Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

Document Type



Despite a half-century of dominance by the rights discourse, the supremacy of rights in theories of human obligation has recently come under attack from political theorists. Though scholars have questioned the ability of rights to explain satisfactorily the responsibility we have for the well-being of others, there are few viable alternatives offered. In this dissertation, I argue that a theory of needs provides a better explanation of the intellectual and moral foundations of obligation. Human need is deeply rooted in subjective potentiality, but studies in human psychology have also provided an increasingly universal picture of the needs human beings experience. Of particular importance is Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of need, which asserts that human beings are motivated to fulfill physiological needs, safety needs, love needs, esteem needs, and self-actualization needs. When taken as an understanding of what is required for human flourishing, these needs provide a basis for political considerations. I assert here that legislators, in an effort to secure justice, can base policy on the human needs elaborated upon by Maslow. However, efforts at rationally constructing policy to meet needs, must be complimented by a heightened sense of pathos. By recognizing common human suffering, representatives can better understand the needs of their citizens and they will be more motivated to act on their behalf.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Eubanks, Cecil L.