Epistemicism about vagueness is the view that vagueness, or indeterminacy, is an epistemic matter. Truthmaker-gap epistemicism is the view that indeterminate truths are indeterminate because their truth is not grounded by any worldly fact. Both epistemicism in general and truthmaker-gap epistemicism originated in Roy Sorensen's work on vagueness. My aim in this paper is to give a characterization of truthmaker-gap epistemicism and argue that the view is incompatible with higher-order vagueness: vagueness in whether some case (...) of the form ‘it is determinate that A’ or ‘it is indeterminate whether A’ is true. Since it is highly likely that there is higher-order vagueness (and indeed, Sorensen is adamant that there is higher-order vagueness), truthmaker-gap epistemicism is in an uncomfortable position. (shrink)
Derek Parfit's combined-spectrum argument seems to conflict with epistemicism, a viable theory of vagueness. While Parfit argues for the indeterminacy of personhood, epistemicism denies indeterminacy. But, we argue, the linguistically based determinacy that epistemicism supports lacks the sort of normative or ontological significance that concerns Parfit. Thus, we reformulate his argument to make it consistent with epistemicism. We also dispute Roy Sorensen's suggestion that Parfit's argument relies on an assumption that fuels resistance to epistemicism, namely, (...) that 'the magnitude of a modification must be proportional to its effect.'. (shrink)
There are three main traditional accounts of vagueness : one takes it as a genuinely metaphysical phenomenon, one takes it as a phenomenon of ignorance, and one takes it as a linguistic or conceptual phenomenon. In this paper I first very briefly present these views, especially the epistemicist and supervaluationist strategies, and shortly point to some well-known problems that the views carry. I then examine a 'statistical epistemicist' account of vagueness that is designed to avoid precisely these problems – it (...) will be a view that provides an account of the phenomenon of vagueness as coming from our linguistic practices, while insisting that meaning supervenes on use, and that our use of vague terms does yield sharp and precise meanings, which we ignore, thus allowing bivalence to hold. (shrink)
Epistemicism seems to be the most dominating approach to vagueness in the recent twenty years. In the logical and philosophical tradition, e.g. Peirce, vagueness does not depend on human knowledge. Epistemicists deny this fact and contend that vagueness is merely the result of our imperfect mind, our dearth of knowledge, sort of phantom, finally, that it simply does not exist. In my opinion, such a stance not only excludes vagueness comprehended in terms of human knowledge, but which is worse, (...) stems from spurious logical arguments. The part of arguments called Sorensen’s Arguments or even Proofs were the subject of my analysis in the book Paradoksy (2006; in Polish) and in the paper “Epistemicism and Roy Sorensen Arguments” published in the Bulletin of the Section of Logic (2007). Here I shall only briefly refer to these works and focus mainly on the arguments launched by Tymothy Williamson. One of them is to uncover why we are not able to recognize the alleged sharp boundary between positive and negative extensions of any vague predicates. Williamson’s reasoning is based on his margin for error principle. Another argumentation of Williamson aims at the refutation of the principle I know that I know. It should be emphasized that all the aforementioned arguments are fundamental for epistemicism and all of them are fallacious because of either formal or false-premise fallacy. There is the circumstance that we cannot deem epistemicism logical. Finally, we show that within the epistemic frame the following thesis is valid: if what epistemicism states is the case, then what epistemicism states is not the case. This immediately implies (by ‘(p → ¬p) → ¬p’) that it is not the case what epistemicism states. So, either epistemicism or logic. (shrink)
Let us say that the proposition that p is transparent just in case it is known that p, and it is known that it is known that p, and it is known that it is known that it is known that p, and so on, for any number of iterations of the knowledge operator ‘it is known that’. If there are transparent propositions at all, then the claim that any man with zero hairs is bald seems like a good candidate. (...) We know that any man with zero hairs is bald. And it also does not seem completely implausible that we know that we know it, and that we know that we know that we know it, and so on. (shrink)
In this paper I argue, first, that the only difference between Epistemicism and Nihilism about vagueness is semantic rather than ontological, and second, that once it is clear what the difference between these views is, Nihilism is a much more plausible view of vagueness than Epistemicism. Given the current popularity of certain epistemicist views (most notably, Williamson’s), this result is, I think, of interest.
