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On Desire: Why We Want What We Want
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On Desire: Why We Want What We Want

Author: William B. Irvine
Retail Price: $14.95
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       Winner of CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title, 2006

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---such as 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 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. It is a sweeping review of philosophical, psychological, evolutionary, and religious concepts of desire.

'A sprightly and entertaining book.... Those who would like to understand and control some of their desires will be glad to find this book on the library shelf.' -Library Journal

'What is delightful about this book is that the usual suspects are not as conspicuous. Instead, the Shakers are discussed alongside Buddha, and Diogenes adjacent to Thoreau.... With clear writing, backed up by careful exegesis and a unique twist to a common thesis, this work is necessary for most undergraduate collections, and for students of philosophy and happiness. Summing Up: Highly recommended.' -Choice

William B. Irvine is Professor of Philosophy at Wright State University, in Dayton, Ohio.


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