Saturday, March 04, 2006

Weighing Implausibilities

Here's something I was wondering about during Tim Williamson's talk at the Arché Vagueness Workshop yesterday.

Suppose you want to keep bivalence, and you also think that the only way for something to be an aspect of a predicate's meaning is for our use of the predicate to determine that it is (both Williamsonian thoughts, I gather). But you also think it is at least prima facie implausible that usage determines an exact cut-off point for all the vague predicates (a thought pressed against Williamson by McGee and McLaughlin).

We seem to have at least two options.
1: Accept the implausible-sounding claim (with Williamson), or
2: Argue that many of the things we think are vague predicates ('red', 'bald' etc.) are in fact not predicates at all. By bivalence, in order for them to be predicates we would need there to be cut-off points for their application. But it is implausible that our use of these terms determines such cut-off points. And there is nothing else which can do this sort of meaning-constituting work.

It's initially implausible, sure, that words like 'red', 'bald' and so on are not predicates. But my question is: by what sorts of methodological considerations do we weigh this implausibility against that of the claim that usage determines cut-off points for all such terms?

(Incidentally, Williamson mentioned that he talks about Option 2 in his book on vagueness, which I haven't had a chance to look at yet. He obviously has reasons for preferring Option 1, which I will be interested to read.)


Daniel Elstein said...

Hi Carrie,

Can I clarify what it is to think that 'bald' isn't a predicate? I take it that Williamson thinks it's inconsistent to hold (1) that bivalence holds, (2) that there is a precise cut-off point for e.g. 'bald', (3) that the cut-off point isn't an aspect of the meaning of 'bald', and (4) that 'bald' is a predicate. I think I accept (1)-(4), so if Williamson takes them to be inconsistent that's presumably because I'm not quite grasping what a predicate is for him.

If you're an expressivist about an adjective (as I am for 'bald') does that mean that you think that adjective isn't a predicate?

Carrie Jenkins said...

Your(3) is going to be the point of dispute. Maybe the cut-off point needn't quite be classified as 'an aspect of' meaning, but will your expressivism mean that the cut-off point is not even *determined by* meaning?

Daniel Elstein said...

Yes, I don't think that the meaning determines the cut-off point, even given context. And I suppose that Williamson's view is that the meaning of a predicate (+ context) must determine the extension.

Carrie Jenkins said...

So what does determine it? Is it that we in some sense project a sharp cut-off?

Daniel Elstein said...

Nothing and Yes. I think that there is an unknowable sharp cut-off from within the projection. But I don't think that any particular cut-off is projected. The question of what determines the cut-off seems to be an external one, and since there is no cut-off from the external perspective, there can be no fact about what determines it.