Vagueness and grammar: The semantics of relative and absolute gradable adjectives

Linguistics and Philosophy 30 (1):1 - 45 (2007)
Abstract
This paper investigates the way that linguistic expressions influence vagueness, focusing on the interpretation of the positive (unmarked) form of gradable adjectives. I begin by developing a semantic analysis of the positive form of ‘relative’ gradable adjectives, expanding on previous proposals by further motivating a semantic basis for vagueness and by precisely identifying and characterizing the division of labor between the compositional and contextual aspects of its interpretation. I then introduce a challenge to the analysis from the class of ‘absolute’ gradable adjectives: adjectives that are demonstrably gradable, but which have positive forms that relate objects to maximal or minimal degrees, and do not give rise to vagueness. I argue that the truth conditional difference between relative and absolute adjectives in the positive form stems from the interaction of lexical semantic properties of gradable adjectives—the structure of the scales they use—and a general constraint on interpretive economy that requires truth conditions to be computed on the basis of conventional meaning to the extent possible, allowing for context dependent truth conditions only as a last resort.
Keywords Vagueness  Gradability  Context sensitivity  Borderline cases  Sorites Paradox  Comparison class  Scale structure
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DOI 10.1007/s10988-006-9008-0
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References found in this work BETA

Vagueness.Timothy Williamson - 1994 - Routledge.
Ignorance: A Case for Scepticism.Peter Unger - 1975 - Oxford University Press.
Philosophical Papers.J. L. Austin - 1961 - Oxford University Press.
Attitudes de Dicto and de Se.David Lewis - 1979 - Philosophical Review 88 (4):513-543.

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Skill in Epistemology I: Skill and Knowledge.Carlotta Pavese - 2016 - Philosophy Compass 11 (11):642-649.
Doxastic Disagreement.Teresa Marques - 2014 - Erkenntnis 79 (S1):121-142.
Context, Content, and Relativism.Michael Glanzberg - 2007 - Philosophical Studies 136 (1):1--29.
Scalar Consequentialism the Right Way.Neil Sinhababu - forthcoming - Philosophical Studies.

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