Philosophical Perspectives on Needs

How we fundamentally view “needs” is a critical foundation for how they influence our decisions and guide our assessments.  The following resources offer a glimpse into the research and conversations on the topic within a variety of disciplines. 

Note: Special thanks to Jolanta Kavale for initially developing this resource page.


Doyal, L., & Gough. I. (1991). A theory of human need. New York: Guilford.

Galtung, J. (1980). The basic needs approach. In K. Lederer (Ed.).Human needs (pp.  55-125). Cambridge, MA: Oelgeschlager, Gunn & Hain.

Max-Neef MA, Elizalde A, Hopenhayn M. (1991). Development and Human Needs. In: Max-Neef MA. (ed.). Human scale development: conception, application and further reflections. The Apex Press: London, New York, pp13-54.

Rauschmayer, F., Omann, I., Frühmann, J. (eds.), 2010: Sustainable Development: Capabilities, Needs and Well-being. Routledge – Abingdon.

Rauschmayer, F., Omann, I., Frühmann, J. (2010). Needs, capabilities, and quality of life. Re-conceptualizing Sustainable Development. In: Rauschmayer, F., Omann, I., Frühmann, J. (eds.) (2010): Sustainable Development: Capabilities, needs, and well-being. Routledge.

Rauschmayer, F., Omann, I., Frühmann, J. (2010). Are needs the missing link? From resources through capabilities and needs to well-being.

Tobar-Arbulu, J.F. (1987). Human Needs and Development. International Journal of Basque Studies, Vol 32, No. 2, 1987, p.363-394

Watkins, R., West-Meiers, M., & Visser, Y. (2012). A guide to assessing needs: Tools for collecting
information, making decisions, and achieving development results. Washington, DC: World Bank.


Alvarez, Allen (2009). The Cross-Cultural Importance of Satisfying Needs. Bioethics. Volume 23 Number 9, pp 486–496

Anders H. and David, H. (May 2016). Measuring needs for priority setting in healthcare planning and policy. Social Science & Medicine. Volume 157, May 2016, Pages 96–102

Batifoulier, P. (2010). The philosophy of need and the normative foundations of health policy. Philippe

Batifoulier, John Latsis, Jacques Merchiers  (eds.). In: Revue de philosophie économique, Vol. 10, No. 1 p. 79-101.

Endacott, R. (1997). Clarifying the concept of need: a comparison of two approaches to concept analysis. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 25, 471-476.

Juth, N. (2015. Challenges for Principles of Need in Health Care. Health Care Anal. 23:73–87 DOI 10.1007/s10728-013-0242-7

Political science

Bay, Christian (Sept. 1968) Needs, Wants, and Political Legitimacy. Canadian Journal of Political Science / Revue canadienne de science politique, Vol. 1, No. 3, pp. 241-260

Evrenosoglu, D. (2007). The Ontological and the Political Significance of the Concept of Need in Political Philosophy, Istanbul, 2007

Hamilton, L. A. (2009). Human Needs and Political Judgment. In Zurn & de Bruin (eds.). New Waves in Political Philosophy. Palgrave.

Hamilton, L. A. (2008). Needs and Agency, In J. Peil & I. van Staveren (Eds.), Handbook of Economics and Ethics. Edward Elgar Publishing.

Hamilton, L. A. (2006). The Context and Argument of The Political Philosophy of Needs (Symposium on The Political Philosophy of Needs), The South African Journal of Philosophy 25. 3 (2006)

Hamilton, L. A. (2003). The Political Philosophy of Needs. Cambridge.

Heller, A. (1980). Can „True‟ and „False‟ Needs be Posited? In Katrin Lederer (ed.). Humans Needs: A Contribution to the Current Debate. Cambridge, Mass: Oelgeschalger, Gunn, and Hain.

Korolev, A. (2015). Regime Responsiveness to Basic Needs: A Dimensional Approach. Studies in Comparative International Development (DOI: 10.1007/s12116-015-9209-z)

Thomson, G. (1987). Needs. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Social sciences

Anders H. and David H. (May 2016). A Model and Indicator of Aggregate Need Satisfaction for Capped Objectives and Weighting Schemes for Situations of Scarcity. Social Indicators Research. pp 1-18

Dean, H. (2010). Understanding human need. Bristol: Policy Press.

Gasper, D. (1996). Needs and Basic Needs: A Clarification of Meanings, Levels and different streams of work. Institute of Social Studies Working Paper #210.

Gasper, D. (2009). Human Needs and Well-Being. In J. Peil & I. van Staveren (Eds.). Handbook of Economics and Ethics (pp. 348-357).

Hassoun, N. (2009). The minimally good human life account of needs. Carnegie Mellon University Working Paper. Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University.

Lister, R. (2010). Understanding theories and concepts in social policy. Bristol: Policy Press.

Mallmann, C. A.  (1980). Society, needs, and rights: A systematic approach. In K. Lederer (Ed.), Human needs: A contribution to the current debate (pp. 37-54). Cambridge: Oelenschlager.

Spicker, P. (1993). Needs as claims. Social Policy and Administration, 27 (1), pp. 7-17. Available from:

Taylor, P. (April, 1959). “Need” Statements. Analysis, Vol. 19, No. 5. , pp. 106-111.

Economics/Social Economics

Alkire, S. (2003). Needs and capabilities.

