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Summary Two options or objects a and b are said to be incommensurable, incommensurate, or incomparable with respect to some value when the comparison is not malformed or irrelevant, but with respect to the value in question, (i) it is not true that a is better than b, (ii) it is not true that b is better than a, and (iii) it is not true that a and b are precisely equally good. A famous example (from John Broome) is the comparison between Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral: which is more impressive? Incommensurability raises two main sets of issues. First, what is the semantic and metaphysical status of a comparison between incommensurate objects? Second, how can practical reason operate when it must choose between such objects?
Key works Many of the central works in this area are found in Chang 1997, including several of those listed here. For arguments that there really are incommensurate options, and not merely those that are equally good, see 'small-improvement arguments' in  De Sousa 1974, Raz 1985 and Sinnott-Armstrong 1985. The latter also argues that incommensurability can ground moral dilemmas. Recent criticism of small-improvement arguments may be found in Gustafsson & Espinoza 2010. Chang 2002 argues that there is a fourth comparative called parity which sometimes holds between incommensurate objects. Broome 1997 argues that incommensurability is vagueness, or indeterminacy; Carlson 2004 criticises the central principle of this argument. Constantinescu 2012 is a recent defence of that principle. The self-described 'designated eccentric' who rejects incommensurability (at least with respect to the Moorean 'good') is Regan 1997.
Introductions Chang 1997 is a comprehensive survey of the issues.
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  1. Joaquín Jareño Alarcón (2006). Value Pluralism and Valuable Pluralism. The Proceedings of the Twenty-First World Congress of Philosophy 9:91-95.
    One of the most influential ideas in recent discussions in political philosophy and philosophy of values has been Isaiah Berlin's value pluralism. Given that different ways of living embody different applications of values, it is really difficult to talk about objectivity in the domain of morals. But if we reject the existence of criteria that allow us to judge among different moral proposals, we are led to recognize the prejudiced character of our convictions: their ethnocentric character. In my opinion, this (...)
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  2. Andrew Altman (2003). Joseph Raz, Value, Respect, and Attachment, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2001, Pp. Vi + 178. Utilitas 15 (03):376-.
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  3. Chrisoula Andreou (2005). Incommensurable Alternatives and Rational Choice. Ratio 18 (3):249–261.
    I consider the implications of incommensurability for the assumption, in rational choice theory, that a rational agent’s preferences are complete. I argue that, contrary to appearances, the completeness assumption and the existence of incommensurability are compatible. Indeed, reflection on incommensurability suggests that one’s preferences should be complete over even the incommensurable alternatives one faces.
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  4. Norbert Anwander (2001). Ruth Chang, Incommensurability, Incomparability and Practical Reason. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 4 (2):193-195.
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  5. Gustaf Arrhenius & Wlodek Rabinowicz (2005). Millian Superiorities. Utilitas 17 (2):127-146.
    Suppose one sets up a sequence of less and less valuable objects such that each object in the sequence is only marginally worse than its immediate predecessor. Could one in this way arrive at something that is dramatically inferior to the point of departure? It has been claimed that if there is a radical value difference between the objects at each end of the sequence, then at some point there must be a corresponding radical difference between the adjacent elements. The (...)
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  6. Carla Bagnoli (2006). Breaking Ties: The Significance of Choice in Symmetrical Moral Dilemmas. Dialectica 60 (2):157–170.
  7. Carla Bagnoli (2000). Value in the Guise of Regret. Philosophical Explorations 3 (2):169 – 187.
    According to a widely accepted philosophical model, agent-regret is practically significant and appropriate when the agent committed a mistake, or she faced a conflict of obligations. I argue that this account misunderstands moral phenomenology because it does not adequately characterize the object of agent-regret. I suggest that the object of agent-regret should be defined in terms of valuable unchosen alternatives supported by reasons. This model captures the phenomenological varieties of regret and explains its practical significance for the agent. My contention (...)
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  8. Michel Bitbol (2011). The Quantum Structure of Knowledge. Axiomathes 21 (2):357-371.
    This paper analyzes how conflicts of perspective are resolved in the field of the human sciences. Examples of such conflicts are the duality between the actor and spectator standpoints, or the duality of participancy between a form of social life and a socio-anthropological study of it. This type of duality look irreducible, because the conflicting positions express incompatible interests. Yet, the claim of incommensurability is excessive. There exists a level of mental activity at which dialogue and resolution are possible. Reaching (...)
