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close this bookDimensions of Human Development - Research Report on Basic Human Needs Lists (Individual Contributor S. Alkire)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentMethods for arbitrating disputes
View the documentCriteria for dimensions of human development (85)
View the documentOther lists: the four arguments demonstrated
View the documentConclusion

Methods for arbitrating disputes

Earlier we noted Sen's reservations against the specification of basic capabilities were that such a list might be i) overspecified, ii) irrelevant, iii) overly normative or iv) pertaining to exactly one metaphysical outlook, and suggested that the conception of 'dimensions' of values might be a way forward. (80) In simple terms, this account addresses the problem of irrelevance by establishing those dimensions on the basis of practical reason-dimensions which persons recognise they or others already are using as reasons for action, (to which I would wish to add, by field-testing the list among different communities). This account addresses the problem of overspecification by calling these dimensions, rather than needs or virtues or capabilities, because they represent the most basic reasons for action which are irreducibly distinct. This account addresses the normativity question by suggesting these dimensions to be reasons for action which pertain to moral and immoral actions alike; hence their description alone does not support any moral conclusions regarding trade-offs. (81) The 'metaphysical' question stands; the identification of basic reasons for action which are valid cross-culturally commits one to a broadly realist ethic (in line with the capabilities approach), although not to a single metaphysics.

How, though, are we to proceed in discussing these different lists? This activity is certainly not without precedent, even recent precedent. Braybrooke has done a similar exercise using four lists of course-of-life [basic] needs [Brewnowski, Ernest Mandel, Nestor Terleckyj, and the OECD], and sought a synthesis based on three critera: 1) convergence, 2) redundancy, and 3) as much completeness as attainable. Note that he considered his exercise illustrative not definitive: 'It will not be part of my perfect this list.' (82)

Another similar exercise in 'list consolidation' was done by Maureen Ramsay. She studied the psychological needs identified by 10 authors [Bretano, Maslow, Fromm, Nielsen, Lane, Davies, Packard, Galtung, Mallman, and Krech Crutchfield and Livson, and classified their lists into six categories of needs:
physical survival, sexual needs, security, love and relatedness, esteem and identity, self-realisation
based on evidence, rather than reasoned argument. (83)

A similar classification exercise of empirical data from 32 studies of Quality of Life (only 32 of 1500 articles surveyed had sufficient data) was done by Robert Cummins 1996, who synthesised 68% of the 173 domains from the studies into 7 headings: [material well-being, health, productivity, intimacy/friendship, safety, community, and emotional well-being]. (84)

However, the act of 'classification' is distinct from an argued synthesis. The task which this paper sets out is not simply to study the various lists and note convergences and redundancies; rather, it is to ask a slightly different question which is, 'what array of elements would adequately represent the dimensions of human flourishing as they were articulated earlier (in a way which is broadly shared by Qizilbash/ Griffin, Finnis, and Max-Neef)?' A simple classification would not do justice to the fact that the different authors do have projects and conceptions of their own lists which differ from the current one, and that some sorting out is required; furthermore, classifications tend to be more arbitrary than is imagined (as the following discussion will make clear). Therefore rather than 'classifying' these different lists, the synthesis will emerge on the basis of reasoned scrutiny. In particular, the following criteria will be employed: