Wants vs. Needs: On the Philosophical Bases of Humanistic Marketing

Humanism in Business, Book Series, Palgrave/MacMillan, Forthcoming

Humanistic Management Network, Research Paper Series No. 14/03

28 Pages Posted: 23 Apr 2013

See all articles by Claus Dierksmeier

Claus Dierksmeier

Global Ethic Institute; Humanistic Management Network

Date Written: April 22, 2013


Much of the criticism against marketing-as-usual can be charted along the lines of the distinction between wants and needs. That is to say, the critique is premised on a distinction between two types of business practices: some that cater to needs essentially pertaining to the nature of human life, as opposed to others, which have first to be created artificially, before translating into effective demand. The societal benefits of the former efforts are evident; the same cannot be said for the latter. Subtracting the effects of contrivance, the social utility of satisfying artificially created demands could be nought in principle and negative in practice – insofar as there are real social and environmental costs to any inauthentic or ‘superfluous’ production, marketing, and consumption. Charges brought against marketing, hence, fall back on the discrimination between natural needs and artificially generated wants. In this article, we will trace the historical genesis of the distinction between needs and wants in order to examine its systematic validity. We begin by tracing the concept from antiquity through medieval and into modern philosophy (sections 2-6). Then, we show how, from the 1800s onward, economics rid itself of this distinction, and what costs this separation entailed (sections 7-9). Finally, we show how a suitably differentiated understanding of the wants-needs-bifurcation could still inspire management theory in general and humanistic marketing in particular (section 9). In all, we hold that Humanistic Marketing, correctly understood, does not comprise a certain set of propositions, but rather points to procedures for their democratic generation; it is premised on an ongoing public dialogue which generates preliminary results that are forever subject to further revision by future deliberations to which philosophical reflections on the nature of human wants and needs can and should continue to contribute.

Keywords: integrity marketing, sustainability marketing, humanistic marketing, humanistic management, humanistic economics

JEL Classification: A14, A20, B10, B20, B30, D60, E20, I00, M00, M30, Z30

Suggested Citation

Dierksmeier, Claus, Wants vs. Needs: On the Philosophical Bases of Humanistic Marketing (April 22, 2013). Humanism in Business, Book Series, Palgrave/MacMillan, Forthcoming, Humanistic Management Network, Research Paper Series No. 14/03, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2254794

Claus Dierksmeier (Contact Author)

Global Ethic Institute ( email )

Waldhäuser Strasse 23
Tübingen, 72076

Humanistic Management Network ( email )

St. Gallen

HOME PAGE: http://www.humanetwork.org

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