Desire is a sense of longing or hoping for a person, object, or outcome. The same sense is expressed by emotions such as "craving". When a person desires something or someone, their sense of longing is excited by the enjoyment or the thought of the item or person, and they want to take actions to obtain their goal. The motivational aspect of desire has long been noted by philosophers; Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) asserted that human desire is the fundamental motivation of all human action.
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While desires are often classified as emotions by laypersons, psychologists often describe desires as different from emotions; psychologists tend to argue that desires arise from bodily structures, such as the stomach's need for food, whereas emotions arise from a person's mental state. Marketing and advertising companies have used psychological research on how desire is stimulated to find more effective ways to induce consumers into buying a given product or service. While some advertising attempts to give buyers a sense of lack or wanting, other types of advertising create desire associating the product with desirable attributes, by showing either a celebrity or a model with the product.
The theme of desire is at the core of romance novels, which often create drama by showing cases where human desire is impeded by social conventions, class, or cultural barriers. The theme of desire is also used in other literary genres, such as Gothic novels (e.g., Dracula by Bram Stoker, in which desire is mingled with fear and dread). Poets ranging from Homer to Toni Morrison have dealt with the theme of desire in their work. Just as desire is central to the written fiction genre of romance, it is the central theme of melodrama films, which use plots that appeal to the heightened emotions of the audience by showing "crises of human emotion, failed romance or friendship", in which desire is thwarted or unrequited.
In philosophy, desire has been identified as a philosophical problem since Antiquity. In The Republic, Plato argues that individual desires must be postponed in the name of the higher ideal. In De Anima, Aristotle claims that desire is implicated in animal interactions and the propensity of animals to motion; at the same time, he acknowledges that reasoning also interacts with desire.
Hobbes (1588–1679) proposed the concept of psychological hedonism, which asserts that the "fundamental motivation of all human action is the desire for pleasure." Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677) had a view which contrasted with Hobbes, in that "he saw natural desires as a form of bondage" that are not chosen by a person of their own free will. David Hume (1711–1776) claimed that desires and passions are non-cognitive, automatic bodily responses, and he argued that reasoning is "capable only of devising means to ends set by [bodily] desire".
Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) called any action based on desires a hypothetical imperative, meaning by this that it is a command of reason that applies only if one desires the goal in question. Kant also established a relation between the beautiful and pleasure in Critique of Judgment. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel claimed that "self-consciousness is desire".
Because desire can cause humans to become obsessed and embittered, it has been called one of the causes of woe for mankind. Within the teachings of Buddhism, craving is thought to be the cause of all suffering that one experiences in human existence. The eradication of craving leads one to ultimate happiness, or Nirvana. However, desire for wholesome things is seen as liberating and enhancing. While the stream of desire for sense-pleasures must be cut eventually, a practitioner on the path to liberation is encouraged by the Buddha to "generate desire" for the fostering of skillful qualities and the abandoning of unskillful ones.
In Hinduism, the Rig Veda's creation myth Nasadiya Sukta states regarding the one (ekam) spirit: "In the beginning there was Desire (kama) that was first seed of mind. Poets found the bond of being in non-being in their heart's thought".
In Buddhism, for an individual to effect his or her liberation, the flow of sense-desire must be cut completely; however, while training, he or she must work with motivational processes based on skillfully applied desire. According to the early Buddhist scriptures, the Buddha stated that monks should "generate desire" for the sake of fostering skillful qualities and abandoning unskillful ones.
There is a double message here between what Buddha said, that desire must be created, and what some monks propose to their followers, that desire must be cut. Truth is Buddhism entails two aspects: the ideas monks taught to civilize peasantry, on the one hand, and the esoteric teachings of tantra (aimed at leaders) for self-realization, on the other, where—just as Buddha said—desire must be generated. Oscar R. Gómez holds that teachings imparted privately by the 14th Dalai Lama are meant for leaders to be able to choose a specific desire consciously by creating it previously from the inside. People have a tendency to live based on desires coming from the outside, and such desires are the ones making choices for them. As an alternative, tantric Tibetan Buddhism allows to choose a desire consciously; to create desire rather than being created by it.
