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The Contender
Con (against)
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The Argument from Desire is a sound argument.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 8/13/2013 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,121 times Debate No: 36658
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (3)
Votes (1)




Most people on this site are familiar with the more popular arguments for God's existence, the cosmological arguments, teleological argument, moral argument, and ontological argument. However, I would like to try out another argument which may not be as familiar to the debaters here, the Argument from Desire. I will give the argument in this round, even though this round will be strictly for acceptance. I will defend the argument in the next round.

The Argument from Desire I will be defending will be the argument as formulated by Peter Kreeft:

Premise 1: Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire.
Premise 2: But there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature can satisfy.
Conclusion: Therefore there must exist something more than time, earth and creatures, which can satisfy this desire. [1]

Round 1 -- acceptance only.
Round 2 -- opening arguments/rebuttals.
Round 3 -- rebuttals.
Round 4 -- rebuttals/closing statements.

I look forward to an interesting debate.



I will be taking the position that the argument from desire is not a sound argument.

I will argue that the premises of the argument for desire are faulty and, therefore; the conclusion of the argument from desire is faulty. Furthermore, I will attempt to show that even if the premises are restricted to sound operational definitions, the argument from desire is not the best 'argument' that can be made in the support or rejection of a hypothesis.

I will use round two to make an opening argument.

Thank you, KeytarHero, for 'instigating' this debate topic. I also look forward to an interesting debate.
Debate Round No. 1


I would like to thank Con for accepting this debate.

The argument I will be defending will be the Argument from Desire, as laid out by Peter Kreeft:

Premise 1: Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire.
Premise 2: But there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature can satisfy.
Conclusion: Therefore there must exist something more than time, earth and creatures, which can satisfy this desire.

In defense of Premise 1: Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire.

CS Lewis once wrote, "...Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such as a thing as sex. If I find myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world." [2]

The idea behind the first premise is that there are two kinds of desires. One is an innate, natural desire like the desire for sex, food, drink, justice, etc. And every natural, innate desire has a real object that can satisfy it: we naturally desire sex, so there is sex. We naturally desire food, so there is food. And so on. We can also recognize corresponding states of deprivation of these desires: if you don't eat, you starve. If you don't drink, you dehydrate. And so on.

The second kind are artificial desires, which one does not desire naturally but come from without, from society. These desires are desires for things like sports cars, the planet Risa (Kreeft usees the Land of Oz as an example, but I figure I'll use my own analogy since it's my argument), that the Saints would win the Superbowl again. Unlike innate desires, there may or may not be satisfaction of these desires. Some, like the acquisition of sports cars, can be satisfied, and others, like traveling to Risa or the Saints winning the Superbowl again, cannot be. Kreeft points out that on top of this, we do not, for the most part, recognize corresponding states of affairs. There is not Risalessness to correspond to sleeplessness. Another difference is that all humans innately desire the natural desires, but the artificial desires vary from person to person.

Kreeft additionally points out, "The existence of the artificial desires does not necessarily mean that the desired objects exist. Some do: some don't. Sports cars do; Oz does not. But the existence of natural desires does, in every discoverable case, mean that the objects desired exist. No one has ever found one case of an innate desire for a nonexistent object." [1]

In defense of Premise 2: But there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature can satisfy.

Lewis, again in the same book, writes, "Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise. The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy. I am not now speaking of what would be ordinarily called unsuccessful marriages, or holidays, or learned careers. I am speaking of the best possible ones. There was something we grasped at, in that first moment of longing, which just fades away in the reality. I think everyone knows what I mean. The wife may be a good wife, and the hotels and scenery may have been excellent, and chemistry may be a very interesting job: but something has evaded us." [2]

The idea behind this premise is that when we look back through all of human history, I scarcely think we should find anyone who was perfectly happy with everything they had acquired. Someone can spend their life chasing after women, or money, and no matter how many women they sleep with, or how many shiny new toys they buy, they are never really happy. There is always the feeling that life can't be all there is, there is the longing that there must be something more.

