Volume 12, December 2002
Leibniz and the Sorites
The sorites paradox receives its most sophisticated early modem discussion in Leibniz’s writings. In an important early document Leibniz holds that vague terms have sharp boundaries of application, but soon thereafter he comes to adopt a form of nihilism about
vagueness: and it later proves to be his settled view that vagueness results from semantical indeterminacy. The reason for this change of mind is unclear, and Leibniz does not appear to have any grounds for it. I suggest that his various treatments of the sorites do not
spring from a single integrated view of vagueness, and that his early position reflects a mercenary interest in the sorites paradox---an interest to use the sorites to reach a conclusion in metaphysics rather than to examine vagueness as a subject to be understood in its
own right. The later nihilist stance reflects Leibniz’s own (if undefended) attitude towards vagueness.