Value Incomparability and Indeterminacy
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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 is worse than y with respect to V and (iii) it is false that x and y are equally good with respect to V. Most philosophers have followed Raz in adopting this account of incomparability. Recently, however, John Broome has advocated an alternative view, on which value incomparability is explained in terms of vagueness or indeterminacy. In this paper I aim to further Broome’s view in two ways. Firstly, I want to supply independent reasons for thinking that the phenomenon of value incomparability is indeed a matter of the indeterminacy inherent in our comparative predicates. Secondly, I attempt to defend Broome’s account by warding off several objections that worry him, due mainly to Erik Carlson and Ruth Chang.
KeywordsValue incomparability Vagueness Comparative predicates Moral disagreement Broome Carlson Chang
I would like to thank Simon Blackburn and Hallvard Lillehammer for valuable suggestions and comments on earlier drafts of this paper. Versions of the paper have been presented at a Philosophy Colloquium in St. John’s College, Cambridge in November 2007, at the 11th Annual Oxford Philosophy Graduate Conference, as well as at the 2010 Conference of the British Society for Ethical Theory. I thank the audiences at these conferences, and in particular Arif Ahmed, Krister Bykvist, James Dreier, Jane Heal, Antti Kauppinen, Karen Nielsen, and Pekka Väyrynen for their helpful feedback. I am also grateful to Miha Constantinescu, Laura Vasile, and George Turturea for numerous conversations on the matters discussed here. Research for this paper was funded by the Cambridge Overseas Trust and by Trinity College, Cambridge.
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