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Inconsistency and the Sorites Paradox (Otávio Bueno)

The Logic and Metaphysics Workshop will meet on October 1st from 4:15-6:15 in room 6494 of the CUNY Graduate Center for a talk by Otávio Bueno (Miami).

Title: Inconsistency and the Sorites Paradox

Abstract: The Sorites paradox offers an unsettling situation in which, in light of its premises and the apparent validity of the argument, one may be inclined to take the argument to be sound. But this entails that vague concepts, ubiquitous and indispensable to express salient features of the world, are ultimately inconsistent, or at least the application conditions of these concepts seem to lead one directly into contradiction. In what follows, I argue that this inconsistent understanding of vagueness is difficult to resist, but it is also hard to accept. First, I point out that a number of approaches to vagueness that try to resist this conclusion ultimately fail. But it is also difficult to accept the inconsistency approach. After all, vague concepts do not seem to be inconsistent. Second, even if the inconsistency view turned out to be true, the phenomenology of vague concepts (and such concepts, after all, do not seem to be inconsistent at all) can be accommodated. Contextual factors force one to apply inconsistent concepts consistently by arbitrarily resisting to apply the concepts once a locally determined threshold is met. This yields the impression that vague concepts are consistent. As a result, in light of the apparent non-inconsistent nature of vagueness, on the one hand, and the Sorites argument that supports the opposite view, on the other, it is unclear how to establish whether vague concepts ultimately are inconsistent or not. This explains why the Sorites paradox, despite centuries of reflection, does not go away, and why it is unclear how to settle, in one way or another, a significant aspect of the nature of vagueness.

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