David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Synthese 154 (1):147 - 172 (2007)
Vagueness is epistemic, according to some. Vagueness is ontological, according to others. This article deploys what I take to be a compromise position. Predicates are coined in specific contexts for specific purposes, but these limited practices do not automatically fix the extensions of predicates over the domain of all objects. The linguistic community using the predicate has rarely considered, much less decided, all questions that might arise about the predicate’s extension. To this extent, the ontological view is correct. But a predicate that applies in some contexts can be reasonably extended to other contexts where it is initially vague. This process of development approximates the cognitive remedy for vagueness that the epistemic view prescribes. The process is piecemeal and inductive, akin to what von Wright described as the molding of concepts. Vagueness cannot be understood apart from the backdrop of classification, for vagueness is classification gone awry. Hence these pages explore the classification of particulars, both its clear successes and vague failures. How we classify unique particulars is the theme of Sections 2 and 3, which are primarily descriptive. Section 2 identifies a way of classifying particulars that pervades discourse of all sorts, and Section 3 illustrates its use in a field notorious for vagueness: ethics. Why a certain particular should (or should not) be classified in a certain way is a normative question, however, and it occupies Sections 4 and 5. Section 4 proposes a norm for strong arguments by analogy, and Section 5 illustrates how the norm might resolve vagueness in one kind of ethical dispute. This norm, which has a strong probabilistic component, is one way of affirming that probability is a guide to life.
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