Advertisement

Vagueness and the Desiderata for Definition

  • Roy Sorensen
Chapter
Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI, volume 216)

Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to show how vagueness is relevant to definition and thereby to thought experiments, the methodology of analysis, and substantive philosophical positions. I hope to achieve this goal en passant in the course of arguing for the main thesis: definitions must preserve borderline cases to the same extent as clear cases.

Keywords

Thought Experiment Borderline Case Hard Case Clear Case Ordinary Usage 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. 1.
    D. M. Armstrong, ‘Does Knowledge Entail Belief?’ Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society vol. LXX 1969/70 (London: Methuen & Co., 1970), pp. 21–36; pp. 35-36. Another well-known advocate of postponing hard cases is John Rawls; see, for example, p. 96 of ‘A Kantian Concept of Equality’, Cambridge Review (February 1975). The methodological propriety of focusing on atypical and marginal cases is defended by Grover Maxwell and Herbert Feigl on p. 195 of ‘Why Ordinary Language Needs Reforming’ in The Linguistic Turn, ed. Richard Rorty (University of Chicago Press, 1967), and by Amartya Sen on p. 14 of ‘Rights and Agency’, Philosophy and Public Affairs vol. 11 no. 1 (Winter 1982).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Actually, this ambiguity spawns a large family of verbal disputes and confusions. I discuss these in ‘The Ambiguity of Vagueness and Precision’, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly vol. 70 no. 2 (June 1989), pp. 174-183.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Stanislav Andreski, Social Sciences as Sorcery (London: Ebenezer Baylis and Son, 1972), p. 70.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Duhem makes this widely cited claim in The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory, trans. P. P. Wiener (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1954), pp. 178–179. Richard Robinson defends vague concepts with the alleged relation between vagueness and probability in Definition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1950), p. 184.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    I defend the epistemic theory in Blindspots (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Dreyfus’s argument appears in What Computers Can’t Do (New York: Harper, 1972).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Jerry Fodor, The Language of Thought (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1975), p. 63. Virtually all proponents of truth-conditional semantics subscribe to the doctrine Fodor is applying. For nice endorsements of the method see p. 92 of David Lewis’s Counterfactuals and p. 36 of Mark Platts’ Ways of Meaning.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Ernest Nagel ‘Some Reflections in the Use of Language in the Natural Sciences’, Journal of Philosophy vol. XLII no. 23 (November 8, 1945), pp. 617–630; pp. 620-621.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Raziel Abelson, ‘Definition’, Encyclopedia of Philosophy vol. 2, ed. Paul Edwards (New York: MacMillan, 1967), p. 315.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    See his ‘Rejoinder: On a Kantian Conception of Language’ in The Paradox of the Liar, ed. Robert L. Martin (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970), pp. 59–66.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Fine’s classic treatment appears in ‘Vagueness, Truth and Logic’, Synthese vol. 30 nos. 3–4 (April–May, 1975), pp. 265–300.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    The quotation appears in Branden Matthews’s Parts of Speech on p. 126.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    The term was introduced by Sidney Axinn and David Axinn in ‘Notes on the Logic of the Ignorance Relations’, American Philosophical Quarterly vol. 13 no. 2 (April 1976), pp. 135–143.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Lycan applies this principle in ‘Evidence One Does Not Possess’, Australasian Journal of Philosophy vol. 55 (1977), pp. 114–126; p. 119. He also uses it in his books Logical Form in Natural Language and Consciousness.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), p. 213.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    W. V. Quine in a review of Milton Munitz’s anthology Identity and Individuation in the Journal of Philosophy vol. LXIX no. 16 (September 7, 1972), pp. 488–497; pp. 489-490.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Nelson Goodman, The Structure of Appearance (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1951), p. 6.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Lawrence C. Becker, ‘Human Being: The Boundaries of the Concept’, in Medicine and Moral Philosophy, ed. Marshall Cohen et al. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982), pp. 23–48; p. 47.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Jonathan Glover, Causing Death and Saving Lives (Middlesex, 1977), p. 45.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Michael B. Green and Daniel Wilder, ‘Brain Death and Personal Identity’ in Medicine and Moral Philosophy, pp. 49–77; p. 60.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    F. Nietzsche, The Gay Science, trans. Walter Kaufman (1974), p. 266.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Johnston addresses the objection, that he is merely changing the subject in ‘Relativism and the Self’, Relativism: Interpretation and Confronation, ed. Michael Krausz (Notre Dame Press, 1989), pp. 441–472.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    J. Katz and J. A. Fodor, ‘The Structure of Semantic Theory’, Language vol. 39 (1963), pp. 170–210; p. 173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    C. G. Hempel, ‘Vagueness and Logic’, Philosophy of Science vol. 6 (1939), p. 170. Max Black defended a similar theory in ‘Vagueness: An Exercise in Logical Analysis’, in his Language and Philosophy (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1949).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, p. 227.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Daniel Dennett’s evidence for the inconsistency of pain is given on pp. 221-225 of Brainstorms (Harvester Press, 1978).Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Ibid., p. 225.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Ibid., p. 228.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Ludwig Wittgenstein, Zettel, ed. G. E. M. Anscombe and G. H. von Wright, trans. G. E. M. Anscombe (Blackwell, 1967), sec. 403.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Ibid., sec. 553.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    W. B. Gallie, ‘Essentially contested concepts’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 56, (1955-56), p. 172. For a recent discussion, see Peter Ingram’s ‘Open Concepts and Contested Concepts’, Philosophia vol. 15 nos. 1–2 (September 1985) pp. 41-59.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Norman Malcolm in Consciousness and Causality (co-authored with D. M. Armstrong) (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984), p. 19.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Norman Malcolm, p. 21.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Quine’s acceptance of partisan borderline cases can be gleaned from p. 41 of Word and Object (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1960). For a more recent example, consider Dale Thorpe’s characterization of borderline cases as ones in which opposite classifications are rationally acceptable on p. 391 of ‘The Sorites Paradox’, Synthese 61 (1984), pp. 391-421.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Keith Lehrer, Knowledge (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974), pp. 61–62.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Colin Radford, ‘“Analysing” Know(s) That’, Philosophical Quarterly 20 (1970), pp. 222–229; pp. 228-229.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. 37.
    Keith Lehrer, Knowledge (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974), pp. 61–62.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Unger is the most prolific incoherentist. His most direct discussion is in ‘Why there are no people’, Midwest Studies in Philosophy (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1981), pp. 177–222.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Remarks (London: Basil Blackwell, 1975), p. 332. Many of the prophesized philosophers appear in the bibliography of Graham Priest’s In Contradiction (Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff, 1987).Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Kearn says ‘true’ and ‘false’ are incorrigibly vague in’ some Remarks Prompted by van Fraassen’s Paper’, The Paradox of the Liar, pp. 47-58; p. 54.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Roy Sorensen
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyNew York UniversityUSA

Personalised recommendations