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The premise that concepts and norms used in two paradigms cannot be adapted to each other in a way that allows the simultaneous practice of both paradigms. Incommensurability has roughly the meaning of “incompatibility,” as well as “untranslatability. Incommensurability is a concept from the philosophy of science that has been elaborated in different ways and independently by Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend. Kuhn describes the consequences of incommensurability that occur in paradigm shifts:

In normal change one simply revises or adds […] In revolutionary change one must either live in incommensurability or else revise a number of interrelated generalizations.

The result is that scientific sources from before and after the paradigm shift are no longer consistent with each other; even if seemingly the same thing is talked about in seemingly the same language. Perhaps the best-known example of incommensurability is the concept of mass, which is seen differently under Newton’s law of gravitation than under Einstein’s theory of relativity.

When health professionals say that it is not known whether non-operation produces better outcomes than operating, that is an example of the incommensurability of the current paradigm shift. After all, a human rights paradigm is not about the success of medical treatment but about accepting a person as they were born. The “ruler” (actually the set of norms and values) by which success is measured is incomparable, and it is difficult for supporters of the old paradigm to understand why their “ruler” is no longer useful.

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