Seminar Series in Analytic Philosophy 2023-24: Session 29

The Curse of Satisfaction: Paradoxes of Desire

Ronald de Sousa (University of Toronto)


28 June 2024, 16:00 (Lisbon Time – WET)

Faculdade de Letras de Lisboa

Sala Mattos Romão [C201.J] (Departamento de Filosofia)


Abstract: Plato was perhaps the first but certainly not the last philosopher to take a dim view of desire. Lust, in particular, offers a model of desire reducible, in Shakespeare’s famous phrase, to ‘expense of spirit in a waste of shame’: and other poets and philosophers have argued that desire is essentially pain, that its object is often not what we think it is, and that satisfaction (in the limited measure in which it is even possible) only makes it worse. This talk begins by distinguishing semantic satisfaction (getting what you thought you wanted) from emotional satisfaction (actually enjoying what you are getting). It discusses some findings of recent brain science and psychology, due to Kent Berridge and others, that show that the natural and expected correlation between wanting something and getting pleasure from it can be disrupted. This helps to explain the phenomenon of ‘dust and ashes’—the absence of emotional satisfaction following semantic satisfaction—as well as other ways in which ‘satisfaction’ can fail to prove satisfying. Such explanations, however, don’t altogether resolve the problem of the ‘curse of satisfaction’.