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Our social, economic, and political arrangements are supposed to serve the fulfillment of human wants and needs; our concepts of wants and needs, and the methods by which we try to fulfill them, have profound environmental and social implications. We need those things without which we would suffer greatly; we want things that would be desirable, but that we can fairly easily do without.

The distinction between needs and wants can be very fuzzy and politically contentious, especially because degrees of suffering are not simply determined by external circumstances, but also by human psychological states. Furthermore, particular desires may point to underlying unacknowledged needs, for example, an eating disorder involving excessive food cravings or an obsessive desire to lose weight may be a response to ...

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