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  9. Martijn Boot (2009). Parity, Incomparability and Rationally Justified Choice. Philosophical Studies 146 (1):75 - 92.
    This article discusses the possibility of a rationally justified choice between two options neither of which is better than the other while they are not equally good either (‘3NT’). Joseph Raz regards such options as incomparable and argues that reason cannot guide the choice between them. Ruth Chang, by contrast, tries to show that many cases of putative incomparability are instead cases of parity—a fourth value relation of comparability, in addition to the three standard value relations ‘better than’, ‘worse than’ (...)
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  10. John Broome (2009). Reply to Rabinowicz. Philosophical Issues 19 (1):412-417.
  11. John Broome (2004). Weighing Lives. Oxford University Press.
    We are often faced with choices that involve the weighing of people's lives against each other, or the weighing of lives against other good things. These are choices both for individuals and for societies. A person who is terminally ill may have to choose between palliative care and more aggressive treatment, which will give her a longer life but at some cost in suffering. We have to choose between the convenience to ourselves of road and air travel, and the lives (...)
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  12. John Broome (1997). Is Incommensurability Vagueness? In Ruth Chang (ed.), Incommensurability, Incomparability and Practical Reason. Harvard University Press.
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  13. Erik Carlson (2013). Vagueness, Incomparability, and the Collapsing Principle. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 16 (3):449-463.
    John Broome has argued that incomparability and vagueness cannot coexist in a given betterness order. His argument essentially hinges on an assumption he calls the ‘collapsing principle’. In an earlier article I criticized this principle, but Broome has recently expressed doubts about the cogency of my criticism. Moreover, Cristian Constantinescu has defended Broome’s view from my objection. In this paper, I present further arguments against the collapsing principle, and try to show that Constantinescu’s defence of Broome’s position fails.
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  14. Erik Carlson (2011). The Small-Improvement Argument Rescued. Philosophical Quarterly 61 (242):171-174.
    Gustafsson and Espinoza have recently argued that the ‘small-improvement argument’, against completeness as a rationality requirement for preference orderings, is defective. They claim that the two main premises of the argument conflict, and hence should not both be accepted. I show that this conflict can be avoided by modifying one of the premises.
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  15. Erik Carlson (2010). Parity Demystified. Theoria 76 (2):119-128.
    Ruth Chang has defended a concept of "parity", implying that two items may be evaluatively comparable even though neither item is better than or equally good as the other. This article takes no stand on whether there actually are cases of parity. Its aim is only to make the hitherto somewhat obscure notion of parity more precise, by defining it in terms of the standard value relations. Given certain plausible assumptions, the suggested definiens is shown to state a necessary and (...)
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  16. Erik Carlson (2004). Broome's Argument Against Value Incomparability. Utilitas 16 (2):220-224.
    John Broome has argued that alleged cases of value incomparability are really examples of vagueness in the betterness relation. The main premiss of his argument is ‘the collapsing principle’. I argue that this principle is dubious, and that Broome's argument is therefore unconvincing. Correspondence:c1 Erik.Carlson@filosofi.uu.se.
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  17. David K. Chan (2010). Reasoning Without Comparing. American Philosophical Quarterly 47 (2):153-164.
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  18. Ruth Chang (2012). Are Hard Choices Cases of Incomparability? Philosophical Issues 22 (1):106-126.
    This paper presents an argument against the widespread view that ‘hard choices’ are hard because of the incomparability of the alternatives. The argument has two parts. First, I argue that any plausible theory of practical reason must be ‘comparativist’ in form, that is, it must hold that a comparative relation between the alternatives with respect to what matters in the choice determines a justified choice in that situation. If comparativist views of practical reason are correct, however, the incomparabilist view of (...)
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  19. Ruth Chang (2005). Parity, Interval Value, and Choice. Ethics 115 (2):331-350.
    This paper begins with a response to Josh Gert’s challenge that ‘on a par with’ is not a sui generis fourth value relation beyond ‘better than’, ‘worse than’, and ‘equally good’. It then explores two further questions: can parity be modeled by an interval representation of value? And what should one rationally do when faced with items on a par? I argue that an interval representation of value is incompatible with the possibility that items are on a par (a mathematical (...)
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  20. Ruth Chang (2004). All Things Considered. Philosophical Perspectives 18 (1):1–22.
