4. The Mutual Limitation of Needs as Bases of Moral Entitlements: A Solution to Braybrooke’s Problem

In Susan Sherwin & Peter Schotch (eds.), Engaged Philosophy: Essays in Honour of David Braybrooke. University of Toronto Press. pp. 77-100 (2006)
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David Braybrooke argues that meeting people’s needs ought to be the primary goal of social policy. But he then faces the problem of how to deal with the fact that our most pressing needs, needs to be kept alive with resource-draining medical technology, threaten to exhaust our resources for meeting all other needs. I consider several solutions to this problem, eventually suggesting that the need to be kept alive is no different in kind from needs to fulfill various projects, and that needs may have a structure similar to rights, with people’s legitimate needs serving as constraints on each other’s entitlements to resources. This affords a set of axioms constraining possible needs. Further, if, as Braybrooke thinks, needs are created by communities approving projects, so that the means to prosecute the projects then come to count as needs, then communities are obliged to approve only projects that are co-feasible given the world’s finite resources. The result is that it can be legitimate not to funnel resources towards endless life-prolongation projects.
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