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The Supervaluaionist View of Vagueness, Essay Example

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Words: 1591

Essay

Introduction

Vagueness refers to the state of being uncertain or unclear. The word originates from vagus, meaning wandering in literal terms and uncertain or vacillating in figurative terms (Sorensen n.p.). This state can either be visual such as when there is fog, and one sees vague shapes. There are three major types of ideas on the nature of vagueness. The first view is the semantic or the linguistic view, which entails the relationship between the world and language. The second major approach is the epistemic view, which primarily involves ignorance, or knowledge one has. This view entails a unique kind of ignorance: people do not know where to draw the line or boundary between their words. Finally, the third view is the worldly view that targets the metaphysics of vagueness. This ideology is a direct and distinct reflection of vagueness, and there is indeterminacy residing in the world. The view denotes there is vagueness in language because there is also vagueness in the world, and we use this language to describe the world further.

In philosophy and language, a vague predicate refers to a predicate with borderline cases in its definitions. For example, the word tall is vague. This English predicate does not distinguish someone who has an average height. Contrastingly, the word prime is not vague because a number is either a prime or not. People often define vagueness using a predicate and their capacity to result in examples of the Sorites paradox (Hyde n.p.). If one desires to define the word right with a moral perspective, one identifies various right actions and wrong actions. However, there are borderline cases in the description. Some philosophers advocate for precisifications, which refers to the establishment of precise definitions. These philosophers encourage people to define clear and distinct words more than in ordinary language and beyond ordinary concepts. On the other hand, some philosophers encourage one to establish a definition that merely describes the situation, which can be unclear in these cases (Sorensen n.p.).

Nevertheless, there is a difference between vagueness and ambiguity. In vagueness, the description is not straightforward, and borderline incidences emerge. In ambiguity, the expression of the word possesses numerous meanings. For example, the word bank depicts the element of ambiguity because it can refer either to the financial institutions or to the riverbank. More importantly, the description does not give rise to borderline incidences in the two interpretations of the word bank.

Vagueness is an important phenomenon in philosophical debate and logic. The concept acts as a framework to potentially challenge and explain classical logic (Sorensen n.p.). There is work aimed to offer vague words and expressions compositional semantics in natural language in formal semantics. There is also an effort in language philosophy where philosophers seek to address vagueness implications for the meaning theory. Finally, there are also efforts by metaphysicians who investigate whether there is vagueness in reality itself or not. These fields show that this phenomenon is important and stimulates necessary and beneficial efforts in philosophy.

The Supervaluationism View

The supervaluationism view is the primary theory in the phenomenon of vagueness. Rosanna Keefe and Kit Fine are the major defenders of this theory (Sorensen n.p.). According to Fine, when one applies borderline cases to vague predicate, gaps in the truth-value emerge. The predicates are not false or true. He argues that vague semantics is an interesting and complex system. He claimed that one could make vague predicates precise using several methods. Consequently, this system arrives at borderline incidences in which the statements are neither false nor true.

According to the supervaluationist semantics, a predicate is true when one considers all the precisifications. One can define the predicate in a precise manner that is super true. Here, the atomic statements will remain the same, and the predicate will not alter the semantics. For instance, if one is bald, they are then the borderline incidence of baldness. However, there will be consequences in the case of logically sophisticated statements, especially in cases of tautology in sentential logic (Hyde n.p.). An example of a statement is; Mike is bald, and Mike is not bald. In this statement, it cannot be super true and false all precisifications. He is either bald or not bald. In this theory, borderline incidences threaten principles such as in this case. However, the theory has virtue as it can address the problem. This paper argues that the supervaluationism theory offers a plausible and persuasive view of vagueness. One can have a precise definition of vague statements with super true expressions compared to the subvaluationism view and the epistemic theory. 

I find the supervaluationism view of vagueness the most effective approach. The theory has a strong ground on vague statements, which is valid and reliable in all circumstances. Other theories, such as the subvaluationism and the epistemic theory, have setbacks, as it does not apply to other scenarios. The supervaluation ideology is candid and precise and challenges people to question and explain classical logic. It stimulates one to provide clear and certain statements that are true on all accounts.