    One of the most common judgments of normative life takes the following form: With respect to some things that matter, one item is better than the other, with respect to other things that matter, the other item is better, but all things considered – that is, taking into account all the things that matter – the one item is better than the other. In this paper, I explore how all-things-considered judgments are possible, assuming that they are. In particular, I examine (...)
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  21. Ruth Chang (2002). Making Comparisons Count. Routledge.
    The central aim of this book is to answer two questions: Are alternatives for choice ever incomparable? and, In what ways can items be compared? The arguments offered suggest that alternatives for choice no matter how different are never incomparable, and that the ways in which items can be compared are richer and more varied than commonly supposed. This work is the first book length treatment of the topics of incomparability, value, and practical reason.
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  22. Ruth Chang (2002). The Possibility of Parity. Ethics 112 (4):659-688.
    This paper argues for the existence of a fourth positive generic value relation that can hold between two items beyond ‘better than’, ‘worse than’, and ‘equally good’: namely ‘on a par’.
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  23. Ruth Chang (2001). Against Constitutive Incommensurability or Buying and Selling Friends. Noûs 35 (s1):33 - 60.
    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 (...)
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  24. Ruth Chang (ed.) (1997). Introduction, Incommensurability, Incomparability, and Practical Reasoning. Harvard University Press.
    This paper is the introduction to the volume. It gives an argumentative view of the philosophical landscape concerning incommensurability and incomparability. It argues that incomparability, not incommensurability, is the important phenomenon on which philosophers should be focusing and that the arguments for the existence of incomparability are so far not compelling.
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  25. Ruth Chang (ed.) (1997). Incommensurability, Incomparability and Practical Reason. Harvard University Press.
    And what are the implications for moral and legal decision making? In this book, some of the sharpest minds in philosophy struggle with these questions.
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  26. Cristian Constantinescu (2012). Value Incomparability and Indeterminacy. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 15 (1):57-70.
    Two competing accounts of value incomparability have been put forward in the recent literature. According to the standard account, developed most famously by Joseph Raz, ‘incomparability’ means determinate failure of the three classic value relations ( better than , worse than , and equally good ): two value-bearers are incomparable with respect to a value V if and only if (i) it is false that x is better than y with respect to V , (ii) it is false that x (...)
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  27. Ronald B. De Sousa (1974). The Good and the True. Mind 83 (332):534-551.
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  28. Luke Elson (2014). Borderline Cases and the Collapsing Principle. Utilitas 26 (1):51-60.
    John Broome has argued that value incommensurability is vagueness, by appeal to a controversial about comparative indeterminacy. I offer a new counterexample to the collapsing principle. That principle allows us to derive an outright contradiction from the claim that some object is a borderline case of some predicate. But if there are no borderline cases, then the principle is empty. The collapsing principle is either false or empty.
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  29. Luke Elson (2014). Heaps and Chains: Is the Chaining Argument for Parity a Sorites? Ethics 124 (3):557-571.
    I argue that the Ruth Chang’s Chaining Argument for her parity view of value incomparability trades illicitly on the vagueness of the predicate ‘is comparable with’. Chang is alert to this danger and argues that the predicate is not vague, but this defense does not succeed. The Chaining Argument also faces a dilemma. The predicate is either vague or precise. If it is vague, then the argument is most plausibly a sorites. If it is precise, then the argument is either (...)
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  30. Nicolas Espinoza (2008). The Small Improvement Argument. Synthese 165 (1):127 - 139.
    It is commonly assumed that moral deliberation requires that the alternatives available in a choice situation are evaluatively comparable. This comparability assumption is threatened by claims of incomparability, which is often established by means of the small improvement argument (SIA). In this paper I argue that SIA does not establish incomparability in a stricter sense. The reason is that it fails to distinguish incomparability from a kind of evaluative indeterminacy which may arise due to the vagueness of the evaluative comparatives (...)
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  31. David Fagelson (2002). Justice As Integrity: Objectivity And Social Meaning In Legal Theory. Social and Legal Studies 11 (4):569-588.
  32. Joshua Gert (2004). Value and Parity. Ethics 114 (3):492-510.
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  33. Joshua Gert (2003). Requiring and Justifying: Two Dimensions of Normative Strength. [REVIEW] Erkenntnis 59 (1):5 - 36.
    Many contemporary accounts of normative reasons for action accord a single strength value to normative reasons. This paper first uses some examples to argue against such views by showing that they seem to commit us to intransitive or counterintuitive claims about the rough equivalence of the strengths of certain reasons. The paper then explains and defends an alternate account according to which normative reasons for action have two separable dimensions of strength: requiring strength, and justifying strength. Such an account explains (...)