Within Christianity, desire is seen as something that can either lead a person towards God and destiny or away from him. Desire is not considered to be a bad thing in and of itself; rather, it is a powerful force within the human that, once submitted to the Lordship of Christ, can become a tool for good, for advancement, and for abundant living.
While desires are often classified as emotions by laypersons, psychologists often describe desires as different from emotions. For psychologists, desires arise from bodily structures and functions (e.g., the stomach needing food and the blood needing oxygen). On the other hand, emotions arise from a person's mental state. A 2008 study by the University of Michigan indicated that, while humans experience desire and fear as psychological opposites, they share the same brain circuit. A 2008 study entitled "The Neural Correlates of Desire" showed that the human brain categorizes stimuli according to its desirability by activating three different brain areas: the superior orbitofrontal cortex, the mid-cingulate cortex, and the anterior cingulate cortex.
In affective neuroscience, "desire" and "wanting" are operationally defined as motivational salience; the form of "desire" or "wanting" associated with a rewarding stimulus (i.e., a stimulus which acts as a positive reinforcer, such as palatable food, an attractive mate, or an addictive drug) is called "incentive salience" and research has demonstrated that incentive salience, the sensation of pleasure, and positive reinforcement are all derived from neuronal activity within the reward system. Studies have shown that dopamine signaling in the nucleus accumbens shell and endogenous opioid signaling in the ventral pallidum are at least partially responsible for mediating an individual's desire (i.e., incentive salience) for a rewarding stimulus and the subjective perception of pleasure derived from experiencing or "consuming" a rewarding stimulus (e.g., pleasure derived from eating palatable food, sexual pleasure from intercourse with an attractive mate, or euphoria from using an addictive drug). Research also shows that the orbitofrontal cortex has connections to both the opioid and dopamine systems, and stimulating this cortex is associated with subjective reports of pleasure.
Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, who is best known for his theories of the unconscious mind and the defense mechanism of repression and for creating the clinical practice of psychoanalysis, proposed the notion of the Oedipus complex, which argues that desire for the mother creates neuroses in their sons. Freud used the Greek myth of Oedipus to argue that people desire incest and must repress that desire. He claimed that children pass through several stages, including a stage in which they fixate on the mother as a sexual object. That this "complex" is universal has long since been disputed. Even if it were true, that would not explain those neuroses in daughters, but only in sons. While it is true that sexual confusion can be aberrative in a few cases, there is no credible evidence to suggest that it is a universal scenario. While Freud was correct in labeling the various symptoms behind most compulsions, phobias and disorders, he was largely incorrect in his theories regarding the etiology of what he identified.
French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist Jacques Lacan (1901–1981) argues that desire first occurs during a "mirror phase" of a baby's development, when the baby sees an image of wholeness in a mirror which gives them a desire for that being. As a person matures, Lacan claims that they still feel separated from themselves by language, which is incomplete, and so a person continually strives to become whole. He uses the term "jouissance" to refer to the lost object or feeling of absence which a person believes to be unobtainable. For more details on the Lacanian conception of desire, see desire (psychoanalysis).
In the field of marketing, desire is the human appetite for a given object of attention. Desire for a product is stimulated by advertising, which attempts to give buyers a sense of lack or wanting. In store retailing, merchants attempt to increase the desire of the buyer by showcasing the product attractively, in the case of clothes or jewellery, or, for food stores, by offering samples. With print, TV, and radio advertising, desire is created by giving the potential buyer a sense of lacking ("Are you still driving that old car?") or by associating the product with desirable attributes, either by showing a celebrity using or wearing the product, or by giving the product a "halo effect" by showing attractive models with the product. Nike's "Just Do It" ads for sports shoes are appealing to consumers' desires for self-betterment.
In some cases, the potential buyer already has the desire for the product before they enter the store, as in the case of a decorating buff entering their favorite furniture store. The role of the salespeople in these cases is simply to guide the customer towards making a choice; they do not have to try to "sell" the general idea of making a purchase, because the customer already wants the products. In other cases, the potential buyer does not have a desire for the product or service, and so the company has to create the sense of desire. An example of this situation is for life insurance. Most young adults are not thinking about dying, so they are not naturally thinking about how they need to have accidental death insurance. Life insurance companies, though, are attempting to create a desire for life insurance with advertising that shows pictures of children and asks "If anything happens to you, who will pay for the children's upkeep?".
