Incommensurability and inconsistency of languages

Erkenntnis 27 (3):323 - 352 (1987)


Incommensurable theories are said to be both incompatible and incomparable. This is paradoxical, because, being incompatible, these theories must have the same subject-matter, yet incomparability implies that their subject-matter is different. This paper's proposed resolution of the paradox makes use of the distinction between internal subject-matter and external subject-matter for languages (frameworks) as outlined by W. Sellars. Incommensurability arises when two languages share the same external subject-matter but differ in internal subject-matter. When they share the same external subject-matter, they can be inconsistent (hence incompatible), and yet incomparable (because they are about distinct internal subject-matter). A substantial part of the paper is devoted to the technical development of the notion of inconsistency as a relationship between languages in contrast to the traditional notion of inconsistency between statements.

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References found in this work

The Logic of Scientific Discovery.K. Popper - 1959 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 10 (37):55-57.
Meaning and Reference.Hilary Putnam - 1973 - Journal of Philosophy 70 (19):699-711.
Patterns of Discovery.Norwood R. Hanson, A. D. Ritchie & Henryk Mehlberg - 1960 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 10 (40):346-349.
Against Method.P. Feyerabend - 1975 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 26 (4):331-342.

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