About this topic
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. added 2018-12-18
    On the Limits of the Precautionary Principle.H. Orri Stefansson - forthcoming - Risk Analysis.
    The Precautionary Principle (PP) is an influential principle of risk management. It has been widely introduced into environmental legislation, and it plays an important role in most international environmental agreements. Yet, there is little consensus on precisely how to understand and formulate the principle. In this paper I prove some impossibility results for two plausible formulations of the PP as a decision-rule. These results illustrate the difficulty in making the PP consistent with the acceptance of any trade-offs between catastrophic risks (...)
  2. added 2018-12-12
    Ought-Onomy and Mental Health Ethics: From "Respect for Personal Autonomy" to "Preservation of Person-in-Community" in African Ethics.Samuel J. Ujewe - 2018 - Philosophy, Psychiatry, and Psychology 25 (4):45-59.
    Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad, says a Nigerian proverb. These words of wisdom re-echo in traditional approaches to mental health ethics in sub-Saharan Africa. Among many cultures in Nigeria, it is customary to subject persons with mental health illness, especially those who present with violent behavior, to physical restraint and beatings. The belief is that such subjugation could restore mental health in the early stages of madness. Physical restraint and beatings only form a part (...)
  3. added 2018-12-06
    Two Kinds of Value Pluralism.Miles Tucker - 2016 - Utilitas 28 (3):333-346.
    I argue that there are two distinct views called in contemporary axiology, but that these positions have not been properly distinguished. The first kind of pluralism, weak pluralism, is the view philosophers have in mind when they say that there are many things that are valuable. It is also the kind of pluralism that philosophers like Moore, Brentano and Chisholm were interested in. The second kind of pluralism, strong pluralism, is the view philosophers have in mind when they say there (...)
  4. added 2018-11-06
    Consideraciones sobre la fuerza de las razones en contra de dañar.Santiago Truccone Borgogno - 2018 - Critica 149 (50):31-57.
    En este trabajo realizaré afirmaciones sobre la fuerza de las razones en contra de dañar. Distinguiré diferentes tipos de estados de daño y de acciones dañosas. Explicaré qué tipo de estado de daño es más grave y qué tipo de acción dañosa genera razones más fuertes en contra de dañar. Finalmente compararé la fuerza de las razones en contra de dañar derivadas tanto de los estados de daño como de los distintos tipos de acciones dañosas, para establecer una regla de (...)
  5. added 2018-07-19
    Ambivalence: A Philosophical Exploration.Hili Razinsky - 2016 - Rowman & Littlefield International.
    Ambivalence (as in practical conflicts, moral dilemmas, conflicting beliefs, and mixed feelings) is a central phenomenon of human life. Yet ambivalence is incompatible with entrenched philosophical conceptions of personhood, judgement, and action, and is denied or marginalised by thinkers of diverse concerns. This book takes a radical new stance, bringing the study of core philosophical issues together with that of ambivalence. The book proposes new accounts in several areas – including subjectivity, consciousness, rationality, and value – while elucidating a wide (...)
  6. added 2018-05-22
    Does the Collapsing Principle Rule Out Borderline Cases?Johan E. Gustafsson - 2018 - Utilitas 30 (4):483-492.
    If ‘F’ is a predicate, then ‘Fer than’ or ‘more F than’ is a corresponding comparative relational predicate. Concerning such comparative relations, John Broome’s Collapsing Principle states that, for any x and y, if it is false that y is Fer than x and not false that x is Fer than y, then it is true that x is Fer than y. Luke Elson has recently put forward two alleged counter-examples to this principle, allegedly showing that it yields contradictions if (...)
  7. added 2018-03-05
    Ethics and Uncertainty: The Guest Editor’s Introduction.Tomasz Żuradzki - 2017 - Diametros 53:1-5.