It is taken for granted in much of the literature on vagueness that semantic and epistemic approaches to vagueness are fundamentally at odds. If we can analyze borderline cases and the sorites paradox in terms of degrees of truth, then we don’t need an epistemic explanation. Conversely, if an epistemic explanation suﬃces, then there is no reason to depart from the familiar simplicity of classical bivalent semantics. I question this assumption, showing that there is an intelligible motivation for adopting a (...) many-valued semantics even if one accepts a form of epistemicism. The resulting hybrid view has advantages over both classical epistemicism and traditional many-valued approaches. (shrink)
Derek Parfit’s combined-spectrum argument seems to conflict with epistemicism, a viable theory of vagueness. While Parfit argues for the indeterminacy of personhood, epistemicism denies indeterminacy. But, we argue, the linguistically based determinacy that epistemicism supports lacks the sort of normative or ontological significance that concerns Parfit. Thus, we reformulate his argument to make it consistent with epistemicism. We also dispute Roy Sorensen’s suggestion that Parfit’s argument relies on an assumption that fuels resistance to epistemicism, namely, (...) that “the magnitude of a modification must be proportional to its effect.”. (shrink)
ABSTRACT: Recently a bold and admirable interpretation of Chrysippus’ position on the Sorites has been presented, suggesting that Chrysippus offered a solution to the Sorites by (i) taking an epistemicist position1 which (ii) made allowances for higher-order vagueness.2 In this paper I argue (i) that Chrysippus did not take an epistemicist position, but − if any − a non-epistemic one which denies truth-values to some cases in a Sorites-series, and (ii) that it is uncertain whether and how he made allowances (...) for higher-order vagueness, but if he did, this was not grounded on an epistemicist position. (shrink)
The paper challenges Williamson’s safety based explanation for why we cannot know the cut-off point of vague expressions. We assume throughout (most of) the paper that Williamson is correct in saying that vague expressions have sharp cut-off points, but we argue that Williamson’s explanation for why we do not and cannot know these cut-off points is unsatisfactory. -/- In sect 2 we present Williamson's position in some detail. In particular, we note that Williamson's explanation relies on taking a particular safety (...) principle ('Meta-linguistic belief safety' or 'MBS') as a necessary condition on knowledge. In section 3, we show that even if MBS were a necessary condition on knowledge, that would not be sufficient to show that we cannot know the cut-off points of vague expressions. In section 4, we present our main case against Williamson's explanation: we argue that MBS is not a necessary condition on knowledge, by presenting a series of cases where one's belief violates MBS but nevertheless constitutes knowledge. In section 5, we present and respond to an objection to our view. And in section 6, we briefly discuss the possible directions a theory of vagueness can take, if our objection to Williamson's theory is taken on board. (shrink)
This paper considers the connections between semantic shiftiness (plasticity), epistemic safety and an epistemic theory of vagueness as presented and defended by Williamson (1996a, b, 1997a, b). Williamson explains ignorance of the precise intension of vague words as rooted in insensitivity to semantic shifts: one’s inability to detect small shifts in intension for a vague word results in a lack of knowledge of the word’s intension. Williamson’s explanation, however, falls short of accounting for ignorance of intension.
ABSTRACT: Hierarchical higher-order vagueness leads to incoherence when used as a means to avoid a sharp boundary in the Sorites paradox (Sainsbury 1990, Wright 1992, Shapiro 2006). The challenge is to provide (i) a compositional notion of higher-order vagueness that (ii) allows infinite higher orders, (iii) retains the desired relevance to the Sorites, (iv) allows for a model-theoretic representation that reflects such relevance, but (v) does not run into paradox. The recently introduced alternative of columnar higher-order vagueness meets this challenge. (...) The present paper explains what columnar higher-order vagueness is; gives a formalization of its core properties in terms of an axiomatic modal system; produces a modal semantics for its simplest (bivalent & classical) form and identifies its characteristic axiom; and supplies a philosophical interpretation of the semantics that utilizes both viewpoint sensitivity and extensional context sensitivity. The paper adds an illustration of how the semantics can be used as an infrastructure for epistemicist (and non-epistemicist) bivalent theories of vagueness and touches upon possible modifications for three-valued logics. It concludes with listing the considerable advantages columnar higher-order vagueness has over other theories of higher-order vagueness. (shrink)
We argue that the epistemic theory of vagueness cannot adequately justify its key tenet-that vague predicates have precisely bounded extensions, of which we are necessarily ignorant. Nor can the theory adequately account for our ignorance of the truth values of borderline cases. Furthermore, we argue that Williamson’s promising attempt to explicate our understanding of vague language on the model of a certain sort of “inexact knowledge” is at best incomplete, since certain forms of vagueness do not fit Williamson’s model, and (...) in fact fit an alternative model. Finally, we point out that a certain kind of irremediable inexactitude postulated by physics need not be-and is not commonly-interpreted as epistemic. Thus, there are aspects of contemporary science that do not accord well with the epistemicist outlook. (shrink)
John Burgess has recently argued that Timothy Williamson’s attempts to avoid the objection that his theory of vagueness is based on an untenable metaphysics of content are unsuccessful. Burgess’s arguments are important, and largely correct, but there is a mistake in the discussion of one of the key examples. In this note I provide some alternative examples and use them to repair the mistaken section of the argument.
