The meaning of „enough” depends on the context: Sometimes it is easily understood—and in other contexts it is not clear at all. Having had enough food, being full, is a state most people know. And it seems equally clear that not getting enough food, being hungry, as well as having eaten too much are disagreeable experiences, although in different ways.
The notion of „enough” seems less clear, however, when it comes to the issue of having money. For a lot of people, accumulating more and more money seems to be highly desirable—even if this means that others might suffer disadvantages as a consequence. And then, there are areas in which it is actually possible to aspire to a „more and more” that will not cause damage to anyone else—for example the area of learning (more).
For a better understanding of the notion of „enough,” it proves useful to differentiate between two levels.
On the level of the needs, like hunger, there is a definable „enough.” Concerning basic needs this seems clear to most people. However, for non-existential needs—which may also be called wishes –, the meaning of „enough” can be a matter for discussion.
Are wishes always expressions of needs, or can they also be understood as expressions of desire? Is my wish to own an iPod or a new television flat screen the expression of a need? Is it really about owning this item? Or is this wish an expression of my desire, to „belong,” to be like my friends, to be part of a „peer group”? Is my wish not directed at the iPod itself but at belonging?
We are not talking about separating desire from need, but rather about how crucial it is to evaluate the origin of a wish and whether and how it is possible to satisfy it or not. Contrary to the claims of established economic theories, needs can be satisfied. Striving to accumulate „more and more” as it relates to basic needs, is neither reasonable nor does this lead to a good life. This is also true for non-basic needs. A lot of people feel the need to own more and more money—like officials of big companies, banks, and similar organizations. But money as a substitute for different things cannot trigger the feeling of satiation.
It helps to analyze each case by asking what money represents and which needs are supposed to be satisfied by using it. It is possible, for example, to use money to buy 700 pairs of shoes, two houses, or seven cars. The personal estimate of what is enough can vary. It is thus possible that one person will be satisfied by owning one pair of shoes while another will need ten pairs to feel content. To own more pairs of shoes than the year has days is probably leaving the realm of enough and entering the sphere of „over the top”. One likewise leaves the sphere of needs (for mobility, for housing) when owning more than one car or house – and enters into the sphere of desire. It is interesting to ask: what kind of desire is hidden behind the wish to own certain things? This is not necessarily always the same desire, and there are probably other ways to comply with this desire than accumulating possessions.
In evaluating what ‘enough’ means, it is important to take the relation to others into account. If my possessing more damages others, it indicates that I possess more than enough. On the level of desire, though, the „more” also represents a gain for other people. To satisfy a desire on the level of needs by means of consumption is an attempt that is almost always doomed to failure.
„Enough” means: neither abundance nor shortage. Enough is a personal scale and at the same time a rational scale. On the level of desire, it is possible and even reasonable to strive for „more.” This „more” is based on existing abundance – for example of possible relations. It can even manifest itself where material scarcity prevails and where needs are partly unsatisfied. It is possible to suffer from the temporary lack of food and at the same time strive to learn more and more, perhaps just for this particular reason.
Desire is on a level of its own, but it is connected with the level of needs. If the needs of many people are satisfied, if everyone has enough, or, to put it differently, if the distributive justice in a society is as high as possible, the foundation for a good life is laid, leaving more room for the sphere of desire: for that domain of life that holds more potential benefit from the abundance of what is already there. Then, everyone can have more without anyone having less.