    Until very recently, normative theorizing in ethics was frequently conducted without even mentioning uncertainty. Just a few years ago, Sven Ove Hansson described this state of affairs with the slogan: “Ethics still lives in a Newtonian world.” In the new Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Probability, David McCarthy writes that “mainstream moral philosophy has not been much concerned with probability,” understanding probability as “the best-known tool for thinking about uncertainty.” This special predilection for certainty in ethics was surprising since most (...)
  8. added 2018-03-02
    Introduction.Luke Elson - 2016 - Ratio 29 (4):353-356.
  9. added 2018-02-21
    Parity, Prospects, and Predominance.Ryan Doody - forthcoming - Philosophical Studies:1-19.
    Let’s say that you regard two things as on a par when you don’t prefer one to other and aren’t indifferent between them. What does rationality require of you when choosing between risky options whose outcomes you regard as on a par? According to Prospectism, you are required to choose the option with the best prospects, where an option’s prospects is a probability-distribution over its potential outcomes. In this paper, I argue that Prospectism violates a dominance principle—which I call The (...)
  10. added 2017-12-17
    The Fitting-Attitude Analysis of Value Relations and the Preferences Vs. Value Judgements Objection.Mauro Rossi - 2017 - Economics and Philosophy 33 (2):287-311.
  11. added 2017-12-17
    Value and Preference Relations: Are They Symmetric?Mauro Rossi - 2016 - Utilitas 28 (3):239-253.
    According to Wlodek Rabinowicz's fitting-attitude analysis of comparative value, it is possible to analyse both standard and non-standard value relations in terms of the standard preference relations and two levels of normativity. In a recent article, however, Johan Gustafsson has argued that Rabinowicz's analysis violates a principle of valuepreference symmetry or he cannot make conceptual room for multiple permissible preferences.
  12. added 2017-12-17
    Sur la symétrie présumée entre valeurs et préférences.Mauro Rossi - 2014 - Les ateliers de l'éthique/The Ethics Forum 9 (2):82-98.
    Comment pouvons-nous analyser des relations de valeur non standards, comme la parité axiologique, en termes d’attitudes appropriées? Wlodek Rabinowicz suggère que deux choses sont à parité si et seulement si il est à la fois permissible de préférer l’une à l’autre et permissible d’avoir la préférence contraire. Dans un article récent, Johan Gustafsson soutient toutefois que l’analyse de Rabinowicz viole un principe de symétrie entre valeurs et préférences, selon lequel il existe pour toute relation de valeur une relation de préférence (...)
  13. added 2017-09-18
    Common Values.Field Richard W. - manuscript
    I offer a line of argument that aims at the conclusion that the notion of radically different and incommensurable systems of value is incoherent, which would mean that the presumption of some significant common ground of valuation is rationally required in value inquiry.
  14. added 2017-09-13
    Incommensurability in Population Ethics.Jacob Nebel - 2015 - Dissertation, University of Oxford
    Values are incommensurable when they cannot be measured on a single cardinal scale. Many philosophers suggest that incommensurability can help us solve the problems of population ethics. I agree. But some philosophers claim that populations bear incommensurable values merely because they contain different numbers of people, perhaps within some range. I argue that mere differences in how many people exist, even within some range, do not suffice for incommensurability. I argue that the intuitive neutrality of creating happy people is better (...)
  15. added 2017-09-08
    Value Incomparability and Incommensurability.Ruth Chang - 2015 - In Iwao Hirose & Jonas Olson (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Value Theory. Oxford University Press.
    This introductory article describes the phenomena of incommensurability and incomparability, how they are related, and why they are important. Since incomparability is the more significant phenomenon, the paper takes that as its focus. It gives a detailed account of what incomparability is, investigates the relation between the incomparability of values and the incomparability of alternatives for choice, distinguishes incomparability from the related phenomena of parity, indeterminacy, and noncomparability, and, finally, defends a view about practical justification that vindicates the importance of (...)
