The Argument from Vagueness

Edited by Daniel Z. Korman (University of California at Santa Barbara)
About this topic
Summary The argument from vagueness is an argument for mereological universalism, the thesis that for any objects you like, there is an object which is the mereological fusion of those objects. Here is the main idea behind the argument: If we say that composition only sometimes occurs, then presumably there can be borderline cases of composition, that is, cases where it is vague whether the objects in question compose anything. But there can’t be borderline cases of composition. That’s because if it were vague whether some things composed something (say, a hammer head that is just beginning to be affixed to a handle) then it would be vague how many things there are (the handle, the head, and a hammer, or just the handle and head?). But we can make claims about how many things there are without using any vague language whatsoever. Consequently, those claims can’t be vague; they must have determinate truth values. So it can’t be vague how many things there are, in which case it can’t be vague whether composition occurs. So composition must be unrestricted. 
Key works The argument first appears in Lewis 1986, pp. 212-213, and is defended in greater detail in Sider 2001, section 4.9. The prominent responses in the literature come in three varieties: (i) those that maintain that there can be vague existence, (ii) those that maintain that there are always sharp cut-offs with respect to composition, and (iii) those that deny that borderline composition need give rise to vague existence. See Hawley 2002 and Sider 2003 on type-(i) responses, Markosian 1998 and Merricks 2005 on type-(ii) responses, and Carmichael 2011 on type-(iii) responses. 
Introductions Sider 2001; Korman 2010 
Related categories

40 found
  1. On Vagueness, 4d and Diachronic Universalism.Yuri Balashov - 2005 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 83 (4):523 – 531.
  2. Metaphysically Indeterminate Existence.Elizabeth Barnes - 2013 - Philosophical Studies 166 (3):495-510.
    Sider (Four-dimensionalism 2001; Philos Stud 114:135–146, 2003; Nous 43:557–567, 2009) has developed an influential argument against indeterminacy in existence. In what follows, I argue that the defender of metaphysical forms of indeterminate existence has a unique way of responding to Sider’s argument. The response I’ll offer is interesting not only for its applicability to Sider’s argument, but also for its broader implications; responding to Sider helps to show both how we should think about precisification in the context of metaphysical indeterminacy (...)
  3. Vagueness and Arbitrariness: Merricks on Composition.Elizabeth Barnes - 2007 - Mind 116 (461):105-113.
    In this paper I respond to Trenton Merricks's (2005) paper ‘Composition and Vagueness’. I argue that Merricks's paper faces the following difficulty: he claims to provide independent motivation for denying one of the premisses of the Lewis-Sider vagueness argument for unrestricted composition, but the alleged motivation he provides begs the question.
  4. Naturalness, Vagueness, and Sortals.Marta Campdelacreu - 2010 - Metaphysica 11 (1):79-91.
    In the past few years, deflationary positions in the debate on the nature of composite material objects have become prominent. According to Ted Sider these include the thesis of quantifier variance, against which he has defended ontological realism. Recently, Sider has considered the possibility of rejecting his arguments against the vagueness of the unrestricted quantifiers in terms of translation functions. Against this strategy, he has presented an intuitive complaint and has argued that it can only be resisted if quantifier variance (...)
  5. Vague Composition Without Vague Existence.Chad Carmichael - 2011 - Noûs 45 (2):315-327.
    David Lewis (1986) criticizes moderate views of composition on the grounds that a restriction on composition must be vague, and vague composition leads, via a precisificational theory of vagueness, to an absurd vagueness of existence. I show how to resist this argument. Unlike the usual resistance, however, I do not jettison precisificational views of vagueness. Instead, I blur the connection between composition and existence that Lewis assumes. On the resulting view, in troublesome cases of vague composition, there is an object, (...)
  6. Mereological Vagueness and Existential Vagueness.Maureen Donnelly - 2009 - Synthese 168 (1):53 - 79.
    It is often assumed that indeterminacy in mereological relations—in particular, indeterminacy in which collections of objects have fusions—leads immediately to indeterminacy in what objects there are in the world. This assumption is generally taken as a reason for rejecting mereological vagueness. The purpose of this paper is to examine the link between mereological vagueness and existential vagueness. I hope to show that the connection between the two forms of vagueness is not nearly so clear-cut as has been supposed.
  7. Sider, Hawley, Sider and the Vagueness Argument.Nikk Effingham - 2011 - Philosophical Studies 154 (2):241 - 250.
    The Vagueness Argument for universalism only works if you think there is a good reason not to endorse nihilism. Sider's argument from the possibility of gunk is one of the more popular reasons. Further, Hawley has given an argument for the necessity of everything being either gunky or composed of mereological simples. I argue that Hawley's argument rests on the same premise as Sider's argument for the possibility of gunk. Further, I argue that that premise can be used to demonstrate (...)