The purpose of this paper is to challenge some widespread assumptions about the role of the modal axiom S4 in a theory of vagueness. In the context of vagueness, S4 usually appears as the principle ‘If it is clear (determinate, definite) that A, then it is clear (determinate, definite) that it is clear (determinate, definite) that A’, or, more formally, CA → CCA. We show how in the debate over S4 two different notions of clarity are in play (Williamson-style "luminosity" (...) or self-revealing clarity and concealeable clarity) and what their respective functions are in accounts of higher-order vagueness. On this basis, we argue first that, contrary to common opinion, higher-order vagueness and S4 are perfectly compatible. This is in response to claims like that by Williamson that, if vagueness is defined with the help of a clarity operator that obeys S4, higher-order vagueness disappears. Second, we argue that, contrary to common opinion, (i) bivalence-preservers (e.g. epistemicists) can without contradiction condone S4 (by adopting what elsewhere we call columnar higher-order vagueness), and (ii) bivalence-discarders (e.g. open-texture theorists, supervaluationists) can without contradiction reject S4. Third, we rebut a number of arguments that have been produced by opponents of S4, in particular those by Williamson. (The paper is pitched towards graduate students with basic knowledge of modal logic.). (shrink)
ABSTRACT: This paper shows that authors who have recently argued that higher-order vagueness is incoherent, paradoxical, illusory or non-existent confound elements of higher-order vagueness with elements of a different paradigm of borderline borderline cases; and that, once the elements of that other paradigm are removed from the description of higher-order vagueness, the basis for the claims of paradoxicality, etc., disappears. The paper sets out the two paradigms (higher-order vagueness vs borderline nestings) and their logics (iterated modalities vs. mixed-order non-empty predicates), (...) illustrates how the notion of hierarchical higher-order vagueness gains its persuasiveness from a conflation of these paradigms, and shows how the alternative notion of columnar higher-order vagueness preserves coherence and relevance to the Sorites. .................................................................................................... .................................................................................................... ................................ -/- Section 1 presents the notion of hierarchical vagueness. Section 2 compares two ordinary language uses of “borderline case”: epistemic and classificatory use. Section 3 lays out the basic logical requirements for higher-order vagueness and shows that it can be columnar rather than hierarchical. Section 4 presents the paradigm of borderline nestings and its logic. Section 5 lists sources for the conflation of classificatory use plus borderline nestings with epistemic use plus higher-order vagueness. Section 6 shows how such conflation undermines the arguments against higher-order vagueness by Sainsbury, Shapiro, Raffman, Wright, Williamson. Section 7 concludes with a note on columnar higher-order vagueness and the Sorites. (shrink)
In a series of articles, Dan Lopez De Sa and Elia Zardini argue that several theorists have recently employed instances of paradoxical reasoning, while failing to see its problematic nature because it does not immediately (or obviously) yield inconsistency. In contrast, Lopez De Sa and Zardini claim that resultant inconsistency is not a necessary condition for paradoxicality. It is our contention that, even given their broader understanding of paradox, their arguments fail to undermine the instances of reasoning they attack, either (...) because they fail to see everything that is at work in that reasoning, or because they misunderstand what it is that the reasoning aims to show. (shrink)
In their paper “Vagueness, Ignorance, and Margins for Error” Kenton Machina and Harry Deutsch criticize the epistemic theory of vagueness. This paper answers their objections. The main issues discussed are: the relation between meaning and use; the principle of bivalence; the ontology of vaguely specified classes; the proper form of margin for error principles; iterations of epistemic operators and semantic compositionality; the relation or lack of it between quantum mechanics and theories of vagueness.
In Vagueness and Contradiction (2001), Roy Sorensen defends and extends his epistemic account of vagueness. In the process, he appeals to connections between vagueness and semantic paradox. These appeals come mainly in Chapter 11, where Sorensen offers a solution to what he calls the no-no paradox—a “neglected cousin” of the more famous liar—and attempts to use this solution as a precedent for an epistemic account of the sorites paradox. This strategy is problematic for Sorensen’s project, however, since, as we establish, (...) he fails to resolve the semantic pathology of the no-no paradox. (shrink)
http://dx.doi.org/10.5007/1808-1711.2012v16n1p179 Neste artigo, sustento que a explicação epistemicista da vagueza não pode estar inteiramente correta. Depois de analisar os aspectos principais da concepção de Williamson, proponho uma nova abordagem ao problema epistemológico dos casos fronteiriços.
