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Desire —‘Our nature corresponds to our external condition. Without this correspondence there would be no possibility of any such thing as human life and human happiness: which life and happiness are, therefore, a result from our nature and condition jointly: meaning by human life, not living in the literal sense, but the whole complex notion commonly understood by these words’ (Butler’s Analogy , pt. i. ch. 5, § 1). This is one of the observations of Bishop Butler in which he anticipates the conclusions of modern science. The nature of man corresponds to external nature; organ and environment, faculty and its sphere of operation are in correspondence. Man is in relation to the world in which he lives, and his whole life is a process of adaptation to the life of the Universe. All the endowments of his nature, whether intellectual, emotional, or volitional, whether they are bodily or mental, may fruitfully be looked at as teleological, as a means towards the great end of living. The teleological relation begins in the individual ere consciousness awakens in him, and he is so constituted that he acts in relation to the environment ere he can consciously adapt himself to it. Even consciousness may be looked at as part of a process of adaptation. Bishop Butler also remarks that ‘the several external objects of the appetites, passions, and affections, being present to the senses, or offering themselves to the mind, excite emotions suitable to their nature’ ( l.c. ch. 4. § 1). In his view there is not only a general correspondence between man and his environment, but a special adaptation between the several aspects of nature and the particular characteristics of man. Appetites have their objects, and these objects excite emotions in man suitable to their nature. Passions and affections have also their objects and their suitable emotions. Every external object makes its own appeal, and the inward nature of man makes a response in correspondence with the appeal. Nor does the Bishop limit the meaning of the word ‘object’ to those things which appeal to man directly through his senses, and which are presented to him, as it were, ready made. That there are such objects it is not necessary to affirm. But the objects which appeal to man are not limited to those which nature presents to him. Within the range of his interests are included not only the world as it is presented to perception, but the world as it has been transformed by human reflexion, as it is filled with the achievement of the ages, and pervaded by the life, the imagination, and the reflexion of man. Objects are not merely what is presented to the senses, but what is presented to man as constituted by the experience of the race, by the education of the individual, by the results of art, science, poetry, philosophy, and theology,—in short, by all the wide interest with which man has invested the world of his experience. Appetites have their respective objects, though even the appetite of a rational being has something which transcends sense, and even into appetite may enter that element of infinity with which a rational being invests all his objects.

Coming more closely to the subject, we take a description of Desire from Professor Mackenzie: ‘In the case of what is strictly called desire, there is not merely the consciousness of an object, with an accompanying feeling of pleasure and pain, but also a recognition of the object as a good, or as an element in a more or less clearly defined end’ ( Manual of Ethics 3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , p. 46). Three elements appear in this description. There is, first, the consciousness of an object; there is, second, the feeling of pleasure and of pain; and there is, third, the recognition of the object as a good, or as an element in a delined end. If all these elements are involved in Desire, then Desire can be experienced only by beings who live a reflective life. They must be conscious beings; they must have the consciousness of an object, and be able to associate that object with pleasure and pain; and they must be able to reflect on the object, and judge it to be a good, or an element in a defined end. It may be well to have a term the meaning of which is such as has been defined by Professor Mackenzie; but is Desire such a term? Is it so in the ordinary use of language, or is it so in the accepted use of psychological writers? What of those writers who define the good in terms of pleasure and of pain? If we were to accept the definition of the term Desire as it is set forth by Professor Mackenzie, we should be constrained to say that the presence of Desire always involves the action of reflective judgment, the presence of ideas or trains of ideas to consciousness, and a comparison of possible processes which might lead to the accomplishment of a wished-for end. As a consequence, we should be compelled to shut out from the region of Desire not only all the lower forms of life, but also all those people who do not live a reflective life. It seems, then, that the definition of Desire given by Professor Mackenzie is an ideal one. It describes Desire as it is felt by a fully developed, reflective consciousness, a consciousness in possession of trains of ideas, and of the world as built up of such mental attainments and experiences. Along the whole course of mental growth, from the first beginnings of conscious life up to the complete attainment of self-mastery, Desire may be considered to be present, and to afford a ground of action. As a definition of life must include all living things, so a definition of Desire must include every feeling which in common language can lay claim to be a desire. There is an element of desire in every case in which there is subjective selection, or rejection of one object and the preference of another. In the simplest mental experience, even in those in which the living being reacts against the environment, whether it means the avoidance of pain or the attainment of pleasure, there is the germ of desire. Movements that result in pleasure attract attention. Movements which procure the removal of pain, and become inseparably associated with that result, are elements in the making of a world, and that world grows into the world of Desire. It may be that reactions against the environment correspond to stages in the growth of mind, so that we might properly ascribe Desire to movements for the attainment of objects of which the organism is aware through the senses; but it is not necessary for us to enter into the discussion of that topic. As Dr. Ward says, ‘Provided the cravings of appetite are felt, any signs of the presence of pleasurable objects prompt to movements for their enjoyment or appropriation. In these last cases we have action determined by perceptions. The cases in which the subject is incited to action by ideas as distinct from perceptions, require a more detailed consideration; such are the facts mainly covered by the term “desire” ’ (art. ‘Psychology,’ Encyc. Brit .9 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] vol. xx. p. 73 f.).

Without entering on the question as to whether action can be determined by perceptions, or the further question as to whether there can be perceptions apart from something like ideation, we are disposed to contend that where there is awareness of an object, and a movement towards the appropriation of it, there must be the rudiments of Desire. It is not necessary, however, to discuss the matter, for it is not to be questioned that by ideas, and trains of ideas, and ideas, as Dr. Ward points out, ‘sufficiently self-sustaining to form trains that are not wholly shaped by the circumstances of the present—entirely new possibilities of action are opened up’ (p. 74). Ideas and trains of ideas form elements in shaping a world of desire. It is not possible to mark off the area where these properly begin, any more than we can delimit the sphere of intellection, and say where it begins. But for our purpose it is sufficient that the presence of reflective thought does mark a terminus; on one side there is mental action of a simpler sort, and on the other side the fulness of a reflective life. But apparently there is desire on both sides.

Taking the definition of Professor Mackenzie as a goal and an ideal, we ask, In what ways have thinkers looked at Desire in the past, and what is the view they take of it in the present hour? To set this forth with fulness would be a great task. For Desire, the analysis of it, and the place assigned to it, mark off the schools of philosophy from each other, and, according as they view it, it gives the keynote to different systems of ethics. From the time of the beginnings of Greek thought down to the present time, the attempt to find a sufficient definition of Desire has ever been renewed, and at present the old controversy between Plato and the Sophists has its counterpart in the controversy between Green and his supporters on the one hand, and Sidgwick and the various supporters of Hedonism on the other. Both the theory of knowledge and the theory of conduct are involved in the discussion of the question.

One of the many debts which the world owes to Socrates is the introduction of the conception of a supreme end of life. That there is one end which all men seek, and that every action must be judged by reference to that end, brought unity into man’s conception of human life. Up to the time of Socrates men had thought of conduct as obedience to certain practical rules, useful from the point of view of prudence. But Socrates showed that men’s thoughts and actions must be guided by their desire for something which they regarded as desirable. Rules were simply the ways by which the desirable end could be obtained. Illustrations of this principle abound in the statements ascribed to Socrates. A religious man desires to win the I approbation of the gods; a just man is persuaded that the practice of justice will bring satisfaction; a man seeks knowledge because it is a satisfaction to know. Thus, in all departments of life there is some desirable end, and the thought of a desirable end actually defines Desire as it appears to Socrates.

While a great advance was made when the thought of a supreme end of life dawned on the human mind, yet the question arose as to the nature of the end, and it received different answers. Is the end pleasure, or a pleasurable state of feeling? Is it the avoidance of pain, or is it indifference to, or superiority over, both pleasure and pain? Is pleasure—pain, or indifference to pleasure—pain, or any other description of the end of life something to be referred to and determined by the individual man, or must we bring the thought of common life to bear on the solution of the problem? If we refer to the individual man the power of deciding what is the end of life and what is desirable as a means to that end, are we to think of the end in terms of pleasure as it appears to the enltured man, a man who is familiar with ideas and trains of ideas, or are we to think of pleasure as it appears to the natural man? All these questions were keenly debated in the schools of Greece, and all of them have a bearing on the definition of Desire.

Nor is it easy to say what are the views of the great masters of Greek thought on the question of desire. It is perhaps comparatively easy to say what were the views of Aristippus or of Epicurus, but not so easy to say what were the views of Plato or of Aristotle. Still a brief description may be useful. We quote from Dr. Jowett. ‘Plato, speaking in the person of Socrates, passes into a more ideal point of view, and expressly repudiates the notion that the exchange of a less pleasure for a greater can be the exchange of virtue. Such virtue is the virtue of ordinary men who live in the world of appearance; they are temperate only that they may enjoy the pleasure of intemperance, and courageous from fear of danger. Whereas the philosopher is seeking after wisdom and not after pleasure, whether near or distant: he is the mystic, the initiated, who has learned to despise the body, and is yearning all his life long for a truth which will hereafter be revealed to him. In the Republic (ix. 582) the pleasures of knowledge are affirmed to be superior to other pleasures, because the philosopher so estimates them; and he alone has had experience of both kinds. In the Philcbus , Plato, although he regards the enemies of pleasure with complacency, still further modifies the transcendentalism of the Phaedo . For he is compelled to confess, rather reluctantly, perhaps, that some pleasures, i.e. those which have no antecedent pains, ‘claim a place in the scale of goods’ (Jowett’s Plato , vol. iv. p. 29 f.). Plato rejects the view that pleasure is necessarily preceded by pain. ‘True pleasures are those which are given by beauty of colour and form, and most of those which arise from smells; those of sound, again, and in general those of which the want is painless and unconscious, and the gratification afforded by them palpable to sense and unalloyed with pain’ ( Philcbus , 5f. A, Jowett’s translation). He prepared the way for the fuller analysis of pleasure and desire which we owe to Aristotle, for he showed that pleasures which accompany the active discharge of function are pleasant in themselves; the pleasures which are truly desirable are the pleasures of the wise, all others are a shadow only ( Rep . 583 B). Thus Plato rejects the earlier theories of movement and replenishment, distinguishes pleasures that are preceded by pain and want as pleasant only by contrast, and as it were by accident, from those pleasures which accompany active discharge of function; and he sets forth as the only true pleasure the pleasure of the good man. Pleasure, according to Plato, is always a process towards the normal condition of a subject, and is never in itself an end. The absence of finality from pleasure proves that pleasure taken by itself could never be the end of life. The treatment of pleasure and pain is conducted by Plato always from a moral point of view.

