Journal of Philosophical Logic

, Volume 42, Issue 1, pp 25–48 | Cite as

Higher-Order Sorites Paradox

  • Elia Zardini


The naive theory of vagueness holds that the vagueness of an expression consists in its failure to draw a sharp boundary between positive and negative cases. The naive theory is contrasted with the nowadays dominant approach to vagueness, holding that the vagueness of an expression consists in its presenting borderline cases of application. The two approaches are briefly compared in their respective explanations of a paramount phenomenon of vagueness: our ignorance of any sharp boundary between positive and negative cases. These explanations clearly do not provide any ground for choosing the dominant approach against the naive theory. The decisive advantage of the former over the latter is rather supposed to consist in its immunity to any form of sorites paradox. But another paramount phenomenon of vagueness is higher-order vagueness: the expressions (such as ‘borderline’ and ‘definitely’) introduced in order to express in the object language the vagueness of the object language are themselves vague. Two highly plausible claims about higher-order vagueness are articulated and defended: the existence of “definitely ω ” positive and negative cases and the “radical” character of higher-order vagueness itself. Using very weak logical principles concerning vague expressions and the ‘definitely’-operator, it is then shown that, in the presence of higher-order vagueness as just described, the dominant approach is subject to higher-order sorites paradoxes analogous to the original ones besetting the naive theory, and therefore that, against the communis opinio, it does not fare substantially better with respect to immunity to any form of sorites paradox.


Borderline cases Higher-order vagueness Ignorance Sorites paradox Tolerance 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Instituto de Investigaciones FilosóficasUniversidad Nacional Autónoma de MéxicoMexico CityMexico
  2. 2.Northern Institute of Philosophy, Department of Philosophy, School of Divinity, History and PhilosophyUniversity of AberdeenAberdeenUK

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