Contextualism about vagueness (hereafter ‘Contextualism’) is the view that vagueness consists in a particular species of context-sensitivity and that properly accommodating this fact into our semantic theory will yield a plausible solution to the sorites paradox., But Contextualism, as many commentators have noted, faces the following immediate objection: if we hold the context fixed, vagueness still remains, therefore vagueness is not a species of context-sensitivity. Call this ‘the simple objection’. Absent a convincing reply to the simple objection, Contextualism is in (...) very bad shape. Oddly enough, defenders of Contextualism have said very little in reply. Proponents of the objection have tended to assume that this is because no reply is in the offing—the simple objection is taken to be unassailable. In this short paper, we sketch two replies to the simple objection which result in two very different kinds of Contextualism: Epistemicist Contextualism and Radical Contextualism. With these two theories in hand, the simple objection loses its force. (shrink)
Consider the following sentences: The neighbouring sentence is not true. The neighbouring sentence is not true. Call these the no-no sentences. Symmetry considerations dictate that the no-no sentences must both possess the same truth-value. Suppose they are both true. Given Tarski’s truth-schema—if a sentence S says that p then S is true iff p—and given what they say, they are both not true. Contradiction! Conclude: they are not both true. Suppose they are both false. Given Tarski’s falsity-schema—if a sentence S (...) says that p then S is false iff not-p—and given what they say, they are both true, and so not false. Contradiction! Conclude: they are not both false. Thus, despite their symmetry, the no-no sentences must differ in truth-value. Such is the no-no paradox. Sorensen (2001, 2005a, 2005b) has argued that: (1) The no-no paradox is not a version of the liar but rather a cousin of the truth-teller paradox. (2) Even so, the no-no paradox is more paradoxical than the truth-teller. (3) The no-no and truth-teller sentences have groundless truthvalues—they are bivalent but give rise to “truthmaker gaps”. (4) It is metaphysically impossible to know these truth-values. (5) A truthmaker gap response to the no-no paradox provides reason to accept a version of epistemicism. In this paper it is shown that a truthmaker gap solution to the no-no and truth-teller paradoxes runs afoul of the dunno-dunno paradox, the strengthened no-no paradox, and the strengthened truth-teller paradox. In consequence, the no-no paradox is best seen as a form of the liar paradox. As such, it cannot provide a case for epistemicism. (shrink)
In §2-4, I survey three extant ways of making sense of indeterminate truth and find each of them wanting. All the later sections of the paper are concerned with showing that the most promising way of making sense of indeterminate truth is via either a theory of truthmaker gaps or via a theory of truthmaking gaps. The first intimations of a truthmaker–truthmaking gap theory of indeterminacy are to be found in Quine (1981). In §5, we see how Quine proposes to (...) solve Unger’s problem of the many via positing the possibility of groundless truth. In §6, I elaborate the truthmaker gap model of indeterminacy first sketched by Sorensen (2001, ch.11) and use it to give a reductive analysis of indeterminate truth. In §7, I briefly assess what kind of formal framework can best express the possibility of truthmaker gaps. In §8, I contrast what I dub ‘the ordinary conception of worldly indeterminacy’ with Williamson’s conception of worldly indeterminacy. In §9, I show how one can distinguish linguistic from worldly indeterminacy on a truthmaker gap conception. In §10, I briefly sketch the relationship between truthmaker gaps and ignorance. In §11, I assess whether a truthmaker gap conception of vagueness is really just a form of epistemicism. In §12, I propose that truthmaker gaps can yield a plausible model of (semantic) presupposition failure. In §13, in response to the worry that a truthmaker gap conception of indeterminacy is both parochial and controversial—since it commits us to an implausibly strong theory of truthmaking—I set forth a truthmaking gap conception of indeterminacy. In §14, I answer the worry that groundless truths, of whatever species, are just unacceptably queer. A key part of this answer is that a truthmaker–truthmaking gap model of indeterminacy turns out to be considerably less queer than any model of indeterminacy which gives up on Tarski’s T-schema for truth (and cognate schemas). (shrink)
It is a great pleasure to have the opportunity to contribute to this volume dedicated to the critical celebration of Stephen Schiffer’s very considerable philosophical achievements. My focus will be on his recent work on vagueness.1 The broad direction of Schiffer’s researches in this area has been to give priority to what we may call the characterisation problem: the problem of saying what the vagueness of expressions of natural language consists in or, more specifically – since Schiffer takes it as (...) a given that the vagueness he is targeting consist in a propensity of vague expressions to give rise to borderline cases —the problem of saying what being a borderline case of the concept expressed by a vague expression consists in. This has not been a main preoccupation of most of the work in the field since the vagueness “boom” started in the mid 1970s. There has been a tendency to jump straight into devising semantic theories for vague languages, usually aimed at twin desiderata of saving classical logic and dissolving the various paradoxes of vagueness, with a principal focus on the