While Aristotle builds so far on the results of the analysis of Plato, yet he is dissatisfied with the argument that pleasure cannot be the summum bonum because it is a mere process towards an end. Pleasure, he contends, is an ἐνέργεια; it arises from the unimpeded operation of our faculties; it arises when an organ which acts perfectly comes into contact with its appropriate object, just as pain is the outcome of thwarted action on the part of either a sensitive or an intellectual faculty ( Ethiopic Nic. vii. 12, 1153. 13). The moral value of the feelings of pleasure and pain arises, says Aristotle, out of the fact that by means of them man passes from a state of a merely cognitive and intellectual being, and becomes a moral and active being. ‘It is when the sense perceives something as pleasant or painful that the mind affirms or denies it, pursues or avoids it’ (iii. 7. 2, 43f. 8). Aristotle has ever before him the unity and wholeness of human nature. He is never merely intellectual, and is never wholly practical. He always lays stress on the correspondence between the speculative and the practical sides of human nature. Truth and error in the intellectual sphere become good and evil in the moral sphere. What the mind affirms as truth and error in the intellectual sphere becomes pursuit and avoidance in the practical sphere. In both spheres the mind is active. Impressions in the cognitive sphere become, through the activity of the subject, objects of cognition; feelings of pleasure and pain, through a similar activity of the subject, are translated into objects of desire or aversion; become motives to action.

Two main factors, according to Aristotle, enter into the conative nature of man. It is difficult within our limits to expound this fully. But, briefly, it is that Desire and Reason must co-operate in order that a moral conclusion may be carried into effect. Moral choice or προαίρεσις may be described as νοῦς ὀρεκτικός, reason stimulated by desire, or ὄρεξις διανοητική, desire guided by understanding. The significant part of the view is that both the irrational and the rational elements must act together; desire and reason are constant elements in distinctive moral action. For the merely logical understanding never leads to action. Reason, as mere reasoning, is powerless to shape the will, and mere appetite is quite as powerless. In order to cause action, pleasure and pain must be translated into the higher forms of Good and Evil. Desire must always have an object (ὀρεκτικὸν δὲ οὐκ ἅνευ φαντασίας (433b. 28)); but the object of desire determines conduct only when thought has marked it out, defined it, and in a word constituted it (τὸ ὀρεκτικὸν κινεῖ οὐ νοηθῆναι ἢ φαντασθῆναι (433b. 12)).

‘The true object of consciousness in this union of desire and reason is not two objects,—one of desire, another of reason,—it is one single common force which finally becomes the principle of action. And when we ask how this object of our final wish is framed, the answer must be, that it is so through the agency of reason. Ultimately, and transcendently in fact, there is no difference between the object of thought and the object of wish; the βουλητον and the νοητὸν are merely different aspects of one and the same great generality. Even in our own experience it is thought which determines desire: and the principle and starting-point of conduct turns out to be an exercise of reason. And when Aristotle proceeds to state more definitely what is this object of perfect wish which thus determines and regulates our natural desires, he becomes still more of an idealist. For while the object of wish to any individual is but the apparent and relative good, still to a perfect man it is the absolute ideal good: and the aim of life comes to be an attempt to make our practical views in life elevate themselves to the full height of the absolute ideal of goodness.… The same writer who reproduces Plato’s idea of good as the constructive reason which gives both knowledge and reality to things, now finds the determining aim of conduct in an absolute ideal which constitutes the pattern to which morality must raise itself’ ( Aristotle’s Psychology in Greek and English, with Introduction and Notes , hy Edwin Wallace, M.A., Introduction, p. cxxiii f.).

We quote from Mr. Wallace, whose work represents the high-water mark of Aristotelian exposition, as it sets forth in brief space an interpretation of Aristotle which deserves study. It may be that Mr. Wallace has read Hegel into Aristotle, but in the present case he is right in saying that for Aristotle the world of desire is a rational world, and that the ground of conduct is the union of desire and reason. In short, the view of Aristotle corresponds to the definition of desire set forth by Professor Mackenzie. ‘It is then,’ says Aristotle, ‘on good grounds that people have viewed as springs of action these two faculties of desire and practical intellect: for the faculty of desire has itself a motive force, and the intellect excites to action just in so far as the object of desire supplies it with a starting-point: just as, similarly, imagination when it moves to action does not do so independently of desire. The spring of action thus resolves itself into one single thing, viz. the object of desire’ (Wallace’s translation p. 179).

As to the question whether animals can have desires, Aristotle decides that ‘no animal can have the faculty of desire unless it have imaginative power’ (Wallace, p. 183); but then, as imaginative power is connected with the reason or the senses, so animals may have the imaginative power connected with the senses, and thus have what can be designated desires. But they do not possess the kind of desire which forms itself as the conclusion of syllogism, so that their desire is destitute of any faculty of deliberation. ‘In the case of men, however, sometimes the images of sense overcome and move the rational volition; sometimes, as in incontinence, two things overcome and stir up one another, desire thus following on desire, much as a ball that players toss about; but the normal and natural course is always that in which the superior course of reason is the more supreme and stimulates to action’ (pp. 184–185). Desire thus, according to Aristotle, implies deliberation, choice, the use of means towards an end. In a signilicant passage in the Nicomachcan Ethics he says (we quote the paraphrase of Sir A. Grant): ‘If the object of purpose is that which, being in our power, we desire after deliberation, purpose will be a desire of things in our power. After deliberating we decide, and form a desire in accordance with our deliberation’ (Grant’s Aristotle’s Ethics , vol. ii. p. 23). Desire ranges, according to Aristotle, through all life. Wherever life is in presence of an object there is rudimentary desire. The animal world feels it in presence of an object present to its senses. A self-conscious being feels desire in proportion to its realization of self, and to its realization of the objects as existing in an ordered world. It is possible to regard the teaching of Aristotle as containing in itself the fuller analysis of desire as that analysis has been conducted by English Hedonists and by the English Neo-Hegelians.

