Bridging the gap: Bringing needs discourse to theological discussion of human need

DesAnne J Hippe, Marquette University


A variety of positions have been articulated in scholarly discourse concerning how 'need' is to be properly conceptualized. Much of this work in defining need is taking place in disciplines such as philosophy, psychology, and sociology. What one quickly discovers in an examination of these discourses is that need is what W. B. Gallie calls an "essentially contested concept," which he summarizes as follows: "When we examine the different uses of these terms [essentially contested concepts] and the characteristic arguments in which they figure we soon see that there is no one use of any of them which can be set up as its generally accepted and therefore correct or standard use" (Gallie, Philosophy and the Historical Understanding , 157). As numerous conceptions of need continue to be articulated, analyzed, and disputed in these disciplines, it is clear that there is much work to be done in clarifying and refining the issues behind this concept: work in which theologians could provide a valuable perspective. One finds, however, that the rigorous debate about need taking place in the other disciplines has not been brought forward in all of its complexity into theological discourse. As a whole, the theological discourse has not systematically engaged with the difficulties inherent in the concept, nor has it had a substantial engagement with the discussions that are taking place within other disciplines that are examining the concept. It is towards redressing this lacuna that this project seeks to contribute. Although there are many ways of entering the discourse on needs, the path that I take in this project is to examine need as a relational construct, using the following need formula developed by John Jones: X is needed for Y by A under conditions Z and in relation to end(s) W (W1, W2, ...). In the course of my analysis, I demonstrate how the need formula (1) sheds light on how anthropological assumptions may shape a given understanding of what a human may need; and (2) illuminates two problematic areas that arise both in needs discourse and the theological literature: needs vs. wants/desires, and basic needs.

Recommended Citation

Hippe, DesAnne J, "Bridging the gap: Bringing needs discourse to theological discussion of human need" (2002). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3059375.