Essay:Needs and wants

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Sometimes people make a big deal out of the difference between needs and wants. They may say, for instance, that the State should provide for people's needs but not their wants. A "need" is defined as that which a person needs in order to live. Since everyone must die eventually, there is no way to completely and permanently meet one's needs; a person has a need for a functioning body in order to live, but eventually some vital component of the body will give out, medicine will be unable to rescue the person in time, and life will end. Thus, meeting people's needs is a matter of extending their lives as long as possible (or as long as desired, as the case may be).

The distinction between needs and wants seems arbitrary. For one thing, one can't always know what will mean the difference between a shorter life and a longer life. A 90% lean hamburger costs more than an 80% lean hamburger, and a person's life could be (but not necessarily will be) shortened by eating those fattier burgers. Does that make 90% lean burgers a necessity? There are many amenities, such as hiring the very best doctors, or living in the neighborhood with the lowest crime rate, the lack of which could turn out to be immediately fatal if a person happens to be unlucky. But resources are limited, so not everyone can have the best that exists.

At any rate, what is the point of living? Isn't it to satisfy the want to have certain experiences, to accomplish certain goals, etc.? How important are those wants, in the big scheme of things? Are they so important that they override all other priorities? Apparently not; sometimes people will sacrifice their lives for the sake of a greater good.

Satisfying needs can be pretty expensive. Often, a significant percentage of one's medical costs are incurred during the last months of life. Is it worth the expense for that small amount of extra time, when the money could go toward satisfying many wants of other peple? If I perceive that others will greatly suffer (but will not die) from lack of resources that are being devoted to sustaining my life, why should I put extending my life ahead of improving their quality of life? To the extent that I myself suffer from the knowledge that I am being selfish in that way, it makes sense not to practice that selfish behavior.