Argument from Desire


#1

I've been discussing the argument from desire with a few friends of mine. Here is the main outline of the argument that my friend made.

  1. Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can actually satisfy that desire.
  2. The desire to be eternally happy is a natural desire.
  3. So, there exists some real object that can actually satisfy the desire for eternal happiness.

Now, I've always thought that premise one is very weak and is only plausible. However, given premise 1, do you think one can criticize premise 2? How would we defend this logically? While it is definitely more plausible prima facie that man desires to be eternally happy. How would we prove it though? Thanks.


#2

“natural” is a nebulous term. It could be argued that in the “natural” state man had no concept of eternity or eternal life. Nevertheless(!) the desire for happiness to go on forever is very common and understandable. Why should it come to an end given the widespread belief that death is not the end? :slight_smile:


#3

Couldn't we argue that man only desires to be happy so long as he exists?


#4

[quote="awatkins69, post:3, topic:211361"]
Couldn't we argue that man only desires to be happy so long as he exists?

[/quote]

Certainly. We exist in the eternal present which transcends time and space. Physical death is not evidence that we cease to exist. We can never escape from the reality of truth, goodness, beauty and love - which converge in God.


#5

First off, I agree with that. However, just speaking theoretically, couldn't we say that temporary happiness sufficiently satisfies our desire for happiness?


#6

[quote="awatkins69, post:5, topic:211361"]
First off, I agree with that. However, just speaking theoretically, couldn't we say that temporary happiness sufficiently satisfies our desire for happiness?

[/quote]

I don't think so. The thought that it may end can spoil it - especially if we are in love!


#7

"natural" is a nebulous term. It could be argued that in the "natural" state man had no concept of eternity or eternal life. Nevertheless(!) the desire for happiness to go on forever is very common and understandable. Why should it come to an end given the widespread belief that death is not the end?

Where a natural aversion exists; it is only because of a natural desire or love for something else. Man has a natural aversion for death. Thus; man has a natural inclination towards life. (Scotus; De Spiritualitate Et Immortalitate Animae Humanae)

Couldn't we argue that man only desires to be happy so long as he exists?

If life quits him by his dying; how can a blessed life remain with him? And when it quits him, without doubt it either quits him unwillingly, or willingly, or neither. If unwillingly, how is the life blessed which is so within his will as not to be within his power? And wheras no one is blessed who wills something that he does not have, how much less is he blessed who is quitted against his will, not by honour, not by possessions, nor by any other thing, but by the blessed life itself, since he will have no life at all.... But neither isthat a blessed life which is such as to be unworthy of his love whom it makes blessed." (Augustine; XIII Cap. viii.)


#8

[quote="awatkins69, post:5, topic:211361"]
However, just speaking theoretically, couldn't we say that temporary happiness sufficiently satisfies our desire for happiness?

[/quote]

Our desire for happiness is that happiness will be fulfilled or satisfied.

Given that temporal happiness on earth is transient and incomplete, then it doesn't satisfy the desire.


#9

Hi, thanks for this thread. I'm in a debate about the Argument from Desire currently, and I'm basing most of my argument off of Dr. Peter Kreeft's explanation here peterkreeft.com/topics/desire.htm
The atheist I'm debating with is using the first objection (about halfway down the page).

He's saying this pretty much "The problem with this argument is that its first premise is not necessarily true unless the conclusion is true. Understand? The argument cannot be a proof of the existence of said object, because it requires that object to exist to have any basis. If said object does not exist, the first premise is invalid, so you must assume the conclusion for premise one to have any validity. "

Could someone help me out and give me a clear explanation of what I should say to him? I wasn't totally satisfied by Kreeft's in the argument. Thanks.


#10

Hi. I have no idea what the atheist is talking about. The first premise, while not being able to be proven, is still quite plausible. The premise is this:

Everything that humans naturally desire corresponds to some actual object that can fill that desire.

Now, he could just say "well, there's an exception this time", but that is simply less plausible, since it's the only exception.


#11

What has not been established so far is that the object of desire is, in the case of God, desirable. The atheist can always counter that the Christian God is not desirable because he interferes too often with our pleasures. I happen to think that's probably the single most common reason why atheists are atheists. They prefer the lush pleasures of the flesh to the hard labors of the spirit.


