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The Journal of Philosophy

Volume 117, Issue 11/12, November/December 2020

John MacFarlane
Pages 593-616

Indeterminacy as Indecision, Lecture I: Vagueness and Communication

I can say that a building is tall and you can understand me, even if neither of us has any clear idea exactly how tall a building must be in order to count as tall. This mundane fact poses a problem for the view that successful communication consists in the hearer’s recognition of the proposition a speaker intends to assert. The problem cannot be solved by the epistemicist’s usual appeal to anti-individualism, because the extensions of vague words like ‘tall’ are contextually fluid and can be constrained significantly by speakers’ intentions. The problem can be seen as a special case of a more general problem concerning what King has called “felicitous underspecification.” Traditional theories of vagueness offer nothing that can help with this problem. Appeals to diagonalization do not help either. A more radical solution is needed.

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