chapter  10
25 Pages

Metaphysical Indeterminacy

Fred’s hair is getting thin, very thin. Is he bald? Suppose it’s hard to say; neither a defi nite yes nor a defi nite no answer seems right. This is a common phenomenon. Frida has grown several inches. Is she tall? Ed has lost quite a bit of weight. Is he thin? In such cases, it can seem as if there is no defi nitely correct answer. Many theorists hold that this is because, in such cases, there often is no defi nitely correct answer. Sentences like ‘Fred is bald,’ ‘Frida is tall,’ and ‘Ed is thin’—all perfectly grammatical, all such as to express a proposition, say that something is the case-are sometimes indeterminate , neither defi nitely true nor defi nitely false. On one standard approach, the so-called linguistic theory of indeterminacy, such indeterminacy is always explainable by the presence of vague language in indeterminate sentences, where a bit of language is said to be vague if it admits of borderline cases, actual or possible cases in which, for at least one object, the linguistic conventions governing the bit of language leave unsettled whether it applies to that object. In Fred’s case, supposing ‘Fred is bald’ indeterminate, the culprit is ‘bald,’ a paradigmatically vague piece of language: because the linguistic conventions governing it leave unsettled whether it applies to someone in Fred’s condition, ‘Fred is bald’ is neither defi nitely true nor defi nitely false. According to the linguistic theory of indeterminacy, this pattern of explanation generalizes: pick any well-formed, meaningful sentence lacking defi nite truth value, and such will be the explanation why it lacks defi nite truth value.