Distinguishing Basic Needs and Fundamental Interests

Fabian Schuppert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Need-claims are ubiquitous within moral and political theory. However, need-based theories are often criticized for being too narrow in scope and too focused on the material preconditions for leading a decent life for grounding a substantial theory of social justice. The aim of this paper is threefold. Firstly, it will investigate the nature and scope of needs by analysing existing conceptualizations of the idea of needs. In so doing, we will get a better understanding of needs, which will help us to carve out the importance and singularity of basic need claims. Secondly, on the basis of the analysis of needs, it will argue for the concept of a fundamental interest in free social agency, which is much better suited than the idea of basic needs actually to ground a theory of social justice, as it highlights the social and institutional conditions for free agency. Thirdly, using the distinction between basic needs and fundamental interests, it will clarify their respective role in and importance for grounding moral principles. Overall, the paper offers a friendly critique of need-based theories, while arguing for a shift of focus to the idea of fundamental interests.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)24-44
JournalCritical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy
Issue number1
Early online date02 Aug 2011
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2013


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