Distinguishing Wants from Needs

Distinguishing Wants from Needs



In order for me to give a proper and logical explanation regarding this issue, first I shall define in my opinion what are the differences between wants and needs, as something which is desired is not necessarily something which is needed, and something the individual needs, doesn’t mean he its. So, what can be the differences?

A need is the necessity of something or someone to our lives, in which without it, we cannot live or progress in something. For example: we need food and drink for simply surviving, while we also need, for instance, to press a button to turn on the computer. Those are different needs because they have different purposes, while the first purpose is more important than the last. However they are still needs because they have a necessary role in the process of our actions. Wants, however, are optional, and can be replaced with something else, if not be discarded in general. For example: we want to eat a snack, but we don’t need to eat a snack to survive, if we can simply eat a more healthy, filling and satiating source of nutrition. This is an example for when something we want can be replaced with something we truly need. An example for the second type of desire is to go to the movies. Do we truly need to go to the movies when we want to? This option can be discarded because there is nothing, I assume, which is necessary to fill it as a need.

Now, the question is, how can we recognize a need from a want? Does the state of really craving for something, immediately means it’s a need because of the emotional strength we are experiencing when thinking about that said craving? Just because we may feel strong desire for something - it doesn’t mean it is necessary for our lives. Even if we feel no desire, or even show lack of will, or perhaps reluctance to something which we need, on the contrary - we need it nonetheless. Therefore, our needs are independent of our relation towards it, while our wants are completely subjective and are non-universal experiences regarding the various things we want and attach ourselves into throughout our lives.

After all of this was clarified, another important question is, can a desire convert itself into a need? Can the unnecessary turn into the necessary? If so, then what are the causes for such a thing to commence and convert? Let’s have an example with addictions: a person wants to experience smoking, and of course no one actually needs to smoke. After that person smokes again and again, he or she becomes addictive and thus dependent on smoking items. Does it means that the person begins to need to smoke, i.e is smoking becomes a necessary thing for his survival, like food and water? As I already concluded, just because we may feel a strong desire for something - it doesn’t mean it is necessary for our lives! Therefore, the addictive may consume repetitively cigarette after cigarette - but the addiction itself isn’t necessary, just because the addictive begins create an unhealthy dependence. Unhealthy dependence is a desire behind the mask of need. A wise person who cares about themselves would know to differ needs from wants regardless of the situation.


On the other hand, just as a note - the process of want to need may be illogical, but the opposite is possible: needs can turn into wants. For example: a kid needs training wheels when he rides his bicycle in the initial attempts, but when he has the ability of being independent from them - he can still want them for the sake of his self-security.


Anyways, wants cannot transform into needs; surfing the internet for leisure would never be a need by itself, eating unhealthily is never a need, and no one really needs to listen to music just for the sake of music. When approaching to unnecessary activities, one should note what purpose they are meant for. That way, listening to music may be unnecessary, but concentration as a purpose is indeed necessary. Therefore, unnecessary activities can serve necessary purposes, thus making the said activity - a necessity, even though different things can serve one’s concentration.

So this can be it: people may need different things, such as communicating, reading, and actualizing themselves and their merits. One can say that the difference between the pre-materialistic era and today’s era is, that the needs have stayed the same, but there are different tools and activities which can be used to achieve them. Today’s technology is just the same thing (the server of a necessary purpose), but simply in a different guise and form.

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© 2019 Tomasio A. Rubinshtein, Philosopher