Forced‐March Sorites Arguments and Linguistic Competence

Dialectica 67 (4):403-426 (2013)
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Agent relativists about vagueness (henceforth ‘agent relativists’) hold that whether or not an object x falls in the extension of a vague predicate ‘P’ at a time t depends on the judgemental dispositions of a particular competent agent at t. My aim in this paper is to critically examine arguments that purport to support agent relativism by appealing to data from forced-march Sorites experiments. The most simple and direct versions of such forced-march Sorites arguments rest on the following (implicit) premise: If competent speakers' judgements vary in a certain way, then the extensions of ‘P’ as used by these speakers must vary in the same way. This premise is in need of independent support, since otherwise opponents of agent relativism can simply reject it. In this paper, I focus on the idea that one cannot plausibly reject this premise, as that would commit one to implausible claims about linguistic competence. Against this, I argue that one can accommodate the data from forced-march Sorites experiments in a way that is compatible with a plausible picture of linguistic competence, without going agent relativist. Thus, there is reason to be sceptical of the idea that such data paired with considerations about linguistic competence can be invoked in order to lend any solid support to agent relativism. Forced-march Sorites arguments of this kind can, and should be, resisted
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