Were there space, it would be instructive to trace the analysis of desire, or rather the description of desire, in subsequent philosophical speculation. But that would far exceed our limits. Nor is it necessary, for there is not much to be added to the result won by Aristotle until we come to the Utilitarian school of England. Some valuable remarks occur in Spinoza’s Ethics , but the current of modern speculation on the topic was set agoing by Hobbes. For the history of the process, readers may be referred to Professor Watson’s (Kingston, Canada) Hedonistic Theories , and to Dr. Albee’s (Cornell University) A History of English Utilitarianism . In addition to the account of the main ethical theory known as Utilitarianism, and a criticism of it, there will be found in these able books a particular account of that doctrine we have immediately in hand. In the posthumous work of Professor Green, Prolegomena to Ethics , there is a lengthened and incisive analysis of Desire; and in the posthumous work of Professor Sidgwick, The Ethics of T. H. Green, Herbert Spencer, and J. Martineau , as also in the various editions of the Methods of Ethics , we find a criticism of Green. These two works represent the most recent, as they also represent the most searching, accounts of Desire which can be found in the whole range of philosophical speculation.

In the analysis of Desire, as in the analysis of Knowledge, the work of Locke was epoch-making. He stated the problem in a form which occupied the thoughts of all his successors in England. Berkeley, Hume, Hartley, Tucker, Stuart Mill, and Spencer are in the succession, and all of them attack the problem of the will from the point of view of pleasure and desire. We take the statement of Locke’s position from the admirable work of Professor Watson, Hedonistic Theories (p. 111 f.):

‘Why does the same man will differently on different occasions? The reason is to be sought in the character of Desire as the imagination of pleasure. To different persons, or to the same person under different circumstances, one pleasure presents itself in his imagination as preferable to another. Under the impulse for knowledge one man will forget his bodily wants until hunger drives him to his meals; another man will neglect study, and live for the pleasures of sense, unless he is driven to change his course by the stronger impulse of shame. But as each man’s desire is determined not by him but for him, and the desire determines the will, what he prefers in any case is that which alone he can prefer, and freedom is a word without meaning.’

This, then, is the problem which the majority of English ethical thinkers had before them. A man’s desires are determined for him not by him, and the desire determines the will. Nor is much added to the solution of the problem from the time of Locke to that of Stuart Mill. Hume had tried to prove the utilitarian doctrine of the particular virtues, and Stuart Mill, using the same argument, sought to prove the general principle of Utility.

‘The sole evidence, of apprehend, it is possible to produce that anything is desirable, is that people do actually desire it. If the end which the utilitarian doctrine proposes to itself were not, in theory and in practice, acknowledged to be an end, nothing could ever convince any person that it was so. No reason can be given why the general happiness is desirable, except that each person, so far as he believes it to be attainable, desires his own happiness’ ( Utilitarianism , ch. iv.). Farther on in the same chapter he identifies pleasure and desire. ‘Desiring a thing and finding it pleasant, a version to it and finding it painful, are phenomena entirely unseparable, or rather two parts of the same phenomena.’ Thus Mill would find it necessary to show that people never do desire anything save pleasure or happiness. On this Sidgwick remarks: ‘As a matter of fact, it appears to me that throughout the whole scale of my impulses, sensual, emotional, and intellectual alike, If can distinguish desires the object of which is something other than my own pleasure’ ( Methods of Ethics , p. 45).

In truth, the Hedonistic account of Desire, from Locke to Mill, and including Sidgwick in some measure, is inadequate, because it is too exclusively psychological. Psychology, as it is usually conceived, cannot give a full account of Desire. For psychology deliberately limits itself to a description of mental processes, events, and occurrences, taken in abstraction from the self whose the mental states are, and from the outer world. An analysis of mental states can never give a complete account of the system to which the self belongs, and of the interests and values which are such because they are referred to the self. Thus the psychological account of Desire, and its relation to will, set forth by English Hedonism, is defective, not psychologically, but in reality. It is the merit of Green, and specially of those who with him have so fruitfully worked at ethical problems under the inspiration of Kant and Hegel, to point out that mental and moral values cannot be appraised, and cannot be the objects of desire, if we look at them in abstraction from the self, and from the world-system. In the Prolegomena to Ethics and in the Introduction to Hume, Green has brought the self in its concrete reality within the vision of English thinkers. He has been ably helped by such writers as Professor Muirhead in his manual The Elements of Ethics , by Professor Watson in Hedonistic Theories , and Professor Mackenzie in the Manual of Ethics . Other writers might be mentioned, but these will suffice to show the significance of the new departure in Ethics, and of the introduction of the self into English philosophy. Desire, according to Green, involves consciousness of self and of an object, and is to be distinguished from instinctive impulse, which implies only the feeling of self. A consciousness of self is something beyond self-feeling, is really a transformation of self-feeling. Self-consciousness being also a consciousness of objects, is thus the basis of desire and of knowledge. Even in the desire for food, what is desired is really some ulterior object, not the mere pleasure of eating. But most of our desires are for objects which are not directly dependent on animal susceptibility at all, or which, even where so dependent, are transformed by the addition of new elements derived from self-consciousness itself. There is a real unity in all our desires, only it is the unity of the self, not the unity of desire.

