Desire and de-desire…

You are sitting at a coffee shop (hopefully not Starbucks?) when you begin to eavesdrop on two philosophy grad students bickering.

“A person is free to act as he desires,” says the one, wearing an orange sweat shirt and blue jeans, “but he is not free to choose his desires. He may choose to suppress some of his desires, but that is just because he has an overriding desire. Follow that back far enough, and it’s electrons and quarks doing what they do.”

You always knew there was something elementally compelling about materialism. You raise the mug to your lips, but are caught in mid-sip by the other fellow’s retort.

“But,” he says, “what if I have a desire, call it d1, to divest myself of a certain other desire, d2? Can I really be said to have d2, since I don’t desire to have it, and, consequently I ‘de-desire’ its object? Conversely, if I still have d2, can I really be said to have d1? Presumably, if I am subject to my desires, then having d1 entails not having, or effectively suppressing, d2. But the very presence of d1 requires that d2 still be operative.”

You pretend to be sipping slowly from your mug, making a subdued but apparently engrossed show of perusing the funnies.

“What are you driving at?” asks the first fellow in orange.

“I mean,” answers the second fellow, wearing a dark green flannel shirt and khakis, “what decides between these antagonistic desires? Brain states? But then, why refer to desires at all?”

Suddenly, the fellow in orange notices you noticing them, and asks you for your opinion on the matter.

What would you say? With whom would you side? Why?


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