The Sharpness of Vague Terms

Paul Horwich

in Reflections on Meaning

Published in print November 2005 | ISBN: 9780199251247
Published online September 2006 | e-ISBN: 9780191603983 | DOI:
 The Sharpness of Vague Terms

Show Summary Details


According to the ancient sorites paradox, zero grains of sand is not enough to make a heap, and adding one single grain can never transform a non-heap into a heap, so there can be no heaps of sand! Similar reasoning applies to all vague terms. In view of this problem, some philosophers have suggested that we must modify classical logic (specifically, the law of excluded middle). This chapter argues that there is no need for this, for we should allow that one grain of sand can make the crucial difference, and more generally, that even vague terms have sharp boundaries. This idea is defended by reference to three considerations: (i) the conclusion of Chapter 3, which implies that one should not expect to be able to explain the extension of a predicate in terms of its use; (ii) an identification of what sort of meaning-constituting use-practice would engender the distinctive symptoms of vagueness, namely the existence of ‘borderline cases’ to which it is impossible to know whether the predicate applies; and (iii) a characterization and invocation of the difference between truth and determinate truth.

Keywords: sorites; vague; classical logic; sharp boundaries; meaning-constituting use; borderline cases; truth; determinate

Chapter.  6964 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Philosophy of Language

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content. subscribe or login to access all content.