  16. added 2017-08-21
    Continuity and Completeness of Strongly Independent Preorders.David McCarthy & Kalle Mikkola - 2018 - Mathematical Social Sciences 93:141-145.
    A strongly independent preorder on a possibly in finite dimensional convex set that satisfi es two of the following conditions must satisfy the third: (i) the Archimedean continuity condition; (ii) mixture continuity; and (iii) comparability under the preorder is an equivalence relation. In addition, if the preorder is nontrivial (has nonempty asymmetric part) and satisfi es two of the following conditions, it must satisfy the third: (i') a modest strengthening of the Archimedean condition; (ii') mixture continuity; and (iii') completeness. Applications (...)
  17. added 2017-08-21
    Representation of Strongly Independent Preorders by Sets of Scalar-Valued Functions.David McCarthy, Kalle Mikkola & Teruji Thomas - 2017 - MPRA Paper No. 79284.
    We provide conditions under which an incomplete strongly independent preorder on a convex set X can be represented by a set of mixture preserving real-valued functions. We allow X to be infi nite dimensional. The main continuity condition we focus on is mixture continuity. This is sufficient for such a representation provided X has countable dimension or satisfi es a condition that we call Polarization.
  18. added 2017-08-21
    Aggregation for General Populations Without Continuity or Completeness.David McCarthy, Kalle Mikkola & Teruji Thomas - 2017 - MPRA Paper No. 80820.
    We generalize Harsanyi's social aggregation theorem. We allow the population to be infi nite, and merely assume that individual and social preferences are given by strongly independent preorders on a convex set of arbitrary dimension. Thus we assume neither completeness nor any form of continuity. Under Pareto indifference, the conclusion of Harsanyi's theorem nevertheless holds almost entirely unchanged when utility values are taken to be vectors in a product of lexicographic function spaces. The addition of weak or strong Pareto has (...)
  19. added 2017-08-14
    Incommensurability and Vagueness in Spectrum Arguments: Options for Saving Transitivity of Betterness.Toby Handfield & Wlodek Rabinowicz - 2018 - Philosophical Studies 175 (9):2373-2387.
    The spectrum argument purports to show that the better-than relation is not transitive, and consequently that orthodox value theory is built on dubious foundations. The argument works by constructing a sequence of increasingly less painful but more drawn-out experiences, such that each experience in the spectrum is worse than the previous one, yet the final experience is better than the experience with which the spectrum began. Hence the betterness relation admits cycles, threatening either transitivity or asymmetry of the relation. This (...)
  20. added 2017-08-02
    Incommensurability as Vagueness: A Burden-Shifting Argument.Luke Elson - 2017 - Theoria (4):341-363.
    Two options are ‘incommensurate’ when neither is better than the other, but they are not equally good. Typically, we will say that one option is better in some ways, and the other in others, but neither is better ‘all things considered’. It is tempting to think that incommensurability is vagueness—that it is indeterminate which is better—but this ‘vagueness view’ of incommensurability has not proven popular. I set out the vagueness view and its implications in more detail, and argue that it (...)
  21. added 2017-06-29
    Midlife: A Philosophical Guide.Kieran Setiya - 2017 - Princeton University Press.
  22. added 2017-06-23
    Skepticism About Ought Simpliciter.Derek Clayton Baker - 2018 - Oxford Studies in Metaethics 13.
    There are many different oughts. There is a moral ought, a prudential ought, an epistemic ought, the legal ought, the ought of etiquette, and so on. These oughts can prescribe incompatible actions. What I morally ought to do may be different from what I self-interestedly ought to do. Philosophers have claimed that these conflicts are resolved by an authoritative ought, or by facts about what one ought to do simpliciter or all-things-considered. However, the only coherent notion of an ought simpliciter (...)
  23. added 2017-03-09
    Putting Together Morality and Well-Being.Ruth Chang - 2004 - In Peter Baumann & Monika Betzler (eds.), Practical Conflicts: New Philosophical Essays. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 118--158.
