Grad Talks: Ben Sheredos — “Vagueness Without the Sorites Paradox”

The Philosophy club is now hosting graduate student talks. Ben Sheredos will be joining us in the department library (HSS 8025) this Monday, April 30th at 2pm as our first invited speaker. Discussion will follow. Title and abstract below:

“Vagueness Without the Sorites Paradox”

I’ll give a sketch of my take on vagueness, which has developed slowly ever since I was introduced to the topic as an undergrad 6 years ago. The whole view has been developed in collaboration with a friend of mine, Scott Peters. The talk will broken into 3 ‘Chunks’ (see below for details). In short, I’ll aim to provide (a) a neutral overview of the philosophy of vagueness, (b) a polarizing criticism of the state of the field, and (c) a preliminary reconception of vagueness as it emerges from the aftermath.

1st Chunk: I’ll sketch a common ‘formalist’ framework for approaching the philosophical problem of vagueness — through the lens of a class of formalized argument-forms known as “Sorites Paradoxes.” I’ll show how a variety of recent Metaphysical, Epistemic, and Semantic conceptions of vagueness take their cue from the Paradoxes, and how they propose to avoid it and analyze vagueness.

2nd Chunk: A very negative argument against the formalist framework. I’ll argue that, by their own lights — plus some considerations of my own which I invite you to challenge — proponents of the formalist approach ought to recognize the Sorites Paradoxes as *completely irrelevant* to a positive understanding of vagueness. In short, Sorites Paradoxes are artifacts or epiphenomena, which arise as a byproduct of “failures to formalize” natural language. My task will be to argue that we can justifiably dismiss/avoid the Sorties Paradoxes ‘for free’ (i.e., with no substantive philosophical cost or commitment).

3rd Chunk: I’ll address pressing concerns, like: “Ok, what IS vagueness, then?” I’ll partly follow Stewart Shapiro’s analysis of vagueness as a phenomenon called ‘open texture’. But I’ll also part ways with Shapiro (for reasons covered in the earlier Chunks). I hope the resulting conception will render the phenomenon of vagueness as philosophically interesting as ever, but free of the of specter of the Sorites Paradoxes.

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