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close this bookDimensions of Human Development - Research Report on Basic Human Needs Lists (Individual Contributor S. Alkire)
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Other lists: the four arguments demonstrated

The next four subsections actively exercise the four kinds of dialectical evaluation on the set of lists presented in the table. They should be seen as illustrative only - the authors' definitions of their items is in some cases broader than it has been possible, in this brief space, to acknowledge, but the main points are considered. The goal of this section is to allow a 'synthesis' of dimensions to emerge, on the basis of reasoned argument. Although one simply survey the array of candidates and marking 'emergent' categories, this procedure is open to criticism that different eyes mark different patterns. Thus it will be easiest to begin by taking one list as a 'base' and modifying it by reference to the others. Any list could be chosen; I will use the Max-Neef's list: subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, leisure, creation, identity, and freedom, and dialectically evaluate other lists as possible extensions to/modifications of, it. (89) The preliminary question is whether the desirability of these categories are recognisable by 'practical reason' - by consideration of the simplest goals one was aiming at in one's own past actions, and it seems to me - and more importantly has seemed to a significant number of communities in which these categories have provoked participatory discussions (hence my choice of Max-Neef), that they are. (90)


The first question is which items are actually means to human ends. This is the familiar criticism which Sen raises against Rawls' focus on primary goods. Rawlsian Basic Needs programmes focus on the provision of levels of commodities which are sufficient for a minimally decent life; however Sen argues that the intent of these initiatives really is for persons to enjoy a minimally decent life (to enjoy certain functionings) and so, because of interpersonal variation in converting commodities into functionings, this would be more accurately expressed by the goal of equality in basic functionings.

There is considerable overlap around needs pertaining to what Max-Neef calls subsistence: life (Finnis), 'survival and health' (Doyal and Gough), 'Survival and Well-being needs' (Galtung), 'health and nutrition' (Stewart) 'Mortality and human body - hunger/thirst/shelter/sexual desire/mobility' (Nusssbaum) and 'health, nutrition, sanitation, rest, shelter, security' (Qizilbash). Of these a fair number seem to be 'instrumental' to something which is intrinsically valuable: Galtung /Stewart /Qizilbash's nutrition (by which I understand nutritive foods or the state of being well-nourished), Galtung's water, air, excretion, sleep, sex, protection against climate, Qizilbash's sanitation, rest, shelter, (91) Doyal and Gough's survival and reproduction Nussbaum's mortality, hunger, thirst, shelter, sex, early infant development. These categories seem either instrumental to life or specifications of it, in the sense of subsistence (and, included in this, subsistence of the human species, or procreation) although (like all satisfiers) they may be instrumental to other dimensions as well. Nussbaum's mobility and early infant development and Galtung's movement and Qizilbash's basic physical capacities likewise seem instrumental to survival, but also to other aspects such as participation.

Health (Stewart, Qizilbash, Doyal and Gough - including mental health - Galtung's protection against diseases) might be instrumental to subsistence, but as the case is not so clear, we will discuss later whether health is a subset of subsistence/life/procreation, or is a distinct reason for action.

Max-Neef's second reason of 'protection' seems to be the end to which Galtung's survival needs - to avoid individual and collective violence - and Qizilbash's 'security' - are instrumental. Nussbaum's separateness is a rather tricky category to place, and might be instrumental to protection/security, but is instrumental to identity in some contexts.

Literacy (Stewart, Qizilbash) likewise seems in part valued for its contribution to health/survival, and in part for its contribution to 'understanding'. Education (Stewart, Galtung), Galtung's choice in receiving/expressing information and opinion, Nussbaum's cognitive capability, Qizilbash's basic intellectual capacities and Doyal and Gough's ability to reason seem instrumental to a number of ends, including understanding, participation, identity, and creation.

Finally, in the more social sphere, Galtung's understanding social forces and social transparency seem instrumental to participation.

All of these very familiar foci of development seem to be instrumental to some dimension of human life, rather themselves comprising such a dimension.

