Essay Preview: Human Needs
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What makes a life a truly human one? Is it possible to make a sort of identification when a “life has been so impoverished that it is not worthy of the dignity of the human being?” (Women, Culture and Development, p.74). This is the very question Martha Nussbaum, leading female Aristotelian philosopher, addresses throughout various pieces of her work. What she has tried to do is establish a list of central capabilities “that can be convincingly argued to be of central importance in any human life; whatever else the person pursues or chooses” (Women, Culture and Development, p.74). Nussbaums goal is to clarify and develop the so-called “capabilities approach”, an approach to the recognition of the quality of life originally presented by the Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen. I intend to evaluate and analyze Nussbaums work on the subject from the perspective of Cicero and the Stoics and that of non-Western thinkers. Whats more, I hope to set in motion a new conceptualization concerning the assessment and attainment of the good life.
In view of the list of capabilities, Nussbaum supposes that if a life lacks any of these said capabilities, no matter what else it includes, the life being examined will not be deemed as a good human life. Upon reading, the list she has created is most obviously quite extensive and by all means can be seen as generally obtainable, but the question at hand is whether or not it is universal? Cicero and the Stoics will agree that such a list can be in fact objectively determined but would assess that Nussbaums revision of Amartya Sens original compilation is much too long. On the other hand, such scholars like Frederique Apffel Marglin would completely disagree with Nussbaums efforts, saying that her account of what constitutes a good life is culturally biased, imposing Western thought upon a non-Western way of life. Specific human relationships within Nussbaums system are neglected, resulting in an inherently narrow concept of the whole. From evaluating Marglins perspective, one can see that she believes that any list that is put together is going to be culturally biased no matter what. It is a complicated task to try to accomplish. The quality of life in a individuals is defined in terms of social indicators (IE: nutrition, crime rates, frequency of disease, air quality, health care, divorce rates, education, etc). The difficulty in evaluating the quality of life lies within the realm of knowing how to appraise each factor concerned. For example, to utilize a simplistic illustration, is clean drinking water more or less important than good education in our schools? One way of achieving a cohesive index would be to define the quality of life as a subjective measure of a perceived satisfaction or dissatisfaction within a life. Nevertheless, is it possible to conceive of circumstances in which the perceived satisfaction could vary quite independently of what we regard as the quality of life? I definitely believe this is an avoidable factor. Well being is said to be both a condition of the good life as well as what the good life achieves. It can be defined as a “flourishing”, it is bound with the very ideas that constitute human happiness. The phrase “good life” itself is ambiguous. It can be looked at in terms of a morally good life versus the life most aspire to achieve. It is important to note that this idea includes solace and satisfaction. This ambiguity can be taken as an indication of how unclear we ultimately find the connection between being morally good and possessing health, wealth, happiness and other components of well being. Before we delve into this naively let us first document in some detail Martha Nussbaums re-evaluation of Sens opus, so that we can better understand the material with which we have to work.
All human beings have an aversion to fatality. Nevertheless, if a human being came in contact with an immortal being, or even a mortal being with no fear or concern for death, one would form an opinion concluding that the appearance of life would be so unlike his/her own that the being in question could not be recognized as human.
The Human Body
The events of the body are formed based upon each culture. The importance that is reflected upon each occurrence is also culturally shaped according to ones cultural connotations. However, the body itself, not culturally modified when it comes to nutrition and other so-called necessities, sets limits on what can be experienced and valued. These obvious limitations create a vast amount of intersecting common characteristics between them.
Hunger and Thirst
All human beings need food and drink in order to survive. The experience of appetites is to some extent culturally established. For example, some people gorge themselves thinking they are hungry when in fact they are not. In normal situations, human beings do not try to be either hungry or thirsty.
Need for shelter
Human beings are susceptible to the conditions Mother Nature offers. Life for humans is concerned with the acquisition of protection and is done so through clothing and somewhere to live.
This attribute is needed to a lesser degree; however, its importance cannot be overlooked. This essential element helps to form an imperative understanding with other human beings different from ourselves.
Human beings can be classified as creatures that have the ability to move from place to place, either on their own or with the aid of other tools. If one were to come across an individual, who is capable of such movement and chooses not move, one would not easily be able to envision such a being as human.
Capacity for Pleasure and Pain
The experiences of pleasure and pain are universal to all of human life. What is diverse in each human life is not only the expression of such emotions but also so is the experience itself, which may in fact be culturally shaped.
Cognitive Capability: Perceiving, Imagining and Thinking
All human beings have a capacity to perceive the world around them through the assistance of the five senses. In addition, they have the ability to imagine and to think. What needs to be evaluated is what kind of impairment to any of these areas is needed before we begin to question the humaneness of any
given life. For us to imagine a human life that totally lacks all sensory perception,