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Is it even possible to desire something we believe is impossible? What does that mean, to have something that cannot exist as an intentional object of desire?

Nevertheless, people often talk about wanting what they cannot have. Do they mean something less coherent, like wanting something bad for themselves or something bad for someone else or prohibited in a less emphatic way?

In some respects, I cannot be other than who I am. I cannot be Napoleon (or my friend Tim), at least given they still exist. Does the same sort of thing hold for being emperor of France? If I believe it is impossible then I am being asked to desire something inconsistent when thinking of how it must come about. And how can we really desire something without also desiring that it be brought about?

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    Mental illness (MI) due to inconsistent views as discussed yesterday? Sep 21, 2023 at 23:04
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    Not only possible but quite easy. One conjoins specifications and desires the conjunction before they go checking whether it is consistent internally and with laws of physics. If they ever do. And it can very much be an intentional object, this is why Meinong had to invent a theory of nonexistent and even impossible objects. Brentano, the inventor of intentional objects, was Meinong's teacher.
    – Conifold
    Sep 22, 2023 at 0:02
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    thanks @Conifold so can we desire inconsistent things? in what sense do we have to fully conceive of something in order to "desire" it?
    – user67675
    Sep 22, 2023 at 0:28
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    A key phrase is logical omniscience, lack of it that is, in humans. We are incapable of tracing all logical consequences of our conceptions due to natural limitations, "fully conceiving" is an unrealistic idealization. If inconsistencies require long enough inference chains to deduce they remain buried. It was discussed in What is the difference between depth and surface information? A parallel concept in economics is bounded rationality.
    – Conifold
    Sep 22, 2023 at 2:44
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    well @Conifold is there no difference for something that we know is impossible, in which case i don't see what relevance omniscience, in any form, is or may be?
    – user67675
    Sep 22, 2023 at 6:44

2 Answers 2

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The desire for perfection is one example of an unattainable desire that many people use as a motivation to improve themselves. So it's not just possible, its an important strategy for self-improvement.

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    thank you for the thought provoking answer. i think we can desire the perfect sandwich.
    – user67675
    Oct 22, 2023 at 20:48
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    sat at home alone, as i am, this makes perfect sense :D cheers.
    – user67675
    Oct 22, 2023 at 22:08
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For things that are merely impossible, the answer is yes. Though the answer is no if talking about things which are also inconceivable.

It is almost obvious that we can want impossible things in the sense of wanting things that science says are impossible.

While there remains room for theories to change, our present understanding of physics suggests that it is impossible for ordinary matter, much less living humans, to travel faster than light. But lots of people want there to be a way to safely travel faster than light for practical reasons.

True immortality in this universe is almost certainly impossible for humans. There are reasons to believe it is biologically impossible to stop the aging process completely and even if we somehow overcame that, entropy shows that life as we know it must eventually stop. Yet you will find no shortage of people seeking for immortality.

Now, if we talk about things which are truly inconceivable, then it is impossible to want them, at least in a meaningful way. But the reason for that is that things which are both impossible and truly inconceivable are, at least when examined, essentially meaningless gibberish so to say that you want them would remain meaningless gibberish.

The quintessential example of something that would fit into this category is a "round square", but a round square is conceptually impossible to the point of being essentially gibberish. A direct contradiction inside the term itself which makes it so it could have no meaning. It would be equally meaningless to say that I want a round square.

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    immortality is a fun example yeah.
    – user67675
    Sep 22, 2023 at 0:37
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    i may even be able to authentically wish for eternal youth (happiness etc.) even if i cannot do so for being young again
    – user67675
    Sep 22, 2023 at 0:44

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