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Conceptualising Capabilities and Dimensions of Advantage as Needs

Fardell, B; (2020) Conceptualising Capabilities and Dimensions of Advantage as Needs. Journal of Human Development and Capabilities , 21 (3) pp. 263-276. 10.1080/19452829.2020.1777952. Green open access

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Abstract

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 achieving 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.

Type: Article
Title: Conceptualising Capabilities and Dimensions of Advantage as Needs
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1080/19452829.2020.1777952
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1080/19452829.2020.1777952
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.
Keywords: Needs, basic needs approach, capability approach, Amartya Sen, well-being, selecting capabilities, value incommensurability, sufficiency
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Dept of Philosophy
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10108370
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