Vagueness and mathematical precision

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


One of the main reasons for providing formal semantics for languages is that the mathematical precision afforded by such semantics allows us to study and manipulate the formalization much more easily than if we were to study the relevant natural languages directly. Michael Tye and R. M. Sainsbury have argued that traditional settheoretic semantics for vague languages are all but useless, however, since this mathematical precision eliminates the very phenomenon (vagueness) that we are trying to capture. Here we meet this objection by viewing formalization as a process of building models, not providing descriptions. When we are constructing models, as opposed to accurate descriptions, we often include in the model extra 'machinery' of some sort in order to facilitate our manipulation of the model. In other words, while some parts of a model accurately represent actual aspects of the phenomenon being modelled, other parts might be merely artefacts of the particular model. With this distinction in place, the criticisms of Sainsbury and Tye are easily dealt with - the precision of the semantics is artefactual and does not represent any real precision in vague discourse. Although this solution to this problem is independent of any particular semantics a detailed account of how we would distinguish between representor and artefact within Dorothy Edgington's degreetheoretic semantics is presented.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)225-247
Number of pages23
Issue number442
StatePublished - 2002


Dive into the research topics of 'Vagueness and mathematical precision'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this