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Paul Égré: Vagueness, approximation and the Maxim of Quality

Colloquium lecture by Paul Égré (École normale supérieure, Paris), organized by the Department of Theoretical Philosophy

Vague expressions of natural language such as "many" or "tall" raise two challenges for a theory of meaning: one is to explain how speakers manage to successfully communicate with them; another is to explain the rationale for the existence of vague expressions as opposed to merely precise ones. On the latter problem, van Deemter (2009) and Frazee & Beaver (2010) have put forward the idea that vague communication is rational in situations in which the speaker is in a state of uncertainty.

In this talk, I propose to elaborate on this idea, by showing that lack of semantic vagueness in language would lead to systematic violations of Grice's maxim of Quality. Whereas vagueness is traditionally seen, like ambiguity, as a deficiency in language, vagueness can be shown to act as a mechanism of truthfulness and error reduction in situations of cooperative communication. To illustrate this thesis, the paper considers as a case study the meaning and use of approximator words such as "around" and "about". (Joint work with Steven Verheyen)

When & where?

Wednesday, 11 April 2018, 15:15-17:00
Room Omega, Faculty of Philosophy

Last modified:06 June 2019 12.45 p.m.