The way we represent the world in thought and language is shot through with indeterminacy: we speak of red apples and yellow apples without thereby committing to any sharp cutoﬀ between the application of the predicate ‘red’ and of the predicate ‘yellow’. But can reality itself be indeterminate? In other words, can indeterminacy originate in the mind-independent world, and not only in our representations? If so, can the phenomenon also arise at the microscopic scale of fundamental physics? Section 1 of (...) this Element provides a brief overview of the question of indeterminacy. Section 2 discusses the thesis that the world is comprised of indeterminate objects, whereas Section 3 focuses on the thesis that there are indeterminate states of aﬀairs. Finally, Section 4 is devoted to the case study of indeterminacy in quantum physics. (shrink)
This paper summarises the contributions to our Topical Collection on indeterminacy and underdetermination. The collection includes papers in ethics, metaethics, logic, metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of science, philosophy of language and philosophy of computation.
This essay defends an epistemicist response to the phenomenon of vagueness concerning moral terms. I outline a traditional model of -- and then two novel approaches to -- epistemicism about moral predicates, and I demonstrate how the foregoing are able to provide robust explanations of the source of moral, as epistemic, indeterminacy. The first model of epistemic indeterminacy concerns the extensions of moral predicates, as witnessed by the non-transitivity of a value-theoretic sorites paradox. The second model of moral epistemicism is (...) induced by the status of moral dilemmas in the epistemic interpretation of two-dimensional semantics. I examine the philosophical significance of the foregoing, and compare the proposal to those of ethical expressivism, constructivism, and scalar act-consequentialism. Finally, I examine the status of moral relativism in light of the epistemicist models of moral vagueness developed in the paper, and I argue that the rigidity of ethical value-theoretic concepts adduces in favor of an epistemic interpretation of the indeterminacy thereof. (shrink)
This paper presents and evaluates the early Husserl’s account of typicality. In the Logical Investigations, Husserl holds that the meaning of ordinary language (common) names is sensitive to typicality: this meaning depends on typical examples which vary in different contexts and are more or less similar to one another. This seems to entail that meanings, which according to Husserl are concepts, are “fluctuating” (schwankend) and vague. Prima facie, such a claim contravenes his theory of ideal meanings, or concepts, which are (...) “fixed” (fest) and sharp. However, Husserl wants to save this theory. He claims that the fluctuation and vagueness in question are not to be found in the meaning itself, or the concept, but rather derive from the act of meaning. Thus, he apparently manages to make room for typicality in ordinary language while accepting only fixed and sharp meanings. After presenting Husserl’s theory, I evaluate it and ask whether he will still be committed, despite his own claims, to accepting prototype concepts to account for typicality in ordinary language. (shrink)
Este artigo é uma introdução crítica ao problema da vagueza. Não vou explicar ou avaliar as teorias da vagueza aqui. Meu objetivo é introduzir e discutir o próprio problema, com o intuito de alcançar uma formulação clara do mesmo. Minha formulação tornará claro quais condições uma teoria ideal da vagueza deveria satisfazer, assim como os principais obstáculos para desenvolver teorias que satisfaçam estas condições.
