Vagueness, Indiscernibility, and Pragmatics: Comments on Burns

Varzi, Achille C.

I am sympathetic with Ms. Burns’ general philosophy of vagueness as a pervasive, multidimensional phenomenon with a variety of sources. I am not, however, all that comfortable with some of the specific arguments she offers in support of this view. In particular, I am uneasy with Burns’ central arguments to the effect that the borderline case variety of vagueness—that which produces the sorites paradoxes and puzzles concerning the possibility of higher-order vagueness—is in fact less extraordinary (and less disastrous) than people in the tradition of Michael Dummett and Crispin Wright have alleged. The point is crucial, of course, because it provides necessary grounds for resisting the objection that this type of vagueness is irremediably more “inquiry resistant” than mere informational vagueness. All the same, it seems to me that the proposed treatment involves presuppositions that cannot be taken for granted. My purpose here is to take a closer look at some of these presuppositions, to weigh them against the arguments, and to show that they may—when left ungrounded—undermine much of Burns’ general program.



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The Southern Journal of Philosophy

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December 3, 2014