March 1: Stewart Shapiro, “Vagueness, open-texture, and retrievability”

This Friday, the workshop welcomes Stewart Shapiro, Professor of Philosophy at the Ohio State University for a talk entitled “Vagueness, open-texture, and retrievability” (Wieboldt 408, 11.30am-1.30pm). An abstract for Professor Shapiro’s talk follows:

Vagueness, open-texture, and retrievability

Just about every theorist holds that vague terms are context-sensitive to some extent. What counts as “tall”, “rich”, and “bald” depends on the ambient comparison class, paradigm cases, and/or the like. To take a stock example, a given person might be tall with respect to European entrepreneurs and downright short with respect to professional basketball players. It is also generally agreed that vagueness remains even after comparison class, paradigm cases, etc. are fixed, and so this context sensitivity does not solve the problems with vague terms.

In this talk, I’ll briefly sketch the main features of my broadly contextualist account of vagueness and that of Agustin Rayo and the late Ruth Manor, showing how those relate to, and reinforce, each other, noting a seeming difference. A key item used to articulate my own view is David Lewis’s notion of conversational score. This is used to track which borderline cases have been called in the course of a conversation. Manor alludes to Lewis’s notion of accommodation, a key aspect of the kinematics of conversation, and Rayo speaks of common ground. I’ll show how the conversational score could be employed to develop and extend Manor’s view, showing how vague terms, as she construes them, are (or can be) deployed in conversation, consistent with both the underlying indeterminacy of the terms and normal communicative goals.

To help develop the view further, I’ll invoke Craige Roberts’s notion of retrievability, a tool developed to show how definites, such as definite descriptions, singular pronouns, and proper names, are deployed in conversation, in a Lewis-style scorekeeping framework. This, I think, is exactly the right way to understand conversations in what Manor calls non-sorities situations and, to invoke my own view, in sorites situations as well.