Ruminations on Desire and Knowledge

Aristotle wrote at the beginning of his Metaphysics (the first line, actually), that all human beings, by nature, desire to know.

The word desire is significant. I think–at least I want to say–that to have a desire is somehow related to having an emotion, a belief that stems from something that philosopher Robert Solomon once wrote, that a large part of having an emotion includes a desire to act, to engage in the world in some way (True to our Feelings 238). Daniel Gross and Brian Jackson have made a comparable argument (The Secret History of Emotion: From Aristotle’s Rhetoric to Modern Brain Science 2, 44, 80-1; “Neuroscience and the New Urgency of Emotional Appeals” 491).

All human beings, by nature, desire to know. Here, we have a universal statement, a statement that will become useful as soon as we existentially instantiate. Whatever that means. What I think it means has to do with Kenneth Burke’s definition of form: “Form . . . is an arousing and fulfillment of desires” (Counter-Statement 124). Elsewhere, he also says that it is the creating and fulfilling of expectations and appetites.

This statement is where rhetoric gets its power. When we human beings have desires, we will work to fulfill those desires. For example, the hungrier I am, the more I will work to fulfill my appetite.

If all human beings, to some degree, already have a desire to know, then that desire can be used against (or for or with) them. This is why it’s so appealing to us to be in on a secret. We like to know things, especially things that were heretofore hidden (or seemingly hidden).

Suddenly, I’m wondering if this has something to do with the supply/demand thing in economics. If supply is low, demand is high because people sometimes want things that they don’t think they can have, things that are (or seem) unavailable. Whereas, on the other hand, we human beings sometimes take for granted the things that we have or that are easily attainable.

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