Armour, L. (2011). The puzzles and paradoxes of human need: an introduction. International Journal of Social Economics, Vol. 38 Iss: 3 pp. 180 – 191

Clarke, J., & Langan, M. (1998). Review. In M. Langan (Ed.), Welfare: Needs, rights and risks. London and New York: Routledge.

Freeman, K. B. (2011). Human needs and utility maximization. International Journal of Social Economics, Vol. 38 Iss: 3 pp. 224 – 236

Gomes, O. (2011). The hierarchy of human needs and their social valuation. International Journal of Social Economics, Vol. 38 Iss: 3 pp. 237 – 259

Gough, I. (2015). Climate change and sustainable welfare: the centrality of human needs. Cambridge Journal of Economics. doi:10.1093/cje/bev039

Jackson, T., Jager, W., & Stagl, S. (2004). Beyond insatiability: Needs theory, consumption and sustainability. In L. A. Reisch & I. Røpke (Eds.), The ecological economics of consumption (pp. 79-110). Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

McCain, R. A. (2011). Why Need is A Word We Cannot Do Without in Economics, Forum for Social Economics, 2011


Brock, G., & Reader, S. (2002). Needs-Centered Ethical Theory. Journal of Value Inquiry 36 (4).

Frankfurt, H.  (Sept. 1984). Necessity and Desire. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 45, No. 1, pp. 1-13.

Goodin, R. (June 1985). The Priority of Needs. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 45, No. 4, pp. 615-625

McLeod, S. K. (2011). Knowledge of need. International Journal of Philosophical Studies, 19(2), 211-230.

McLeod, S. K. (2014). Absolute Biological Needs. Bioethics ISSN 0269-9702 (print); 1467-8519 (online) doi:10.1111/bioe.12020

Reader, S. (2011). Ethical Necessities. Philosophy 86 (04):589-607.

Reader, S. (2007). Needs and Moral Necessity. Routledge.

Reader, S. (2006). Does a Basic Needs Approach Need Capabilities? Journal of Political Philosophy 14 (3):337–350.

Reader, S. (ed.) (2005), The Philosophy of Need, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Reader, S. (2005). Aristotle on Necessities and Needs. Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements 80 (57):113-.

Stamp,  D. W. (1988). Need. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 66 (2):129 – 160.

Taylor, P.W. (1959). „Need“ statements. Analysis, 19, 106 – 111.

Wiggins, D. (1987). Needs, need, needing. Journal of Medical Ethics. 13, 62-68.

Wiggins, D. (1987). Claims of need.  In D. Wiggins (Ed.), Needs, values, truth: Essays in philosophy (pp. 1-57). Oxford: Basil Blackwell

Wolniewicz, B. (1991). Needs and value. In Logic and ethics.(Ed.). Geach,P. Dordrecht: Kluwer 1991.

Psychology, peace studies and other

Chen, B., Mouratidis, A., Ryan, R. M., Sheldon, K.M., Soenens, B., Van Petegem, S. & Verstuyf, J., Vansteenkiste, M., Beyers, W., Boone, L., Deci, E. L., Van der Kaap-Deeder, J., Duriez, B., Lens, W., & Matos, L. (2015). Basic psychological need satisfaction, need frustration, and need strength across four cultures. Motivation and Emotion, 39, 216-236. doi: DOI 10.1007/s11031-014-9450-1

Cody R. DeHaan, Tadashi Hirai, Richard M. Ryan. (2015) Nussbaum’s Capabilities and Self-Determination Theory’s Basic Psychological Needs: Relating Some Fundamentals of Human Wellness. Journal of Happiness Studies.

Deci, E. L., & Vansteenkiste, M. (2004). Self-determination theory and basic need satisfaction: Understanding human development in positive psychology. Ricerche di Psichologia, 27, 17-34.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The ‘what’ and ‘why’ of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11, 227-268.

Oppenheimer, J. (2011). Universals, Knowledge Claims, and Methods. The Good Society. Vol. 20, No. 2, pp. 249-280

Park, L. (2010). Opening the Black Box: Theory of Human Needs Reconsidered. International Journal of Peace Studies, Volume 15, Number 1, Spring/Summer 2010

Rubenstein, R. E. (2001). “Basic Human Needs: The Next Steps in Theory Development.” The International Journal of Peace Studies, 6 (1): 51-58.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2006). Self-regulation and the problem of human autonomy: Does psychology need choice, self-determiniation, and will?. Journal of Personality, 74, 1557-1586. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.2006.00420.x

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). The darker and brighter sides of human existence: Basic psychological needs as a unifying concept. Psychological Inquiry, 11, 319-338.

Sheldon, K. (2011). Integrating behavioral-motive and experiential-requirement perspectives on psychological needs: a two process model. Psychological Review. 118(4):552-69. doi: 10.1037/a0024758.

Sheldon, K. M., & Gunz, A. (2009). Psychological needs as basic motives, not just experiential requirements. Journal of Personality, 77, 1467-1492.

Vansteenkiste, M., & Ryan, R. M. (2013). On psychological growth and vulnerability: Basic psychological need satisfaction and need frustration as a unifying principle. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 23, 263–280. doi: 10.1037/a0032359

Most articles from Deci, Ryan, and Sheldon on needs and Self-Determination Theory are available in full-text at:
Read More: