If It's Clear, Then It's Clear That It's Clear, or is It? Higher-Order Vagueness and the S4 Axiom

In B. Morison K. Ierodiakonou (ed.), Episteme, etc.: Essays in honour of Jonathan Barnes. OUP UK (2012)
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The purpose of this paper is to challenge some widespread assumptions about the role of the modal axiom 4 in a theory of vagueness. In the context of vagueness, axiom 4 usually appears as the principle ‘If it is clear (determinate, definite) that A, then it is clear (determinate, definite) that it is clear (determinate, definite) that A’, or, more formally, CA → CCA. We show how in the debate over axiom 4 two different notions of clarity are in play (Williamson-style "luminosity" or self-revealing clarity and concealeable clarity) and what their respective functions are in accounts of higher-order vagueness. On this basis, we argue first that, contrary to common opinion, higher-order vagueness and S4 are perfectly compatible. This is in response to claims like that by Williamson that, if vagueness is defined with the help of a clarity operator that obeys axiom 4, higher-order vagueness disappears. Second, we argue that, contrary to common opinion, (i) bivalence-preservers (e.g. epistemicists) can without contradiction condone axiom 4 (by adopting what elsewhere we call columnar higher-order vagueness), and (ii) bivalence-discarders (e.g. open-texture theorists, supervaluationists) can without contradiction reject axiom 4. Third, we rebut a number of arguments that have been produced by opponents of axiom 4, in particular those by Williamson. (The paper is pitched towards graduate students with basic knowledge of modal logic.)

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Susanne Bobzien
Oxford University


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