There is a widespread tendency to formulate insights, proposals or principles in point form, namely as made up of a specific number of items usually presented as a list. Such items will be considered here as the elements of the set that they collectively constitute in any particular case.
This paper is therefore concerned with problems relating to the representation and comprehension of such sets--whether the elements in any given case are basic: human needs, human values, principles, concepts, problems, human rights, human responsibilities or components of a policy.
The paper explores the possibility that (irrespective of the nature of the elements in any such case) there may be different kinds of constraints on the distinctions and relationships between the elements, depending upon the total number of elements in the set. Clearly, the total number of elements in the set also affects the manner in which the set can be represented, communicated and comprehended.
Briefly, therefore, the paper argues that consensus on a 5-element set of human needs (or a 5-point programme) for example, implies certain kinds of distinctions and relationships between the 5 elements, depending solely on the number (e.g. in contrast with a 3-element or 10-element set). These may not have been met in a given case because the elements are either (a) inappropriately defined, or (b) appropriate to a 4-element or 6-element set (with the consequence that there are elements in excess or missing from the set). Inadequacies of this kind are of importance in themselves but also affect the representation and communicability of the set, and ultimately its role and viability in the psycho-social domain.