‘There is one subject or spirit, which desires in all a man’s experiences of desire, understands in all operations of his intelligence, wills in all his acts of willing; and the essential character of his desires depends on their all being desires of one and the same subject which also understands, the essential character of his intelligence on its being an activity of one and the same subject which also desires, the essential character of his acts of will on their proceeding from one and the same subject which also desires and understands’ ( Prolegomena to Ethics 4 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , p. 138).

It is well to have an emphatic statement of the unity of the thinking, willing, feeling subject placed on record; for up to Green’s advent we were allowed to see thinking, willing, feeling, but the self was altogether out of sight. At the same time, while Green lays stress on the unity of the self in all its activities, and rightly so, there seems to be a defect in his analysis. He seems to take for granted that the self-conscious self, in its conscious apprehension of objects as desirable, will always act wisely, prudently, and rightly. But does not the self-conscious being, in making a choice, sometimes choose unwisely and wrongly? As Sidgwick points out, ‘It seems to me to be fundamentally important to distinguish between choice (even deliberate choice) and judgment as to choice-worthiness, since they may diverge’ ( The Ethics of T. H. Green , etc. p. 30). Are we to hold that a man, following out what he thinks self-interest, clearly seeing the end in view and choosing appropriate means for its accomplishment, if he acts self-consciously, is always acting rightly? For Green in his description of the self-conscious subject does not seem to contemplate the possibility of wrong or vicious action. He takes for granted that the process of the self-conscious being on his way towards the appropriate action, towards the satisfaction he will feel when the object is attained, will always be right. But may there not be all the characteristics of the action of the self-conscious being, as these are described by Green, present in the course of conduct of a man who wades through slaughter to a throne? In truth, there is needed a further analysis, leading us beyond the mere processes of a self-conscious being, in order to find a justification for man’s action. We need a better description of the desirable than any that can be found in Green. All that he sets forth with regard to Desire and the self-conscious subject and its action may be true, and truly realized in the case of the man who has an unworthy end in view. He may identify himself with his object, he may find satisfaction in the attainment of it, and yet the choice may not be worthy.

It is the experience of mankind that a man may make an unworthy choice, may form a wrong ideal, may be mistaken, and yet may all the time act as a self-conscious being. So a further criterion is needed in order to guide men in their choice, in order that it may be a worthy choice. True, the values of life lie in their relation to the self. And the realization of the self is one of the great ends of life. But the self has to grow in relation to the ideal, and the ideal has to grow as well. How shall a man learn to recognize the true ideal, and to desire it? Here we ought to enter into the religious experience of man to realize the fact that man has formed wrong conceptions of life, has worshipped false ideals, and desired unworthy ends. One might pass into the sphere of that religious experience which has had its highest expression in the Scriptures. There, too, we are in a universe of desires, and the task of Scripture is to teach man what to desire. Scripture recognizes the possibility of wrong desire leading to wrong action, and it also recognizes that towards the making of desire all the faculties of man contribute. What it teaches is largely the reversal of human ideals: it puts last what men have put first, and it places in the front place, as the best and mightiest, what men have despised and forgotten. The self-conscious being has to be taught something which it would never have learnt through the mere exercise of self-conscious activity. It is not necessary to enter into an analysis of Scripture terms, or to trace the history of the term ‘desire’ through the Scriptures. For Scripture proceeds on the fact that men have had wrong desires, false ideals, and have pursued wrong objects; so it proceeds to teach them what is the really good, the true ideal; and, further, to give to men the power to recognize the good, the true, and the beautiful, and to desire them. We need this education, and the world of desire cannot be really described until we bring in the revolutionary power of religion, and learn to know that reversal of human judgments inaugurated by Christ.

Here, too, the strongest influence in this education is the commanding power of personality. It is not without significance that in the last resort Plato and Aristotle were driven back to the concrete standard of the ‘good man.’ Through the influence of personality men learn to recognize ideals and to love them. Around personalities cluster the thoughts, emotions, aspirations, tendencies which help to form the world of desire. It is so in the OT, where it is said of their devotion to the living God of Israel: ‘Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee’ ( Psalms 73:25); or, ‘To thy name and to thy memorial is the desire of our soul’ ( Isaiah 26:8). It is recognized that there is a world of wrong desires, objects which the self-conscious man may desire, long for, strive after; and the story of the Bible is the attempt to implant in these self-conscious beings the power to free themselves from that world of false desire. In the NT the first step towards that freedom is to bring men into contact with a living personality, in whom is sphered all perfection, whose service is perfect freedom, and through whom they may learn what to desire and what to long for, and what to attain. The laws of desire, as these are in human nature, and as they are disclosed to us through research and reflexion, rule in this sphere; but then they have new material to illustrate their working.

Illustrations of the working of Desire abound in religious experience. To enter into them would occupy us too long. It need only be said that attachment to a pure and holy Personality, love to One who is the ideal of human life, purifies the world of desire and intensities the power of action. Men who have felt the expulsive power of a new atlection and the intensive power of a holy love are lifted into a new world, and those who love Christ learn that the world of their desires is formed by Him; they learn to love what He approves, and to hate what He hates. The world in which they live, the universe in which their desires terminate, are constituted by the Person and by the Love of Christ. See art. Ideal.

