Vagueness and Contradiction

Paperback | February 23, 2005

byRoy Sorensen

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Did Buddha become a fat man in one second? Is there a tallest short giraffe?Epistemicists answer 'Yes!' They believe that any predicate that divides things divides them sharply. They solve the ancient sorites paradox by picturing vagueness as a kind of ignorance. The alternative solutions are radical. They either reject classical theorems or inference rules or reject ourcommon sense view of what can exist. Epistemicists spare this central portion of our web of belief by challenging peripheral intuitions about the nature of language.So why is this continuation of the status quo so incredible? Why do epistemicists themselves have trouble believing their theory?In Vagueness and Contradiction Roy Sorensen traces our incredulity to linguistic norms that build upon our psychological tendencies to round off insignificant differences. These simplifying principles lead to massive inconsistency, rather like the rounding off errors of calculators with limitedmemory. English entitles speakers to believe each 'tolerance conditional' such as those of the form 'If n is small, then n + 1 is small.' The conjunction of these a priori beliefs entails absurd conditionals such as 'If 1 is small, then a billion is small.' Since the negation of this absurdity is ana priori truth, our a priori beliefs about small numbers are jointly inconsistent. One of the tolerance conditionals, at the threshold of smallness, must be an analytic falsehood that we are compelled to regard as a tautology.Since there are infinitely many analytic sorites arguments, Sorensen concludes that we are obliged to believe infinitely many contradictions. These contradictions are not specifically detectable. They are ineliminable, like the heat from a light bulb. Although the light bulb is not designed toproduce heat, the heat is inevitably produced as a side-effect of illumination. Vagueness can be avoided by representational systems that make no concession to limits of perception, or memory, or testimony. But quick and rugged representational systems, such as natural languages, will trade 'rationality' for speed and flexibility. Roy Sorensen defends epistemicism in his own distinctive style, inventive and amusing. But he has some serious things to say about language and logic, about the way the world is and about our understanding of it.

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Did Buddha become a fat man in one second? Is there a tallest short giraffe?Epistemicists answer 'Yes!' They believe that any predicate that divides things divides them sharply. They solve the ancient sorites paradox by picturing vagueness as a kind of ignorance. The alternative solutions are radical. They either reject classical theor...

Roy Sorensen is in the Department of Philosophy, Dartmouth College, New Hampshire.

other books by Roy Sorensen

A Cabinet of Philosophical Curiosities: A Collection of Puzzles, Oddities, Riddles and Dilemmas
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Format:PaperbackDimensions:208 pages, 8.5 × 5.43 × 0.56 inPublished:February 23, 2005Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:019927116X

ISBN - 13:9780199271160

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Table of Contents

Introduction1. Absolute Borderline Cases2. Intellectual Embarrassment without Vagueness3. Forced Analytical Errors4. Inconsistent Machines5. Sainsbury's Spectra and the Penrose Triangle6. Does Apriority Agglomerate?7. Analytic Sorites and the Cheshire Cat8. Believing the Impossible9. Reason Demands Belief in Infinitely Many Contradictions10. The Viral Theory of Inconsistency11. Truthmaker GapsReferences, Index

Editorial Reviews

`Review from previous edition Sorensen's book is well worth reading. His version of epistemicism is a more robust version than Williamson's, and his arguments for being rationally compelled towards inconsistency are important and interesting in themselves ... Anyone working in the philosophyof language will benefit from reading the book; and anyone working on the paradoxes must read the book. I strongly recommend the book as a central text for classes in the philosophy of language (at either the undergraduate or graduate level).'J C Beall, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews