chapter  5
5Needs, interests and power
Pages 17

The foregoing discussion provides a useful set of parameters for thinking about needs. It

seems, in the light of the arguments advanced in the previous chapters, that it is false to

suggest that there are no states of the person that could be called basic or human needs

and to suggest that all needs are entirely morally relative and the products of a particular

moral code. In addition, we can infer from our account of basic needs that there is a

general obligation to provide resources to meet needs. However, it is still true to say that

there is considerable room for doubt and dispute over what will in fact satisfy the basic

needs for survival and autonomy. Frequently this will be an empirical issue to be settled

between individuals whose moral outlook is the same, but it would be dangerous to

assume that even within a given society moral and political values held by different

groups and individuals are likely to be in agreement over what is going to be an adequate

standard of satisfaction of basic need. Indeed, most of the political disputes about the

provision of welfare are likely to be disputes of this kind, and the pressing of a particular

view about the interpretation of need satisfaction raises issues about power in society and

how different welfare policies for the provision of need are put on to the political agenda.

This is so for the following reason. There must be a relationship between basic needs and

interests; while it may be true that a person’s interests are linked with his opportunities to

get what he wants and therefore may vary widely, just because wants may vary, it must