- The thesis that there can be vague objects is the thesis that there can be identity statements which are indeterminate in truth-value (i.e. neither true nor false) as a result of vagueness (as opposed e.g. to reference-failure), the singular terms of which do not have their references fixed by vague descriptive means1. (If this is not what is meant by the thesis that there can be vague objects, it is not clear what is meant by it.)
- The possibility of vague objects should not be taken, in itself, to imply the more radical thesis that the identity relation can be one of degree. One can hold that the concept of degrees of identity is absurd (how can one thing be more or less identical to another?) and that indeterminacy in identity is possible; hence, any incoherence in the idea of degrees of identity does not thereby undermine the idea of indeterminate identity2.
Philosopher’s Index Abstract
- Gareth Evans attempted to prove, by reductio, that vague objects are impossible ("Evans (Gareth) - Can There Be Vague Objects?", Analysis 38.4, October 1978).
- Evans's argument evidently requires supplementation since, as it stands, it appears to prove the impossibility of any indeterminate identity3 statement and to embody a familiar scope fallacy.
- A plausible interpretation - or reinterpretation - of Evans's argument, under which the argument is neither fallacious nor has an obviously false conclusion, is the following. Evans is concerned, not with the question of whether there can be vague identity4 statements, but with the question of whether there can be vague objects, i.e. vague identity5 statements the singular terms of which do not have their references fixed by vague descriptive means.
- Evans's proof - on this interpretation - purports to demonstrate that it cannot be indeterminate whether a is b if neither 'a' nor 'b' have their references fixed by vague descriptive means.
- It seems uncontentious that there can be vague identity statements the vagueness of which is a consequence of the vagueness of their component singular terms - e.g. 'the greatest ruler was the wisest ruler' (Wiggins, p. 174)
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