Incommensurability and moral value

Politics, Philosophy and Economics 13 (3):237-268 (2014)
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Some theorists believe that there is a plurality of values, and that in many circumstances these values are incommensurable, or at least incomparable. Others believe that all values are reducible to a single super-value, or that even if there is a plurality of irreducible values these values are commensurable. But I will argue that both sides have got it wrong. Values are neither commensurable nor incommensurable, at least not in the way most people think. We are free to believe in incommensurability or not, depending on what particular conception of morality we want to embrace. Incommensurability is accordingly not a theory about value. It is a presupposition that provides a necessary background condition for a certain kind of value to exist. It is therefore not the kind of view that can be morally true or false. As a presupposition, it can only be accepted or rejected on grounds that do not presuppose that morality already exists. Incommensurability is, like the rejection of hard determinism, one of the presuppositions on which morality as we know it happens to be based

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Mark R. Reiff
University of California, Davis


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