Literature.—Jowett’s Plato  ; Aristotle’s Ethics (Grant’s ed.), and Psychology (ed. Edwin Wallace); Mackenzie, A Manual of Ethics  ; Muirhead, Elements of Ethics  ; Watson, Hedonistic Theories  ; Green, Prolegomena to Ethics  ; Sidgwick, Methods of Ethics , and The Ethics of T. H. Green , etc.; Shadworth Hodgson, The Metaphysie of Experience , esp. vol. iv.; Albee, A History of English Utilitarianism  ; Douglas, Ethics of J. S. Mill  ; Ward, art. ‘Psychology’ in Encye. Brit. 9 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] ; James, Principles of Psychology  ; Bowne, Introduction to Psychological Theory , and Principles of Ethics .

James Iverach.

Use of the term ‘desire’ in the Gospels .—In AV of the Gospels the word ‘desire’ is of frequent occurrence. As a noun it is found only once ( Luke 22:15), as the equivalent of ἐπιθυμία, but in the verbal form it represents no fewer than 8 verbs in the original:—ἐπιθυμέω ( Matthew 13:17,  Luke 16:21;  Luke 17:22;  Luke 22:15), θέλω ( Mark 9:35,  Luke 5:39;  Luke 8:20;  Luke 10:24;  Luke 20:46), αἰτέω ( Matthew 20:20,  Mark 10:35;  Mark 11:24;  Mark 15:6;  Mark 15:8,  Luke 23:25), ἐξαιτέω ( Luke 22:31), ἐρωτάω ( Luke 7:36;  Luke 14:32,  John 12:21), ἐπερωτάω ( Matthew 16:1), ζητέω ( Matthew 12:46-47,  Luke 9:9), παρακαλέω ( Matthew 18:32). Twice we have the adj. ‘desirous’ ( Luke 23:8,  John 16:19), but in both cases the vb. θέλω is used in the Greek. In RV, however, αἰτέω, ἐξαιτέω, ἐρωτάω (except in  Luke 7:36), and ἐπερωτάω are rendered by ‘ask,’ ζητέω by ‘seek,’ and παρακαλέω by ‘beseech’; so that ἐπιθυμέω and θέλω are left as the two verbs which in a more exact use of language have the meaning of ‘desire.’ When we distinguish between them, ἐπιθυμέω may be regarded as denoting the desire of the feelings (θυμός), θέλω the desire of the will. In the latter the element of purpose and resolve is usually more strongly present (cf.  John 8:44 τὰς ἐπιθυμίας τοῦ πατρὸς ὑμῶν θέλετε ποιεῖν). Sometimes, however, θέλω is used where a distinction from ἐπιθυμέω can hardly be pressed (see the parallel passages  Matthew 13:17,  Luke 10:24).

In the language of Christ and the Gospels, desire in itself is, properly speaking, neither good nor bad, its quality depending altogether upon the subject who experiences it or the object to which it is directed. The scribes ‘desire’ to walk in long robes ( Luke 20:46); while many prophets and righteous men have ‘desired’ to see Christ’s day ( Matthew 13:17 ||  Luke 10:24). The Prodigal ‘desired’ (ἐπεθύμει, EV ‘would fain’) to fill his belly with the husks that fed the swine ( Luke 15:16); and Jesus said, ‘With desire I have desired (ἐπιθυμίᾳ ἐπεθύμησα) to eat this passover with you before I suffer’ ( Luke 22:15). But owing to the corruption of the human heart, ‘desire’ tends to have a predominantly bad meaning, and so ἐπιθυμία comes to denote the sinful ‘lusting’ of a sinful will. In  Mark 4:19 (‘the lusts of other things’) the word is already passing over to this fixity of a dark connotation; the ‘other things’ may not be evil in themselves, but as they are allowed to choke the word and render it unfruitful, they have to be classed as ‘thorns.’ In  Matthew 5:28 ἐπιθυμῆσαι expresses ‘lust’ in the specific sense in which it has come to be used in modern speech, as unholy sexual desire. In  John 8:44 ἐπιθυμίας denotes the very ‘lusts’ of the devil as they are seen reappearing in his children.

According to the teaching of Jesus, impure desire, apart altogether from overt acts of sin, is itself a transgression of the Divine law ( Matthew 5:28). This is the point at which Christ’s ethical teaching so immeasurably transcends that of all other masters, and specifically the ‘righteousness’ of the scribes and Pharisees of His day. He taught that goodness and badness essentially lie not in the outward conduct but in the will and the heart, and that it is by the evil thoughts and feelings which issue from within that a man is defiled ( Matthew 15:19 f.). It is this same teaching with regard to ἐπιθυμία, now used definitely in the sense of ‘lust’ or sinful desire, that we meet again in characteristic forms in the writings of St. Paul and St. James. St. James ( James 1:14 f.) in his powerful figure shows how a man, seduced by his own ἐπιθυμία, begets the sin which issues finally in death. St. Paul ( Romans 7:8 ff.) tells how the commandment οὐκ ἐπιθυμήσεις stirred up in his heart πᾶσαν ἐπιθυμίαν, and so forced him at length to understand that nothing but the law of the Spirit of life could set him free.