standard sorites, and occasional glances at the Forced March, and others.2 Of course, such work has inevitably implicated commitment to broad conceptions of vagueness, and of borderline cases, of various kinds. The classical epistemicist approach, for example, conceives of borderline cases as instances whose correct classification in terms of the relevant concept is, for reasons it attempts to explain, unknowable. Semantic indeterminist approaches, by contrast, tend (often implicitly) to conceive of borderline cases as items to which the concept in question neither applies nor fails to apply and as coming about because our practice with the concept leaves it, in effect, merely partially defined and so ‘gappy’. A variation on this, still semantic indeterminist, regards vagueness as consisting in a phenomenon akin to divided reference, whereby a predicate, for example, may be associated with a range of extensionally distinct best candidates to be the property it refers to; borderline cases are then items which exemplify some but not all of these properties.. (shrink)
The major reason given in the philosophical literature for dissatisfaction with theories of vagueness based on fuzzy logic is that such theories give rise to a problem of higherorder vagueness or artificial precision. In this paper I first outline the problem and survey suggested solutions: fuzzy epistemicism; measuring truth on an ordinal scale; logic as modelling; fuzzy metalanguages; blurry sets; and fuzzy plurivaluationism. I then argue that in order to decide upon a solution, we need to understand the true (...) nature and source of the problem. Two possible sources are discussed: the problem stems from the very nature of vagueness—from the defining features of vague predicates; or the problem stems from the way in which the meanings of predicates are determined—by the usage of speakers together with facts about their environment and so on. I argue that the latter is the true source of the problem, and on this basis that fuzzy plurivaluationism is the correct solution. (shrink)
Vagueness is given a philosophically neutral definition in terms of an epistemic notion of tolerance. Such a notion is intended to capture the thesis that vague terms draw no known boundary across their range of signification and contrasts sharply with the semantic notion of tolerance given by Wright (1975, 1976). This allows us to distinguish vagueness from superficially similar but distinct phenomena such as semantic incompleteness. Two proofs are given which show that vagueness qua epistemic tolerance and vagueness qua borderline (...) cases (when properly construed to exclude terms which are stipulated to give rise to borderline cases) are in fact conceptually equivalent dimensions of vagueness, contrary to what might initially be expected. It is also argued that the common confusion of tolerance and epistemic tolerance has skewed the vagueness debate in favour of indeterminist over epistemic conceptions of vagueness. Clearing up that confusion provides an indirect argument in favour of epistemicism. Finally, given the equation of vagueness with epistemic tolerance, it is shown that there must be radical higher-order vagueness, contrary to what many authors have argued. (shrink)
A sorites argument is a symptom of the vagueness of the predicate with which it is constructed. A vague predicate admits of at least one dimension of variation (and typically more than one) in its intended range along which we are at a loss when to say the predicate ceases to apply, though we start out confident that it does. It is this feature of them that the sorites arguments exploit. Exactly how is part of the subject of this paper. (...) The majority of philosophers writing on vagueness take it to be a kind of semantic phenomenon. If we are right, they are correct in this assumption, which is surely the default position, but they have not so far provided a satisfactory account of the implications of this or a satisfactory diagnosis of the sorites arguments. Other philosophers have urged more exotic responses, which range from the view that the fault lies not in our language, but in the world, which they propose to be populated with vague objects which our semantics precisely reflects, to the view that the world and language are both perfectly in order, but that the fault lies with our knowledge of the properties of the words we use (epistemicism). In contrast to the exotica to which some philosophers have found themselves driven in an attempt to respond to the sorites puzzles, we undertake a defense of the commonsense view that vague terms are semantically vague. Our strategy is to take fresh look at the phenomenon of vagueness. Rather than attempting to adjudicate between different extant theories, we begin with certain pre-theoretic intuitions about vague terms, and a default position on classical logic. The aim is to see whether (i) a natural story can be told which will explain the vagueness phenomenon and the puzzling nature of soritical arguments, and, in the course of this, to see whether (ii) there arises any compelling pressure to give up the natural stance. We conclude that there is a simple and natural story to be told, and we tell it, and that there is no good reason to abandon our intuitively compelling starting point. The importance of the strategy lies in its dialectical structure. Not all positions on vagueness are on a par. Some are so incredible that even their defenders think of them as positions of last resort, positions to which we must be driven by the power of philosophical argument. We aim to show that there is no pressure to adopt these incredible positions, obviating the need to respond to them directly. If we are