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The topic of this paper is the comparison between different ways of dealing with individual preferences. The comparison is made in the context of liberal political theory, its aim being to establish whether it is possible to pinpoint a criterion for judging the importance of individual preferences: a criterion, that is, that would enable us to circumscribe those preferences worthy of special public consideration. In other words, the idea is to distinguish between preferences that represent solely ‘desires’ and other that also constitute ‘needs’. The author examines three possible solutions: a welfare model, a minimalist model and a moderate anarchic model, analysing their limitations and contradictions. Her preliminary solution to the dilemma is the identification of a criterion for dealing with preferences, taking into account what it actually means to experience the advantages/disadvantages of the satisfaction/frustration of certain desires. This criterion should be based on a notion of standards of living deriving from constitutive references to material and contextual aspects of liberty and to the control over behaviour and action which goods guarantee people.