The words 'desire' and 'motivation' often appear in different kind of sentences for (what I assume is) grammatical reasons, but I have a really hard time separating them as concepts.

When we talk about desire or motivation it seems like we ultimately are talking about why we act; we are seeking some kind of explanation of our actions and without desire or motivation there will be no action. We act because we desire/are motivated by X.... What motivated you / what desires caused you to do that? Do you desire x / are you motivated by x?

It can be a physical (causal) explanation, e.g. the increase in dopamine drove me, it can be a design explanation, e.g. humans are 'designed to' pursue sugar, fat, sex etc, or it can be an intentional explanation, e.g. I work hard because I want money.

It might feel like an explanation is sometimes about desire and some times about motivation but are we really talking about any conceptual difference?

Please help me sort this out.

A side point (about MY definition of a value)

I understand that we can value something without being motivated by it. But a value to me is just a type of belief i.e. a belief about what we desire or should desire. Hopefully our values correspond to our desires; our values can influence our desires over time, but believing we value something does not automatically make us act accordingly; we have to make it emotional if we want something to drive us to action i.e. if we want something to motivate us / be a desire.

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    This looks like a question for an English-language site, rather than philosophy. – CesarGon Jul 24 '13 at 17:25
  • Whats provoked your thought on this? For example, if you could locate the discussion in Buddhism where desire is critiqued, and to do so - one needs to understand what it is. Or in Platos Symposium which is a discussion about erotic desire. – Mozibur Ullah Jul 25 '13 at 8:13
  • I was reading 'When Nietzsche wept' and (the character) Nietzsche was talking about psychological symptoms (such as anxiety and obsession), and how understanding the underlying meaning behind these symptoms might be a way to resolve them. So I started thinking (critically) about the concept of underlying driving forces; our so called true motivations or true desires. Rather than our shallow beliefs about what drive us (i.e. our values). When I saw 'true desires' and 'true motivations' next to each other I wondered whether there was any real difference between these two concepts. – Kriss Jul 25 '13 at 8:52
  • @MoziburUllah (I forgot to add your name so you can see that I have answered. You might have too many conversations in the air to find your way back otherwise :) ) Most people seem to define desire the way I define a value i.e. what we believe we want or what we believe we should want for one or another reason. This is fare enough but not a satisfying answer to me because then I have no word for what is truly driving us i.e. what we aspire our values to correspond to. – Kriss Jul 25 '13 at 9:21
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    @Kriss: I asked because that is the context that you should put in your question to give it some shape! – Mozibur Ullah Jul 25 '13 at 11:26

This is more of a linguistics question than a philosophical question.

The short answer is that a Desire may be a motivation, but a motivation is not necessarily a desire. In more concrete terms, A desire is one kind of motivation, but there are others, like a sense of duty, fear, etc.

This should probably be put to the guys over at the English language exchange.

  • I'm not asking about how the words are being used in common language but whether the two words are conceptually the same i.e. whether the two 'symbols' are referencing the same phenomenon in reality. I think I human can desire/have motivation to be dutiful or fearful. – Kriss Jul 24 '13 at 17:12
  • +1 I think this answer is good. It explains that the so symbols do not refer to the same phenomena in reality. What else does the OP need? – CesarGon Jul 24 '13 at 17:24
  • +1. Good answer; desire is indeed a proper subset of motivation (in this context). – Ben Jul 24 '13 at 17:52
  • So how do you guys define desire? (Wordnet says that desire is "the feeling that accompanies an unsatisfied state" or "an inclination to want things". The first definition I would say describes a force of motivation i.e. the two words refer to the same phenomenon (the feeling which causes the action), the second definition describe a phenomenon which is either a force for motivation or what I referred to as a value.) If fear can not be a desire then can joy, sadness, and other emotions also not be desires? You are claiming 'what is' but I'm missing an explanation for your claims. @CesarGon – Kriss Jul 24 '13 at 19:03
  • I'm far from convinced that I'm right about these claim which is why I pose it as a question to be explored. I see weaknesses my writing: I mix up emotions an feelings, I separate desires from values in a way that exclude all believes (rational wants) from being desires, leaving potentially only the wants that drive us to action to be called desires, which potentially leaves me no choice but to call all that motivate desires. This might not be a productive/useful separation but I can not just take your word for it without being given an alternative separation of desire, motivation and values. – Kriss Jul 24 '13 at 19:25

Desire means having a wish to get something.


Motivation means which inspire us to achieve the goal which can lead our life better.

For example, I want to become an Actor. That's my desire but How can I reach at the level where all will appreciate my acting. Then we need a motivation to play a better and better performance. Like I got motivated/inspired from Mr. X actor and it motivates me to play a role like him.

A desire can lead to do something we need but motivation is the final thing which can put on the place where we wanted to come when we desire to reach there.


A desire is a state of the world that you would like to realise. This means that the world is not in that state, and that achieving that state would be good for you. I am not going to discuss what "good" means here; it could mean happier, wealthier, whatever.

A motivation is a force that compels you to do something. In other words, it is the reason why you act. There are different kinds of motivations. Sometimes you act because you want to achieve a state of the world that you judge as better than the current one; for example, you may donate 100 € to a charity because you believe in helping others. In this case, your motivation is a desire.

But there are other kinds of motivations. You may be motivated by fear or revenge, for example. If you keep digging a trench under the blazing sun despite feeling extremely tired, it's only because there is this guy pointing a gun at you. In this bizarre example, your motivation is your fear; desires are not involved.

  • I can see two separate points. But I'm not sure you argue either. First you are (potentially) talking about two different things by separating a state from a force. But I'm doubtful that a force can cause/compel? Each state can cause the next state; from this you can derive a pattern (e.g. the model of gravity) and call it a force, but technically a force is just a description of many states over time. A model cannot cause/compel, it only describes how things move. Moreover, if you call the state you want (rather than the experience) a desire then anything can be a desires: a car, a location.. – Kriss Jul 25 '13 at 3:02
  • The second (which might be accidental but) it seems like your definitions are implicitly saying that another difference might be that if you take action because you want something positive you call it a desire or a motivation while if you take action because you want to escape something negative then you call it only motivation (?). You can frame everything in the positive or the negative while talking about the same thing. E.g. you want to escape a fearful situation but only if you end up in a better situation i.e. “a state you would like to realize”. Do you agree or am I missing something? – Kriss Jul 25 '13 at 3:10
  • @Kriss: I don't agree with your statement that "if you take action because you want something positive you call it a desire or a motivation while if you take action because you want to escape something negative then you call it only motivation". In the latter case, I call it fear, threat, or whatever other word I may use depending on the case. These words describe potential motivations, very much like desires. In that regard, motivation is the role they play for you, rather than what they intrinsically are. – CesarGon Jul 25 '13 at 11:09
  • Regarding your first comment, I find it hard to defend that a force cannot cause or compel. Precisely, a force is what we usually conceive as the source that makes us act. Hunger, cravings, sex drive, etc. are forces. Do you think they don't cause or compel? – CesarGon Jul 25 '13 at 11:15

Motivation is a will to do anything because the result is somehow rewarding. Desire is a basic will that every human shares to some extent.

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