The Journal of Value Inquiry

, Volume 45, Issue 3, pp 267–277 | Cite as

Comparing Incommensurables

  • Anthony Marc WilliamsEmail author


Debates about the implications of moral incommensurability appear to generate the type of irreconcilable disagreement that some defenders of the concept claim it is supposed to explain. The apparent paradox in comparing incommensurables provides some indication of the problems inherent in the employment of the concept, which have to do with a lack of a common measure or standard for the evaluation and comparison of two items, goods, or values. The word “incommensurability” comes from the Latin term, incomensuralis: “in: not; co: together; mensuralis measurable.”1 Lacking a common measure or standard for comparison, it is ostensibly false that one item is better than the other, and it is false that the two are equal in value. The common example of our inability to compare apples to oranges illustrates the notion of incommensurability. The implication is that two things can be roughly of equal value, but their values are sui generis, unique in kind. If we ask the question,...


Practical Reason High Status Moral Luck Practical Deliberation Comparative Worth 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of CharlestonCharleston USA

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