    Conflicts between morality and prudence are often thought to pose a special problem because the normativity of moral considerations derives from a distinctively moral point of view, while the normativity of prudential considerations derives from a distinctively prudential point of view, and there is no way to ‘put together’ the two points of view. I argue that talk of points of view is a red herring, and that for any ‘prumoral’ conflict there is some or other more comprehensive value – (...)
  24. added 2017-02-13
    Paradox of Parity.Keith Lehrer - 2011 - In T. Dougherty (ed.), Evidentialism and its Discontents. Oxford University Press. pp. 55.
  25. added 2017-01-30
    Modeling Parity and Incomparability.Wlodek Rabinowicz - unknown
  26. added 2017-01-29
    Parity, Preference and Puzzlement.Joshua Gert - 2015 - Theoria 81 (3):249-271.
    Ruth Chang has argued for the existence of a fourth positive value relation, distinct from betterness, worseness and equality, which she calls “parity.” In an earlier article I seemed to criticize Chang's suggestion by offering an interval model for the values of items that I claimed could accommodate all the phenomena characteristic of parity. Wlodek Rabinowicz, offering his own model of value relations, endorsed one central feature of my proposal: the need to distinguish permissible preferences from required ones. But he, (...)
  27. added 2017-01-26
    Incommensurability (and Incomparability).Ruth Chang - 2013 - In Hugh LaFollette (ed.), The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. Blackwell. pp. 2591-2604.
    This encyclopedia entry urges what it takes to be correctives to common (mis)understandings concerning the phenomenon of incommensurability and incomparability and briefly outlines some of their philosophical upshots.
  28. added 2017-01-26
    Is Incomparability A Problem For Anyone?N. Hsieh - 2007 - 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 – the view that comparative facts about alternatives determine what one rationally ought to choose. As a solution, it has been argued that alternatives judged incomparable by one of the three standard comparative relations, “better than,” “worse than,” and “equally good,” are comparable by some fourth relation, such as “roughly equal” or “on a par.” This solution, however, comes at what many would (...)
  29. added 2017-01-26
    Forcing the Choice Between Lives', Journal of Applied Philosophy, Ix (1992). For a Reply© Edinburgh University Press 2000 Utilitas Vol. 12, No. 1, March 2000. [REVIEW]Phillip Montague - 2000 - Utilitas 12 (1).
  30. added 2017-01-26
    The Problem of Semantic Incomparability.Johannes Bechert - 1991 - In Dietmar Zaefferer (ed.), Semantic Universals and Universal Semantics. Foris Publications. pp. 12--60.
  31. added 2017-01-24
    Value Relations: Old Wine in New Barrels.Wlodek Rabinowicz - unknown
    In Rabinowicz 2008, I considered how value relations can best be analyzed in terms of fitting pro-­‐attitudes. In the formal model presented in that paper fitting pro-­‐attitudes are represented by the class of permissible preference orderings on a domain of items that are being compared. As it turns out, this approach opens up for a multiplicity of different types of value relationships, along with the standard relations of "better", "worse", "equally as good as" and "incomparable in value". Unfortunately, though, the (...)
  32. added 2017-01-19
    The Mere Addition Paradox, Parity and Vagueness.Mozaffar Qizilbash - 2007 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 75 (1):129–151.
    Derek Parfit’s mere addition paradox has generated a large literature. This paper articulates one response to this paradox - which Parfit hirnself suggested - in terms of a formal account of the relation of parity. I term this response the ‘parity view’. It is consistent with transitivity of ‘at least as good as’, but implies incompleteness of this relation. The parity view is compatible with critical-band utilitarianism if this is adjusted to allow for vagueness. John Broome argues against accounts which (...)
  33. added 2017-01-19
    Linguistic Characterization of Preference Relations as a Basis for Choice in Social Systems.L. A. Zadeh - 1977 - Erkenntnis 11 (1):383 - 410.
