Vagueness and Observationality

In Giuseppina Ronzitti (ed.), Vagueness: A Guide. Springer Verlag. 107--121 (2011)
Abstract
Of the many families of words that are thought to be vague, so-called observational predicates may be both the most fascinating and the most confounding. Roughly, observational predicates are terms that apply to objects on the basis of how those objects appear to us perceptually speaking. ‘Red’, ‘loud’, ‘sweet’, ‘acrid’, and ‘smooth’ are good examples. Delia Graff explains that a “predicate is observational just in case its applicability to an object (given a fixed context of evaluation) depends only on the way that object appears” (2001, 3). By the same token observational predicates are, as Crispin Wright observes, terms “whose senses are taught entirely by ostension” (1976). Like other vague predicates, observational words appear to generate sorites paradoxes. Consider for example a series of 20 colored patches progressing from a clearly red one to a clearly orange one, so ordered that each patch is just noticeably different in hue from the one before. The following argument then seems forced upon us: (1) Patch #1 is red. (2) Any patch that differs only slightly in hue from a red patch is itself red. (3) Therefore patch #20 is red. Premise (2) expresses what Wright has called the tolerance of ‘red’: the application of the predicate tolerates small changes in a decisive parameter (here, hue). Of course, most vague predicates, hence most versions of the sorites, are not observational. For instance, given a series of.
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