What money can't buy: the status of financial evaluation

Ian Baker

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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"Money can't buy everything", people say. In the same spirit, it is sometimes claimed that there are incommensurable values. I conclude this thesis by rejecting that claim as both confused and confusing. But the route to the conclusion is indirect, revealing why the appeal to incommensurability is nevertheless so commonly made, and showing how, once we understand what it is to compare things, we can display clearly its underlying insight. I argue that the criteria against which we must justify any comparative judgment are supplied not by descriptions of the compared items but by what Julius Kovesi (in Moral Notions, 1967) called the formal element of the concept under which we seek to compare. That concept will correspond with what Ruth Chang has referred to as the covering value for the comparison. For any particular comparison, I argue, the formal element of that concept will be the same as the point of the comparison: the reason why it has been undertaken. Hence, given that we can explain why we are comparing, we can offer a justification for a comparative judgment of any two items. From this analysis I offer refutations of standard arguments for the incommensurability of values, among them the influential argument from small improvements and Joseph Raz's argument for the constitutive incommensurability of friendship with money. I then reconstruct Raz's argument to show that any friend must recognise his comparisons of the values of optional acts to have a more general point than his gaining of money. Against criteria supplied by that point, and no matter how great the sum at stake, any friend may judge that he does better to forgo a financially profitable act for a less profitable alternative. What, necessarily, money can't buy is the ability to recognise when such a judgment is justified. That ability, I observe, underlies not only friendship but also prosperity and money itself.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2008


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