Knowledge of Need

International Journal of Philosophical Studies 19 (2):211-230 (2011)
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Some of the duties of individuals and organisations involve responsiveness to need. This requires knowledge of need, so the epistemology of need is relevant to practice. The prevailing contention among philosophers who have broached the topic is that one can know one’s own needs (as one can know some kinds of desires) by feeling them. The article argues against this view. The main positive claims made in the article are as follows. Knowledge of need, in both first‐person and second‐person cases, is a type of knowledge‐that with no basic epistemological source. Needs, like medical conditions, have signs and symptoms. Knowledge of these, with inference, results in knowledge of need. Finally, it is argued that need is akin to, but not a special case of, metaphysical necessity de re. Some implications of this for the epistemology of need are explained.

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Stephen K. McLeod
University of Liverpool


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