Seminar Series in Analytic Philosophy 2020-21, Session 9

On the Optimality of Vagueness
Paul Egré (joint work with Benjamin Spector, Adèle Mortier, Steven Verheyen)
Institute Jean Nicod and École Normale Supériore

27 November 2020, 16:00

Faculdade de Letras de Lisboa
Sala Mattos Romão (Departamento de Filosofia) & live-streamed

Abstract: What is the function of vagueness in language? We argue that in contexts in which a cooperative speaker is not perfectly informed about the world, the use of vague expressions can offer an optimal trade-off between truthfulness (Gricean Quality) and informativeness (Gricean Quantity). Focusing on expressions of approximation such as “around”’, which are semantically vague, we show that they allow the speaker to convey indirect probabilistic information, in a way that can give the listener a more accurate representation of the information available to the speaker than any more precise expression would (intervals of the form “between”). We give a probabilistic treatment of the interpretation of “around”, and offer a model for the interpretation and use of “around”-statements within the Rational Speech Act (RSA) framework. Broader lessons are drawn concerning the semantic flexibility of vague expressions.

Free Attendance, but preregistration required: