Kant on True Need

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


A number of influential Kantian philosophers assume that true need (wahres Bedürfniß) represents shared and fundamental human concerns that can both ground duties of aid and limit how much an agent can be morally required to do for others. In this paper, I take on this misreading and argue that true need is representative of personal priorities. This subjectivist reading fits better with Kant’s own characterization of true need as well as with his conceptions of need and happiness. Moreover, I argue that Kant’s own conception of true need is philosophically appealing, as it is anti-paternalistic. Agents are free to determine their own true need. This frees Kant of the challenge to come up with a list of true human needs supposedly stable across cultures, epochs and individuals. Furthermore, my reading also implies that the mere fact that someone else considers something their true need does not necessitate our help.
Original languageEnglish
Early online date17 Nov 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17 Nov 2021


  • True Need
  • Happiness
  • Duties of Aid
  • Overdemandingness
  • Duties to Self


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