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by Timothy Williamson

If you keep removing single grains of sand from a heap, when is it no longer a heap? From discussions of the heap paradox in classical Greece, to modern formal approaches like fuzzy logic, Timothy Williamson traces the history of the problem of vagueness. He argues that standard logic and formal semantics apply even to vague languages and defends the controversial, realist view that vagueness is a form of ignorance - there really is a grain of sand whose removal turns a heap into a non-heap, but we can never know exactly which one it is.
Download Vagueness (Problems of Philosophy) epub
ISBN: 0415139805
ISBN13: 978-0415139809
Category: Other
Subcategory: Humanities
Author: Timothy Williamson
Language: English
Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (May 9, 1996)
Pages: 344 pages
ePUB size: 1856 kb
FB2 size: 1340 kb
Rating: 4.8
Votes: 587
Other Formats: lit mbr lrf docx

Clearly, the previous reviewer, Mr. Nagate, doesn't even understand the problem of vagueness. His explanation of Sorites paradox is that "at some point" after removing grains of sand from a heap, we are unsure whether, if removing another grain of sand, it can still be called "a heap". And after removing some more grains of sand, "at some point", we become sure that it is not a heap.

This simply begs the question, at what point exactly are we "unsure" that it is a heap? It is the same problem -- and remains a problem for most of the meaningful language that we use. To say such things, he seems to understand neither the problem of vagueness nor Wittgenstein.

Timothy Williamson is a fantastic philosopher, and one whom I'm inclined to believe will one day rank with Wittgenstein in the history books (thankfully, he is still alive and productive, and most certainly not "historical"). I sincerely hope that no one will forgo purchasing this book on the basis of that reviewer's "original research" and unorthodox "interpretation" of Wittgenstein. He clearly knows little to nothing of serious philosophy, and clearly lacks the imagination to see why anyone would see vagueness as a legitimate philosophical problem (which greater minds than both he and Wittgenstein have believed -- for a couple thousand years).
Despite the occasionally highly technical nature of the subject matter he discusses, Williamson's oeuvre is among the most insightful, readable and accessible in current philosophy. As such, it should be of value to both students and professionals.

Despite this, "Vagueness" cannot be given an unreserved recommendation. Of its three rather sharply delineated parts, the first, surveying the history of the subject matter, is overlong and only intermittingly of any interest, and the third, presenting his own, epistemic position, far more profoundly developed in "Knowledge and its Limits" (by comparison, the presentation in "Vagueness" seems sketchy and uses a lot of pages to say very little). The middle part, however, discussing semantic approaches to the question of vagueness, is valuable, and his attacks on fuzzy logic and superevaluationist approaches are ingenious (and, in my opinion, decisive).

To conclude, I would recommend anyone interested in the issue to read these chapters (4 and 5, I believe, not having the book in front of me), but urge more general readers to acquire "Knowledge and its Limits" instead. The latter is a stroke of genius - one of the most important contributions to philosophy since 1976. (PS: Hope readers will excuse the somewhat stilted language in t6his review - I am not a native speaker).
If you took grains of sand away from a pile of sand, when would it cease to be a pile? The paradox of the sorites goes back to early Greek philosophers, and recent metaphysicians have revived the debate after a couple thousand years of philosophers ignoring it. According to Timothy Williamson, there is an exact point when every pile ceases to be a pile, and we could never know what that point is. If a man loses a certain number of hairs, he will be bald, and just one hair makes the difference. Williamson's epistemic view of vagueness has now come to occupy the front stage. Everyone wants to show why such a wacky view just can't be right, but no one seems to have a convincing reply to his arguments. His book covers the main views for dealing with problems of vagueness, and it goes through basic reasons deriving just from standard logic, showing why the other views are seriously inadequate unless they revise our standard logic to the point of absurdity. This book isn't easy even for trained philosophers, but it's well worth it for anyone who wants to delve into this fundamental issue in metaphysics and philosophy of language.
Odd - this appears to be the only entry close in Amazon but it does not fit the text exactly. The title is the same and the author is the same but the library copy is printed 1994 and the editor is Ted Honderich and Routledge is the publisher. Sorry about being so vague but there is clearly a difference. This book is not a collection of essays but a continuous treatment of the subject by Williamson. Oddly, it also fits the other four reviews better as well, so this still seems like the right place to make this entry.