Thursday, November 19, 2009

Desires and needs

I have been working a lot, recently, on the concept of desire (a paper of mine in Italian can be found here). Then, a student made me aware of the fact that, apparently, Indian philosophers do not distinguish between needs and desires. Does this only depend on the fact that –being mainly Brahmins or monks– they did not have to worry about their basic needs? I think, rather, that it has to do with the fact that there are no 'pure' needs. Every need (first of all, the need for food) is influenced by our desires, so that, for instance, one strives for a piece of cheese or for an apple but not for a piece of meat.


VS said...

Contrary to your 'working' on the concept of desire, I have been 'musing' on the concept. :o) The distinction between the two could be a matter of semantics or real, depending on how you choose to define them.

It appears that human beings will pursue those activities which stimulate the reward centre. Desires could be those requirements, the fulfillment of which is required for such stimulation. Needs could be those requirements which are needed to maintain the homeostasis of the organism. The stimulation of the reward centre might not be that intense.

elisa freschi said...

Thanks for your insightful distinction, VS (seems that musing is more productive than working!). I guess that if one is travelling towards Mars and has only pills or chocolate to eat, one can distinguish between the need of food and the desire for chocolate. But, in everyday life, the two do not seem so easy to distinguish. And even your answer (just like the very fact that different lists include an increasing number of needs, thus shifting further the border between needs and wants) points at a continuum between the two. Isn't it?

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