Transvaluationism

The Harvard Review of Philosophy 14 (1):. 97-125 (2006)
Abstract
I advocate a two part view concerning vagueness. On one hand I claim that vagueness is logically incoherent; but on the other hand I claim that vagueness is also a benign, beneficial, and indeed essential feature of human language and thought. I will call this view transvaluationism, a name which seems to me appropriate for several reasons. First, the term suggests that we should move beyond the idea that the successive statements in a sorites sequence can be assigned differing truth values in some logically coherent way that fully respects the nature of vagueness -a way that [1] fully eschews any arbitrarily precise semantic transitions. We should transcend this impossible goal by accepting that vagueness harbors logical incoherence. Second, just as Nietzsche held that one can overcome nihilism by embracing what he called the transvaluation of all values, my position affirms vagueness, rather than despairing in the face of the logical absurdity residing at its very core. This affirmation amounts to a transvaluation of truth values, as far as sorites sequences are concerned. Third, the term ’transvaluationism’ has a nice ring to it, especially since one of the principal philosophical approaches to vagueness is called supervaluationism. I will call the first claim of transvaluationism, that vagueness is logically incoherent, the incoherence thesis . I will call the second claim, that vagueness is benign, beneficial, and essential, the legitimacy thesis . The legitimacy thesis, taken by itself, seems overwhelmingly plausible; anyone who denies it assumes a heavy burden of proof. But prima facie, it seems dubious that the legitimacy thesis can be maintained in conjunction with the incoherence thesis. For, there is reason to doubt whether there is any cogent way to embrace the incoherence thesis without thereby becoming mired in what Williamson (1994) calls global nihilism about vagueness -the view that vague terms are empty (i.e., they do not, and cannot, apply to anything). Global nihilism, Williamson argues, has such destructively negative consequences that it does not deserve to be taken seriously -for instance, the consequence that vastly many of our common sense beliefs are false, and the consequence that these beliefs are not even useful (since the constituent terms in ’Common sense beliefs are useful’ are vague and hence this statement turns out, given the [2] incoherence thesis, to be false itself). In short, the idea that one can adopt the incoherence thesis and then somehow transcend nihilism might initially seem hopelessly optimistic; transvaluationism would then be an unattainable, chimerical, goal rather than an intelligible and conceptually stable position concerning vagueness. Given certain widely held philosophical views about how language and thought must map onto the world in order for statements and the beliefs they express to be true -views that fall appropriately under the label ’referential semantics’ -transvaluationism probably is a chimerical goal.
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Timothy Williamson (2002). Horgan on Vagueness. Grazer Philosophische Studien 63 (1):273-285.
Diana Raffman (1995). Transvaluationism: Comments on Horgan. Southern Journal of Philosophy 33 (S1):127-132.
Sven Walter (2002). Terry, Terry, Quite Contrary. Grazer Philosophische Studien 63 (1):103-22.
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