I’ve discussed the two levels of desires before:

2nd-Order Desires Are Subjective But Not Arbitrary;
2nd-, 1st-Order Desires, and the Market.

Let’s restate the point. An alcoholic’s 1st-order desire is to go from being sober to being drunk.

His relevant 2nd-order desire would have nothing to do with alcohol but rather with his own self: it is to go from a being-drunk-loving personality to a being-drunk-hating one. He wants to alter his own identity, to become the kind of person who does not enjoy drinking (so much). He may even be more specific and desire to become not a teetotaler, as often happens with real-world alcoholics, but a normal person who drinks — and enjoys drinking — in moderation. This way he does not wish to go from one objectionable extreme to another but to right his own character according to the golden mean.

The 2nd-order desire is not love of concupiscence that can be satisfied by an external good or service through any sort of economic progress. It belongs to love of self. It is not a desire of a given self for an enjoyment; it’s a desire for a new self and for new 1st-order desires. It is therefore not within the purview of either economists or entrepreneurs.

Battles with addictions are particularly vivid examples of 2nd-order desires in action, (1) because addictions are vices of intemperance which are, though not the worst kind, still the most disgraceful and even comical kind (whereby a habitual drunkard may deserve to be laughed at with contempt); (2) because they are so obviously inhuman, subjecting the mind to matter, rather than the reverse as befits us as men; and (3) because they are so visible to the public: it’s hard to hide one’s addiction or its consequences on health, work, finances, and so on. Hence, a desire to rid oneself of the subservience to a substance, indeed a 2nd-order desire, strikes us as extremely reasonable.


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