Desire is the fundamental force behind all human actions. We want all sorts of things: companionship, respect, achievement, connection, money, power, pleasure, and so on. And yet, strangely enough, we also very strongly desire — but is desire the right word? — to do what we should do. We’re looking for some kind of moral indicator, some barometric reading that shows we’re reaching towards something more than just our temporary, moment-to-moment impulses. What exactly are we reaching towards? What’s the relationship of the “want” to the “should”? Are they even the same species of mental phenomenon?
Since the ancient Greeks people have known about knowing they “should” do something but not wanting to do it in the moment, and so not doing it. The Greeks called it “akrasia,” meaning weakness of the will. Perhaps people wanted to do something before, or wanted to have done it, but they don’t actually want to do it in the moment when they are required to do it, and so they don’t. Classic example: wanting to run in the morning before you go to bed at night. In the morning, not wanting to run — and not running. And yet knowing all the benefits of running.
But maybe whatever benefits you’d get are easily trumped by the harms of ignoring your desires and fighting yourself. And the benefits of paying keen attention to and following your desires might be a should whose benefits easily exceed the benefits of forcing yourself to run. Perhaps the idea of getting yourself to run itself comes from some kind of outside idea, and your desire not to run actually represents your more natural self, the self that, if given expression, would lead you to an even better path to fitness. Desire may be the expression of an inner intelligence trying to communicate.
And all of this applies just as much to things you shouldn’t do as to those you should.
So perhaps the should that seems beneficial isn’t. Perhaps the desire that seems indulgent points to the real should. Perhaps the real should points to being in touch with our true desires. But what are they? Confusion remains. Appearances can be deceptive, and these intertwined concepts are but separated segments of the same snake’s body.