On Sunday’s episode of Philosophy in Action Radio, Greg Perkins and I answered questions on needs versus wants, medical care for the poor, and more. The podcast of that episode is now available for streaming or downloading.

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Whole Podcast: 7 June 2015

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Podcast Segments: 7 June 2015

You can download or listen to my answers to individual questions from this episode below.


My News of the Week: I’ve been busy with personal projects.

Question 1: Needs Versus Wants

Question: Is the distinction between needs and wants valid? Anti-capitalist philosophers such as Giles Deleuze accuse the capitalist system of depending on blurring the distinction between needs and wants and tyrannizing over us by implanting artificial needs into our minds. In contrast, George Reisman justifies capitalist extravagance on the basis that human needs are technically infinite and that our needs expand as we become more affluent. Who is right? Is the distinction between needs and wants valid or not? Is it useful in thinking about ethics or politics?

My Answer, In Brief: Needs are the universal requirements for sustaining human life — what every person requires to survive and flourish. Wants, I suggest, are the particular ways that a person desires to satisfy his needs based on his own context, preferences, and resources. Needs and wants do not merely differ in importance, and a person’s rational wants should not be regarded as unimportant.

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To comment on this question or my answer, visit its comment thread.

Question 2: Medical Care for the Poor

Question: How would the poor obtain medical care in a free society? In your May 12th, 2013 show, you discussed how EMTALA – the law that obliges emergency rooms and doctors to treat patients, regardless of ability to pay – violates the rights of doctors and results in worse care for the poor. But what is the alternative? How would the poor and indigent get medical care – if at all – in a society without government welfare programs? What if charity wasn’t sufficient?

My Answer, In Brief: The health care system in America is largely a creature of byzantine government regulations and controls. A robust system of charity would be possible with a genuine free market.

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To comment on this question or my answer, visit its comment thread.

Rapid Fire Questions


  • How can you maintain a close friendship with someone if you don’t like their spouse? Is it possible?
  • What’s the proper reaction of a girl who is being oogled and whistled at by guys in public? Is it a sign of lack of self-esteem if she enjoys it? Should the guys’ behavior always be frowned upon?
  • In light of the evolving understand of healthy eating from a paleo perspective, do you have a position on potatoes? Do you eat them?
  • In answer to a chat-room question during a recent podcast, you said that there’s no necessary connection between altruism and the concept of karma, because one will simply infuse karma with whatever basic ethical theory one holds. Isn’t there more to it than that? Isn’t karma an essential prop for altruism? In egoism, there’s a clear bond between cause and effect: you enact certain virtues precisely because they lead to certain values. But in altruism you are expected to act regardless of whether or not the results of your actions are a value to you. It seems to me that karma comes in to fill-in the blank in order to answer all those pesky “why” questions. Why should I sacrifice my life by refusing to terminate a fetus with Down Syndrome? Because karma will reward me for doing so. On all levels, from life-altering choices down to giving a dollar to the panhandler, the concept of karma seems like a way of subverting careful, rational calculations of value. It’s a thumb on the scale to tip any calculations in favor of whichever action would benefit others and away from whichever action would benefit myself.
  • In a free society, would government bonds be a good way of funding the state, or would that infringe on the separation of state and economy?

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  • Start Time: 40:15
  • Duration: 19:46
  • Download: MP3 Segment

To comment on these questions or my answers, visit its comment thread.


Be sure to check out the topics scheduled for upcoming episodes! Don’t forget to submit and vote on questions for future episodes too!

  • Start Time: 1:00:02

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Philosophy in Action Radio focuses on the application of rational principles to the challenges of real life. It broadcasts live on most Sunday mornings and many Thursday evenings over the internet. For information on upcoming shows, visit the Episodes on Tap. For podcasts of past shows, visit the Show Archives.

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