Lazy Luddite Log

19.5.10

Needs And Wants Are Different Right?

I have been noticing an absence of some things in my life that has been affecting my mood. One thing that is helping me cope with this is contemplating the difference between needs and wants. I have also been considering how the concept of rights interacts with this distinction.

Definitions of needs and wants change from generation-to-generation and within particular class and cultural contexts. Rather than produce two lists of things, however, I will make a few statements to help distinguish needs from wants.

* The satisfaction of needs allow one to live. In contrast the satisfaction of wants helps one to be happy.

* If something is a need then one has a right to its provision while if something is a want then one only has the right to pursue it.

* Needs can be provided by society as a whole by cultivating a mixed economy (providing both jobs and welfare services). In contrast providing for wants will frequently call for the consent of particular persons one interacts with personally.


I will expand on that last statement. Have you noticed how philosophical assertions are often supported by ludicrous scenarios that never happen? Well here is mine.

A person named Ego wants intimacy and so propositions someone. That someone has the right to decline the proposition and does exactly that. Ego then propositions another person…and another… and another. Every person refuses Ego. Eventually Ego has propositioned every adult in the world except for one. That last person has as much right to refuse Ego as the first did. It then follows that Ego lacks any right to intimacy.

For me it is important then to say that what Ego is looking for is a want rather than a need. The notion of a world in which someone can be rightly refused something they need disturbs me.

In life there are many shades of grey that mess with my nice black-and-white model. Possibly that is why I have qualms with particular actions that I feel muddy the waters.

There are all sorts of societal pressures that make us think that particular wants are needs. Sometimes these messages are reinforced by government - consider home-owners grants and baby bonuses. There are also other societal pressures suggesting that some wants are practically crimes. Once more government gets into the act with the imposition of ‘sin taxes’ on assorted behaviours. I understand the motivation behind these but just find them philosophically problematic. We get all sorts of mixed messages we need to sift and assess.

This topic has given me a bit of perspective. I recognize that I have what I need and only lack some of what I want. I feel fortunate for what I do have. And even if I sometimes get frustrated I can amend the internal statement of “need need need” to the more accurate one of “want want want”.

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1 Comments:

  • I'm copying and pasting comments to this same post from LiveJournal (complete with messy formatting text). See below...

    From: pezzae
    Date: May 20th, 2010 09:57 am (local)
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    Food is a need, correct? Hence provision of food is a right, correct?
    There seems to be some wiggle room in the definitions, as in a capitalist/mixed economy such as ours you have the right to a minimum wage which would allow you to meet your needs for food, water, shelter etc so long as you don't, say, also have an expensive medical condition or drug addiction. (Should the pension be enough to buy cigarettes?)
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    From: originaluddite
    Date: May 20th, 2010 01:15 pm (local)
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    If it is an expensive medical condition then I would think that it deserves to be covered by a public health scheme. Some do have greater needs than others.

    The issue of discretional spending does complicate things. There is nothing stopping someone from allocating their income between needs and wants in any way they want. In marginal cases this produces scenarios like you describe of buying cigarettes (and then maybe skimping on food). Mind you I think such prioritizing is rare. Having friends in this position I can say that they rarely neglect themselves on the nutrition front but will neglect to pay the phone bill. And it may just be my family background that tells me that paying all your bills is a necessity.

    Some propose the alternative of dictating what welfare recipients can buy with such methods as food vouchers. I personally find this shows a lack of respect for those on welfare and - besides - responsibility is something you have to practice.

    There is the other method of making the cigarettes more expensive via sin taxes. There is the problem that this and other things like gambling are _addictive_ and so the tax becomes a revenue collection method rather than a true disincentive. And it targets the disadvantaged. Finally there is my philosophical problem - it is legal for an adult to indulge in these things and yet we try to make it difficult to do so. Here is a mixed message - is it right or wrong? I would prefer it if the policy was re-named as an 'automatic fine' (thus saying these things were a crime like speeding).
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    By Blogger Daniel, At 09 May, 2017  

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