Literature.—Moulton and Geden’s Concordance to the Greek Testament , and the Lexicons of Grimm-Thayer and Cremer, s.vv . ἐτιθυμία, ἐτιθυμέω, θελω; Müller, Christian Doet. of Sin , i. 157 ff.; Martensen, Christian Ethics , ii. 85 ff.; Liddon, Elements of Religion , p. 148 ff.; Dykes, Manifesto of the King p. 245 ff.; Expositor , iv. iv. [1891] 42 ff.; Milton, Paradise Lost , ii. 681 ff.

J. C. Lambert.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology [2]

The word "desire" covers a wide range of human wants, emotions, and cravings. It can describe natural desires, which include hunger for food, sexual longings, and desire for God. It can also describe unnatural desires or cravings, which include such things as greed and lust. On a few occasions desires are ascribed to God. Most of the time they are ascribed to man, and these desires come under the scrutiny of God.

The Old Testament . There are twenty-seven Hebrew words translated "desire" (this includes root words and their derivatives).

Kasap [כָּסַף] means to yearn for or to long after. Hapes [חָפֵץ חָפַץ] has a basic meaning of feeling great favor toward something, and is found seventy-one times in the Old Testament, being translated "delight" or "pleasure" the majority of the time, and "desire" nine times. Baqas [בָּקַשׁ] speaks of a person's earnest seeking of something or someone. It is usually translated "to seek, " "require, " or "desire."

The idea of "be attached to" and "love" comes from hasaq [   Genesis 2:9 ) and the tree forbidden to Adam, which became sinful when "desired" to make one wise ( Genesis 3:6 ).

One of the most frequently used words in the Old Testament to indicate desire is awa [אָוָה] and its derivatives, which can be found almost fifty times. Often the subject of this verb is nephes [נֶפֶשׁ], meaning self, soul, or appetite. The term is translated as "desire, " "lust, " "will, " "pleasant, " "greed, " "dainty, " and "desirable."

One final word of importance is the root shwq [שׁוקּ] and its derivative tesuqa [תְּשׁוקָּה]. It is translated as "desire" or "longing." This term is found only three times in the Old Testament:  Genesis 3:16,4:7 , and Song of  Song of Solomon 7:10 . In  Genesis 3:16 the term is negative in nature, occurring in a context of sin and judgment. In   Genesis 4:7 sin itself is described as desiring to have Cain. God describes sin "like a crouching beast, " hungering and preying on Cain. In the Song of Solomon the term is positive in nature, in the context of joy and love, referring to the bridegroom's desire for his bride.

The New Testament .  Matthew 9:13 (quoting   Hosea 6:6 ) is the first instance of desire in the New Testament. The Greek term used is thelo [Θέλω], which can be translated will, be willing, want, or desire. This term is found 208 times in the New Testament. Most of the time it is translated as "willing, " but it is translated as "desire" in the two Matthean passages,  Luke 20:46 , and  Hebrews 10:5,8 .

The verb epithymeo [Ἐπιθυμέω] and its derivatives are found scattered seventy-three times throughout the New Testament. Epithymeo [Ἐπιθυμέω] is found sixteen times. Both it and the noun epithymia are derived from thymos, which means wrath, fierceness, indignation, and then passion, heat, or passionate desire. Epithymeo [Ἐπιθυμέω] most often has an ambivalent sense, meaning simply desire, strive for, long to have/do/be something. Only in a few instances is the word used for (forbidden) desire. For example,  1 Corinthians 10:6 refers to godless desire.

The noun epithymia [Ἐπιθυμία] is used in a neutral or good sense in  Luke 22:15;  Philippians 1:23;  1 Thessalonians 2:17; and  Revelation 18:14 . All other uses of the noun are in the bad sense, usually with the translation of the word being "lust."

Zeloute [1Col 12:31; 14:1,39;   Galatians 4:17,4:7;  James 4:2 ). Zeloo [Ζηλόω Ζηλεύω] is found multiple times in the New Testament and is used in reference to Jewish "holy zeal, " hostility occasioned by ill will, "jealousy, " and the desire to attain goals or to be devoted to someone.

One of the stronger negative Greek words translated desire is katastreniao [Καταστρηνιάω]. It means to burn fiercely, to be covetous, to be sensually stimulated. Another word used in the negative sense is orexis, [Ὄρεξις] which indicates a lustful desire or longing.

Hedone [Ἡδονή] is understood to mean desire, pleasure, or enjoyment. Originally hedone [Ἡδονή] meant the feeling of desire perceived through the sense of taste. In the New Testament it represents desires that strive against the work of God and his Spirit. The word is found five times in the New Testament, and all five occurrences have a bad connotation. In  Luke 8:14 it is the pleasures or desires of life that will choke out the Word.   Titus 3:3 describes the lost sinner as being "enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures."   James 4:1-3 says that fights and quarrels are the outward expressions of lusts or desires within the members, and the author warns against praying with wrong motives, intending to satisfy personal lusts or desires. Finally,   2 Peter 2:13 says that false teachers consider it desirous to riot or carouse in the daytime.

Conclusion . In the Old Testament human desires were viewed as something natural to humankind. But desire was to be subject in obedience to the will of Yahweh. The one who knew the true fulfillment of his or her desires relied on the Lord. Thus, the final object of desire was the Lord himself ( Proverbs 3:5-6 ).