  8. Universalism, Vagueness and Supersubstantivalism.Nikk Effingham - 2009 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 87 (1):35 – 42.
    Sider has a favourable view of supersubstantivalism (the thesis that all material objects are identical to the regions of spacetime that they occupy). This paper argues that given supersubstantivalism, Sider's argument from vagueness for (mereological) universalism fails. I present Sider's vagueness argument (§§II-III), and explain why - given supersubstantivalism - some but not all regions must be concrete in order for the argument to work (§IV). Given this restriction on what regions can be concrete, I give a reductio of Sider's (...)
  9. But What Kind of Thing is a 'Fusion'?: Circular Reasoning in Sider’s Argument From Vagueness.Jacob Erola-Channen - unknown
    Ordinarily, we suppose that material objects sometimes do, and sometimes do not, form a further object. In his book Four-Dimensionalism, Theodore Sider develops an argument that attempts to show this assumption is mistaken. Sider’s argument from vagueness is one of the most influential arguments in support of universalism, the thesis that composition is unrestricted: whenever some concrete entities exists, so does their mereological fusion. The argument from vagueness is defective – I submit – because it begs the question. Sider distorts (...)
  10. Comments on Ted Sider: Four Dimensionalism. [REVIEW]André Gallois - 2004 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 68 (3):648–657.
  11. Borderline Simple or Extremely Simple.Katherine Hawley - 2004 - The Monist 87 (3):385-404.
    In his Material Beings, Peter van Inwagen distinguishes two questions about parthood. What are the conditions necessary and sufficient for some things jointly to compose a whole? What are the conditions necessary and sufficient for a thing to have proper parts? The first of these, the Special Composition Question (SCQ), has been widely discussed, and David Lewis has argued that an important constraint on any answer to the SCQ is that it should not permit borderline cases of composition. This is (...)
  12. Vagueness and Existence.Katherine Hawley - 2002 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 102 (1):125-140.
    Vague existence can seem like the worst kind of vagueness in the world, or seem to be an entirely unintelligible notion. This bad reputation is based upon the rumour that if there is vague existence then there are non-existent objects. But the rumour is false: the modest brand of vague existence entailed by certain metaphysical theories of composition does not deserve its bad reputation.
  13. Universalism, Four Dimensionalism, and Vagueness.Hud Hudson - 2000 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 60 (3):547-560.
    Anyone who endorses Universalism and Four Dimensionalism owes us an argument for those controversial mereological theses. One may put forth David Lewis’s and Ted Sider’s arguments from vagueness. However, the success of those arguments depends on the rejection of the epistemic view of vagueness, and thus opens the door to a fatal confrontation with one particularly troubling version of The Problem of the Many. The alternative for friends of Universalism and Four Dimensionalism is to abandon those currently fashionable arguments in (...)
  14. Objects: Nothing Out of the Ordinary.Daniel Z. Korman - 2015 - Oxford University Press UK.
    One of the central questions of material-object metaphysics is which highly visible objects there are right before our eyes. Daniel Z. Korman defends a conservative view, according to which our ordinary, natural judgments about which objects there are are more or less correct. He begins with an overview of the arguments that have led people away from the conservative view, into revisionary views according to which there are far more objects than we ordinarily take there to be or far fewer. (...)
  15. The Vagueness Argument Against Abstract Artifacts.Daniel Z. Korman - 2014 - Philosophical Studies 167 (1):57-71.
    Words, languages, symphonies, fictional characters, games, and recipes are plausibly abstract artifacts— entities that have no spatial location and that are deliberately brought into existence as a result of creative acts. Many accept that composition is unrestricted: for every plurality of material objects, there is a material object that is the sum of those objects. These two views may seem entirely unrelated. I will argue that the most influential argument against restricted composition—the vagueness argument—doubles as an argument that there can (...)
  16. Ordinary Objects.Daniel Z. Korman - 2011 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
    An encyclopedia entry which covers various revisionary conceptions of which macroscopic objects there are, and the puzzles and arguments that motivate these conceptions: sorites arguments, the argument from vagueness, the puzzles of material constitution, arguments against indeterminate identity, arguments from arbitrariness, debunking arguments, the overdetermination argument, and the problem of the many.
  17. The Argument From Vagueness.Daniel Z. Korman - 2010 - Philosophy Compass 5 (10):891-901.
    A presentation of the Lewis-Sider argument from vagueness for unrestricted composition and possible responses.
  18. The Naive Conception of Material Objects: A Defense.Daniel Z. Korman - 2007 - Dissertation, University of Texas at Austin
    Chapter 1: “Ordinary Objects and the Argument from Strange Concepts.” Chapter 2: “Restricted Composition Without Sharp Cut-Offs.” Chapter 3: “Three Solutions to the Grounding Problem for Coincident Objects.” Chapter 4: “Ordinary Objects Without Overdetermination.” Chapter 5: “Eliminativism and the Challenge from Folk Belief.” Chapter 6: “Unrestricted Composition and Restricted Quantification.”.