If there are fundamental laws of nature, can they fail to be exact? In this paper, I consider the possibility that some fundamental laws are vague. I call this phenomenon 'fundamental nomic vagueness.' I characterize fundamental nomic vagueness as the existence of borderline lawful worlds and the presence of several other accompanying features. Under certain assumptions, such vagueness prevents the fundamental physical theory from being completely expressible in the mathematical language. Moreover, I suggest that such vagueness can be regarded as (...) 'vagueness in the world.' For a case study, we turn to the Past Hypothesis, a postulate that (partially) explains the direction of time in our world. We have reasons to take it seriously as a candidate fundamental law of nature. Yet it is vague: it admits borderline (nomologically) possible worlds. An exact version would lead to an untraceable arbitrariness absent in any other fundamental laws. However, the dilemma between fundamental nomic vagueness and untraceable arbitrariness is dissolved in a new quantum theory of time's arrow. (shrink)
This chapter discusses the defence of metaphysical indeterminacy by Elizabeth Barnes and Robert Williams and discusses a classical and bivalent theory of such indeterminacy. Even if metaphysical indeterminacy arguably is intelligible, Barnes and Williams argue in favour of it being so and this faces important problems. As for classical logic and bivalence, the chapter problematizes what exactly is at issue in this debate. Can reality not be adequately described using different languages, some classical and some not? Moreover, it is argued (...) that the classical and bivalent theory of Barnes and Williams does not avoid the problems that arise for rival theories. (shrink)
In ordinary conversation, we describe all sorts of different things as vague: you can have vague plans, vague ideas and vague aches and pains. In philosophy of language, in contrast, it is parts of language – words, expressions and so on – that are said to be vague. One classic example of a vague term is the word ‘heap’. A single grain clearly does not make a heap, and a million grains does make a heap, but where exactly does the (...) boundary lie? How many grains do you need to make a heap? There seems to be no precise answer to this question, and because the term is imprecise in this way, we call it vague. Vague terms are extremely common in natural language. The term ‘bald’ is vague, because there is no precise number of hairs that mark the boundary between ‘bald’ and ‘not bald’; the term ‘hot’ is vague because there is no precise temperature that something must reach to count as hot – and so on. As we have seen, adjectives can be vague, but so can nouns, adverbs and perhaps all parts of language. To find terms which are precise rather than vague, we need to look to the languages of logic and mathematics. We can use vague terms to construct paradoxes known as sorites paradoxes. From an obviously true premise, such as that a collection of 1 million grains is a heap, together with the claim that ‘heap’ has no sharp boundary, we can derive the absurd conclusion that just 1 grain counts as a heap. Any theory of vagueness must offer some solution to this paradox. Some of the most popular theories of vagueness include supervaluationism, the degree theory of truth and the epistemic theory, and many of the available theories demand a radical rethink of classical accounts of logic and language. (shrink)
On some accounts of vagueness, predicates like “is a heap” are tolerant. That is, their correct application tolerates sufficiently small changes in the objects to which they are applied. Of course, such views face the sorites paradox, and various solutions have been proposed. One proposed solution involves banning repeated appeals to tolerance, while affirming tolerance in any individual case. In effect, this solution rejects the reasoning of the sorites argument. This paper discusses a thorny problem afflicting this approach to vagueness. (...) In particular, it is shown that, on the foregoing view, whether an object is a heap will sometimes depend on factors extrinsic to that object, such as whether its components came from other heaps. More generally, the paper raises the issue of how to count heaps in a tolerance-friendly framework. (shrink)
How many hairs must a person lose before they become bald? There doesn’t seem to be an easy way of answering this. This is because “bald”, along with a large number of other words, is vague. This vagueness causes problems and Anna Mahtani specialises in thinking very precisely about these problems….
