Real vs. Apparent Goods

American philosopher Mortimer J. Adler briefly discusses real vs, apparent goods, natural vs. acquired desires, needs vs. wants.

by Mortimer J. Adler, Ph.D.

The distinction between real and apparent goods must be understood, as well as the fact that only real goods are the objects of right desire.

In the realm of appetite or desire, some desires are natural and some are acquired. Those that are natural are the same for all human beings as individual members of the human species. They are as much a part of our natural endowment as our sensitive faculties and our skeletal structure. Other desires we acquire in the course of experience, under the influence of our upbringing or nurturing, or of environmental factors that differ from individual to individual. Individuals differ in their acquired desires, as they do not in their natural desires.

We have two English words for these two kinds of desire, words that help us to understand the significance of their difference: “needs” and “wants.” What is really good for us is not really good because we desire it, but the very opposite. We desire it because it is really good. By contrast, that which only appears good to us (and may or may not be really good for us) appears good to us simply because we want it at the moment. Its appearing good is the result of our wanting it, and as our wants change, as they do from day to day, so do the things that appear good to us.


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