#12

@ Charlemagne II: I agree. St. Thomas Aquinas says somewhere that those who are starved of spiritual joy invariably turn towards carnal pleasure.

@awatkins69:

What he's saying is that we can't prove that every natural innate desire can be satisfied by some real object unless our conclusion is true - in which case we would be begging the question.

Could you explain further what you mean by "plausible" but not "provable"? How should I reply to him do you think?

My only thought is that... if there is some natural innate universal desire (like the desire for happiness) that cannot be satisfied like this, than we are all like... a planet of Romeos longing for non-existant Juliets (which was how Peter Kreeft put it). So... it's just not plausible that nature would program us with a desire that cannot be fulfilled. But that doesn't seem very compelling.

As usual, I think I have an argument figured out completely and then... :rolleyes:

Anyway, I appreciate the reply. God bless you, and happy Nativity of Mary.


#13

Yes, I don't understand the atheist's objection either. But he may be missing some of the distinctions. And possibly the argument could benefit from some clarification(?).

Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire.

First, it's every natural, innate desire -- those are the universal desires of human nature.

This premise is saying that human beings have natural desires.

I wonder if I'm re-wording this correctly now ...

Every natural desire of a human being corresponds with something which provides *some *fulfillment of the desire.

Some natural desires would be happiness, accomplishment, justice, fulfillment, success, goodness, honor, achievement, love, distinction, discovery, knowledge, goodness, friendship, community ...

Now, all natural human desires correspond with some real object. So, any of those desires listed correspond with various natural things (including actions).

The problem may be the premise claims that these objects "satisfy" the desire.

What I am adding is the qualifiers: "fully" or "partially" (or "temporarily')

So, every desire corresponds with an object that *temporarily *satisfies that desire.

Now, the third point may be clearer:

But there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature can satisfy.

If we add "fully satisfy" ... this might make it clearer.

We have natural desires
Every natural desire corresponds with an object that can partially, imperfectly or temporarily satisfy that desire
But there exists in us desires which nothing in time, on earth or any creature can satisfy.

Or

None of these desires which can be partially satisfied, can be fully satisfied in time, on earth or by any creature.

We continue to have these natural desires and they do not disappear or become fulfilled or satisfied.

This is true of all human history -- for every human being.

These natural human desires are never fully satisfied. They are also universal.

I think the argument can be filled out quite a lot more.
It's a very strong argument against materialism -- and certainly a point that is difficult to explain in evolutionary terms, for example. Where did these desires come from and why are they universal and why are they never fully satisfied? Shouldn't we know by now not to desire these things which are always frustrated and never fulfilled?


#14

@reggieM: Thanks for replying. :)

What this atheist is saying is that if we would want to prove the first premise, we would need to prove the conclusion (that there is some object for our unsatisfied desire outside of space and time). But that's circular and begging the question.

I think the argument can be filled out a lot more too...

I think to go down your line of thinking I would be changing the argument to something slightly different, and I want to deal with the main point of the Argument from Desire.

So... I guess my question is how to prove the first premise on its own. Or how to present it as "plausible."


#15

Thanks for the clarification, vardaquinn.

Personally, I think some filling-out of the Argument from Desire is the best way to go. But I can understand your interest to keep it limited to the way Dr. Kreeft framed the classical argument itself.

Ok, this probably won't be very popular, but I think the argument sounds weak the way it is written. I don't agree with your atheist's objection, but we have to admit that this argument is not a proof as such -- not like other proofs which follow logical necessities (like the cosmological argument or the ontological arguments).

It's really an appeal to "the most reasonable conclusion" -- or a plausible answer, as I see it.

So, that doesn't help you very much. :)

Personally, I would expand and re-work the argument to explore what it really means. I think it's a very powerful argument when you take some different angles on it. There are many ways to show how this argument is reasonable. I just think that the wording that is used doesn't work well.

The first two premises really cannot be proven. They are an appeal to a reasonable conclusion.

Universal desires "point" to fulfillment. We see all human beings experiencing the same desires. All are able to experience some satisfaction of those desires. But no one is able to arrive at a complete fulfillment of desire. There is always a longing - it never disappears.

