A Wittgensteinian look on vagueness
Maksymilian Dąbkowski
July 2018

We first define vagueness and distinguish it from relativity and ambiguity. We then proceed to characterize the sorites or heap paradox and present its philosophical implications. The paradox can be summarized as follows: if removing one grain from a heap does not turn it into a non-heap, we can successively remove grains from a heap until we arrive at a one-grain (or zero-grain) heap. Hence, from apparently sensible premises and by apparently sensible reasoning at arrive at a strikingly absurd conclusion. We then consider Williamson's (1994) epistemic theory of vagueness, whose main postulate is that a sharp boundary between a heap and a non-heap exists, but we are ignorant of it. We reject Williamson’s epistemic theory on several grounds: it makes counterintuitive assumptions which violate our understanding of language and has counterintuitive entailments which need not be accepted. Moreover, it requires accepting metaphysical stances, which demand other approaches can avoid. To arrive at a different theory of vagueness, we consider the ideal epistemic conditions for everyday language terms such as thin, and what they can tell about the philosophical question of vagueness. Subsequently, we show that scientific vocabulary behaves in the relevant respects just like the common-sense informal words such as thin. Finally, we turn to Wittgenstein (1953) to show what light the picture of language sketched in Philosophical Investigations sheds on the question of vagueness and how a fuller understanding of language’s versatility can accommodate the nature of vague predicates. Adapting Wittgenstein’s theory of meaning as use, we conclude that the sorites paradox arises from a misapplication of language and can be avoided if real-life linguistic practices are given priority in our theorizing about language.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/006362
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: Ivy League Undergraduate Research Journal 1
keywords: dabkowski, vagueness, relativity, ambiguity, sorites, heap, paradox, wittgenstein, williamson, premise, conclusion, boundary, shap, confusion, absurd, ad, absurdum, metaphysics, episteme, epistemic, conditions, everyday, language, use, philosophy, philosophical, investigations, vague, relative, ambiguous, predicate, misuse, misapplication, practice, stance, metaphysical, morphology
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