right, semantic vagueness is neither surprising, nor threatening. It provides no reason to suppose that the logic of natural languages is not classical or to give up any independently plausible principle of bivalence. Properly understood, it provides us with a satisfying diagnosis of the sorites argumentation. It would be rash to claim to have any completely novel view about a topic so well worked as vagueness. But we believe that the subject, though ancient, still retains its power to inform and challenge us. In particular, we will argue that taking seriously the central phenomenon of predicate vagueness—the “boundarylessness” of vague predicates—on the commonsense assumption that vagueness is semantic, leads ineluctably to the view that no sentences containing vague expressions (henceforth ‘vague sentences’) are truth-evaluable. This runs counter to much of the literature on vagueness, which commonly assumes that, though some applications of vague predicates to objects fail to be truth-evaluable, in clear positive and negative cases vague sentences are unproblematically true or false. It is clarity on this, and related points, that removes the puzzles associated with vagueness, and helps us to a satisfying diagnosis of why the sorites arguments both seem compelling and yet so obviously a bit of trickery. We give a proof that semantically vague predicates neither apply nor fail-to-apply to anything, and that consequently it is a mistake to diagnose sorites arguments, as is commonly done, by attempting to locate in them a false premise. Sorites arguments are not sound, but not unsound either. We offer an explanation of their appeal, and defend our position against a variety of worries that might arise about it. The plan of the paper is as follows. We first introduce an important distinction in terms of which we characterize what has gone wrong with vague predicates. We characterize what we believe to be our natural starting point in thinking about the phenomenon of vagueness, from which only a powerful argument should move us, and then trace out the consequences of accepting this starting point. We consider the charge that among the consequences of semantic vagueness are that we must give up classical logic and the principle of bivalence, which has figured prominently in arguments for epistemicism. We argue there are no such consequences of our view: neither the view that the logic of natural languages is classical, nor any plausible principle of bivalence, need be given up. Next, we offer a diagnosis of what has gone wrong in sorites arguments on the basis of our account. We then present an argument to show that our account must be accepted on pain of embracing (in one way or another) the epistemic view of “vagueness”, i.e., of denying that there are any semantically vague terms at all. Next, we discuss some worries that may arise about the intelligibility of our linguistic practices if our account is correct. We argue none of these worries should force us from our intuitive starting point. Finally, we cast a quick glance at other forms of semantic incompleteness. (shrink)
Read as a comment on Crispin Wright's \"Vagueness: A Fifth Column Approach\", this paper defends a form of supervaluationism against Wright's criticisms. Along the way, however, it takes up the question what is really wrong with Epistemicism, how the appeal of the Sorities ought properly to be understood, and why Contextualist accounts of vagueness won't do.
Roy Sorenson offers a unique exploration of an ancient problem: vagueness. Did Buddha become a fat man in one second? Is there a tallest short giraffe? According to Sorenson's epistemicist approach, the answers are yes! Although vagueness abounds in the way the world is divided, Sorenson argues that the divisions are sharp; yet we often do not know where they are. Written in Sorenson'e usual inventive and amusing style, this book offers original insight on language and logic, the way world (...) is, and our understanding of it. (shrink)
The philosophical account of vagueness I call "transvaluationism" makes three fundamental claims. First, vagueness is logically incoherent in a certain way: it essentially involves mutually unsatisfiable requirements that govern vague language, vague thought-content, and putative vague objects and properties. Second, vagueness in language and thought (i.e., semantic vagueness) is a genuine phenomenon despite possessing this form of incoherence—and is viable, legitimate, and indeed indispensable. Third, vagueness as a feature of objects, properties, or relations (i.e., ontological vagueness) is impossible, because of (...) the mutually unsatisfiable conditions that such putative items would have to meet. In this paper I set forth the core claims of transvaluationism in a way that acknowledges and explicitly addresses a challenging critique by Timothy Williamson of my prior attempts to articulate and defend this approach to vagueness. I sketch my favored approach to truth and ontological commitment, and I explain how it accommodates the impossibility of ontological vagueness. I argue that any approach to the logic and semantics of vagueness that both (i) eschews epistemicism and (ii) thoroughly avoids positing any arbitrary sharp boundaries (either first-order or higher-order) will have to be not an alternative to transvaluationism but an implementation of it. I sketch my reasons for repudiating epistemicism. I briefly describe my current thinking about how to accommodate intentional mental properties with vague content within an ontology that eschews ontological vagueness. And I revisit the idea, which played a key role in my earlier articulations of transvaluationism, that moral conflicts provide an illuminating model for understanding vagueness. (shrink)
