Vagueness, Partiality, and the Sorites Paradox

Scott Soames

in Understanding Truth

Published in print January 1999 | ISBN: 9780195123357
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780199872114 | DOI:
 Vagueness, Partiality, and the Sorites Paradox

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Presents a theory of partially defined, context sensitive, vague predicates, each of which is associated with a default determinate‐extension – i.e., a set of things to which the rules of the language determine that it applies – and a default determinate‐antiextension – a set of things to which the rules of the language determine that it does not apply. Since these sets do not exhaust all cases, speakers have the discretion of adjusting the extension and antiextension of such a predicate F so as to include initially undefined cases – often by explicitly characterizing an object o for which F is initially undefined as being F, or as being not F. When a speaker does this, the extension (or antiextension) of F is adjusted so as to include o plus all objects indistinguishable, or virtually indistinguishable from o. This analysis is used to illuminate and defuse the Sorites paradox, the main lesson of which is taken to be that the boundary lines fixing the extensions and antiextensions of many vague predicates are inherently unstable. Although this is not a practical problem for speakers in ordinary situations, and although it does not represent any theoretical incoherence in the meanings of vague predicates, it does explain the discomfort typically generated by standard versions of the Sorites paradox.

Keywords: antiextension; context; context sensitive predicates; extension; partially defined predicates; Sorites paradox; vague predicates; vagueness

Chapter.  13810 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Language

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