Supervaluationism and the Report of Vague Contents

In Richard Dietz & Sebastiano Moruzzi (eds.), Cuts and Clouds: Vaguenesss, its Nature and its Logic. Oxford University Press (2010)
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Schiffer has given an argument against supervaluationist accounts of vagueness, based on reports of vague contents. Suppose that Al tells Bob ‘Ben was there’, pointing to a certain place, and later Bob says, ‘Al said that Ben was there’, pointing in the same direction. According to supervaluationist semantics, Schiffer contends, both Al’s and Bob’s utterances of ‘there’ indeterminately refer to myriad precise regions of space; Al’s utterance is true just in case Ben was in any of those precisely bounded regions of space, and Bob’s is true just in case Al said of each of them that it is where Ben was. However, while the supervaluationist truth-conditions for Al’s utterance might be satisfied, those for Bob’s cannot; for Al didn’t say, of any of those precisely delimited regions of space, that it is where Ben was. In an earlier version of the material presented here (García-Carpintero 2000) I replied to Schiffer’s argument that supervaluationism has an independently well-motivated defense. The response is essentially based on the point that the occurrence of ‘there’ in Bob’s utterance (and of ‘tall’ in Wright’s argument) occurs in indirect discourse, and supervaluationists may allow that it shifts its referent there. Schiffer’s reply to this response shows that it was not made sufficiently clearly. In this paper I will try to improve on that score. In his more recent reply, Schiffer (2000b, 325) dismisses a proposal like the one I will make, mainly because it “undermines … a leading virtue of supervaluationism … its implication that vagueness is … not a feature of the world.” I will argue that my reply does not undermine the fundamental contentions of the supervaluationist account.
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