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  34. Johan E. Gustafsson (2013). Indeterminacy and the Small-Improvement Argument. Utilitas 25 (4):433–445.
    In this article, I argue that the small-improvement fails since some of the comparisons involved in the argument might be indeterminate. I defend this view from two objections by Ruth Chang, namely the argument from phenomenology and the argument from perplexity. There are some other objections to the small-improvement argument that also hinge on claims about indeterminacy. John Broome argues that alleged cases of value incomparability are merely examples of indeterminacy in the betterness relation. The main premise of his argument (...)
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  35. Johan E. Gustafsson (2013). Value-Preference Symmetry and Fitting-Attitude Accounts of Value Relations. Philosophical Quarterly 63 (252):476–491.
    Joshua Gert and Wlodek Rabinowicz have developed frameworks for value relations that are rich enough to allow for non-standard value relations such as parity. Yet their frameworks do not allow for any non-standard preference relations. In this paper, I shall defend a symmetry between values and preferences, namely, that for every value relation, there is a corresponding preference relation, and vice versa. I claim that if the arguments that there are non-standard value relations are cogent, these arguments, mutatis mutandis, also (...)
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  36. Johan E. Gustafsson (2011). An Extended Framework for Preference Relations – Erratum. Economics and Philosophy 27 (3):359.
    In order to account for non-traditional preference relations the present paper develops a new, richer framework for preference relations. This new framework provides characterizations of non-traditional preference relations, such as incommensurateness and instability, that may hold when neither preference nor indifference do. The new framework models relations with swaps, which are conceived of as transfers from one alternative state to another. The traditional framework analyses dyadic preference relations in terms of a hypothetical choice between the two compared alternatives. The swap (...)
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  37. Johan E. Gustafsson (2011). An Extended Framework for Preference Relations. Economics and Philosophy 27 (3):360–367.
    In order to account for non-traditional preference relations the present paper develops a new, richer framework for preference relations. This new framework provides characterizations of non-traditional preference relations, such as incommensurateness and instability, that may hold when neither preference nor indifference do. The new framework models relations with swaps, which are conceived of as transfers from one alternative state to another. The traditional framework analyses dyadic preference relations in terms of a hypothetical choice between the two compared alternatives. The swap (...)
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  38. Johan E. Gustafsson & Nicolas Espinoza (2010). Conflicting Reasons in the Small-Improvement Argument. Philosophical Quarterly 60 (241):754–763.
    The small-improvement argument is usually considered the most powerful argument against comparability, viz the view that for any two alternatives an agent is rationally required either to prefer one of the alternatives to the other or to be indifferent between them. We argue that while there might be reasons to believe each of the premises in the small-improvement argument, there is a conflict between these reasons. As a result, the reasons do not provide support for believing the conjunction of the (...)
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  39. Toby Handfield (2013). Rational Choice and the Transitivity of Betterness. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 87 (1).
    If A is better than B and B is better than C, then A is better than C, right? Larry Temkin and Stuart Rachels say: No! Betterness is nontransitive, they claim. In this paper, I discuss the central type of argument advanced by Temkin and Rachels for this radical idea, and argue that, given this view very likely has sceptical implications for practical reason, we would do well to identify alternative responses. I propose one such response, which employs the idea (...)
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  40. Toby Handfield (2011). Absent Desires. Utilitas 23 (04):402-427.
    What difference does it make to matters of value, for a desire satisfactionist, if a given desire is *absent*, rather than *present*? I argue that it is most plausible to hold that the state in which a given desire is satisfied is, other things being equal, incommensurate with the state in which that desire does not exist at all. In addition to illustrating the internal attractions of the view, I demonstrate that this idea has attractive implications for population ethics. Finally, (...)
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  41. George W. Harris (2001). Value Vagueness, Zones of Incomparability, and Tragedy. American Philosophical Quarterly 38 (2):155 - 176.
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  42. Chris Heathwood (forthcoming). Monism and Pluralism About Value. In Iwao Hirose & Jonas Olson (eds.), Oxford Handbook of Value Theory. Oxford University Press.
    This essay discusses monism and pluralism about two related evaluative notions: welfare, or what makes people better off, and value simpliciter, or what makes the world better. These are stipulatively referred to as 'axiological value'. Axiological value property monists hold that one of these notions is reducible to the other (or else eliminable), while axiological value property pluralists deny this. Substantive monists about axiological value hold that there is just one basic kind of thing that makes our lives or the (...)
