Ben Fardell
University College London
Amartya Sen’s critique of the concept of need and his case for the superiority of capability as a measure of advantage have been highly influential. However, Sen perpetuates a caricature. Needs are not necessarily mere instrumental resource requirements for the achievement of ends; the valuable ends of people’s lives can themselves constitute needs, as can freedoms. Indeed, these ideas are already present in basic needs theory. Moreover, official disavowals notwithstanding, expansive notions of need are implicitly present in certain important theories of capabilities and other advantages. Objections to need can be undermined in part by showing how this is the case. Aversion to need is unfortunate, because the concept offers powerful theoretical resources that could be better exploited if negative preconceptions were overcome and need were explicitly embraced. However, this proposal is friendly. It is not that need should replace, but that it can augment, other concepts. Drawing on need may assist with: selecting important capabilities or dimensions of advantage; marking a distinction of seriousness between these and relatively trivial advantages (and buttressing claims to the ethical or political priority of the former); explaining the incommensurability/non-substitutability of certain capabilities and dimensions of advantage, and; defining notions of sufficiency.
Keywords Needs  Well-being  Capability Approach  Basic Needs Approach  Value incommensurability  Sufficiency
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