1
The phenomena of vagueness

1. CENTRAL FEATURES OF VAGUE EXPRESSIONS

The parties to the vigorous debates about vagueness largely agree about which predicates are vague: paradigm cases include 'tall', 'red', 'bald', 'heap', 'tadpole' and 'child'. Such predicates share three interrelated features that intuitively are closely bound up with their vagueness: they admit borderline cases, they lack (or at least apparently lack) sharp boundaries and they are susceptible to sorites paradoxes. I begin by describing these characteristics.

Borderline cases are cases where it is unclear whether or not the predicate applies. Some people are borderline tall: not clearly tall and not clearly not tall. Certain reddish-orange patches are borderline red. And during a creature's transition from tadpole to frog, there will be stages at which it is a borderline case of a tadpole. To offer at this stage a more informative characterisation of borderline cases and the unclarity involved would sacrifice neutrality between various competing theories of vagueness. Nonetheless, when Tek is borderline tall, it does seem that the unclarity about whether he is tall is not merely epistemic (i.e. such that there is a fact of the matter, we just do not know it). For a start, no amount of further information about his exact height (and the heights of others) could help us decide whether he is tall. More controversially, it seems that there is no fact of the matter here about which we are ignorant: rather, it is indeterminate whether Tek is tall. And this indeterminacy is often thought to amount to the sentence 'Tek is tall' being neither true nor false, which violates the classical principle of bivalence. The law of excluded middle may also come into question when we consider instances such as 'either Tek is tall or he is not tall'.

Second, vague predicates apparently lack well-defined extensions. On a scale of heights there appears to be no sharp boundary between

-6-

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Theories of Vagueness
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Cambridge Studies in Philosophy - Theories of Vagueness *
  • Cambridge Studies in Philosophy *
  • Title Page *
  • For My Parents, Sheila and Terry *
  • Contents ix
  • Acknowledgements xi
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - The Phenomena of Vagueness 6
  • 2 - How to Theorise About Vagueness 37
  • 3 - The Epistemic View of Vagueness 62
  • 4 - Between Truth and Falsity: Many-Valued Logics 85
  • 5 - Vagueness by Numbers 125
  • 6 - The Pragmatic Account of Vagueness 139
  • 7 - Supervaluationism 152
  • 8 - Truth is Super-Truth 202
  • References 221
  • Index 229
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