Back in my undergraduate years I remember writing an essay on the topic of wants and needs. The essay was a term paper for an English Comp II class, and it required many sources some of which were provided by the college. The basic idea was to discuss the differences between wants and needs, and bring support from various Authors. My essay involved a discussion of the economic revolution during the 18th century, and I discussed whether or not the world is better off with the modern market systems. I use Robert Heilbronner's book, The Worldly Philosophers, as my main source. I wrote a nice essay that involved this topic, but I did not answer a fundamental question: What is the difference between wants and needs?
After giving the topic of wants and needs some thought today, the answer popped into my head. The difference between a want and a need involves the difference between first person and third person perspectives. In the world of the first person there is no difference between a want and a need. If I want something, my soul needs it. In the realm of third person, however, there is a distinction between wants and needs. If I were to look at another individual and try to decide what he wants, I could easily say that his wants are whatever he says he wants. However, if I were to try to figure out what he needs, I would make a judgment call about what I believe this individual should or should not have. In a sense, I can decide what other people need, and they can decide what they want.
A good example can be brought from some simple wants and needs. If I said I wanted food, I would need food as well. You may say that I need food as well. A person cannot live without food. However, implicit in this argument is the judgment that life is a need. If you were dealing with a murderer that was being given a lethal injection in a few hours you may not be inclined to consider food to be this person's need. After a judgment is made regarding an individuals need for life, a need for food must follow. However, I would need food whether you would value my life or not.