Miriam Schoenfield argues that moral realism and moral vagueness imply ontic vagueness. In particular, she argues that neither shifty nor rigid semantic accounts of vagueness can provide a satisfactory explanation of moral vagueness for moral realists. This paper constitutes a response. I argue that Schoenfield's argument against the shifty semantic account presupposes that moral indeterminacies can, in fact, be resolved determinately by crunching through linguistic data. I provide different reasons for rejecting this assumption. Furthermore, I argue that Schoenfield's rejection of (...) the rigid semantic account is based on a presupposition that ultimately implies the very same claim that is under dispute: the vagueness of moral predicates in imperfect languages persists in the perfect language, as well. (shrink)
We derive a probabilistic account of the vagueness and context-sensitivity of scalar adjectives from a Bayesian approach to communication and interpretation. We describe an iterated-reasoning architecture for pragmatic interpretation and illustrate it with a simple scalar implicature example. We then show how to enrich the apparatus to handle pragmatic reasoning about the values of free variables, explore its predictions about the interpretation of scalar adjectives, and show how this model implements Edgington’s Vagueness: a reader, 1997) account of the sorites paradox, (...) with variations. The Bayesian approach has a number of explanatory virtues: in particular, it does not require any special-purpose machinery for handling vagueness, and it is integrated with a promising new approach to pragmatics and other areas of cognitive science. (shrink)
This paper explores the idea that vague predicates like “tall”, “loud” or “expensive” are applied based on a process of analog magnitude representation, whereby magnitudes are represented with noise. I present a probabilistic account of vague judgment, inspired by early remarks from E. Borel on vagueness, and use it to model judgments about borderline cases. The model involves two main components: probabilistic magnitude representation on the one hand, and a notion of subjective criterion. The framework is used to represent judgments (...) of the form “x is clearly tall” versus “x is tall”, as involving a shift of one’s criterion, and then to derive observed patterns of acceptance for borderline contradictions, namely sentences of the form “x is tall and not tall”, relative to the acceptance of their conjuncts. (shrink)
Vague expressions are omnipresent in natural language. As such, their use in legal texts is virtually inevitable. If a law contains vague terms, the question whether it applies to a particular case often lacks a clear answer. One of the fundamental pillars of the rule of law is legal certainty. The determinacy of the law enables people to use it as a guide and places judges in the position to decide impartially. Vagueness poses a threat to these ideals. In borderline (...) cases, the law seems to be indeterminate and thus incapable of serving its core rule of law value. -/- In the philosophy of language, vagueness has become one of the hottest topics of the last two decades. Linguists and philosophers have investigated what distinguishes "soritical " vagueness from other kinds of linguistic indeterminacy, such as ambiguity, generality, open texture, and family resemblance concepts. There is a vast literature that discusses the logical, semantic, pragmatic, and epistemic aspects of these phenomena. Legal theory has hitherto paid little attention to the differences between the various kinds of linguistic indeterminacy that are grouped under the heading of "vagueness ", let alone to the various theories that try to account for these phenomena. -/- The paper is an introduction to a book of the same title. Bringing together leading scholars working on the topic of vagueness in philosophy and in law, the book fosters a dialogue between philosophers and legal scholars by examining how philosophers conceive legal ambiguity from their theoretical perspective and how legal theorists make use of philosophical theories of vagueness. (shrink)
The correspondence theory of truth was regarded for many centuries as the correct position in the problem of truth. The main purpose of this paper is to establish the extent to which anti-representationalist arguments devised by the pragmatists can destabilise the correspondence theory of truth. Thus, I identified three types of antirepresentationalist arguments: ontological, epistemological and semantic. Then I tried to outline the most significant varieties for each type of argument. Finally, I evaluated these counterarguments from a metaphilosophical perspective. The (...) point I endeavoured to make is that these arguments are decisive neither in supporting the pragmatist theory of truth, nor in proving the failure of the correspondence theory of truth. Actually, we are dealing with two distinct modes of looking at the same problem, two theoretical approaches based on different sets of presuppositions. By examining the presuppositions of the classical theory of truth, the pragmatists engage in a theoretical undertaking with therapeutical qualities: they contributed significantly to the critical evaluation of a series of dogmas. The belief in the power of the human mind to mirror reality exactly as it is was one of these dogmas. (shrink)
