What Vagueness and Inconsistency tell us about Interpretation
In Andrei Marmor & Scott Soames (eds.), Philosophical Foundations of Language in the Law. Oxford University Press, Usa. pp. 31--57 (2011)
Two Kinds of Vagueness When signing up for insurance benefits at my job, I was asked, “Do you have children, and if so are they young enough to be included on your policy?” I replied that I had two children, both of whom were over 21. The benefits officer responded, “That’s too vague. In some circumstances children of covered employees are eligible for benefits up to their 26th birthday. I need their ages to determine whether they can be included on your policy.” She was right; my remark was too vague. The information it provided was insufficiently specific to advance our common conversational purpose. However, it was not vague, or at any rate not too vague, in the sense in which philosophical logicians and philosophers of language study vagueness. Vague predicates – like ‘old’, ‘bald’, ‘rich’, and ‘red’ – are those for which there are “borderline cases” separating things to which the predicate clearly applies from those to which it clearly does not. When o is a borderline case for a predicate P, there is, in some sense, “no saying” whether or not the proposition expressed by That/he/she/it is P (said demonstrating o) is true. According to some theories of vagueness, the proposition is undefined for truth, or untruth, and so can’t correctly be characterized either way. According to others, it is true or false -- even though it is impossible, in principle, to know which. On still other theories, it is only partially true (or true to some degree). For present purposes we needn’t worry about which of these theories is correct, or which is most illuminating in discussions of the law. The present point is simpler. The problem with my remark to the benefits officer – the sense in which it was too vague – is not a matter of its susceptibility to borderline cases. What I stated, on December 10, 2009, was that my two children were both over 21 years old then. That statement is true if and only if both were born on or before....
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