On having needs and making requests – Part 1


As social animals, we have needs and desires. Part of growing up involves learning how to fulfill more of our needs and desires without the aid of others. The other part involves learning that some of our needs can only be fulfilled by others. Here is where social life gets interesting and quite often fraught.

We have needs that we ourselves cannot meet. “By ‘needs,’” the philosopher Charles Larmore writes, “I shall mean desires that are ours not in virtue of our having adopted them, but rather in virtue of our being the sort of beings we all are.” On this definition, needs are ‘given’ to us, they cannot be removed so long as we are alive, and we cannot go on and still be ‘our selves’ so long as we deny them.

Because we have needs that we cannot meet, we make requests of others. Who are these others? Before making a request or after making one that goes unfulfilled, we may ask ourselves a number of questions.

1. What is the nature of the request? That is, what do I really need (from this person)?

2. What kind of person am I asking to fulfill my request? Is it possible for her to so fulfill it?

3. Will he ‘get’ it or ‘get’ me?

4. Is this person the right kind of person (for this particular request), or am I asking the wrong person in this case or more generally?

5. If the request is understood, will it be fulfilled properly?

6. Will the other fulfill the request but only by larding it up with eye rolling or further conditions or heavy breathing?

In the space of the request, we may feel quite alone or especially exposed and ‘needy’ or not entirely independent. We may wonder about the people we have around us and we may examine how we got to the point where this is the person in our lives, the one we are going to in order to have our needs met.

This scene belies a story about our lives. Tomorrow, I want to suggest that many of the questions raised above are simply ‘too far in.’ They are ‘too far in’ in the sense that they tell us more about what has gone awry with this way of life and with our intimate sense of knowing. I want to argue that once we are more fully in a good way of life, then asking good others for help comes more naturally.