It’s not absurd to desire the impossible

by John Holbo on June 30, 2009

A couple weeks ago Matthew Yglesias marveled at the heady philosophical stuff French teens have to tackle. I think he got one answer wrong. He says he thinks it’s absurd to desire the impossible. I don’t think so at all. This is just the pony principle. Wishing is free, so you might as well wish for whatever you were going to wish for, plus a pony. A sparkle magic unicorn pony. It’s fun to wish – and wishing is a form of wanting. It is one of your best entertainment values. Thus, on strictly utilitarian grounds it makes sense to wish for the impossible.

What is delicate, I will admit, is settling how and where desire crosses belief and expectation and action. (As Wittgenstein says, wanting and trying to get are very closely related.) For example, this ad crosses over into Kierkegaardian territory.


It is absurd to expect to get more from something than you think it is possible to get from anything. Especially if it’s instant coffee.

Still, I don’t think it is absurd to want coffee that would be better than life itself could possibly be. That would be a damn fine cup of coffee.

Am I right?