Additionally, many of the items on Nussbaum's list (Appendix II) are accompanied by specific political obligations for the pursuit of that capability. I would suggest that such rights and strategies are satisfiers: they are valuable insofar as they conduce to the pursuit of the basic capability with which they are associated in the relevant historical context but are not (obviously) basic reasons for action.

It is important to acknowledge two ways in which the distinction between an ends and means clouds over. First, some proposed 'dimensions of human development' are very clearly themselves means to others. For example, subsistence is evidently a 'prerequisite' to 'creation' and some kind of understanding is evidently instrumental to participation. However, subsistence and understanding are still identified as irreducible reasons for acting because their value cannot be reduced merely to means - there is some remainder, something intrinsically valuable about being healthy, for example. On the other hand, the instrumental dimensions identified above are recognised as valuable likewise because through these people do participate in intrinsically valuable basic goods (there is something intrinsically good about being nourished). The distinction is that if the person were asked yet again, why are you doing X they might be able to come up with a simpler 'more basic' or more generic description of their reason.

If the items which remain for our consideration are themselves inherently worthwhile, a second question is whether the good which is identified is possibly not the simplest or most basic such reason; whether it is rather part of another dimension or dimensions. In this section we will suggest consolidations, and at the same time notice where author's different words create space for the same dimension.

In the examples we have just been discussing 'health' 'subsistence' 'reproduction' and 'protection' might conceivably be subsets of the same dimension. There is a real distinction between the kind of 'goodness' associated with being healthy, from that of being nourished, from that of being safe, from that of reproduction. But the question is whether the simplest reasons are inherently of a different kind or whether it would make some sense to describe them as different component aspects of several basic dimensions, among which is 'physical life.' A case has been made that health is a distinct category. (92) Yet it does seem at least arguable that health, security, and nutrition/physical energy are all component aspects of physical life, that one simplest reason one goes to the doctor is to enjoy a full physical life rather than to enjoy health; one simplest reason a mother feeds her children well is that they may enjoy a full physical life not just be nourished; one (of several) simplest reason for conceiving a child is to create another life; one simplest reason for avoiding violence is to remain bodily intact; so I would propose that these simply be understood as 'component' aspects of physical life rather than as utterly different dimensions of human life, but it may be an issue worth considering further - especially because the specification of basic needs will mostly deal with items in this dimension.

Where else is consolidation possible? Max-Neef describes 'creation' and Finnis describes 'some degree of excellence in work and play' as a basic reason for action, by which is meant some artful self-actuating use of skills. This is Stewart's good of 'work', and Doyal and Gough's of production. Galtung's cluster of 'creativity, praxis, work' and 'protection against heavy degrading boring work,' and 'self-expression' also would be parts of this same dimension.

A similar dimension is expressed by Max-Neef's 'affection' Finnis' 'friendship' Nussbaum's 'affiliation with other humans', Qizilbash's 'significant relations with others...' Galtung's description of 'affection, love, sex; friends, offspring, and spouse' might all be thought of as subsets of a dimension. On the other hand, as Galtung's list brings out, this dimension would include i) spouses, and ii) friends/children, and there might be arguments for keep these distinct. (93) However for the time being I will suggest the category 'friendship' to include both of these.

A different dimension seems to form about Max-Neef and Stewart's leisure, Finnis' play and Nussbaum's humor and play. It might be that by 'leisure' Max-Neef and Stewart mean rest/idleness, in which case this might be seen as instrumental to a number of values such as life, identity or even creation. But it might be that they mean or excellence in singing or playing cricket or telling jokes. Or both. However, given the way we have defined work - which is in its creative rather than instrumentally productive sense - it might be that the 'value' of work and some forms of play are the same in their creative sense (the transformation of self and world to express meanings, create value and serve purposes with some degree of excellence (94)), hence may be considered as one kind of reason for action. In the sense in which work is self-expression it might also encompass Stewart's element of communication.