Marketing theorists call desire the third stage in the hierarchy of effects, which occurs when the buyer develops a sense that if they felt the need for the type of product in question, the advertised product is what would quench their desire.
In fiction and art
The theme of desire is at the core of the romance novel. Novels which are based around the theme of desire, which can range from a long aching feeling to an unstoppable torrent, include Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert; Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez; Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov; Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, and Dracula by Bram Stoker. Brontë's characterization of Jane Eyre depicts her as torn by an inner conflict between reason and desire, because "customs" and "conventionalities" stand in the way of her romantic desires. E.M. Forster's novels use homoerotic codes to describe same-sex desire and longing. Close male friendships with subtle homoerotic undercurrents occur in every novel, which subverts the conventional, heterosexual plot of the novels. In the Gothic-themed Dracula, Stoker depicts the theme of desire which is coupled with fear. When the Lucy character is seduced by Dracula, she describes her sensations in the graveyard as a mixture of fear and blissful emotion.
Poet W.B. Yeats depicts the positive and negative aspects of desire in his poems such as "The Rose for the World", "Adam's Curse", "No Second Troy", "All Things can Tempt me", and "Meditations in Time of Civil War". Some poems depict desire as a poison for the soul; Yeats worked through his desire for his beloved, Maud Gonne, and realized that "Our longing, our craving, our thirsting for something other than Reality is what dissatisfies us". In "The Rose for the World", he admires her beauty, but feels pain because he cannot be with her. In the poem "No Second Troy", Yeats overflows with anger and bitterness because of their unrequited love. Poet T. S. Eliot dealt with the themes of desire and homoeroticism in his poetry, prose and drama. Other poems on the theme of desire include John Donne's poem "To His Mistress Going to Bed", Carol Ann Duffy's longings in "Warming Her Pearls"; Ted Hughes' "Lovesong" about the savage intensity of desire; and Wendy Cope's humorous poem "Song".
Philippe Borgeaud's novels analyse how emotions such as erotic desire and seduction are connected to fear and wrath by examining cases where people are worried about issues of impurity, sin, and shame.
Just as desire is central to the written fiction genre of romance, it is the central theme of melodrama films, which are a subgenre of the drama film. Like drama, a melodrama depends mostly on in-depth character development, interaction, and highly emotional themes. Melodramatic films tend to use plots that appeal to the heightened emotions of the audience. Melodramatic plots often deal with "crises of human emotion, failed romance or friendship, strained familial situations, tragedy, illness, neuroses, or emotional and physical hardship." Film critics sometimes use the term "pejoratively to connote an unrealistic, bathos-filled, campy tale of romance or domestic situations with stereotypical characters (often including a central female character) that would directly appeal to feminine audiences." Also called "women's movies", "weepies", tearjerkers, or "chick flicks".
"Melodrama… is Hollywood's fairly consistent way of treating desire and subject identity", as can be seen in well-known films such as Gone with the Wind, in which "desire is the driving force for both Scarlett and the hero, Rhett". Scarlett desires love, money, the attention of men, and the vision of being a virtuous "true lady". Rhett Butler desires to be with Scarlett, which builds to a burning longing that is ultimately his undoing, because Scarlett keeps refuses his advances; when she finally confesses her secret desire, Rhett is worn out and his longing is spent.
In Cathy Cupitt's article on "Desire and Vision in Blade Runner", she argues that film, as a "visual narrative form, plays with the voyeuristic desires of its audience". Focusing on the dystopian 1980s science fiction film Blade Runner, she calls the film an "Object of Visual Desire", in which it plays to an "expectation of an audience's delight in visual texture, with the 'retro-fitted' spectacle of the post-modern city to ogle" and with the use of the "motif of the 'eye'". In the film, "desire is a key motivating influence on the narrative of the film, both in the 'real world', and within the text."
Contemporary spiritual perspective
Barry Long defined desire as stress or strain. It is a tension between an individual and the thing or state that that individual desires. As the thing does not feel this stress, the desiring is a one-way tension within the individual, an apparent reaching out towards the desired object or person.
When the person responds in the way desired, or the object is attained, the desire settles down into a relationship. A relationship is identifiable by the presence of an attitude in yourself which reacts in terms of "mine".
When a desire has been reduced to the level of a habit or idea it can be dealt with and eliminated fairly quickly by observation - seeing it for what it is. In that moment you suddenly realise you are free of the relationship as a need or dependence "of mine".
- Ethics Chapter. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy CD-ROM, V. 1.0, London: Routledge Edward Craig (ed). "Morality and emotions". By Martha C. Nussbaum
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- Hagen, Steve. Buddhism Plain and Simple. New York: Broadway Books, 1997.
- Charles S. Prebish, and Damien Keown, Buddhism - the EBook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, 2005, page 83.
- Thanissaro Bhikkhu, "The Wings to Awakening".
- Steven Collins, Selfless Persons: Thought and Imagery in Theravada Buddhism. Cambridge University Press, 1982, page 251: "In the end, the flowing streams of sense-desire must be 'cut' or 'crossed' completely; nevertheless, for the duration of the Path, a monk must perforce work with motivational and perceptual processes as they ordinarily are, that is to say, based on desire ... Thus, during mental training, the stream is not to be 'cut' immediately, but guided, like water along viaducts. The meditative steadying of the mind by counting in- and out-breaths (in the mindfulness of breathing) is compared to the steadying of a boat in 'a fierce current' by its rudder. The disturbance of the flow of a mountain stream by irrigation channels cut into its sides it used to illustrate the weakening of insight by the five 'hindrances'."
- Gómez, Oscar R. (2009). Manual of Tantra Vol III ...from tantra to the technology of desire. Editorial Menteclara. ISBN 978-987-24510-2-8. Read at: Academia.edu
- "Changing stress levels can make brain flip from 'desire' to 'dread'". Mar. 19, 2008 http://www.ns.umich.edu/htdocs/releases/story.php?id=6419
- Kawabata H, Zeki S (2008). "The Neural Correlates of Desire". PLoS ONE. 3 (8): e3027. CiteSeerX 10.1.1.274.6152. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0003027.
- Schultz W (2015). "Neuronal reward and decision signals: from theories to data". Physiological Reviews. 95 (3): 853–951. doi:10.1152/physrev.00023.2014. PMC 4491543. PMID 26109341.
Rewards in operant conditioning are positive reinforcers. ... Operant behavior gives a good definition for rewards. Anything that makes an individual come back for more is a positive reinforcer and therefore a reward. Although it provides a good definition, positive reinforcement is only one of several reward functions. ... Rewards are attractive. They are motivating and make us exert an effort. ... Rewards induce approach behavior, also called appetitive or preparatory behavior, and consummatory behavior. ... Thus any stimulus, object, event, activity, or situation that has the potential to make us approach and consume it is by definition a reward. ... Rewarding stimuli, objects, events, situations, and activities consist of several major components. First, rewards have basic sensory components (visual, auditory, somatosensory, gustatory, and olfactory) ... Second, rewards are salient and thus elicit attention, which are manifested as orienting responses (FIGURE 1, middle). The salience of rewards derives from three principal factors, namely, their physical intensity and impact (physical salience), their novelty and surprise (novelty/surprise salience), and their general motivational impact shared with punishers (motivational salience). A separate form not included in this scheme, incentive salience, primarily addresses dopamine function in addiction and refers only to approach behavior (as opposed to learning) ... These emotions are also called liking (for pleasure) and wanting (for desire) in addiction research (471) and strongly support the learning and approach generating functions of reward.
- Malenka RC, Nestler EJ, Hyman SE (2009). Sydor A, Brown RY (eds.). Molecular Neuropharmacology: A Foundation for Clinical Neuroscience (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Medical. pp. 147–148, 367, 376. ISBN 978-0-07-148127-4.
