Against Constitutive Incommensurability or Buying and Selling Friends

Noûs 35 (s1):33 - 60 (2001)
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Recently, some of the leading proponents of the view that there is widespread incommensurability among goods have suggested that the incommensurability of some goods is a constitutive feature of the goods themselves. So, for example, a friendship and a million dollars are incommensurable because it is part of what it is to be a friendship that it be incommensurable with money. According to these ‘constitutive incommensurabilists’ incommensurability follows from the very nature of certain goods. In this paper, I examine this idea and argue that constitutive incommensurabilists have mistaken for constitutive incommensurability a particular emphatic kind of comparability. This examination involves an account of ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ goods and an explanation of how goods of different ‘types’ figure in practical conflict.
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