Vagueness / Indeterminacy (PHIL-GA-2297)
NYU - Fall 2013
Bldg: Philosophy Department, Main seminar Room (2nd floor)
Instructor: Prof. Paul Egré
Office hours: Wed. 3.30-5 pm and by appointment
We will discuss recent work on vagueness from various domains,
including logic, epistemology, formal semantics and the philosophy of
language. Our leading thread will be the question whether the
phenomenon of vagueness in language, and in particular the conception
of vague predicates as tolerant (C. Wright), warrants a revision of the
laws of classical logic -- as several of the founding fathers of logic
hinted (Frege, Peirce, Russell) – or whether tolerance should be
treated by holding on to a classical semantics with an adequate
pragmatic module attached to it (viz. Williamson, Pagin). We will
discuss various nonclassical treatments of vague predicates (including
super- and sub-valuationism, truth-functional three-valued models, and
fuzzy accounts), which will be compared to the strict-tolerant account
developed recently in joint work with P. Cobreros, D. Ripley and R. van
Rooij. I will argue that this framework combines a number of appealing
features from those rival approaches, while allowing us to remain much
closer to classical logic. The framework will be further compared to
other accounts in its vicinity (in particular Zardini’s tolerance
logic, and Smith’s fuzzy approach). Further aspects will be
discussed, such as: the impact of granularity on our intuitions of
tolerance ; how vague idiolects are coordinated under the assumption of
tolerance ; the relevance and scope of probabilistic treatments of
vagueness ; what the sources of tolerance intuitions might be
(indiscriminability vs. semantic indeterminacy).
Plan for the course
The seminar will be organized in 6 main blocks:
1. Introduction. What is vagueness? [Sept. 3]
We present the main symptoms, potential sources and candidate definitions of vagueness.
2. Margins of error, Central gaps. [Sept. 10]
A discussion of two
strategies to defend classical logic in the face of the sorites:
margins of error (Williamson) and domain restriction (Pagin)
3. Super- and sub-valuationism. [Sept. 17-24, Oct. 1]
in-depth examination of two dual strategies to explain vagueness: as
underdetermination and as overdetermination.
4. The Strict-Tolerant account [Oct. 8-22-29]
The leading idea is to combine notions of semantic
overlap and underlap to handle vagueness. Comparison with Zardini's
nontransitive treatment, discussion of some objections, and a look at
5. Degrees of truth or Probabilities? [Nov. 5-12]
Focus will be on
Smith's conception of vagueness as closeness. A parallel and comparison
will be made with statistical accounts of vagueness relying on the notion of probability (specifically: Borel, Black,
6. The sources of vagueness [Nov. 19-26, Dec. 3, 10]
Why is our
language vague? A closer look at nontransitivity, imperfect
discrimination, similarity in categorization, and the nature of
borderline cases; time permitting, at functionalist perspectives on
vagueness and communication in language.
NB 1. Fall Recess on October 15, no session then.
NB 2. The schedule is subject to change as the semester proceeds.
Readings and active participation in the seminar.
1 term paper of no less than 4000 words and no more than 7000 words. A
first outline of 4-9 pages is required for October 20. Then a second
expanded version by November 22. The final version is due December 22.
Suggestions will be posted and students are
encouraged to talk with me about possible topics. There will be no
incomplete grades for this class.
No reading is required for the first session. Should you be interested
in pre-reading one paper, read O. Bueno and M. Colyvan's 2012
short Ratio paper, "Just what is vagueness?", which I will use as one of the background papers.
The readings and detailed syllabus will be made available to the
participants of the seminar via a shared Dropbox folder or via NYU Classes.