Peter Kreeft explains, "The second premise requires only honest introspection. If someone defies it and says, 'I am perfectly happy playing with mud pies, or sports cars, or money, or sex, or power,' we can only ask, 'Are you, really?' But we can only appeal, we cannot compel. And we can refer such a person to the nearly universal testimony of human history in all its great literature. Even the atheist Jean-Paul Sartre admitted that 'there comes a time when one asks, even of Shakespeare, even of Beethoven, "Is that all that there is?"'" [1]

Conclusion: Therefore there must exist something more than time, earth and creatures, which can satisfy this desire.

This argument is not a rock-solid proof of God's existence. I don't think there is such a thing. This argument may not even, necessarily, refer to God, though if used in a cumulative case could support God's existence by being the thing that this argument points to. This debate is not about whether the argument supports God's existence, but just about whether the argument, itself, is sound.

Kreeft tells us that the conclusion of the argument is not "God" as already conceived or defined, but a moving and mysterious X which pulls us to itself and pulls all our images and concepts out of themselves. This mysterious X is unknown, but the direction of this X is known. The desires of this earth are fulfilled by finite satisfactions; the X in question is more. Not more in terms of quantity (so not more food to satisfy your hunger). But more as in quality. The mysterious X this argument points to is infinitely more, as we are not completely satisfied with the finite and partial.

So while the argument points to God and the existence of Heaven, as an infinite satisfaction of the desires that this world can never truly satisfy, it is not meant to be absolutely evidence of God's existence.

I await Con's reply.

[2] CS Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book 3, Chapter 10.



Thank you Pro for posting your initial argument and for not moving the goal posts on me. I shall attempt to also make my argument with the same intellectual integrity. Without further adieu...

As KeytarHero alludes to in round 1, the 'Argument from Desire' was an argument unfamiliar to me. Yet, I felt initially that the argument from desire was a re-package of the argument from personal incredulity. Before properly looking into the matter, I elected to accept the debate feeling that if nothing else, I could play Devil's advocate. Perhaps, I thought, the argument is sound and I will get housed in this debate. I reasoned that this is not necessarily a bad thing and proceeded anyhow.

Examining the argument from desire reveals that this argument is most prominently featured within the circle of those who are practicing Christian apologetics. This should not come as much of a surprise due to the conclusions posited by the argument. This becomes a key observation.

Premise 1: Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire.
Premise 2: But there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature can satisfy.
Conclusion: Therefore there must exist something more than time, earth and creatures, which can satisfy this desire [1].

Problems arising with premise 1:

Evolution would say that 'of course we desire things that can satisfy desire. Why on Earth would it be any way else?' Simply, humans evolved in Africa to evade being eaten by lions [2]. Obviously this is pretty fast and loose with some very serious science. I'm bringing this up is to illustrate that the arguments to support the first premise are very nearly irresponsibly oversimplified. C.S. Lewis states that "[creatures] are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists" [3]. Allow me to hazard an analogy by restating Lewis. "Animals are not born to desire food unless food exists." It should more properly be asserted that "any animal which requires nourishment to exist, cannot come to exist unless the object which provides nourishment exists already." Maybe some would consider this objection to be a minor one, and I somewhat agree. My intent in this is to provide a frame of reference to the motivation behind the premise. Simply stated, this premise advances the idea in the order that "if I desire it, it must exist," rather than "it must exist for me to have any desire for it" (quoting this line in support of Pro's argument would be 'quote mining;' a practice which is simply beneath this debate).

Another problem is that this premise approaches absurdity in certain regards. Perhaps we could agree (loosely) that perpetual survival on Earth is an innate desire for humans. Yet, nothing exists that, if discovered/ingested/followed/etc, has demonstrated any efficacy for perpetual survival. This first premise begins the argument from desire on pretty shaky ground, to say the least.

Problems arising with premise 2:

To make a simple rebuttal: this premise requires a degree of narcissism and ethnocentrism. Again, I will make an analogy with a monologue:

"I desire something that nothing in the past, present or future can fulfill. Nothing in nature at any time can fulfill it - ever! I discovered this desire when I was honest and introspective enough with myself. If you are honest and introspective with yourself, you will discover it too, as my desires are representative of all humans at all times that have ever existed or shall ever exist. Have you discovered this desire in yourself? NO!?! Then you have not been honest about your self-inspection, like I have."

