“I Need” comes with an “In Order To”. “I Want” does not.

Someone posed the question of what the difference is between “need” and “desire”. Here’s my answer, adapted for the blog:

Every “need” bears an implicit “in order to”. That “in order to” can be weighty or trivial, but it’s ALWAYS there.

I “need” food “in order to” live.

I *desire* to eat a pizza. I *need* to heat up the oven *in order to* cook the pizza in a reasonable and efficient way.

When we say “need” without an explicit “in order to”, there’s always an implicit one, and it’s usually more of the weighty variety:

I “need” food. (“in order to” survive, which I’ve determined to be what I should do in this context.)

Usually when we just say “I need X”, we mean I need X in order to achieve the ends I have determined to be sufficiently important to merit/warrant my acquisition of X.”

So when we use “need” by itself without specifying the “in order to”, what we’re really saying is “should”, because we’re implicitly referring to an underlying value/importance framework.

In that way “need” and “should obtain” are quite convergent. Whereas “need” and “desire” are quite divergent. Desire requires no explicit or implicit “in order to”, and so neither does it bear any explicit or implicit reference to supporting moral frameworks. “I want pizza” neither has nor needs a morally defensible “in order to”.

The difference between “desire” and “need” is that “I desire” is an impossible-to-refute assertion about my own feelings, whereas “I need” is a fully refutable claim that X is a prerequisite to Y, usually also implying that the Y is important enough to warrant (morally or in accordance to whatever other system is relevant to the discussion) the acquisition (or execution) of X.

That’s the difference.


When you say “I need X”, if it’s a significant situation, remember to ask yourself what your underlying “in order to Y” is, and try to be fair in your evaluation of whether it REALLY merits X, (in light of everybody mattering).


Sometime, you may “need” to do something that causes or risks an outcome as significant as you dying, “in order to” attain something sufficiently worthwhile.

In other words, in order to more accurately represent truth/reality, we need to stop saying “I need X” where our implicit “in-order-to” is “to keep me safe, secure, comfortable, and not dead”, and thinking that’s solidly and permanently sufficient.

Whether X is the avoidance of a mission/advocacy/service role that could kill me, or if it’s the utilization of insane costs to keep myself alive, it’s easy to see where the approach that says “I need X, period” is potentially very erroneous/dangerous/bad.

In other other words, we don’t actually unilaterally need to live in order to attain or serve what’s most important, most worthwhile.

I think that Christian readers in particular should especially agree with me on this point, because at the core of Christianity is the notion that Somebody decided that the “in order to” of redeeming our lives and creation was literally worth dying for.

No one shows greater love than when he lays down his life for his friends.

John 15:13


2 thoughts on ““I Need” comes with an “In Order To”. “I Want” does not.

  1. stevekimes- 2 hours agoLike@DanielSchulzJackson Thinking about it some more… What is a sufficient cause to determine need? Is even survival a sufficient cause to call something a need? Does Uncle Tom “need” to beat his fellow slave or else his master will kill him? Or does he “need” to die in order to avoid harming his fellow slave?…ReplyDanielSchulzJackson- Just seconds agoLike@stevekimes Survival DEFINITELY is not some kind of “ultimate in order to”. Otherwise Jesus dying for us is bad. I would say the “ultimate in order to” is something to this effect: I need to X… …in order to honor God …in order to do what’s best (for everyone) …in order to glorify God …in order to do what God would want me to do …in order to live in accordance with God’s love Now. I have no pretense that thinking this way somehow makes easy the resolution of intense ethical dilemmas. Brutal choices are still brutal. Rather, it’s helpful for undermining peoples’ slavery to their idea of their own “needs”. (The person who feels they “need” to get X medical care or do X to their co-ethnic-people, in order to have the best chance of surviving. It lets you look your “in order to” in the eye and ask, “is that really worth the cost (to others)?”)


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