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“Plural grounding” presents arguments for or against without setting priorities

I look down on mere lists of reasons for or against something if the lister does not rank the reasons in some order, such as of their persuasiveness. It isn’t good enough to throw out a whole bunch of arguments that could range from trivial to determinative without the additional effort to prioritize them on some basis. Because of that bias – “tell me their order” – my catalogues of arguments almost always come in some sort of order of influence. But I may be misguided.

Amartya Sen, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, explains in his most recent book, The Idea of Justice (Harvard Univ. 2009) at 2, the expository procedure he calls “plural grounding.” When criticizing something, it recognizes “using a number of different lines of condemnation, without seeking an agreement on their relative merits.” It is quite permissible, Sen writes, to have a variety of criticisms (or supporting arguments from the positive side) “yet not agree on one particular ground as being the dominant reason for the diagnosis.”

If you oppose hourly billing, you might advance several reasons, but under plural grounding it is legitimate to recognize that two or more of them stand on equal footing. My mind does not tend in that direction, but I do believe most values are incommensurable so it makes sense that some arguments (ultimately, value based) are likewise not rankable against each other.

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