Desire: A Bibliography

by Luke Muehlhauser on April 1, 2011 in Resources

Because the concept of desire is pretty central to the ethical theory I defend, desirism, people rightly ask “What is a desire?”

That might seem like a silly question. “It’s when you want something, obviously.” But it’s not a silly question, as there are many difficult and unresolved debates concerning the nature of desire. Indeed, some have argued that desires do not exist at all, and I actually find their arguments fairly plausible.

Here, then, is a bibliography for those who wish to understand the nature of desire. (I don’t give full-blown references because I don’t have time and Google exists.)

Starting points

Do desires exist?

Desires and personhood

  • Jeffrey, “Preferences Among Preferences” (1974)
  • Neely, “Freedom and Desire” (1974)
  • Schiffer, “A Paradox of Desire” (1976)
  • Alston, “Self-Intervention and the Structure of Motivation” (1977)
  • Grandy & Darwall, “On Schiffer’s Desires” (1979)
  • Penelhum, “Human Nature and External Desires” (1979)
  • Zimmerman, “Heirarchical Motivation and Freedom of the Will” (1981)
  • Watson, Free Will (1982)

Desires and emotion

  • Marks, “A Theory of Emotion” (1982)
  • Oakley, Morality and the Emotions (1992)
  • Deigh, “Cognitivism in the Theory of Emotions (1994)
  • Wollheim, On the Emotions (1999)
  • Ben-Ze’ev, The Subtlety of Emotions (2000)
  • Charland, “The Natural Kind Status of Emotion” (2002)
  • Goldie, The Emotions: A Philosophical Exploration (2003)
  • Tappolet, “Emotions and the Intelligibility of Akratic Action” (2003)

Desire and value theory

  • Broad, “Egoism as a Theory of Human Motives” (1952)
  • Nagel, The Possibility of Altruism (1970)
  • Foot, Virtues and Vices and Other Essays in Moral Philosophy (1978)
  • Brandt, A Theory of the Good and the Right (1979)
  • Blum, Friendship, Altruism, and Morality (1980)
  • Davis, “A Theory of Happiness” (1981)
  • Bond, Reason and Value (1983)
  • Connee, “Prudence and Preference” (1984)

Desire and theory of action

  • Silver, Self-Concept and Self-Interest: A Study of Thomas Nagel’s “The Possibility of Altruism” (1980)
  • Staude, “Want-Explanations and the Widest Sense of Wanting” (1982)
  • Smith, “The Humean Theory of Motivation” (1987)
  • Smith, The Moral Problem (1994)
  • Stalnaker, Inquiry (1984)
  • Scanlon, What We Owe to Each Other (1998)
  • Papineau, Reality and Representation (1987)
  • Sinhababu, “The Humean Theory of Motivation Reformulated and Defended” (2009)

Unfortunately, the neuroscience of desire is not well-understood yet. The best work on this so far is collected in Pleasures of the Brain. I’m working on a post about the neuroscience of pleasure and desire.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Garren April 1, 2011 at 6:23 am

Yes, several of these look quite interesting. I always like these reference posts!


Reginald Selkirk April 1, 2011 at 9:34 am

Desire Under The Elms
by Eugene O’Neill


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