6
The pragmatic account of vagueness

In chapter 3 I rejected the epistemic view of vagueness which retains classical logic and semantics but commits us to a language in which our vague predicates have sharp meanings and vagueness is a matter of our ignorance. I then turned to the alternative strategy of treating vagueness as a semantic feature of our language that requires a revision of classical logic or semantics. Many-valued theories abandon classical logic, and, I have argued, they fail; while, as I shall discuss in chapter 7, supervaluationism calls for a revision of classical semantics. But are we forced to take either step, or could we avoid both of them by treating vagueness as a pragmatic phenomenon arising from features of our use of language? Could there be a pragmatic account of vagueness which retains both classical logic and semantics, but does not commit us to the unique, sharp meanings that the epistemic theorist accepts? Linda Burns hopes to provide such an account by taking up a suggestion of Lewis's: we are to consider a cluster of precise languages, where classical logic and semantics apply to each of them and vagueness arises from pragmatic factors concerning which of them we are using at any time. I shall argue that a distinctively pragmatic theory of this sort is not viable: at best it collapses into the semantic supervaluationary theory.


1. LEWIS'S PHILOSOPHY OF LANGUAGE AND THE
PRAGMATIC ACCOUNT

Lewis's remarks about vagueness are made in the context of his general semantic theory (e.g. Lewis 1969, 1970, 1975). He treats languages as set-theoretic entities that assign meanings to the strings of symbols that qualify as their sentences. The meaning of a sentence in a language is a function from the specification of a context to a set

-139-

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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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