Reasoning with slippery predicates

Studia Logica 90 (3):313 - 336 (2008)
Abstract
It is a commonplace that the extensions of most, perhaps all, vague predicates vary with such features as comparison class and paradigm and contrasting cases. My view proposes another, more pervasive contextual parameter. Vague predicates exhibit what I call open texture: in some circumstances, competent speakers can go either way in the borderline region. The shifting extension and anti-extensions of vague predicates are tracked by what David Lewis calls the “conversational score”, and are regulated by what Kit Fine calls penumbral connections, including a principle of tolerance. As I see it, vague predicates are response-dependent, or, better, judgement-dependent, at least in their borderline regions. This raises questions concerning how one reasons with such predicates. In this paper, I present a model theory for vague predicates, so construed. It is based on an overall supervaluationist-style framework, and it invokes analogues of Kripke structures for intuitionistic logic. I argue that the system captures, or at least nicely models, how one ought to reason with the shifting extensions (and anti-extensions) of vague predicates, as borderline cases are called and retracted in the course of a conversation. The model theory is illustrated with a forced march sorites series, and also with a thought experiment in which vague predicates interact with so-called future contingents. I show how to define various connectives and quantifiers in the language of the system, and how to express various penumbral connections and the principle of tolerance. The project fits into one of the topics of this special issue. In the course of reasoning, even with the external context held fixed, it is uncertain what the future extension of the vague predicates will be. Yet we still manage to reason with them. The system is based on that developed, more fully, in my Vagueness in Context , Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2006, but some criticisms and replies to critics are incorporated.
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