This essay explores the thesis that for vague predicates, uncertainty over whether a borderline instance x of red/large/tall/good is to be understood as practical uncertainty over whether to treat x as red/large/tall/good. Expressivist and quasi-realist treatments of vague predicates due to John MacFarlane and Daniel Elstein provide the stalking-horse. It examines the notion of treating/counting a thing as F , and links a central question about our attitudes to vague predications to normative evaluation of plans to treat a thing as (...) F . The essay examines how the account applies to normatively defective or contested terms. The final section raises a puzzle about the mechanics of MacFarlane’s detailed implementation for the case of gradable adjectives. (shrink)
Vagueness is understood as the problem of associating imprecise application criteria with ordinary predicates such as ‘bald’ or ‘blue’. It is often construed as due to one’s tolerance to a minute difference in forming a verdict on the application of a vague predicate. This paper reports an experiment conducted to test the effect of tolerance, using as paradigm categorisation tasks performed with respect to transitional series, e.g., a series of tomatoes from red to orange. The findings suggest a negative effect (...) of tolerance on categorisation with vague predicates. The implication of the findings for certain commonly-held assumptions about tolerance is discussed. (shrink)
Modernist Fiction and Vagueness marries the artistic and philosophical versions of vagueness, linking the development of literary modernism to changes in philosophy. This book argues that the problem of vagueness - language's unavoidable imprecision - led to transformations in both fiction and philosophy in the early twentieth century. Both twentieth-century philosophers and their literary counterparts were fascinated by the vagueness of words and the dream of creating a perfectly precise language. Building on recent interest in the connections between analytic philosophy, (...) pragmatism, and modern literature, Modernist Fiction and Vagueness demonstrates that vagueness should be read not as an artistic problem but as a defining quality of modernist fiction. (shrink)
How to handle vagueness? One way is to introduce the machinery of acceptable sharpenings, and reinterpret truth as truth-in-all-sharpenings or truth-in-some-sharpenings. A major selling point has been the conservativism of the resulting systems with respect to classical theoremhood and inference. Supervaluationism and subvaluationism possess interesting formal symmetries, a fact that has been used to argue for the subvaluationist approach. However, the philosophical motivation behind each is a different matter. Subvaluationism comes with a standard story that is difficult to sign up (...) to. In this paper, I make use of a variant of Putnam’s well-known idea of linguistic deference, and some results in voting theory, to answer this criticism of subvaluationism. The acceptability intuitions of each member of a linguistic community amount to their voting for one or more acceptable sharpenings, with truth then characterised as truth-in-a--sufficiency-of-sharpenings. This produces a family of logical systems that are close relations of subvaluationism, share its conservatism results, yet have stronger philosophical foundations in the workings of externalist content. (shrink)
Stewart Shapiro's aim in Vagueness in Context is to develop both a philosophical and a formal, model-theoretic account of the meaning, function, and logic of vague terms in an idealized version of a natural language like English. It is a commonplace that the extensions of vague terms vary with such contextual factors as the comparison class and paradigm cases. A person can be tall with respect to male accountants and not tall with respect to professional basketball players. The main feature (...) of Shapiro's account is that the extensions of vague terms also vary in the course of a conversation, even after the external contextual features, such as the comparison class, are fixed. A central thesis is that in some cases, a competent speaker of the language can go either way in the borderline area of a vague predicate without sinning against the meaning of the words and the non-linguistic facts. Shapiro calls this open texture, borrowing the term from Friedrich Waismann.The formal model theory has a similar structure to the supervaluationist approach, employing the notion of a sharpening of a base interpretation. In line with the philosophical account, however, the notion of super-truth does not play a central role in the development of validity. The ultimate goal of the technical aspects of the work is to delimit a plausible notion of logical consequence, and to explore what happens with the sorites paradox.Later chapters deal with what passes for higher-order vagueness - vagueness in the notions of 'determinacy' and 'borderline' - and with vague singular terms, or objects. In each case, the philosophical picture is developed by extending and modifying the original account. This is followed with modifications to the model theory and the central meta-theorems.As Shapiro sees it, vagueness is a linguistic phenomenon, due to the kinds of languages that humans speak. But vagueness is also due to the world we find ourselves in, as we try to communicate features of it to each other. Vagueness is also due to the kinds of beings we are. There is no need to blame the phenomenon on any one of those aspects. (shrink)