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  43. Nien-hê Hsieh (2007). Is Incomparability a Problem for Anyone? Economics and Philosophy 23 (1):65-80.
    The incomparability of alternatives is thought to pose a problem for justified choice, particularly for proponents of comparativism better than,worse than,equally good,roughly equalon a par. namely, rejection of the transitivity of the relation In this paper, I argue that proponents of comparativism need not incur this cost. I defend the possibility of justified choice between incomparable alternatives on grounds that comparativists can accept. The possibility of incomparability has been met with resistance, in part because of the intuitive appeal of comparativism. (...)
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  44. Nien-Hê Hsieh (2007). Maximization, Incomparability, and Managerial Choice. Business Ethics Quarterly 17 (3):497-513.
    According to one prominent view of rationality, for the choice of alternative to be justified, it must be at least as good as other alternatives. Michael Jensen has recently invoked this view to argue that managers should act exclusively to maximize the long-run market value of economic enterprises. According to Jensen, alternative accounts of managerial responsibility, such as stakeholder theory, are to be rejected because they lack a single measure to compare alternatives as better or worse. Against Jensen’s account, this (...)
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  45. Nien-hê Hsieh (2005). Equality, Clumpiness and Incomparability. Utilitas 17 (2):180-204.
    The incomparability of two items is thought to pose a problem for making justified choices and for consequentialist theories that rely on comparing states of the world to judge the goodness of a particular course of action. In response, it has been argued that items thought incomparable by one of the three standard relations, ‘better than’, ‘worse than’ and ‘equally good’, are instead comparable by some fourth relation, such as ‘roughly equal’ or ‘on a par’. Against such accounts, this article (...)
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  46. Michael Huemer (2010). Lexical Priority and the Problem of Risk. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 91 (3):332-351.
    Some theories of practical reasons incorporate a lexical priority structure, according to which some practical reasons have infinitely greater weight than others. This includes absolute deontological theories and axiological theories that take some goods to be categorically superior to others. These theories face problems involving cases in which there is a non-extreme probability that a given reason applies. In view of such cases, lexical-priority theories are in danger of becoming irrelevant to decision-making, becoming absurdly demanding, or generating paradoxical cases in (...)
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  47. Justin Klocksiem (2011). Moorean Pluralism as a Solution to the Incommensurability Problem. Philosophical Studies 153 (3):335 – 49.
    Several prominent ethical philosophers have attempted to demonstrate that there exist instances or types of value that are of crucial moral significance but which cannot legitimately be compared with one another. Bernard Williams and Michael Stocker, for example, argue that it can sometimes be rational to regret having chosen the all-things-considered better of two alternatives, and that this sense of regret entails that the goodness of the worse option is not made up for by and is therefore incommensurable with that (...)
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  48. Justin Klocksiem (2009). In Defense of the Trichotomy Thesis. Acta Analytica 25 (3):317-327.
    According to a standard picture, for any two comparable objects and a basis for comparison, either one is greater than the other or they are equal with respect to the basis. This picture has been called the Trichotomy Thesis, and although it is intuitive and plausible, it has been called into question by such philosophers as Derek Parfit, James Griffin, Joseph Raz, and Ruth Chang. Chang’s discussion is particularly rich, for she proposes and provides a detailed account of a possible (...)
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  49. Christopher Knapp (2004). When Hard Choices Become Easy. American Journal of Philosophy 41 (4):232-330.
    By analyzing cases in which we must choose between options whose values are not precisely comparable, this paper presents the case for the existence of a previously unrecognized class of practical reasons – reasons that arise from how the value of an option compares to the values of the alternatives. Several implications of these comparative value-based reasons are discussed – including the context-dependence of one option’s being ‘rationally preferable to’ an alternative, and the fact that, even when the values of (...)
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  50. Klaas J. Kraay (2011). Incommensurability, Incomparability, and God's Choice of a World. International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 69 (2):91 - 102.
    Anselmian theism holds that there necessarily exists a being, God, who is essentially unsurpassable in power, knowledge, goodness, and wisdom. This being is also understood to be the creator and sustainer of all that is. In contemporary analytic philosophy of religion, this role is generally understood as follows: God surveys the array of possible worlds, and in his wisdom selects exactly one for actualization, based on its axiological properties. In this paper, I discuss an under-appreciated challenge for this account of (...)
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