Unruly Words: A Study of Vague Language

Hardcover | January 20, 2014

byDiana Raffman

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Vague words, like "tall," "rich," and "old," lack clear boundaries of application: no clear line divides the tall people from the above average, or the old people from the middle-aged. Because they lack clear boundaries, these ordinary words cause logical and semantic problems in variousdisciplines including philosophy, decision theory, and the law. Philosophers and linguists have proposed several theories of vagueness to handle these difficulties, but none has been widely accepted.Raffman contends that virtually all previous treatments of vagueness have made two crucial mistakes: they have supposed that a semantic (non-epistemic) theory must abandon bivalence, and they have paid insufficient attention to the character of ordinary speech using vague words. She develops a newtheory of vagueness - the multiple range theory - that corrects both of these errors. The new theory begins with the observation that ordinary speakers seem to apply vague words in multiple arbitrarily different but equally competent ways, even when all contextual factors are held fixed. Raffmaninterprets this feature of their use as evidence of multiple ranges of application in the semantics of vague words, where a range of application is a range of properties whose instances satisfy the word in question; for example, a range of application of "tall" is a range of heights, a range of"old" a range of ages, and so forth. The fundamental idea is that a vague word has multiple ranges of application, and applies to things relative to those ranges, even given a single fixed context. The fact that the ranges of a vague word are arbitrarily different - there is no reason to favor anyparticular one - is key to solving the notorious sorites paradox.The multiple range theory preserves bivalence and is more intuitive than other approaches. It is also simpler; for instance, it has no need of a definiteness operator, and it rules out the possibility of higher-order borderline cases, both of which introduce severe complications into other accounts.Some of the evidence Raffman draws upon in constructing her theory comes from a new psychological study of the way ordinary speakers actually use vague words.

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Vague words, like "tall," "rich," and "old," lack clear boundaries of application: no clear line divides the tall people from the above average, or the old people from the middle-aged. Because they lack clear boundaries, these ordinary words cause logical and semantic problems in variousdisciplines including philosophy, decision theory...

Diana Raffman is a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto. She has published a number of papers in the philosophy of mind, primarily about consciousness and perception, in the philosophy of language, primarily about vagueness, and in the philosophy of art, primarily about music. She is currently writing a series of paper...
Format:HardcoverDimensions:240 pages, 8.25 × 5.5 × 0.98 inPublished:January 20, 2014Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0199915105

ISBN - 13:9780199915101

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Table of Contents

Preface1. Introduction and Fundamentals1.1. Whirlwind Tour of Competing Theories of Vagueness1.2. Initial Observations (1): Blurred Boundaries, Sharp Boundaries, and Stopping Places1.3. Initial Observations (2): Vagueness and Gradability1.4. Initial Observations (3): Vagueness and Soriticality1.5. Initial Observations (4): Vagueness and Context-Sensitivity1.6. Vagueness and Rule-following1.7. Two Policies and a Caveat1.8. Selective Review1.9. Looking Ahead2. The In's and Out's of Borderline Cases2.1. Lay of the Land2.2. The Standard Analysis2.3. The Incompatibilist Analysis2.4. Objections and Replies2.5. Symmetry, Indeterminacy, Higher-Order Borderlines, Accessibility; and Some Advantages of the Incompatibilist Analysis2.6. Independently Fishy Features of Higher-Order Borderlines2.7. Selective Review2.8. Looking ahead3. Framework for a Semantics of Vagueness3.1. Vagueness and Indexicality3.2. Two Ingredients of Sense for Vague Words3.3. A Refinement: Contexts of Utterance vs Intended Contexts3.4. Selective Review3.5. Looking Ahead4. The Multiple Range Theory of Vagueness4.1. Vagueness and Reference4.2. Why Ranges of Application Are Not Precisifications4.3. Progress Report and Two Criteria of Vagueness4.4. Evaluation4.5. Solving the Sorites4.6. Verdicts on Some Specific Predicates4.7. Vagueness, Soriticality, Borderlines, V-index-sensitivity, Gradability, and Indeterminacy: Relatives or Just Friends?4.8. Selective Review4.9. Looking AheadFigures5. The Competent Use of Vague Words5.1. A Pragmatic Sorites5.2. Testing for Hysteresis5.3. Non-perceptual Hysteresis: Does Our Hypothesis Generalize?5.4. Meaning and Use: Implementing the Multi-Range Semantics5.5. An Etymological Speculation5.6. The Truth About Tolerance5.7. Looking Back: Rules, Reasons, and the Governing ViewFiguresAppendixNotesBibliographyIndex