Arguing over Incommensurable Values

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Arts and Humanities | Philosophy


“One of the undeniable, although perhaps initially unwelcome, features of the practical world we occupy is the existence of plural ultimate values, irreducibly many final goods, and everyone agrees that it would be a good thing to be able to think profitably about how to deliberate, choose, and act more effectively in a world that contains plural ultimate values. The best source of evidence for how to deliberate about plural ultimate values consists in the strategies people employ to deny or avoid confronting multiple final goods[…]The works of Machiavelli are a useful source of such evidence, both because Machiavelli offers arguments to forestall such avoidance behavior, and because he has so often been read as himself employing techniques for circumventing incommensurable multiple ends.[…]Following Machiavelli’s arguments I think there are four basic lines of argument that can be used to deny the possibility of rational treatment of plural ultimate ends, lines that either deny the multiplicity of incommensurable values or deny the possibility of rational treatment.”