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To Give an Adequate Account of Comparability, Do We Need to Recognize a Relation Ruth Chang Calls Ð''on a Par With'?'

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Ð''To give an adequate account of comparability, do we need to

recognize a relation Ruth Chang calls Ð''on a par with'?'

In the introduction to her collection of essays, compiled from the works of leading philosophers, economists and other theorists, Incommensurability, Incomparability, and Practical Reason, Ruth Chang commences her treatise by observing that Ð''[t]here is a growing interest among moral, political and legal philosophers in what is called "the incommensurability of values".' In line with the title to her book, she then continues to specify that the issue which is in fact of high philosophical as well as economical interest is the notion that some values, or value bearers, might be incomparable to one another. As Chang does, I will set aside in my discussion the idea of incommensurability. Although it is a concept which is widely hailed for its ability to implicate utilitarianists, consequentialists and proponents of cost-benefit valuations in serious trouble, its strength lies in stipulating the inability to compare value bearers against one singular scale of measurement. This requirement is lacking from the notion of incomparability which makes it a lot more dangerous to practical reason. The interest in this topic is hence well founded. If proponents of this theory, henceforth called Incomparabilists, are to succeed in showing that in some cases values stand in fact in such a relation to one another as that one is to conclude that they are incomparable, practical reason would be incapable to show any choice made between such incomparable values. To be able to reject the existence of incomparability and explain such cases by other means would go a long way to extending the conceptual space that practical reason finds application to.

In the course of this essay I shall lay out the way in which Chang uses some arguments for the existence of incomparability to show that they rest on mistakes in order to hint at the possibility of a hitherto undocumented positive value relation which she names parity. I will then extrapolate on this notion with the help of Chang's essays Ð''The possibility of Parity' and Ð''Parity, Interval Value, and Choice' and consider many difficulties her argument faces along the way. By approaching comparability through the ontological question for incomparability I hope to be able to conclude that the failure of commonly used positive value relations to Ð''explain away' the concept of incomparability together with the intuitive appeal of parity gives strong reason to recognize it as a relation which is inseparable from any holistic account of comparability.

In order for incomparability to be defined, it can roughly be said that two items are incomparable iff no positive value relation holds between them. In claiming a positive value relation, one is saying something affirmative about the relation between two items. Examples would be x is Ð''better than', Ð''worse than' or Ð''equal to' y. In that sense to claim that x is Ð''not worse than', etc., differs conceptually as it is a negative value relation. It follows that if nothing affirmative can be said of the relation between two items, negative value relations can still be expressed, yet they do not suffice to give comparability. In almost all philosophical accounts of comparability, the logical space of positive value relations is exhausted by what Chang calls the Ð''Trichotomy Thesis' entailing the predicates Ð''better than', Ð''worse than' and Ð''equally good'. In her endeavour to outline a possible fourth positive value relation at a later point, Chang questions the exhaustive property of the Trichotomy Thesis early on, as many accounts of incomparability rely on the failure of the trichotomy to hold. On Chang's account, the Trichotomy Thesis is false, in the sense that it does not allow for the forth positive value relation of parity, which she believes to be instrumental in the argument against incomparability.

I shall leave this issue until later on, and initially focus on the refinements of the formal requirements for comparisons. To say that x is better than y must be refined to the more precise relation of x is better than y with respect to V, where V is a placeholder for any given covering value. A covering value is a consideration in respect to which any meaningful comparison must be made. This consideration must always be such as that it finds application within the domains of the respective comparands. Covering values are conceptually different from mere values in that they usually consist of multiple contributory values. An example would be to claim that donating 1 million GBP to a charity is better than saving them with respect to moral goodness. The same comparison might lead to the opposite result if made with respect to financial prudence or possibly even sheer sanity. This refinement leads us to the following revised definition of incomparability: Ð''two items are incomparable with respect to a covering value if, for every positive value relation relativized to that covering value, it is not true that it holds between them'. The lack of a covering value or its non-applicability within the domains of the comparands when attempting to make a comparison leads to what Chang labels Ð''noncomparability'. It differs from incomparability and comparability in that any instance of it is neutral to both the former and the latter as it is a mere formal failure of comparability. To attempt to compare apples and oranges full stop constitutes just as much a formal failure of comparability as the attempt to compare Brian Adams to Lance Armstrong with respect to Ð''success in musical performance'.

If putatively there is hence a case in which two alternatives are incomparable with respect to an applicable covering value, practical reason cannot apply to a justified choice between them. It remains to be shown, however, that incomparability does in fact exist. Chang distinguishes seven types of arguments for incomparability, and I will follow her lead in assessing, refuting or adapting each in turn to find if they withhold extensive scrutiny, given the refinements to comparability made above.

The probably most commonly cited argument for incomparability claims to draw its force from the extensive diversity of values borne by some set of alternatives. The nature of this diversity is understood and laid out in many different forms, ranging from values differing in types to genres or even dimensions and scales. A notable

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