  34. added 2017-01-19
    Choice Structures and Preference Relations.Bengt Hansson - 1968 - Synthese 18 (4):443 - 458.
  35. added 2017-01-17
    Parity: An Intuitive Case.Ruth Chang - 2016 - Ratio 29 (4):395-411.
    In other work I have argued that items can be on a par, where being on a par is a fourth, basic, sui generis value relation beyond the usual trichotomy of ‘better than’, ‘worse than’, and ‘equally good’. In this paper, I aim to marshal non-technical, intuitive arguments for this view. First, I try to cast doubt on the leading source of intuitive resistance to parity, the conviction that if two items are comparable, one must be better than the other, (...)
  36. added 2017-01-15
    Making Comparisons Count.Ruth Chang - 2015 - Routledge.
    This book attempts 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.
  37. added 2017-01-15
    Making Comparisons Count.Ruth Chang - 2014 - Routledge.
    This book attempts 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.
  38. added 2017-01-10
    Deliberare, Comparare, Misurare.Carla Bagnoli - 2007 - Ragion Pratica: Rivista semestrale 26:65-80.
    © Carla Bagnoli DELIBERARE, COMPARARE, MISURARE É opinione ampiamente condivisa che l’incommensurabilità e la commensurabilità sono ipotesi sulla natura del valore che pongono delle condizioni pesanti sulla deliberazione e sulla nostra capacità di compiere scelte ragionate. Pragmatisti e pluralisti si sono adoperati ad argomentare che la commensurabilità non è un requisito necessario alla scelta razionale. In questo articolo sosterrò che vi è un argomento ancora più radicale di quello pluralista e pragmatista secondo il quale la commensurabilità, così come l’incommensurabilità, non (...)
  39. added 2016-12-18
    The Good, the Bad, and the Transitivity of Better Than.Jacob M. Nebel - 2018 - Noûs 52 (4):874-899.
    The Rachels–Temkin spectrum arguments against the transitivity of better than involve good or bad experiences, lives, or outcomes that vary along multiple dimensions—e.g., duration and intensity of pleasure or pain. This paper presents variations on these arguments involving combinations of good and bad experiences, which have even more radical implications than the violation of transitivity. These variations force opponents of transitivity to conclude that something good is worse than something that isn’t good, on pain of rejecting the good altogether. That (...)
  40. added 2016-12-12
    Practical Conflicts: New Philosophical Essays.Peter Baumann & Monika Betzler (eds.) - 2004 - Cambridge University Press.
    Practical conflicts pervade human life. Agents have many different desires, goals, and commitments, all of which can come into conflict with each other. How can practical reasoning help to resolve these practical conflicts? In this collection of essays a distinguished roster of philosophers analyse the diverse forms of practical conflict. Their aim is to establish an understanding of the sources of these conflicts, to investigate the challenge they pose to an adequate conception of practical reasoning, and to assess the degree (...)
  41. added 2016-12-08
    On the Norms of Visual Argument: A Case for Normative Non-Revisionism.David Godden - 2017 - Argumentation 31 (2):395-431.
    Visual arguments can seem to require unique, autonomous evaluative norms, since their content seems irreducible to, and incommensurable with, that of verbal arguments. Yet, assertions of the ineffability of the visual, or of visual-verbal incommensurability, seem to preclude counting putatively irreducible visual content as functioning argumentatively. By distinguishing two notions of content, informational and argumentative, I contend that arguments differing in informational content can have equivalent argumentative content, allowing the same argumentative norms to be rightly applied in their evaluation.
  42. added 2016-12-08
    Modeling Value Disagreement.Erich Rast - 2016 - Erkenntnis 81 (4):853-880.