VTA DA neurons play a critical role in motivation, reward-related behavior (Chapter 15), attention, and multiple forms of memory. This organization of the DA system, wide projection from a limited number of cell bodies, permits coordinated responses to potent new rewards. Thus, acting in diverse terminal fields, dopamine confers motivational salience (“wanting”) on the reward itself or associated cues (nucleus accumbens shell region), updates the value placed on different goals in light of this new experience (orbital prefrontal cortex), helps consolidate multiple forms of memory (amygdala and hippocampus), and encodes new motor programs that will facilitate obtaining this reward in the future (nucleus accumbens core region and dorsal striatum). In this example, dopamine modulates the processing of sensorimotor information in diverse neural circuits to maximize the ability of the organism to obtain future rewards.
- Malenka RC, Nestler EJ, Hyman SE (2009). "Chapter 15: Reinforcement and Addictive Disorders". In Sydor A, Brown RY (eds.). Molecular Neuropharmacology: A Foundation for Clinical Neuroscience (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Medical. pp. 365–366, 376. ISBN 9780071481274.
The neural substrates that underlie the perception of reward and the phenomenon of positive reinforcement are a set of interconnected forebrain structures called brain reward pathways; these include the nucleus accumbens (NAc; the major component of the ventral striatum), the basal forebrain (components of which have been termed the extended amygdala, as discussed later in this chapter), hippocampus, hypothalamus, and frontal regions of cerebral cortex. These structures receive rich dopaminergic innervation from the ventral tegmental area (VTA) of the midbrain. Addictive drugs are rewarding and reinforcing because they act in brain reward pathways to enhance either dopamine release or the effects of dopamine in the NAc or related structures, or because they produce effects similar to dopamine. ... A macrostructure postulated to integrate many of the functions of this circuit is described by some investigators as the extended amygdala. The extended amygdala is said to comprise several basal forebrain structures that share similar morphology, immunocytochemical features, and connectivity and that are well suited to mediating aspects of reward function; these include the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, the central medial amygdala, the shell of the NAc, and the sublenticular substantia innominata.
- Berridge KC, Kringelbach ML (May 2015). "Pleasure systems in the brain". Neuron. 86 (3): 646–664. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2015.02.018. PMC 4425246. PMID 25950633.
In the prefrontal cortex, recent evidence indicates that the OFC and insula cortex may each contain their own additional hot spots (D.C. Castro et al., Soc. Neurosci., abstract). In specific subregions of each area, either opioid-stimulating or orexin-stimulating microinjections appear to enhance the number of ‘‘liking’’ reactions elicited by sweetness, similar to the NAc and VP hot spots. Successful confirmation of hedonic hot spots in the OFC or insula would be important and possibly relevant to the orbitofrontal mid-anterior site mentioned earlier that especially tracks the subjective pleasure of foods in humans (Georgiadis et al., 2012; Kringelbach, 2005; Kringelbach et al., 2003; Small et al., 2001; Veldhuizen et al., 2010). Finally, in the brainstem, a hindbrain site near the parabrachial nucleus of dorsal pons also appears able to contribute to hedonic gains of function (Söderpalm and Berridge, 2000). A brainstem mechanism for pleasure may seem more surprising than forebrain hot spots to anyone who views the brainstem as merely reflexive, but the pontine parabrachial nucleus contributes to taste, pain, and many visceral sensations from the body and has also been suggested to play an important role in motivation (Wu et al., 2012) and in human emotion (especially related to the somatic marker hypothesis) (Damasio, 2010).
- Kringelbach ML, Berridge KC (2013). "The Joyful Mind". From Abuse to Recovery: Understanding Addiction. Macmillan. pp. 199–207. ISBN 9781466842557. Retrieved 8 April 2016.
So it makes sense that the real pleasure centers in the brain—those directly responsible for generating pleasurable sensations—turn out to lie within some of the structures previously identified as part of the reward circuit. One of these so-called hedonic hotspots lies in a subregion of the nucleus accumbens called the medial shell. A second is found within the ventral pallidum, a deep-seated structure near the base of the forebrain that receives most of its signals from the nucleus accumbens. ... On the other hand, intense euphoria is harder to come by than everyday pleasures. The reason may be that strong enhancement of pleasure—like the chemically induced pleasure bump we produced in lab animals—seems to require activation of the entire network at once. Defection of any single component dampens the high.