Although arguments for and against competing theories of vagueness often appeal to claims about the use of vague predicates by ordinary speakers, such claims are rarely tested. An exception is Bonini et al. (1999), who report empirical results on the use of vague predicates by Italian speakers, and take the results to count in favor of epistemicism. Yet several methodological difficulties mar their experiments; we outline these problems and devise revised experiments that do not show the same results. We (...) then describe three additional empirical studies that investigate further claims in the literature on vagueness: the hypothesis that speakers confuse ‘P’ with ‘definitely P’, the relative persuasiveness of different formulations of the inductive premise of the Sorites, and the interaction of vague predicates with three different forms of negation. (shrink)
'Epistemic' theories of vagueness notoriously claim that (despite the appearances to the contrary) all of our vague terms have sharp boundaries, it's just that we can't know what they are. Epistemic theories are typically criticized for failing to explain (1) the source of the ignorance postulated, and (2) how our terms could come to have such precise boundaries. Both of these objections will, however, be shown to rest on certain 'presentist' assumptions about the relation between use and meaning, and if (...) allows that the meaning constitutive elements of our linguistic practices can extend into the future, the possibility of a new sort of 'normative epistemicism' emerges. (shrink)
There are certain metaphysically interesting arguments ‘from vagueness’, for unrestricted mereological composition and for four-dimensionalism, which involve a claim to the effect that idioms for unrestricted quantification are precise. An elaboration of Lewis’ argument for this claim, which assumes the view of vagueness as semantic indecision, is presented. It is argued that the argument also works according to other views on the nature of vagueness, which also require for an expression to be vague that there are different admissible alternatives of (...) the relevant sort, such as epistemicism, as defended by Williamson. Recent attempts to resist the argument are discussed and rejected. (shrink)
The paper examines Wright’s attempt to inflate deflationism about truth. It accepts the details of Wright’s argument but contends that it should best be seen as posing a dilemma for the deflationist: either truth is independent of norms of warranted assertibility—in which case it is substantial—or it is not—in which case epistemicism about truth is a consequence. Some concerns about epistemicism are raised in avoiding the second horn. The first is avoided by distinguishing between independence and substantiality and (...) arguing that only the first applies to truth and only the second is worrisome to deflationism. So, despite its sub-title, the following is not a diatribe against Home Rule but a modest defence of deflationism. (shrink)
The recent debate in metaontology gave rise to several types of (more or less classical) answers to questions about "equivalences" between metaphysical theories and to the question whether metaphysical disputes are substantive or merely verbal (i.e. various versions of realism, strong anti-realism, moderate anti-realism, or epistemicism). In this paper, I want to do two things. First, I shall have a close look at one metaphysical debate that has been the target and center of interest of many meta-metaphysicians, namely the (...) problem of how material objects persist through time : the endurantism vs. perdurantism controversy. It has been argued that this debate is a good example of a merely verbal one, where two allegedly competing views are in fact translatable one into each other – they end up, contrary to appearances, to be equivalent. In my closer look at this debate, I will conclude that this is correct, but only to some extent, and that there does remain room for substantive disagreement. The second thing that I wish to achieve in this paper, and that I hope will stem from my considerations about the persistence debate, is to defend a metaontological view that emphasizes that when asking the question "Are metaphysical debates substantive or verbal?" the correct answer is "It depends." Some debates are substantive, some debates are merely verbal, sometimes it is true that a problem or a question can be formulated in equally good frameworks where there is no fact of the matter as to which one is correct or where we just cannot know it. Furthermore, importantly, as my examination of the persistence debate will show, there is room for the view that a debate is largely merely verbal but not entirely and that some parts of it are substantive, and decidable by philosophical methods. It is possible, and it is the case with respect to the persistence debate, that inside a debate some points are merely verbal while other are places of substantive disagreement. A moral of this is that, at the end of the day, the best way to do meta-metaphysics is to do first-level metaphysics. (shrink)
Poindexter points and asserts `That is Clinton''. But it is vague as to whether he pointed at Clinton or pointed at the more salient man, Gore. Since the vagueness only occurs at the level of reference fixing, the content of the identity proposition is precise. Indeed, it is either a necessary truth or a necessary falsehood. Since Poindexter''s utterance has a hidden truth value by virtue of vagueness, it increases the plausibility of epistemicism. Epistemicism says that vague statements (...) have hidden truth values. If a precise statement can have a hidden truth value conferred indirectly by vaguesness, then a vague statement can have a hidden truth value directly by its own vagueness. (shrink)
