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April 27, 1979

Quality and Quantity: Synonyms or Antonyms?

JAMA. 1979;241(17):1827. doi:10.1001/jama.1979.03290430045025

Often juxtaposed in value judgments, life's quality and quantity bear an uneasy relationship to each other. Analyzing this relationship, Sisk1 concludes that "clear disjunction between quality and quantity is possible only on a relatively high level of abstraction. Below that level, in the hectic stock exchange of quotidian life, quality and quantity are bewilderingly interrelated." In an affluent, consumer-oriented society, this interrelationship is so intimate that the two are almost synonymous. The quantity of material possessions becomes the measure of life's quality. By contrast, in societies or among persons with a stoic, ascetic outlook, quality and quantity are dialectic opposites. To Thoreau (Walden) plain living unencumbered with material goods was a prerequisite to the high thinking of a spiritually satisfying quality of life. Similarly, to the less philosophically minded dropouts of the 1960s, quantity of possessions and quality of life were antonymous rather than synonymous.

While taking no issue