picture? Just as right after a divorce, when it is common to forget all about the fun and enjoyment which came before, we lack perspective. We forget our judgment is untrustworthy in despair. So let’s step back, as philosophers love to do, and see how much more intelligently we could 1) pick which desires to pursue before we pursue them, 2) pick which motives to favor, and which to discard (because our motives are our deeper desires), 3) sort out our conflicting desires so we don’t face certain unhappiness, and 4) make contingent any desires that are dependent for their fulfillment on sources outside our control. And then see how much more happiness, and how much less unhappiness, we would experience.
Because the only way to get everything you want in life is to be very clever about what you want.
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George Hammond's 1981 essay, "Intelligent Desiring," which is included in his book Rational Idealism, is available free to everyone here.
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