  19. Review of Theodore Sider, Four-Dimensionalism: An Ontology of Persistence and Time. [REVIEW]Kathrin Koslicki - 2003 - Philosophical Review 112 (1):110-113.
  20. The Crooked Path From Vagueness to Four-Dimensionalism.Kathrin Koslicki - 2003 - Philosophical Studies 114 (1-2):107 - 134.
    The main goal of Sider’s book, Four-Dimensionalism: An Ontology of Persistence and Time, is to show why his version of four- dimensionalism, the stage-theory, on balance, should be preferred over its main competitors: it is, in his view, the theory which presents the best unified treatment of a wide range of central metaphysical puzzles; the theory which has, on balance, “the most important advantages and the least serious drawbacks” (ibid., p. 140). I argue in this paper that, when we add (...)
  21. Sider on Existence.David Liebesman & Matti Eklund - 2007 - Noûs 41 (3):519–528.
    In (2001), (2003), and elsewhere, Ted Sider presents two arguments concerning the existential quantifier which are justly central to the recent discussion of metaontology. What we will call Sider's indeterminacy argument is an attempted reductio of the suggestion that the existential quantifier might be semantically indeterminate. What we will call Sider's naturalness argument is an argument for the claim that the semantic value of the existential quantifier is the most eligible existence-like meaning there is, à la David Lewis' eligibility theory (...)
  22. Is 'Everything' Precise?Dan López de Sa - 2006 - Dialectica 60 (4):397–409.
    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 (...)
  23. Vagueness and Endurance.E. J. Lowe - 2005 - Analysis 65 (2):104–112.
  24. Epistemicism, Distribution, and the Argument From Vagueness.Ofra Magidor - 2018 - Noûs 52 (1):144-170.
    This paper consists of two parts. The first concerns the logic of vagueness. The second concerns a prominent debate in metaphysics. One of the most widely accepted principles governing the ‘definitely’ operator is the principle of Distribution: if ‘p’ and ‘if p then q’ are both definite, then so is ‘q’. I argue however, that epistemicists about vagueness should reject this principle. The discussion also helps to shed light on the elusive question of what, on this framework, it takes for (...)
  25. Brutal Composition.Ned Markosian - 1998 - Philosophical Studies 92 (3):211 - 249.
    According to standard, pre-philosophical intuitions, there are many composite objects in the physical universe. There is, for example, my bicycle, which is composed of various parts - wheels, handlebars, molecules, atoms, etc. Recently, a growing body of philosophical literature has concerned itself with questions about the nature of composition.1 The main question that has been raised about composition is, roughly, this: Under what circumstances do some things compose, or add up to, or form, a single object? It turns out that (...)
  26. Remarks on Vagueness and Arbitrariness.Trenton Merricks - 2007 - Mind 116 (461):115-119.
    other things, that the Vagueness Argument for unrestricted composition fails. In ‘Vagueness and Arbitrariness: Merricks on Composition’, Elizabeth Barnes objects to my argument. This paper replies to Barnes, and also offers further support for the views defended in my original paper.
  27. Composition and Vagueness.Trenton Merricks - 2005 - Mind 114 (455):615-637.
    says that there are some composite objects. And it says that some objects jointly compose nothing at all. The main threat to restricted composition is the in.uential and widely defended Vagueness Argument. We shall see that the Vagueness Argument fails. In seeing how this argument fails, we shall discover a new focus for the debate over composition's extent.
  28. Endurantism, Diachronic Vagueness and the Problem of the Many.By Kristie Miller - 2008 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 89 (2):242–253.
    A plausible desideratum for an account of the nature of objects, at, and across time, is that it accommodate the phenomenon of vagueness without locating vagueness in the world. A series of arguments have attempted to show that while universalist perdurantism – which combines a perdurantist account of persistence with an unrestricted mereological account of composition – meets this desideratum, endurantist accounts do not. If endurantists reject unrestricted composition then they must hold that vagueness is ontological. But if they embrace (...)
  29. Vagueness, Multiplicity and Parts.Daniel Nolan - 2006 - Noûs 40 (4):716–737.
    There’s an argument around from so-called “linguistic theories of vagueness”, plus some relatively uncontroversial considerations, to powerful metaphysical conclusions. David Lewis employs this argument to support the mereological principle of unrestricted composition, and Theodore Sider employs a similar argument not just for unrestricted composition but also for the doctrine of temporal parts. This sort of argument could be generalised, to produce a lot of other less palatable metaphysical conclusions. However, arguments to Lewis’s and Sider’s conclusions on the basis of considerations (...)