This is absurd, admittedly, but it illustrates one point. This premise should sound somewhat familiar. It very nearly approaches a rephrase of an argument from ignorance. To assert that nothing natural found by an individual has ever satisfied a particular desire does not prove with any certainty that something natural does not exists that would satisfy or explain that desire. "I've never been satisfied, therefore nothing exists that can satisfy me." This simply does not follow.

Unsupported conclusion:

It seems fitting at this point to claim that the argument from desire is simply wishful thinking, but I'd be remissed not to illustrate that the conclusion does not logically follow the premises. The argument from desire can be restated in the following form:

X is stated as true.
If X is true, Y must be true.
Therefore, Y is true.

All true human beings are born from other true human beings.
But there exists, either through evolution or creation, the "first humans" that were not born from other true human beings.
Therefore, not all human beings are true human beings.

The conclusion falls apart because it is neither supported by the premises, nor do the premises hold any significant value. Even excusing the crude language of the premises in the previous example and agreeing that the first humans were not necessarily humans as we would classify them today, we cannot support that this form of argument is a sound way of achieving this understanding. The reasoning is circular, at best. This is merely the 'self-fulfilling prophecy.' "I feel X, so X must be true."

It may be said that the 'soundness' of the argument from desire rests upon the validity of the first premise. In fact, it may be proclaimed that without finding a 'natural desire' that doesn't correspond with some 'real object that can satisfy that desire,' then the first premises is sound.

Pro elaborates Kreeft's position that there are two kinds desires: natural and artificial. Pro has also previously described the difference (according to Kreeft). One of the larger problems I find in the entire argument is that there is an obvious opportunity to insert a measure of uncertainty to the proposition, rather than proclaim it to be definitively so (i.e., "...there must exist..."). It is entirely possible that desiring something which "...nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature can satisfy" is itself an artificial desire. Indeed, the object(s) of this desire vary from person to person, generation to generation. The very existence of those people that do not (by their own proclamation) have desires which nothing can satisfy seems to defeat the argument as well.

"Something must have started it all: a force greater than all others, a source from which everything issues. A prime mover. In the mind of such a person, that something is, of course, God. But what if the universe was always there, in a state or condition yet to identify - a multiverse, for instance? Or what if the universe, like its particles, just popped into existence from nothing? Such replies usually satisfy nobody. Nonetheless, they remind us that ignorance is the natural state of mind for a research scientist on the ever-shifting frontier. People who believe they are ignorant of nothing have neither looked for, nor stumbled upon, the boundary between what is known and unknown in the cosmos [4]"

Pointedly, the argument is only put forth by those who've already presupposed and/or desire its conclusion. Desire is not a sound way to investigate reality, nor is it a sound argument for it. Lastly, I will pose a question to Pro by rephrasing the original argument:

Premise 1: Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire.
Premise 2: But there seems to remain those desires for which we know of no natural way to satisfy.
Conclusion: Therefore, there must exist a natural explanation as to why these desires remain at all.

Is this argument more sound, less sound, or equally as sound as the original? Why, or why not?

[4] Neil deGrasse Tyson. Death by Black Hole, pgs 1498, 1499.
Debate Round No. 2


Thanks to Con for his rebuttal.

In defense of premise 1:

I don't think Con's rebuttal works. For example, many things exist which we don't desire. We don't desire poison, yet poison exists. So simply claiming that we desire something because it exists is clearly false. Also, trying to argue from evolution alone is also not an appropriate response, since God could have used evolution as the method by which to create humanity, instilling in us these desires. It seems to me that Con is misunderstanding the argument here. The argument is not claiming that we have desires for things that exist, or that when things exist, we will desire it. The argument is simply stating that for every natural, innate desire we have, there is a real and natural object to satisfy that desire. It seems that Con should use this line of reasoning to respond to premise two or the conclusion, but his line of reasoning here does not negate the premise.

Con presents another argument, one that actually addresses the premise. However, it does not succeed. It is a natural desire to want to survive, and we can attain that. But Con arguing that we would desire perpetual survival actually argues for the Argument from Desire, and not against it. We can't obtain perpetual survival here on earth, but if there really is a God and an afterlife, then we can surely obtain perpetual survival. While we can obtain our desire for survival, the desire for perpetual survival is one of the desires that the Argument from Desire argues for, the satisfaction by attaining something infinitely more than the finite and partial survival that we can attain here.

