9.261 vagueness

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Mon, 30 Oct 1995 21:38:52 -0500 (EST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 261.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)

[1] From: Willard McCarty <mccarty@epas.utoronto.ca> (21)
Subject: Vagueness

Humanists who have been working, as I have in recent years, with -- or is it
against? -- the supposed precision of computing will be interested in a
review in a recent <t>Times Literary Supplement</t> (4829, for 20 October):
Dominic Hyde, "Where to draw the line", rev. of Timothy Williamson,
<t>Vagueness</t> (Routledge). Not being a philosopher, I did not realize
that, as the reviewer says, "In the past three decades, the problem of
vagueness has emerged from relative obscurity to become one of the bugbears
of modern analytic philosophy." By vagueness is meant "the apparent lack of
sharp boundaries in our use of natural language" -- boundaries which are not
only not sharp but can be a most unsettling instrument in the hands of a
skilled poet. I keep noticing that by forcing us to draw the line, e.g. in
our use of textual markup, computational thinking does us the greatest
service. It seems to me that the point is not just that certain problems
cannot be rigorously computed, rather that this "vagueness" is illuminated
by rigid precision of the machine.

I would be glad for any recommendations for further reading, for argument
along these lines, or against them. Where can one go from here?


Willard McCarty, Centre for Computing in the Humanities
Departments of Classical Studies and Italian Studies (Toronto)
(416) 978-3974 voice (416) 978-6519 fax mccarty@epas.utoronto.ca