The Subvaluationism View

The subvaluationism view refers to the logical duality of the supervaluationism view. Dominic Hyde and Pablo Cobreros are major defenders of this theory (Hyde n.p.). There are differences between subvaluationism and supervaluationism. On the one hand, subvaluationism denotes that truth is a subtruth or the concept is accurate on various precisifications. On the other hand, supervaluationism perceives truth as a major truth. In subvaluationism, there are truth-value gluts, which is a word that is both true and false.

The theory posits that a vague word or expression is true if it is accurate on one precisification. In addition, a vague word or expression is false if it is inaccurate in one precisification. However, some statements will satisfy both the criteria for true and false vagueness. Here, the statement is true and has one accurate precisification, and it is false with one inaccurate precisification. The statement is then both a true and false statement. Ultimately, this theory concludes that the phenomenon of vagueness is contradictory on various levels. For example, this theory agrees that there is an aspect of vagueness in the term bald. Therefore, if one claims that one is bald, the statement is true and false. In addition, if one claims that one is not bald, it is also true and false.

The Epistemic Theory

The epistemic approach of vagueness argues that vague words or expressions have unknowable and sharp boundaries in their application (Endicott n.p.). This theory is direct and postulates that tolerance principles are distinctly inaccurate. There is a clear and sharp line or boundary for red, heap, or bald words. Nonetheless, people are not aware of the location of the boundary. Consequently, people tend to assume the non-existence of this line. However, it is a mistake to conclude that there is no sharp divide because people are unaware.

Timothy Williamson came up with and defended this theory. He tries to explain that people are ignorant of the whereabouts of this sharp line. Nonetheless, it has received several criticisms. The criticisms are primarily because the theory confronts and denies the possibility of indeterminacies when one employs vague language. The theory claims that if an expression succeeds, this means that the argument for indeterminacies is incorrect. If the expression fails, one seeks to comprehend the arguments for indeterminacies. Williamson provides an account of the interconnection between use and meaning (Endicott n.p.). He argues that use establishes meaning, yet the speakers’ disposition determines the proper word applications. The approach on use and meaning facilitates the boundary model. Here, the meaning theory explains how people employ vague words because of the social option function.

Timothy Williamson concurs that this theory is implausible at face value and is somewhat a desperate ideology. People are not entirely ignorant about the location of the boundary. There is lack of research that aims to establish and explain the line’s location. For example, no research determines the last tile in a series of 1,000 similar tiles. There is no clear indication to explore why a man would lose hair and become bald. Scholars and research funders are not willing to research on this matter and establish valid and reliable findings.

Conclusion

In conclusion, vagueness refers to the uncertain or unclear state. The concept has several explanations such as the semantics, epistemic and worldly view. The concept of vagueness is a complex and important aspect in philosophy and other fields such as law and science. In philosophy, this phenomenon allows philosophers to challenge classical logic. It also allows individuals to develop compositional semantics for vague words and expressions in natural language. Besides, philosophers endeavour to respond to the vagueness implications for the meaning theory. Metaphysicians also engage in research on the matter. There are major ideologies on this phenomenon, namely supervaluationism, subvaluationism, and the epistemic view. Each theory has its strengths and shortcomings. However, the supervaluationism theory is the most plausible and compelling perception of this concept. This view posits that vague statements are super true, and one can offer a precise definition. A statement is true or false when they consider all precisifications, and there is no in-between. This view allows for clear explanations and endeavours to describe things with precise and straightforward definitions.

Works Cited

Endicott, Timothy AO. “Vagueness in law: The Epistemic Theory of Vagueness.” Oxford University Press, (2001). DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198268406.003.0006. Accessed on November 15, 2021.

Hyde, Dominic and Diana Raffman. “Sorites Paradox.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/sorites-paradox/. Accessed on November 15, 2021.

Sorensen, Roy. “Vagueness.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/vagueness/. Accessed on November 15, 2021.

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