This premise begins the argument on secure ground. In order to refute the first premise, Con would have to find a desire that we have innately and naturally that does not correspond to some real and natural object to satisfy it. Con has not done so, so this premise stands firm.

In defense of premise 2.

The problem with Con's attack of the second premise is he is assuming that I did not support premise two in the opening argument. I did provide such a defense, however. All throughout history you have account after account of people who had attained earthly wealth, lots of women, etc., and still yearned for something more. There is something innate in us that tells us that all this world can offer us is not all that there is, or at least it can't be that way.

On might say that Con keeps using that word ("absurd"). I do not think it means what he thinks it means. "Absurd" does not mean "I disagree with your argument." I don't think Con has shown one thing in this argument that actually is absurd.

Con has simply not offered a proper rebuttal to this argument. It is not an argument from ignorance. The argument is not that there is some mystical object that we all long for that doesn't exist in this world. The argument is that there is something more than what we can find here. Not necessarily different, but more perfect and infinite than the desires that we find here. You can amass all the wealth and lovers you want, but there will still be a desire for something more, the innate knowledge that it can't be all there is to existence.

Premise 2 remains firm.

In defense of the conclusion.

I don't think it's altogether relevant to claim that the argument amounts to wish fulfillment. For why this is irrelevant, I'll let the words of Alvin Plantinga take over: "Is this Freudian claim [wish-fulfillment] incompatible with Christian belief? Could I accept Christian belief and also accept Freud's explanation or account of it? Well, maybe. For it is at least possible that God gets us to be aware of him by way of a mechanism like wish-fulfillment. According to Augustine, 'Our hearts are restless till they rest in you, O God.' But then it might be that one way God induces awareness of himself in us is through a process of wish-fulfillment: we want so much to be in God's presence, we want so very much to feel his love, to know that we are loved by the first being of the universe, that we simply come to believe this. I don't say that's in fact the way things go; I say only that it is possible and not incompatible with Christian belief." [1]

So as we see, even if it is wish-fulfillment, this does not disprove the argument itself. Con's "restatment" of the argument shows that he doesn't truly understand it. In his restated argument, the two premises are clearly contradictory. But the two premises in the Argument from Desire are not contradictory, or at least not obviously so, and Con has not demonstrated that they are. These premises are not simply asserted, they are argued for (and I presented arguments to support them).

Con has asserted that the argument commits at least three logical fallacies (begging the question, being a non sequitor, and the argument from ignorance). However, he has failed to show how my argument has committed any of these fallacies.

The desire in question (which nothing on earth can satisfy) is not an artificial desire, it is a natural desire, one that all humans throughout history have felt at some point in their lives.

So far the argument stands firm. Con's objections either fail to refute the premises of the argument, or they are irrelevant, case depending. Dismissing it because "it is only put forth by those who have already presupposed and/or desire its conclusion" is nothing more than the genetic fallacy. It doesn't matter how the argument came about, what matters is is the argument true? Can the premises be supported? Clearly they can.

As a final note, the last argument Con supports is not sound, as the conclusion does not follow. If premise two is correct, then the conclusion would not follow as premise two argues that there are desires which there are no natural ways to satisfy. Conversely, the Argument from Desire as supported by Kreeft is a sound argument.

I await Con's response.

[1] Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism, Oxford University Press, Oxford, NY, 2011, p. 149.


Thank you Pro for posting your response. I apologize again for the delay in posting my response, and for how brief it will be. I'll try and get straight to the point.

I'm not sure what Pro meant to illustrate in his rebuttal by stating that "we don't desire poison, yet poison exists." I haven't proposed that humans evolved to desire everything that exists. I simply noted a difference in accepted perspectives. Those who believe in a creator might say that evidence for a creator is present in the fact that everything in our solar system and on Earth in particular is hospitable to our survival. The counter perspective would note that, of course we exist on a planet where the conditions are hospitable for survival. The main difference is, quite obviously, the 'need' to call upon the supernatural to explain things. To attempt to state this perspective one more time in a more simple fashion... We are not born desiring strawberries, and therefore strawberries exist. Rather, we are introduced to strawberries and, if we find them agreeable to eat, then we may desire them.