Dr. Kreeft answers the objection you posted by saying that the argument is moving from specific observations to general conclusions. Personally, I see a lot of problems with that.

This would be a good argument to review through some scholarly commentators (which I haven't done).


#16

[quote="vardaquinn, post:12, topic:211361"]

What he's saying is that we can't prove that every natural innate desire can be satisfied by some real object unless our conclusion is true - in which case we would be begging the question.

Could you explain further what you mean by "plausible" but not "provable"? How should I reply to him do you think?

My only thought is that... if there is some natural innate universal desire (like the desire for happiness) that cannot be satisfied like this, than we are all like... a planet of Romeos longing for non-existant Juliets (which was how Peter Kreeft put it). So... it's just not plausible that nature would program us with a desire that cannot be fulfilled. But that doesn't seem very compelling.

As usual, I think I have an argument figured out completely and then... :rolleyes:

Anyway, I appreciate the reply. God bless you, and happy Nativity of Mary.

[/quote]

Hi Vardaquinn. What I mean to say is that, the fact is, we cannot prove that every desire has an object corresponding to it which can actually fulfill that desire. There is no syllogism one can make to prove it by logical necessity. However it is a very plausible assertion. What I mean by this is that every single other natural desire we have is fulfilled by some object. We haven't found any exceptions. So even though he's right in saying that we can't prove the first premise, we should accept the first premise because it is very plausible. Think of it like this:

We cannot prove that all dogs die, because maybe there will one day be an exception to this rule. However, it is very plausible to hold that all dogs die since in every observed case the dog has died. Likewise, we cannot prove that for every natural desire there is an object which fulfills it, because there may be an exception to this rule. However, it is very plausible, since in every observed case of a natural desire there is an object which actually fulfills it. I hope this helps.


#17

[quote="awatkins69, post:1, topic:211361"]
I've been discussing the argument from desire with a few friends of mine. Here is the main outline of the argument that my friend made.

  1. Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can actually satisfy that desire.
  2. The desire to be eternally happy is a natural desire.
  3. So, there exists some real object that can actually satisfy the desire for eternal happiness.

[/quote]

Since it is true that the existence of God can be proven with certainty by natural human reason by the principle of causality, I don't see much reason to offer the above argument since it seems to me only probable. It may in fact "seem" extremely probable, but it lacks certainty - a certainty which can be had in the traditional Thomistic proofs by using the law of causality. For this reason I don't think it prudent to offer such arguments as proofs.


#18

It's certainly not a proof. It's simply evidence. Also, even if we accept the causal proofs, they offer us absolutely nothing in terms of man's end, or how man relates to God, aside from explaining the manner in which he exists.


#19

[quote="awatkins69, post:18, topic:211361"]
It's certainly not a proof. It's simply evidence. Also, even if we accept the causal proofs, they offer us absolutely nothing in terms of man's end, or how man relates to God, aside from explaining the manner in which he exists.

[/quote]

I would actually argue that, if the Thomistic proofs are understood the way St. Thomas intends them, understanding them would entail knowing as certain that all things (man included) tend toward the end to which they are moved. I.e. since a thing moved implies a mover, this implies that the thing moved is being moved to an end. In fact, St. Thomas' fifth proof proves exactly this, though many moderns lean more toward it implying design being found *in *things themselves, when he, in my opinion, actually means to show that that design is found in the *movement *of things *among *themselves. The proof (loosely speaking) would run:

Things in the universe move towards an end.
Man is a thing in the universe.
Man, therefore, moves toward an end.

The argument from desire is, in my opinion, very compelling, mainly because I really think that man's soul desires the infinite. I just do not think you could use it to convince many people if they are wanting solid proofs. And it should not be considered a strict proof even for believers, lest they should think the proof of God rests on only a "feeling" or "hunch."


#20

Ah, the fifth proof, of course. When I think of the causal proofs, I always think of the first three. I like the fifth proof, but that is definitely going to be less acceptable to modern sensibilities than the argument from desire. With the fifth proof we are tied into all kinds of ideas like "final causality" and "telos" which just don't ring as true to modern ears. And again, I will reiterate, that I don't think the argument from desire alone proves God's existence. It only provides plausible evidence.


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