PhLing: Christopher Vogel (University of Maryland)

DateMarch 10, 2017

Time: 1:30-3:30 pm

LocationKresge 5531

TitleExternalism’s Vagueness Problem


Many natural language expressions seemingly lead to Sorites paradoxes, in that we can construct a series of claims that make use of, or relate to, a given expression, each of which is intuitively plausible but cannot be mutually true. In this sense, many natural language expressions are vague.  If one accepts that the truth of `Donald is bald’ relates to the number of hairs on Donald’s head, one seems likewise committed to the implausible claim that the loss of a single hair can make someone bald.  But, to deny that baldness pertains to head hair count seems equally implausible.  I’ll argue that problems of this sort are merely apparent, and indeed not a consequence of natural language meanings.  Rather, these difficulties arise for a particular externalist commitment to the relationship between linguistic meaning and truth. That is, the long standing problems pertaining to vagueness are the consequence of a (likewise long standing) semantic theory which holds that the meaning of a linguistic expression determines the truth-conditions for that expression. Alternatively, if we deny that natural language expressions have truth-conditions, many of the problems posed by vagueness do not arise in the first place.  I’ll illustrate how an internalist semantics can account for natural language speaker judgments pertaining to vague expressions without generating Sorites paradoxes.