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Braybrooke's Needs


Explanations > Needs > Braybrooke's Needs

Course-of-life needs | Adventitious needs |  So what?

There are many views of human needs. Here are needs as described by philosopher David Braybrooke, who criticized liberal and Marxist lists of needs as philosophically limited. He noted that the economic idea of utility is difficult to measure, while need is an easier concept which has a stronger moral force. He differentiates between basic needs, such as health, and provisions for these, such as medical assistance.

Braybrooke proposed course-of-life needs based on standards and criteria, as opposed to 'adventitious' needs, which are the things we need when we take on projects of any length.

 Course-of-life needs

Braybrooke sees many course-of-life needs in a biological sense, such that oxygen and food are course-of-life needs, but education and friendship are not.  Course-of-life needs are those where people 'have all through their lives or at certain stages of life through which all must pass'.

He also notes:

'Course-of-live needs are such that deficiency in respect of them endangers the normal functioning of the subject of need, considered as a member of a natural species. In the case of men, such deficiencies might also be said to endanger health and sanity.'

Selection criteria for identifying course-of-life needs include:

 '...being indispensible to mind or body in performing the tasks assigned a given person under a combination of basic social roles, namely the roles of parent, householder, worker and citizen'. 

In this, he includes social as well as bodily drivers, hence taking into account the reality of tribal and hierarchical living, where we take on activities and have needs in completing these.

Adventitious needs

Adventitious needs are those that come and go with particular activities. They are characterized by being driven by having goals and may well be longer-term, as opposed to the more immediate force of course-of-life needs. They also may be very diverse, driven by the expanse of human desires and ambition rather than more immediate bodily and social needs. Indeed, adventitious needs are sometimes referred to as preferences, reflecting the degree of conscious choice as opposed to the inescapable inner pressures that drive course-of-life action. They may also be related to values, for example in relation to the good and bad constructs that we place upon actions.

Adventitious needs are often less urgent, particularly as they are not associated with physical, emotional or social harm. They can hence be delayed, although this can become frustrating as the 'tyranny of the urgent' prevents people from reaching for more satisfying higher goals.

So what?

Understand needs in terms of how essential they are, how they relate to living, and what would happen if they are not satisfied. Differentiate these from adventitious wants that are more variable and which are less essential. You may be able to argue away adventitious desires or redirect them to your own purpose, but you will probably have to address course-of-life needs.

See also

Braybrooke, D. (1968). Let needs diminish that preferences may flourish. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press

Braybrooke, D. (1987). Meeting Needs, Princeton: Princeton University Press

Brock, G. (1994). Braybrooke on Needs. Ethics. 104, 4, 811-823.


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