I have offered that, simply, the desire for the metaphysical to exist does not provide any evidence that the metaphysical exists. It is not reasonable to believe so. The idea that human desire is boiled down to simply those things which are natural and artificial, and that because some proclaim a longing for 'everlasting satisfaction and simultaneous fulfillment of all desires at all times at once' that it must be so, is not rational.

Pro states in defense of premise 2 that "there is always the feeling that life can't be all there is, there is the longing that there must be something more." Quite simply, this is a desire that is demonstrably not uniform. To speak only for myself, I do not want, "and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world," as it is stated by C.S. Lewis. Specifically, I do not consider it any sort of valuable endeavor to desire for something to not be so because I find it displeasing, or to desire for a moment of extreme satisfaction to endure forever because it is pleasing. At risk of Pro noting that I keep "using that word," this premise is absurd. I feel justified in noting that, in a response of very nearly 9,000 characters, I used that word twice. Once in reference to my own analogy, admitting that it "is absurd, admittedly, but it illustrates one point." I don't understand why Pro has taken such a strong objection to my twice using this word, but perhaps I hurt his feelings by using it in reference to the argument for desire. I apologize for this, as it wasn't my intent to hurt any feelings.

The argument for desire is only sound to those who would desire the conclusions drawn by it. For myself, I'm attracted to what is real, and what is truth. I maintain a high standard for each. Something is not true because I find the prospect of it being true more desirable than if it's not. I desire a cure for cancer. That desire is not, in any rational way, that there will one day be a cure for cancer or that there is a separate metaphysical existence where there is no cancer.

To (hopefully) ward off any criticisms that I may think the following word means "I disagree," I shall define it here.

adjective: absurd; comparative adjective: absurder; superlative adjective: absurdest
(of an idea or suggestion) wildly unreasonable, illogical, or inappropriate.
"the allegations are patently absurd"
synonyms: preposterous, ridiculous, ludicrous, farcical, laughable, risible, idiotic, stupid, foolish, silly, inane, imbecilic, insane, harebrained, cockamamie;More
unreasonable, irrational, illogical, nonsensical, incongruous, pointless, senseless;
informalcrazy, daft
"what an absurd idea!"
antonyms: reasonable, sensible
  • (of a person or a person's behavior or actions) foolish; unreasonable.
    "she was being absurd—and imagining things"
At it's core and most simply stated, the argument from desire states that: "I desire food, and this desire is satisfied. (This remains unstated but implicit in the conclusion: I desire everlasting satisfaction of all desires). I do not achieve everlasting satisfaction of desires. Therefore, there must be everlasting satisfaction of all desires. This is circular reasoning. It is stating "X, therefore X." It appeals to the emotions of some. And to those people who are easily influenced by this appeal, the argument seems reasonable, but it remains nonsensical to argue for something to be true because it would be 'desired.'

Debate Round No. 3


KeytarHero forfeited this round.


I would like to use this conclusion to ask that Pro's forfeiture in this round is held against him. I believe that anyone can read the arguments as they were put forth in rounds 2 and 3 and come to a decision on which argument was better. I think it's fair to assume that Pro had more important matters to attend and therefore, could not make his final argument. Life, it seems, frequently treats us like this...

In closing, I will not be adding any conclusion. Pro and I each had two rounds to make our arguments/rebuttals. I will take this time to say thank you for reading and I hope you found this debate to be at least mildly interesting. Also, a thank you to Keytar Hero for prompting this debate.
Debate Round No. 4
3 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Posted by KeytarHero 3 years ago
Sorry about the forfeit. I ended up going out of town (had a seminar to speak at) and completely forgot about the debate.
Posted by Sargon 3 years ago
Or the KCA....
Posted by Sargon 3 years ago
I'm interested in debating KeytarHero on "there must (or probably is) an immaterial cause of matter".
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Sargon 3 years ago
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Total points awarded:01 
Reasons for voting decision: FF