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Title: Interrogating need : on the role of need in matters of justice
Author: Dineen, Christina
ISNI:       0000 0004 7654 1313
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2018
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Need is a concept that carries intuitive appeal in moral decision-making. As it stands, need is relatively under-theorised, given its currency not just in philosophical argumentation but in news coverage, charitable appeals, and political practice. Need claims carry compelling normative force, and they are amenable to widespread support as our most basic needs are some of the things we most transparently share with our fellow human beings. However, how should we understand that normative force? Is need best understood to compel us as a matter of justice? I begin my account by considering the kind of need relevant to the project. I build from an understanding of need as a three-place relation, which is by its nature needing for a purpose. I suggest that morally important needs are those which aim at the objective interests that all people have in virtue of what is good for each of us qua human beings ('non-arbitrary needs'). Further, I distinguish the existentially urgent subset of those non-arbitrary needs as 'basic needs.' Given this understanding, I consider how basic needs theory relates to its conceptual neighbours. I focus on capabilities as the nearest neighbours, but also comment on wants, interests, and rights. I judge that the theories developed by Martha Nussbaum (capabilities) and Len Doyal and Ian Gough (needs) benefit from a complementary reading, with each supplementing the other. I then draw from Amartya Sen's early writings on capabilities to ultimately see capabilities and needs as two sides of the same coin. This helps to situate needs theory in relation to a mainstream branch of political theory more generally, and indicates that we can recognise the special significance of needs without eschewing other morally important categories. I then move to establish a scope of justice that allows us to distinguish between duties of justice and other moral duties. If we think that duties of beneficence are weak and optional, whereas duties of justice are binding and enforceable, a great deal rides on how we characterise our duties to the global poor. I offer a 'moral enforceability' account, claiming that duties of justice are those which are, in principle, morally enforceable. It is the in-principle enforceability of justice duties which gives them teeth. Returning to need, I then ask how another's need comes to give me a moral reason for action. I canvas a range of existing accounts, many of which furnish important insights. I then propose that it is the morally relevant capacities of the being in need which gives them moral status such that their needing is morally significant. We are morally required to answer this need with responsiveness, as a demonstration of appropriate respect for the sort of being that the human in need is. If this is right, we are morally required to be responsive to need, even if we are not always required to reduce it. Finally, I bring the diverse strands of the foregoing argument together to return to the relationship between need and justice. I consider what a duty of responsiveness might amount to in practice, and suggest that our duties of responsiveness are best thought of as collective duties, grounded in the capacity of the global well-off to contribute. Further, I argue that duties of responsiveness are a matter of justice, as they are the sort of duties that are, in principle, morally enforceable. A wide range of threats to the necessary conditions for human flourishing, and even human life, are on the horizon, and many of these are uniquely collective challenges. The seriousness of those challenges, and the extent to which we have treated our responsibilities to those in need as discretionary in the past, means collective action and problem solving are called for when there are no easy answers.
Supervisor: Hayward, Tim ; Cripps, Elizabeth Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: political philosophy ; applied ethics ; justice ; basic needs ; wellbeing ; distributive justice ; moral philosophy ; responsiveness ; global poverty ; collective duties ; human capabilities