In the context of classical (crisp, precise) sets, there is a familiar connection between the notions of counting, ordering and cardinality. When it comes to vague collections, the connection has not been kept in central focus: there have been numerous proposals regarding the cardinality of vague collections, but these proposals have tended to be discussed in isolation from issues of counting and ordering. My main concern in this paper is to draw focus back onto the connection between these notions. I (...) propose a natural generalisation to the vague case of the familiar process of counting precise collections. I then discuss the relationships between this process of counting and various notions of ordering and cardinality for vague sets. Some existing views concerning the cardinality of vague collections fit better than others with my proposal about how to count the members of such a collection. In particular, the idea that we should approach cardinality via certain formulas of a logical language -- which has been prominent in the recent literature -- is less attractive than other existing proposals. (shrink)
This dissertation explores several accounts of the intuitions speakers have concerning the truth values of utterances of sentences containing vague nouns and adjectives. While some semanticists have attempted to account for these intuitions with multi-valued logics and supervaluation theories of truth, I focus on how utterances of vague sentences affect hearers' beliefs. ;Following a critique of the major semantical accounts of vagueness, I propose a formal theory of how beliefs are revised following utterances of sentences of the form X is (...) A, X is A and B, and X is A and not A, where A and B are vague scalar adjectives. Formally, a hearer's beliefs are represented as a set of weighted sentences, and the information conveyed by a speaker's utterance is represented as a set of weighted conditionals. When a speaker utters a sentence, a function on these sets yields the hearer's revised beliefs. I derive from this theory a criterion for proper assertability: a sentence is properly assertable in a given context if the maximum information loss that could obtain between competent discourse participants is less than some threshold. I argue that this criterion often predicts the truth-value judgements competent speakers make which violate the basic rules of logic. I extend these theories to utterances of sentences containing vague non-scalar nouns. ;In the second half of the dissertation, I propose two semantic accounts of vagueness. One incorporates the assertability criterion into its definition of truth. The other is independent of it. The former accounts for a large set of intuitions concerning the truth values of utterances of vague sentences. The latter accounts for only a subset of those intuitions, leaving the rest to be explained independently by the theory of proper assertability. ;I conclude with brief discussions of the Sorites Paradox and the experimental data obtained by Tversky and Kahneman which purport to demonstrate people's poor intuitions concerning the probabilities of conjunctions. (shrink)
Hilary Putnam has suggested that logic and metaphysics are intimately connected so that logic is dependent upon metaphysics. According to Putnam, the validity of classical logic depends upon the truth of metaphysical realism, whereas the truth of metaphysical anti-realism will justify only some alternative to classical logic. Moreover, if Putnam's suggestion is correct, then even an attempt to defend one semantics of vagueness over another must include a defense of some metaphysical view. ;My project began as an attempt to find (...) some grounds for preferring one semantics of vagueness over the others. Many semantics for vague languages have been offered in the literature. Two such semantics which have received attention are supervaluation semantics, which justifies classical logic and the Lakoff-Zadeh many-valued semantics, which does not. There has been varied praise and criticism of each of these approaches, yet no consensus has arisen as to which semantics is to be preferred. I argue that logic is not dependent upon metaphysics in the way Putnam suggests it is. The justification of logic, in fact, depends upon our linguistic practice. I then use this claim to show that supervaluation semantics is preferable to the Lakoff-Zadeh semantics for natural language. ;Finally, my defense of supervaluation semantics has consequences for the prosentential theory of truth. That theory is shown to be incompatible with supervaluation semantic. I also examine some classical many-valued semantics and find them either inadequate for vague natural language or incompatible with the prosentential theory. I conclude that the prosentential theorist is severely limited when it comes to selecting a semantics for natural language. (shrink)
The current project is to assess the implication of vague predicates for metaphysics, logic and the philosophy of mind. In the area of metaphysics, it is argued that vagueness shows certain types of metaphysical realism to be untenable. With respect to what constitutes the best logic of vagueness, the favored approach is argued to be a form of supervaluation semantics. Finally, it is argued that vague predicates prove problematic for certain stances in the philosophy of mind, most notably, the stance (...) endorsed by Fodor. (shrink)