- Grall-Bronnec M, Sauvaget A (2014). "The use of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation for modulating craving and addictive behaviours: a critical literature review of efficacy, technical and methodological considerations". Neurosci. Biobehav. Rev. 47: 592–613. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2014.10.013. PMID 25454360.
Studies have shown that cravings are underpinned by activation of the reward and motivation circuits (McBride et al., 2006, Wang et al., 2007, Wing et al., 2012, Goldman et al., 2013, Jansen et al., 2013 and Volkow et al., 2013). According to these authors, the main neural structures involved are: the nucleus accumbens, dorsal striatum, orbitofrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), amygdala, hippocampus and insula.
- Koob GF, Volkow ND (August 2016). "Neurobiology of addiction: a neurocircuitry analysis". Lancet Psychiatry. 3 (8): 760–773. doi:10.1016/S2215-0366(16)00104-8. PMC 6135092. PMID 27475769.
Drug addiction represents a dramatic dysregulation of motivational circuits that is caused by a combination of exaggerated incentive salience and habit formation, reward deficits and stress surfeits, and compromised executive function in three stages. The rewarding effects of drugs of abuse, development of incentive salience, and development of drug-seeking habits in the binge/intoxication stage involve changes in dopamine and opioid peptides in the basal ganglia. The increases in negative emotional states and dysphoric and stress-like responses in the withdrawal/negative affect stage involve decreases in the function of the dopamine component of the reward system and recruitment of brain stress neurotransmitters, such as corticotropin-releasing factor and dynorphin, in the neurocircuitry of the extended amygdala. The craving and deficits in executive function in the so-called preoccupation/anticipation stage involve the dysregulation of key afferent projections from the prefrontal cortex and insula, including glutamate, to the basal ganglia and extended amygdala. Molecular genetic studies have identified transduction and transcription factors that act in neurocircuitry associated with the development and maintenance of addiction that might mediate initial vulnerability, maintenance, and relapse associated with addiction. ... Substance-induced changes in transcription factors can also produce competing effects on reward function.141 For example, repeated substance use activates accumulating levels of ΔFosB, and animals with elevated ΔFosB exhibit exaggerated sensitivity to the rewarding eff ects of drugs of abuse, leading to the hypothesis that ΔFosB might be a sustained molecular trigger or switch that helps initiate and maintain a state of addiction.141,142
- Kringelbach, Morten L. (May 2, 2006). "Searching the brain for happiness". BBC News. Archived from the original on October 19, 2006.
- "Sigmund Freud (1856—1939)". The University of Tennessee, Martin. March 11, 2012. Retrieved January 16, 2018.
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- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-09-14. Retrieved 2019-07-23.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
- Desire, Class Position, and Gender in Jane Eyre and Pickwick Papers Benjamin Graves '97 (English 73 Brown University, 1996)
- Distant Desire: Homoerotic Codes and the Subversion of the English Novel in E.M. Forster's Fiction (Sexuality and Literature) by Parminder Kaur Bakshi
- "Sepulveda - Desire: Can't Live With It, Can't Live Without It".
- Gender, Desire, and Sexuality in T. S. Eliot. Edited by Cassandra Laity. Drew University, New Jersey. Nancy K. Gish. University of Southern Maine (ISBN 978-0-521-80688-6 | ISBN 0-521-80688-7)
- "Melodramas Films".
- "Cathy Cupitt, Eyeballing the Simulacra Desire and Vision in Blade Runner". Archived from the original on October 22, 1999. Retrieved 2017-03-29.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
- Barry Long, Knowing Yourself (pp 102 - 103)
- Marks, Joel. The Ways of Desire: New Essays in Philosophical Psychology on the Concept of Wanting. Transaction Publishers, 1986
- Jadranka Skorin-Kapov, The Aesthetics of Desire and Surprise: Phenomenology and Speculation. Lexington Books 2015
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