However, there is a significant residual element, which is raised by Stewart's cultural life and Finnis appreciation of beauty.' (95) The appreciation of beauty, and the ability to live in or travel to aesthetically pleasing environs and to appreciate dance/music/ painting/architecture do seem distinctive values from the productivity associated with work and creation. They are more passive, contemplative, expressive and responsive, rather than transformative (which is the sense of Finnis' grouping of aesthetic appreciation together with the similarly receptive value of gaining knowledge). (96) Therefore I would tentatively propose this to be a separate dimension.

The category of identity for Max-Neef seems roughly parallel to Finnis' self-integration, Galtung's being active subject and Qizilbash's self-determination.

At this point things become more complex. Max-Neef's categories participation and freedom seem to relate to Stewart's democratic rights, communication and participation, Galtung's roots, belongingness, networks, support, esteem, and dialogue, Nussbaum's practical reason, Finnis' coherent self-determination or practical reason, and Doyal and Gough's cultural transmission and political authority. However these seem to be a tangle of 'reasons for action,' which will be easier to sort out after the further steps of the analysis take place.

At this point we have noted general recognition of the following as dimensions of well-being:
Physical life - health, reproduction, protection, subsistence, Understanding, Friendship, Creation including creative and restorative times of leisure, Identity, Participation, Beauty (?). It is now time to ask if this list should be expanded, or if, rather, there are items on other lists which are not basic.


The third possibility is that some items may be valuable only when undertaken in conjunction with a valuable proposal. That is, although they are intrinsically valuable, they are not complete reasons for action. Nussbaum's listing of pleasurable experiences as a basic capability, Qizilbash's, of enjoyment, Galtung's, of happiness, joy are susceptible to scrutiny on this ground. Although many persons, when asked why they do x, would reply 'because it's fun' or 'I enjoy it' this is not necessarily the most direct explanation they could give (every one word reason isn't basic). If pressed: but why do you enjoy fishing, they might explain "because I can be still and alone" [identity] or "because I like to be outdoors" [aesthetics/environment] - in other words, give a reason which is equally simple and more specific, (97) and one that endures. It would seem that pleasurable experiences come in diverse forms which are integral to, that is inseparable from or supervenient upon, the various pursuits of other dimensions. So, for example, a person with an integrated identity may have a pleasurable experience of tranquillity, which is a very different pleasure from the delightful smells and tastes integral to the pursuit of excellence in cooking. The form of pleasurable experience which is not integral to the pursuit of any dimension of human flourishing is the pursuit of pleasurable experiences for their own sake. There are long-standing theoretical arguments against such activities being permanent dimensions of human flourishing (98). An additional objection is that the pursuit of physical pleasure per se involves someone treating a part of him/herself as instrumental, which is competitive with the good of self-integration, because rather than bringing the different dimensions into a harmonious unity, it emphasises the distinction between the bodily and the existential dimensions of human being. (99)

Max-Neef's unspecified category 'freedom', Qizilbash's autonomy, and negative freedom or liberty, are also susceptible to scrutiny along a similar line. Robert George (100) argues that autonomy (freedom/liberty/agency) is best characterised as an integral part of the item of coherent self-determination. By integral he means inwardly connected in such a way that freedom cannot be thought of as valuable in isolation from the participation in the dimensions of human flourishing which it accompanies. (101) In other respects, autonomy/freedom will be instrumentally valuable for the pursuit of other basic items. In Finnis' account a community's free choice will, other things being equal, always be better than a coerced choice, for it will be a self-constituting choice and thus realise valuable dimensions of human flourishing (e.g. friendship) to an extent that coerced choice will not. This being said, personal freedom could also be seen, in terms of the previous section as a part of the category of 'practical reasonableness' which Finnis describes as "the harmony between one's feelings and one's judgments (inner integrity) and between one's judgements and one's behaviour (authenticity)," [at individual or group level]. This is most clearly seen negatively: if one is not able to behave in the way that one feels and judges to be valuable because of negative or positive coercion, one would not participate in practical reason. Again, if a community resists an oppressive regime, their action could be intelligible in terms of practical reasons, in this case understood, in Christian Bay's words, to be a "sense of efficacy or power to influence the course of one's life." (102)

