LIRa session: Paul Egré

Speaker: Paul Egré (École Normale Supérieure)

Date and Time: Thursday, May 19th 2022, 16:30-18:00, Amsterdam time.

Venue: online. Click here for the recording.

Title: On the optimality of vagueness

Abstract. What is the function of vagueness in language? Vagueness is often viewed as a deficiency, but it has also been recognized as a mechanism of prudence and error minimization (Channell 1994, Krifka 2007, van Deemter 2009). The leading hypothesis in this paper is that in contexts in which a cooperative speaker is not perfectly informed about the world, the use of vague expressions can offer an optimal tradeoff between truthfulness (Gricean Quality) and informativeness (Gricean Quantity). Focusing on expressions of approximation such as “around”, which are semantically vague, it is shown 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”). The paper presents and develops a probabilistic account of the meaning of “around” to substantiate this hypothesis, in the wake of recent work done in the field of Bayesian pragmatics (Lassiter and Goodman 2017, Goodman and Stuhlmüller 2013). I will discuss some philosophical implications of the account, in particular to revisit a debate between C. Wright and T. Williamson regarding the epistemic conception of approximation expressions such as “around” and of vague expressions more broadly (Wright 1995).

Joint work with Benjamin Spector, Adele Mortier, Steven Verheyen.

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