    In this article, monist values are expressed as preferences like in economics and decision making. On the basis of this formalization, various ways of defining value disagreement of agents within a group are investigated. Twelve notions of categorical value disagreement are laid out. Since these are too coarse-grained for many purposes, known distance-based approaches like Kendall’s Tau and Spearman’s footrule are generalized from linear orders to preorders and position-sensitive variants are developed. The account is further generalized to allow for agents (...)
  43. added 2016-12-08
    Incommensurability, Incomparability and Practical Reason.Ruth Chang (ed.) - 1997 - 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.
  44. added 2016-09-12
    Decision Making in the Face of Parity.Miriam Schoenfield - 2014 - Philosophical Perspectives 28 (1):263-277.
    Abstract: This paper defends a constraint that any satisfactory decision theory must satisfy. I show how this constraint is violated by all of the decision theories that have been endorsed in the literature that are designed to deal with cases in which opinions or values are represented by a set of functions rather than a single one. Such a decision theory is necessary to account for the existence of what Ruth Chang has called “parity” (as well as for cases in (...)
  45. added 2016-09-06
    Essentially Comparative Value Does Not Threaten Transitivity.Toby Handfield - 2016 - Thought: A Journal of Philosophy 5 (1):3-12.
    The essentially comparative conception of value entails that the value of a state of affairs does not depend solely upon features intrinsic to the state of affairs, but also upon extrinsic features, such as the set of feasible alternatives. It has been argued that this conception of value gives us reason to abandon the transitivity of the better than relation. This paper shows that the support for intransitivity derived from this conception of value is very limited. On its most plausible (...)
  46. added 2016-08-22
    Vague Comparisons.Cristian Constantinescu - 2016 - Ratio 29 (4):357-377.
    Some comparisons are hard. How should we think about such comparisons? According to John Broome, we should think about them in terms of vagueness. But the vagueness account has remained unpopular thus far. Here I try to bolster it by clarifying the notion of comparative vagueness that lies at its heart.
  47. added 2016-06-29
    What is Wrong with Nimbys? Renewable Energy, Landscape Impacts and Incommensurable Values.Anne Schwenkenbecher - 2017 - Environmental Values 26 (6):711-732.
    Local opposition to infrastructure projects implementing renewable energy (RE) such as wind farms is often strong even if state-wide support for RE is strikingly high. The slogan “Not In My BackYard” (NIMBY) has become synonymous for this kind of protest. This paper revisits the question of what is wrong with NIMBYs about RE projects and how to best address them. I will argue that local opponents to wind farm (and other RE) developments do not necessarily fail to contribute their fair (...)
  48. added 2016-06-07
    Retrospection.Kieran Setiya - 2016 - Philosophers' Imprint 16.
    Argues from the rationality of nostalgia, affirmation, and regret to a principle of ‘specificity’: it can be rational to respond more strongly to facts that provide us with reasons than to the fact that such reasons exist.
  49. added 2016-04-19
    Incommensurable values.John Broome - 2000 - In Roger Crisp & Brad Hooker (eds.), Well-Being and Morality: Essays in Honour of James Griffin. Clarendon Press. pp. 21--38.
    Two options are incommensurate in value if neither is better than the other, and if a small improvement or worsening of one does not necessarily make it determinately better or worse than the other. If a person faces a sequence of choices between incommensurate options, she may end up with a worse options than she could have had, even though none of her choices are irrational. Yet it seems that rationality should save her from this bad outcome. This is the (...)
  50. added 2016-03-16
    Comparing the Incommensurable: Constitutional Principles, Balancing and Rational Decision.Virgílio Afonso da Silva - 2011 - Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 31 (2):273-301.
    Balancing implies a comparison among goods, values, principles and rights that cannot be ranked on a single scale of measurement, ie there is no unequivocal measuring unit applicable to all of them. In such situations, it is common to state that one has to compare incommensurable things. Indeed, this issue has been mentioned by several authors as a strong reason in favour of abandoning balancing (and proportionality) as a rational form of judicial argumentation and decision-making. My article aims at arguing (...)
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