Minimalists about truth say that the important properties of the truth predicate are revealed in the class of T -biconditionals. Most minimalists demur from taking all of the T -biconditionals of the form “ p is true if and only if p”, to be true, because to do so leads to paradox. But exactly which biconditionals turn out to be true? I take a leaf out of the epistemic account of vagueness to show how the minimalist can avoid giving a (...) comprehensive answer to that question. I also show that this response is entailed by taking minimalism seriously, and that objections to this position may be usefully aided and abetted by Gupta and Belnap’s revision theory of truth. (shrink)
Let us begin with a word about what our topic is not. There is a familiar kind of argument for an epistemic view of vagueness in which one claims that denying bivalence introduces logical puzzles and complications that are not easily overcome. One then points out that, by ‘going epistemic’, one can preserve bivalence—and thus evade the complications. James Cargile presented an early version of this kind of argument [Cargile 1969], and Tim Williamson seemingly makes a similar point in his (...) paper, ‘Vagueness and Ignorance’, when he says that ‘classical logic and semantics are vastly superior to . . . alternatives in simplicity, power, past success, and integration with theories in other domains’, and contends that this provides some grounds for not treating vagueness in this way [Williamson 1996: 279].2 Obviously an argument of this kind invites a rejoinder about the puzzles and complications that the epistemic view introduces. Here are two quick examples. First, postulating, as the epistemicist does, linguistic facts no speaker of the language could possibly know, and which have no causal link to actual or possible speech behaviour, is accompanied by a litany of disadvantages—as the reader can imagine. Second, since Williamson’s preferred explanation of our failure to know the exact boundary of vague predicates is precisely that speakers don’t know the relevant linguistic facts—and this because they might be changing constantly, in subtle ways—we risk preserving classical logic at the cost of giving up its usefulness. If this epistemic view is correct, then for all we know, every supposedly valid argument might involve a fallacy of equivocation between what the words in the premises mean and, milliseconds later, what the (homophonous but not known-to-be synonymous) words in the conclusion mean. It looks, then, like there will be complexities whichever way one goes. In which case, whether this familiar kind of argument ends up being compelling depends very much on detailed issues concerning which complications are introduced by which logics for vagueness.. (shrink)
What is the proper attitude toward what is expressed by a vague sentence in the face of borderline evidence? Some call this attitude “ambivalence” and distinguish it from uncertainty. It has been argued that Classical Epistemicism conjoined with classical probability theory fails to characterize this attitude, and that we must therefore abandon classical logic or classical probabilities in the presence of vagueness. In this paper, I give a characterization of ambivalence assuming a supervaluationist semantics for vague terms that does (...) not revise either. The theory, which I call the theory of Superprobabilities, identifies the proper attitude toward a vague sentence, in the presence of exact borderline evidence, as the set of classical probabilities of the evidence on each member of the set of all precisifications of a vague sentence. I defend the use of sets of probabilities against objections by generalizing the theory of Superprobabilities to a decision theory called Superrationality. I then compare the merits of the theory of Superprobabilities to Classical Epistemicism and nonclassical probabilities theories with respect to the problem of ambivalence. (shrink)
A popular way to relate probabilistic information to binary rational beliefs is the Lockean Thesis, which is usually formalized in terms of thresholds. This approach seems far from satisfactory: the value of the thresholds is not well-specified and the Lottery Paradox shows that the model violates the Conjunction Principle. We argue that the Lottery Paradox is a symptom of a more fundamental and general problem, shared by all threshold-models that attempt to put an exact border on something that is intrinsically (...) vague. We propose application of the language of relative analysis—a type of non-standard analysis—to formulate a new model for rational belief, called Stratified Belief. This contextualist model seems well-suited to deal with a concept of beliefs based on probabilities ‘sufficiently close to unity’ and satisfies a moderately weakened form of the Conjunction Principle. We also propose an adaptation of the model that is able to deal with beliefs that are less firm than ‘almost certainty’. The adapted version is also of interest for the epistemicist account of vagueness. (shrink)
Rorty goes on to connect the sorites paradox to analytic philosophy’s long standing concern with the correspondence theory of truth. How do our words hook up with reality? Do our categories map pre-existing contours? The nominalist answers that “facts” are just projections of our forms of speech. Rorty characterizes epistemicism as a hyper-realist backlash. In addition to thinking that our scientific terminology cuts nature at the joint, the epistemicist asserts that even the vague vocabulary of common sense has sharp (...) thresholds. (shrink)