Black and White Horses

Question: What is life without desire?

Potential hypothesis: Contentment.

Does contentment follow desire? Desire has been a philosophical problem as long as philosophers have been thinking.   In Plato’s The Republic, Socrates (Plato’s teacher but also the protagonist in this story) argues that individual desires must be postponed in the name of the higher ideal.

Buddhism teaches the cause of all suffering is craving. By eliminating it, one can attain ultimate happiness. Throughout this path to Nirvana, a practitioner is advised to generate desire for skillful ends.

We learned from Shawn Achor that happiness precedes success. So what if contentment precedes desire? What if the relationship is cyclical rather than linear?

In Plato’s Phaedrus, the soul is guided by two horses, a dark horse of passion and a white horse of reason. Socrates argues the dark horse should not be done away with, since its passions make movement towards the objects of desire possible.  But Socrates qualifies desire and places it in relation to reason so that the object of desire can be discerned correctly.

Desire is good if it’s the right desire. And who doesn’t love horses? Like I said yesterday, black and white is the new black.

Thomas Hobbes writes in Leviathan, “Felicity is a continual progress of the desire from one object to another, the attaining of the former being still but the way to the latter. The cause whereof is that the object of man’s desire is not to enjoy once only, and for one instant of time, but to assure forever the way of his future desire.”

Maybe the answer then is that a life without desire is not one of contentment, but complacency. Desire must be present to keep us in motion. When tempered with reason, we can attain contentment – at least in the moment. Then if we can learn to live in the now, well, that’ll really be living.

Today I desire to be better. Stronger. Kinder. Healthier. More reasonable. I started the day with a 2 mile walk, dog in tow. I’m working to continue forward on the path, rough and tangled as it may be.

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