Lacking, Needing, and Wanting

Analytic Philosophy (forthcoming)
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In this paper I offer a novel conception of the nature of wanting. According to it, wanting is simply lacking something one needs. Lacking has no direct connection to goodness but needing does, and that is how goodness figures in to wanting. What a thing needs derives from what it is to be a good thing of its kind. In people, wanting is connected to both knowledge and choice, since a person can know that she wants something and can act on that knowledge. When she does, she is acting in light of that want and her want is a reason why she acted. But while wanting is thus connected to our rational capacity for action, wanting is not itself a capacity or a disposition to act, and it does not cause or generate the action. Acting in light of a want is no different from acting in light of any other fact. Still, there is a close connection between wanting and our wills, not just because we can sometimes choose how to get what we need, but because our choices can determine what we want. We can’t simply choose to want something, but in deciding how to live our lives, who to be, and what to pursue, we are free to settle what we want, at least within limits. These connections to knowledge and the will make human wanting rich and morally relevant, but they don’t transform human wanting into something special. Wanting is everywhere just a matter of lacking something one needs. That, in very broad strokes, is the picture I will spell out.
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