Desire is treated in a similar manner in the New Testament. Human desire is viewed as being evil, lustful, covetous, and ungoverned, or as commensurate with the new life in Christ. Paul points out that the Christian is "to eagerly desire the greater gifts" ( 1 Corinthians 12:31 ). He described how he "longed" to see his Thessalonian brothers in  2 Thessalonians 2:17 . Christ "eagerly desired to eat the Passover" with his disciples ( Luke 22:15 ). We see that Paul's greatest desire in  Philippians 1:23 is the desire to "depart and be with Christ."

How do we know if a desire is good or bad? The answer lies in the object or reason for the desire. If the desire is self-centered then it is bad, because the essence of sin is the determination to have one's own way. It is an act of idolatry in that one has put self in the place of God. Good desire is simply the opposite. It is putting the desire for God's will first. When the Lord is our greatest desire, all other desires find their proper expression.

Daniel L. Akin

See also Lust

King James Dictionary [3]


1. An emotion or excitement of the mind, directed to the attainment or possession of an object from which pleasure, sensual, intellectual or spiritual, is expected a passion excited by the love of an object, or uneasiness at the want of it, and directed to its attainment or possession. Desire is a wish to possess some gratification or source of happiness which is supposed to be obtainable. A wish may exist for something that is or is not abtainable. Desire, when directed solely to sensual enjoyment, differs little from appetite. In other languages, desire is expressed by longing or reaching toward, and when it is ardent or intense, it approaches to longing, but the word in English usually expresses less than longing.

We endeavored-to see your face with great desire.  1 Thessalonians 2 .

Thou satisfiest the desires of every living thing.  Psalms 145 .

Desire is that internal act, which, by influencing the will, makes us proceed to action.

2. A prayer or request to obtain:

He will fulfill the desire of them that fear him.  Psalms 145 .

3. The object of desire that which is desired.

The desire of all nations shall come.  Haggai 2 .

4. Love affection.

His desire is toward me. Song of  Song of Solomon 7 .

5. Appetite lust.

Fulfilling the desires of the flesh.  Ephesians 2 .


1. To wish for the possession or enjoyment of, with a greater or less degree of earnestness to covet. It expresses less strength of affection than longing.

Neither shall any man desire thy land.  Exodus 34 .

Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts.  1 Corinthians 14 .

2. To express a wish to obtain to ask to request to petition.

Then she said, did I desire a son of my Lord?  2 Kings 4 .

3. To require.

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary [4]

Is an eagerness to obtain or enjoy an object which we suppose to be good. Those desires, says Dr. Watts, that arise without any express ideas of the goodness or agreeableness of their object to the mind beforehand, such as hunger, thirst, &c.; are called appetites. Those which arise from our perception or opinion of an object as good or agreeable, are most properly called passions. Sometimes both these are united. If our desire to do or receive good be not violent, it is called a simple inclination or propensity. When it rises high, it is termed longing: when our desires set our active powers at work to obtain the very same good, or the same sort of good, which another desires, it is called emulation. Desire of pleasures of sense, is called sensuality; of honour, is called ambition; of riches, covetousness. The objects of a good man's desires are, that God may be glorified, his sins forgiven and subdued, his affections enlivened and placed on God as the supreme object of love, his afflictions sanctified, and his life devoted to the service of God,  Proverbs 11:23 .  Psalms 105:19 .

Webster's Dictionary [5]

(1): ( v. t.) To express a wish for; to entreat; to request.

(2): ( v. t.) Grief; regret.

(3): ( v. t.) Excessive or morbid longing; lust; appetite.

(4): ( v. t.) To long for; to wish for earnestly; to covet.

(5): ( v. t.) Anything which is desired; an object of longing.

(6): ( v. t.) To require; to demand; to claim.

(7): ( v. t.) To miss; to regret.

(8): ( v. t.) The natural longing that is excited by the enjoyment or the thought of any good, and impels to action or effort its continuance or possession; an eager wish to obtain or enjoy.

(9): ( v. t.) An expressed wish; a request; petition.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [6]

dē̇ - zı̄r ´: The verb "to desire" in the Scriptures usually means "to long for," "to ask for," "to demand," and may be used in a good or bad sense (compare  Deuteronomy 7:25 the King James Version). the Revised Version (British and American) frequently renders the more literal meaning of the Hebrew. Compare   Job 20:20 , "delight";  Proverbs 21:20 , "precious";  Psalm 40:6 , "delight"; αἰτέω , aitéō (except  Colossians 1:9 ), and ἐρωτάω , erōtáō (except  Luke 7:36 ) are rendered "to ask" and ζητέω , zētéō , "to seek" (compare  Luke 9:9 et. al.). The Hebrew כּסף , kāṣaph , literally, "to lose in value," is translated ( Zephaniah 2:1 ) by "hath no shame" (the Revised Version, margin "longing," the King James Version "not desired"). The literal translation "to lose in value," "to degenerate," would be more in harmony with the context than the translations offered. The Hebrew חמדּה , ḥemdāh ( 2 Chronicles 21:20 , "without being desired"), means according to the Arabic "to praise," "to give thanks." The context brings in contrast the burial of the king Jehoram with that of his fathers. In the latter case there was "burning," i.e. recognition and praise, but when Jehoram died, there was no ḥemdāh , i.e. there was no praise for his services rendered to the kingdom. For "desire" in  Ecclesiastes 12:5 , see Caperberry .