On the characterisation of borderline cases

Abstract
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..
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