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”.

Cross-posted here.

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