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From Tibetan Buddhist Encyclopedia
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Desire is a sense of longing for a person or object or hoping for an outcome.

The same sense is expressed by emotions such as "Craving" or "hankering".

When a person desires something or someone, their sense of longing is excited by the enjoyment or the Thought of the item or person, and they want to take actions to obtain their goal.

The motivational aspect of desire has long been noted by philosophers; Hobbes (1588–1679) asserted that human desire is the fundamental motivation of all human action.

In Buddhism, for an individual to effect his or her Liberation, the flow of sense-desire must be cut completely; however, while training, he or she must work with motivational processes based on skilfully applied desire.

The Buddha stated, according to the early Buddhist scriptures, that Monks should "generate desire" for the sake of fostering skillful qualities and abandoning unskillful ones.

While desires are often classified as emotions by laypersons, psychologists often describe desires as different from emotions; psychologists tend to argue that desires arise from bodily structures, such as the stomach's need for Food, whereas emotions arise from a person's Mental state.

Marketing and advertising companies have used psychological research on how desire is stimulated to find more effective ways to induce consumers to buy a given product or service.

While some advertising attempts to give buyers a sense of lack or wanting, other types of advertising create desire associating the product with desirable attributes, either by showing a celebrity or model with the product.

The theme of desire is at the core of the romance novel, which often create drama by showing cases where human desire is impeded by social conventions, class, or cultural barriers.

As well, it is used in other literary genres, such as gothic novels such as Dracula by Bram Stoker, in which desire is mingled with fear and dread. Poets ranging from Homer to Toni Morrison have dealt with the themes of desire in their work.

Just as desire is central to the written fiction genre of romance, it is the central theme of melodrama films, which use plots that appeal to the heightened emotions of the audience by showing "crises of human emotion, failed romance or Friendship", in which desire is thwarted or unrequited.

In philosophy

In philosophy, desire has been identified as a philosophical problem since Antiquity.

Plato in The Republic argues that individual desires must be postponed in the name of the higher ideal.

Aristotle in De Anima claims that desire is implicated in animal interactions and the propensity of Animals to motion; at the same time, he acknowledges that reasoning also interacts with desire.

Hobbes (1588–1679) proposed the concept of psychological hedonism, which asserts that the "fundamental motivation of all human action is the desire for pleasure."

Spinoza (1632–1677) had a view which contrasted with Hobbes, in that "he saw natural desires as a Form of bondage" that are not chosen by a person of their own Free will.

Hume (1711–1776) claimed that desires and passions are noncognitive, automatic bodily responses, and he argued that reasoning is "capable only of devising means to ends set by desire".

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Kant (1724–1804) called any action based on desires a hypothetical imperative, meaning by this that it is a command of reason that applies only if one desires the goal in question.

Kant also established a relation between the beautiful and pleasure in Critique of Judgment.

Hegel claimed that "self-Consciousness is desire."

Because desire can cause humans to become obsessed and embittered, it has been called one of the causes of woe for mankind.

Within the teachings of Buddhism, Craving is Thought to be the cause of all Suffering that one experiences in human existence.

The eradication of Craving leads one to ultimate Happiness, or Nirvana.

Desire for wholesome things, though, is liberating and enhancing.

While the stream of desire for sense-pleasures must be cut eventually, a practitioner on the Path to Liberation is encouraged by

The Buddha to "generate desire" for the fostering of skillful qualities and the abandoning of unskillful ones.

Within the Christian Faith, desire is seen as something that can either lead a person towards God and Destiny or away from Him. Desire is not considered to be a bad thing in and of itself, rather it is a powerful force within the human that once submitted to the Lordship of Christ can become a wonderful tool for good, for advancement and for abundant living.

Scientific perspectives

Psychology and neurology

While desires are often classified as emotions by laypersons, psychologists often describe desires as different from emotions.

For psychologists, desires arise from bodily structures, such as the stomach which needs Food, the blood needs oxygen, and so on; on the other hand, emotions arise from a person's Mental state.

A 2008 study by the University of Michigan indicated that while humans experience desire and fear as psychological opposites, they share the same brain circuit.

A 2008 study entitled "The Neural Correlates of Desire" showed that the human brain categorizes any stimulus according to its desirability by activating three different brain areas: the superior orbito-frontal, the mid-cingulate, and the anterior cingulate cortices.


While the "neuroscience of Happiness and well-being is still in its infancy", research on the "distant cousins" of pleasure and desire show that reward is a key element in creating both of these states.

Studies showed that a chemical called dopamine is the brain's "pleasure chemical".

Research also shows that the orbitofrontal cortex has connections to both the opioid and dopamine systems, and stimulating this cortex is associated with subjective reports of pleasure.


Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, who is best known for his theories of the Unconscious Mind and the defense mechanism of repression and for creating the clinical practice of psychoanalysis, proposed the notion of the Oedipus Complex, which argues that desire for the mother creates neuroses in their sons.

Freud used the Greek myth of Oedipus to argue that people desire Incest and must repress that desire.

He claimed that children pass through several stages, including a stage in which they fixated on the mother as a sexual object.

That this "complex" is universal has long since been disputed. Even if it were true, that would not explain those neuroses in daughters, but only in sons.

While it is true that sexual confusion can be aberrative in a few cases, there is no credible evidence to suggest that it is a universal scenario.

While Freud was correct in labeling the various symptoms behind most compulsions, phobias and disorders, he was largely incorrect in his theories regarding the etiology of what he identified.

French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist Jacques Lacan (1901–1981) argues that desire first occurs during a "mirror phase" of a baby's development, when the baby sees an image of wholeness in a mirror which gives them a desire for that being.

As a person matures, Lacan claims that they still feel separated from themselves by Language, which is incomplete, and so a person continually strives to become whole.

He uses the term "jouissance" to refer to the lost object or Feeling of absence which a person believes to be unobtainable. For more details on the Lacanian conception of desire, see desire (psychoanalysis)