Fundamental human needs

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Human needs and human-scale development,[1] developed by Manfred Max-Neef and others (Antonio Elizalde and Martin Hopenhayn), are seen as ontological (stemming from the condition of being human), are few, finite and classifiable (as distinct from the conventional notion of conventional economic "wants" that are infinite and insatiable).[2]

They are also constant through all human cultures and across historical time periods. What changes over time and between cultures is the strategies by which these needs (and created desires) are satisfied. Human needs can be understood as a system—i.e., they are interrelated and interactive. In this system, there is no hierarchy of needs (apart from the basic need for subsistence or survival) as postulated by Western psychologists such as Maslow, rather, simultaneity, complementarity and trade-offs are features of the process of needs satisfaction.

Manfred Max-Neef and his colleagues developed a taxonomy of human needs and a process by which communities can identify their "wealths" and "poverties" according to how their fundamental human needs are satisfied.

This school of Human Scale Development is described as "focused and based on the satisfaction of fundamental human needs, on the generation of growing levels of self-reliance, and on the construction of organic articulations of people with nature and technology, of global processes with local activity, of the personal with the social, of planning with autonomy, and of civil society with the state."[3][4]

One of the applications is within the field of Strategic Sustainable Development where the individual Fundamental Human Needs (not the marketed or created desires and needs) are used to refine the Brundtland definition. Together with other aspects of the Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development, summarized as backcasting from sustainability principles, it enables planning and designing for sustainability.


Max-Neef classifies the fundamental human needs as:

  • subsistence
  • protection
  • affection
  • understanding
  • participation
  • leisure
  • creation
  • identity
  • freedom

Needs are also defined according to the existential categories of being, having, doing and interacting, and from these dimensions, a 36 cell matrix is developed [5]

Need Being (qualities) Having (things) Doing (actions) Interacting (settings)
Subsistence physical and mental health food, shelter, work feed, clothe, rest, work living environment, social setting
Protection care, adaptability, autonomy social security, health systems, work co-operate, plan, take care of, help social environment, dwelling
Affection respect, sense of humour, generosity, sensuality friendships, family, relationships with nature share, take care of, express emotions privacy, intimate spaces of togetherness
Understanding critical capacity, curiosity, intuition literature, teachers, policies, educational analyse, study, meditate, investigate, schools, families, universities, communities,
Participation receptiveness, dedication, sense of humour responsibilities, duties, work, rights cooperate, dissent, express opinions associations, parties, churches, neighbourhoods
Leisure imagination, tranquility, spontaneity games, parties, peace of mind day-dream, remember, relax, have fun landscapes, intimate spaces, places to be alone
Creation imagination, boldness, inventiveness, curiosity abilities, skills, work, techniques invent, build, design, work, compose, interpret spaces for expression, workshops, audiences
Identity sense of belonging, self-esteem, consistency language, religions, work, customs, values, norms get to know oneself, grow, commit oneself places one belongs to, everyday settings
Freedom autonomy, passion, self-esteem, open-mindedness equal rights dissent, choose, run risks, develop awareness anywhere

The BElNG column registers attributes, personal or collective, that are expressed as nouns. The column of HAVING registers institutions, norms, mechanisms, tools (not in a material sense), laws, etc. that can be expressed in one or more words. The DOlNG column registers actions, personal or collective, that can be expressed as verbs. The column of INTERACTING registers locations and milieus (as times and spaces). [6]

Types of satisfiers[edit]

Max-Neef further classifies Satisfiers (ways of meeting needs) as follows.

  1. Violators: claim to be satisfying needs, yet in fact make it more difficult to satisfy a need. E.g. drinking a soda advertised to quench your thirst, but the ingredients (such as caffeine or sodium salts) cause you to urinate more, leaving you less hydrated on net.
  2. Pseudo Satisfiers: claim to be satisfying a need, yet in fact have little to no effect on really meeting such a need. For example, status symbols may help identify one’s self initially, but there is always the potential to get absorbed in them and forget who you are without them.
  3. Inhibiting Satisfiers: those that over-satisfy a given need, which in turn seriously inhibits the possibility of satisfaction of other needs. Mostly originating in deep-rooted customs, habits and rituals. For example, an overprotective family stifles identity, freedom, understanding, and affection.
  4. Singular Satisfiers: satisfy one particular need only. These are neutral in regard to the satisfaction of other needs. They are usually institutionalized by voluntary, private sector, or government programs. For example, food/housing volunteer programs aid in satisfying subsistence for less fortunate people.
  5. Synergistic Satisfiers: satisfy a given need, while simultaneously contributing to the satisfaction of other needs. These are anti-authoritarian and represent a reversal of predominant values of competition and greed. For example, breast feeding gives a child subsistence, and aids in the development in protection, affection, and identity.


Human Scale Development:[7] Conception, application and further reflections. By Manfred A. Max-Neef with contributions from Antonio Elizalde Martin Hopenhayn (1991)

Recent research appears to validate the existence of universal human needs.[8][9]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Manfred A. Max-Neef with Antonio Elizalde, Martin Hopenhayn. (1989). Human scale development: conception, application and further reflections. New York: Apex. Chpt. 2. Development and Human Needs, p. 18.
  3. ^ Manfred Max-Neef, Antonio Elizalde, & Martin Hopenhayn "Human Scale Development: An Option for the Future" (in Spanish--Max-Neef, Manfred, Antonio Elizalde y Martin Hopenhayn (1986), "Desarrollo a Escala Humana - una opción para el futuro", Development Dialogue, número especial (CEPAUR y Fundación Dag Hammarskjold).) p.12.
  4. ^ Manfred Max-Neef, Antonio Elizalde, & Martín Hopenhayn. with the cooperation of. Felipe Herrera, Hugo Zemelman, Jorge Jatobá, Luis Weinstein (1989). "Human Scale Development: An Option for the Future." Development Dialogue: A Journal of International Development Cooperation. 1989, 1, 7-80. (in English)
  5. ^ Human Needs and Human-scale Development
  7. ^
  8. ^ The Atlantic, Maslow 2.0: A New and Improved Recipe for Happiness
  9. ^ Tay, Louis; Diener, Ed (2011). "Needs and Subjective Well-Being Around the World" (PDF). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 101 (2): 354–365. doi:10.1037/a0023779. Retrieved Sep 20, 2011.