Published on January 7, 2008
A THEORY OF HUMAN NEED: A THEORY OF HUMAN NEED Ian Gough Contemporary relevance: Contemporary relevance Goodin on social policy: If we are to justify the welfare state supplanting the market, in providing goods & services on the basis of need, 2 questions should be answered (Goodin, 1988, ch. 2): 1) Is there such a thing as objective – or universal – need? (answer required – yes) 2) Are needs morally more important than wants? (answer required – yes) Similar questions apply in supplanting cultural practices to improve human development. Critics of need: Critics of need Liberals: needs are dangerous:‘One of the most dangerous euphemisms in the sociological vocabulary, a misnomer for a political decision based on questionable advice by idiosyncratic or paternalist experts’ (A. Seldon) Economists: needs are preferences Sociologists: needs are socially constructed Radical democrats: needs are discursive Feminists & anti-racists: needs are group specific Cultural critics: needs are Western. Illich: ‘“Basic needs” may be the most insidious legacy left behind by development’ The Needs roller-coaster: The Needs roller-coaster Rise in 1970s Fall in 1980s: neo-liberals Southern critics cultural critics theoretical weaknesses Rise in 1990s: HDRs, MDGs End of Cold War Sen and flourishing theory Theory of Human Need 1 : Theory of Human Need 1 Distinguish wants and needs Needs and avoidance of serious harm of some objective kind Serious harm: fundamental disablement in the pursuit of one’s vision of the good, whatever the nature of that vision. An impediment to successful social participation. Theory of Human Need 2: Theory of Human Need 2 Basic needs: universal preconditions for participation in one's form of life. Two: Physical health Autonomy of agency – the capacity to make informed choices about what should be done and how to go about doing it. Impaired by: severe mental illness, poor cognitive skills, and by blocked opportunities to engage in social participation. Critical participation – the capacity to situate the form of life one grows up in, to criticise it and, if necessary, to act to change it – requires critical autonomy. Theory of Human Need 3: Theory of Human Need 3 Need satisfiers usually variable and culturally specified. Intermediate needs: those characteristics that everywhere contribute to improved physical health and autonomy. 11 categories (see figure) Role of codified knowledge here. Comparability of need-satisfaction across cultures Soper: ‘What [Doyal and Gough’s] work shows, they would argue, is that you can chart basic need satisfaction for “objective” welfare without either embracing relativism or operating at such a level of generality that the pertinence of the theory for specific problems concerning social policy is sacrificed’. Theory of Human Need 4: Theory of Human Need 4 Identifying specific need satisfiers requires distinct procedure Role of cultural repertoires of beliefs and practices: default solutions But to adapt need satisfiers to a rapidly changing environment, THN argues, a ‘dual strategy’ is required. Theory of Human Need 5: Theory of Human Need 5 Common dilemmas: 4 societal preconditions: production, reproduction, cultural transmission and political authority Hypothesis: Success in meeting these improves need satisfaction, and vice versa. Basic needs can never be satisfied independently of the social environment, but must be conceptualised independently of any specific social environment. Theory of Human Need 6: Theory of Human Need 6 Needs: Normative arguments and social justice. Membership of any group implies obligations or duties. To ascribe duties to someone presupposes that they are in fact able to perform these duties. Therefore ascription of a duty logically entails entitlement to the need satisfaction to be able to undertake that duty. Where the social group is large, this entails similar obligations to strangers, whose needs we do not directly witness and can do nothing individually to satisfy. This will require support for agencies that satisfy their needs: the welfare state. THN critics 1: THN critics 1 Individualism: Autonomy as selfish and/or heroic ambition and masculine independence? · No: autonomy of agency as interdependent agency · But ‘asymmetric dependence’ of children, the frail elderly, people with disabilities and ill people. Need for care for substantial chunks of our lives. · THN critics 2: THN critics 2 Objectivism: Draws sharp line between objective and subjective states: ignores their interdependence? Subjective or hedonic well-being can foster objective or eudaimonic well-being. Two-way feedback THN does recognise self-confidence and sense of control as components of autonomy of agency But the implications of this are not followed through. A thorough-going objectivism cannot be sustained when studying well-being. THN critics 3: THN critics 3 Paternalism: Top down: D&G know best? But recognise role of wide participation and experiential knowledge in understanding needs and need satisfiers Develops a procedural approach – the ‘dual strategy’ – for relating codified and experiential knowledge But lacks Sen’s critical distinction between functionings and capabilities: fasting versus starving.