What about Galtung's self-actuation, realising potentials, well-being, a sense of purpose of meaning or Qizilbash's category, 'accomplishment' (again, a category which has a wide currency among behaviorists - the need for achievement, for self-actualisation etc). At first glance it might seem that these comprise 'creation', and also 'identity'. But on further reflection accomplishment for other persons might embrace knowledge, or friendship or physical life. And yet all of these dimensions do not seem to be collapsible into one category of 'accomplishment'; rather, like human fulfilment these seem to be more generalized terms that accrue to persons insofar as they participate reflectively in valuable functionings.

Thus as a result of the third kind of evaluation we have identified liberty pleasure and accomplishment as kinds of good which are valuable insofaras they accompany otherwise valuable reasons for acting, but are not themselves distinctive dimensions of human action.

None of the lists consider aspects of human well-being to be personal qualities (virtues) such as courage, reliability, or wisdom. However, the most significant recent cross-cultural research on human values has conceptualised and empirically tested for 'universal values' of this type. (103) While Finnis has cross-referenced his dimensions with anthropological studies, (104) he has not engaged with these recent empirical studies. Given the framework set out in this chapter, it would evidently be desirable for further 'surveys' to consider the question of universal values by inquiring into the dimensions of human value per se. (105)

There are three kinds of needs/functionings which did not prove to be instrumental to, nor subsets of, nor supervenient upon, Max-Neef's categories, nor were they personal qualities.

The first has been mentioned and introduced above, and is appreciation of beauty.

The second residual category is Finnis' religion, or harmony with some greater-than-human source of meaning and value (106) and Galtung's closeness to the transcendental, transpersonal. Both practical reasoning and sociological/anthropological evidence support this category of human good, (107) hence it is certainly a candidate as a dimension of human flourishing. Max-Neef does not have such a category. However, as it turns out this is not because he does not consider it valuable but rather because, in his understanding, humanity has not yet evolved to the state where the need for 'transcendence' (his term) is universal. Its exclusion is more deliberate in Nussbaum's aristotelianism for several reasons, (108) although, in light of her concerns it is worth mentioning that Finnis' or Galtung's placement of 'religion' or the draw of transcendent among non-hierarchical dimensions of human flourishing represents a radical departure from Aristotle and aristotelianism which might satisfy her concerns. (109) I would therefore propose this as a distinct 'basic reason' for human action, and [non-hierarchical] dimension of human development.

The third 'left-over' category is Galtung's partnership with nature, and Nussbaum's 'relatedness to other species and to nature.' This would seem to refer to the intrinsic value of being able to enjoy the natural world - places, animals, vegetation, ecosystems. (110) Part of the value of harmony with the non-human environment is aesthetic, for example the beauty of the prairies, or of a gazelle running. Part of the value of the environment to people is that it provides life - nourishment and security - and also is instrumental in many cases to work and leisure. Part of the value of animals is instrumental (if they are for food or work or security) and also one's relationship to domestic animals partakes in a limited way of the value of 'friendship'. Part of being at harmony with nature is very much like being at harmony with a greater than human source of meaning and value - and indeed Finnis earlier described this dimension as harmony between oneself and the wider reaches of reality. (111) I would propose harmony with the natural world as a dimension of human flourishing. There are dimensions for other elements of human relatedness - ie harmony between all the dimensions within the self, with other people, with God - but not as yet with the natural world. To deny our relatedness to the environment as a fundamental aspect of human existence seems to be very questionable. It would be the only fundamental feature of human relatedness which did not have a correlative dimension of human flourishing. (112)

It may be worth noting that these three proposed dimensions - beauty, religion, the environment - have all also been identified by anthropologists. (113)