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Social Theory and Practice

Volume 45, Issue 3, July 2019

Joshua Cutts
Pages 353-370

Herbert Marcuse and "False Needs"

Herbert Marcuse’s claim that people may have superimposed “false needs” (vs. authentic “true needs”) has been criticized by a number of commentators. These critics argue that if all human needs are sociohistorically conditioned, as Marcuse believes, this effectively means that all needs are superimposed on us, and are thus, “false.” I defend Marcuse’s distinction by drawing attention to his expressed definition of false needs as those which perpetuate harm upon satisfaction. Marcuse’s distinction between true and false needs is not a reiteration of the distinction between needs and wants, as his critics claim, but is rather a recognition that in our society, we are forced to need things that ultimately do not lead to our individual (or collective) benefit.

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