  30. A Flaw in Sider's Vagueness Argument for Unrestricted Mereological Composition.H. W. Noonan - 2010 - Analysis 70 (4):669-672.
  31. A Flaw in Sider's Vagueness Argument for Unrestricted Merelogical Composition.Harold Noonan - unknown
  32. Mundos possíveis, propriedade natural e mereologia.Renato Rocha - 2017 - Dissertation, Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina
    I argue in this dissertation that natural properties play a central role in David Lewis' modal realism. To argue in favor of this thesis I present: a bottom-up explanation of a top-down possible world metaphysics; a new definition of natural properties and natural fusion, a new mereological operation. To achieve these aims, in the first chapter, I contextualize the discussion, in the second I resume the discussion about universals in contemporary philosophy and argue that, considering the distinct formulations of the (...)
  33. Four-Dimensionalism.Theodore Sider - 1997 - Philosophical Review 106 (2):197-231.
    Persistence through time is like extension through space. A road has spatial parts in the subregions of the region of space it occupies; likewise, an object that exists in time has temporal parts in the various subregions of the total region of time it occupies. This view — known variously as four dimensionalism, the doctrine of temporal parts, and the theory that objects “perdure” — is opposed to “three dimensionalism”, the doctrine that things “endure”, or are “wholly present”.1 I will (...)
  34. The Vagueness Argument for Mereological Universalism.Donald Smith - 2006 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 87 (3):357–368.
    In this paper, I critically discuss one of the more influential arguments for mereological universalism, what I will call ‘the Vagueness Argument’. I argue that a premise of the Vagueness Argument is not well supported and that there are at least two good reasons for thinking that the premise in question is false.
  35. A Plea for Things That Are Not Quite All There: Or, Is There a Problem About Vague Composition and Vague Existence?Nicholas J. J. Smith - 2005 - Journal of Philosophy 102 (8):381-421.
    Orthodoxy has it that mereological composition can never be a vague matter, for if it were, then existence would sometimes be a vague matter too, and that's impossible. I accept that vague composition implies vague existence, but deny that either is impossible. In this paper I develop degree-theoretic versions of quantified modal logic and of mereology, and combine them in a framework that allows us to make clear sense of vague composition and vague existence, and the relationships between them.
  36. Three-Dimensionalist's Semantic Solution to Diachronic Vagueness.Irem Kurtsal Steen - 2010 - Philosophical Studies 150 (1):79-96.
    A standard response to the problem of diachronic vagueness is ‘the semantic solution’, which demands an abundant ontology. Although it is known that the abundant ontology does not logically preclude endurantism, their combination is rejected because it necessitates massive coincidence between countless objects. In this paper, I establish that the semantic solution is available not only to perdurantists but also to endurantists by showing that there is no problem with such ubiquitous and principled coincidence.
  37. Against the Vagueness Argument.Tuomas E. Tahko - 2009 - Philosophia 37 (2):335-340.
    In this paper I offer a counterexample to the so called vagueness argument against restricted composition. This will be done in the lines of a recent suggestion by Trenton Merricks, namely by challenging the claim that there cannot be a sharp cut-off point in a composition sequence. It will be suggested that causal powers which emerge when composition occurs can serve as an indicator of such sharp cut-off points. The main example will be the case of a heap. It seems (...)
  38. Promiscuous Endurantism and Diachronic Vagueness.Achille C. Varzi - 2007 - American Philosophical Quarterly 44 (2):181-189.
    According to a popular line of reasoning, diachronic vagueness creates a problem for the endurantist conception of persistence. Some authors have replied that this line of reasoning is inconclusive, since the endurantist can subscribe to a principle of Diachronic Unrestricted Composition (DUC) that is perfectly parallel to the principle required by the perdurantist’s semantic account. I object that the endurantist should better avoid DUC. And I argue that even DUC, if accepted, would fail to provide the endurantist with the necessary (...)
  39. Spacetime and Mereology.Andrew Virel Wake - 2011 - Erkenntnis 74 (1):17-35.
    Unrestricted Composition (UC) is, roughly, the claim that given any objects at all, there is something which those objects compose. (UC) conflicts in an obvious way with common sense. It has as a consequence, for instance, that there is something which has as parts my nose and the moon. One of the more influential arguments for (UC) is Theodore Sider’s version of the Argument from Vagueness. (A version of the Argument from Vagueness was first presented by David Lewis (1986), pp. (...)
  40. Metaphysical Indeterminacy and Vague Existence.Richard Woodward - 2011 - Oxford Studies in Metaphysics 6:183-197.
    One pressing question facing Barnes andWilliams is that of which vari- eties of metaphysical indeterminacy can be can accommodated within their framework. In what remains, I shall examine whether their framework can allow that it sometimes metaphysically indeterminate whether an object exists. I shall begin by outlining an argument, due to Theodore Sider, to the conclusion that vague existence is impossible.