Isaiah Berlin

Question 1: Isaiah Berlin advances a view called “value pluralism.” Value pluralism says that there exist a plurality of values that are equally objective but incommensurable. When two things are incommensurable, it means there is no common unit of measure or no standard by which to compare and judge them. This implies that 1) the values cannot be “traded off” against each other, so no amount of one value will ever compensate for, or take the place of, another, and 2) that it is not true that one value is better or worse, or that they are equally good since those are judgments which are inherently comparative. For example, incommensurability is expressed in the popular expression “It’s like comparing apples and oranges.” When someone says that, they’re trying to convey that two things are too different to compare. We might argue that apples and oranges aren’t actually incommensurable because they share a basic common category: they’re both fruit. We can compare them according to a number of metrics: sweetness, nutritional value, cost, the labor industry that produces them, the environmental effects of their production and distribution, etc. With all this in mind, consider whether there are any truly incommensurable values. Berlin suggests that there are plural values not only across cultures and epochs, but that they can exist within the same culture or society. Can you think of two values that seem to conflict within your own society or culture? Are those values incommensurable, or is there a way we can rank them so that when conflicts arise we can determine what to do? 250-word count


Question 2: Identify a part of the text that stood out to you. 150-word count

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