Needing and necessity

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


This chapter examines claims about needs (including claims such as ‘Saskia needs medicine’, ‘Fergus needs water’). It shows how recent work on modal language – specifically work on ‘ought’ and ‘must’ – can be applied to needs claims, yielding an improved ability to interpret and assess the full range of needs claims. This is the positive part. The chapter then uses this improved understanding of needs claims to assess various positions to the effect that needs are fundamentally, or distinctively, significant for moral thought and moral theorising. The chapter argues that a proper understanding of claims about needs in fact undermines the idea that needs have such a special significance. This is the negative part. The chapter also discusses different proposals for understanding claims about needs as claims about harm and well-being.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationOxford Studies in Normative Ethics
EditorsMark C. Timmons
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages23
ISBN (Electronic)9780191867064, 9780192563385
ISBN (Print)9780198828310, 9780198828327
Publication statusPublished - 30 Oct 2018

Publication series

NameOxford Studies in Normative Ethics
PublisherOxford University Press


  • needs
  • necessity
  • modal terms
  • ought
  • must
  • moral philosophy
  • harm
  • well-being

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