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Vague Desire: the Sorites and the Money Pump

ERI Building - Room 149 (1st Floor)
Monday 27 January 2014 (16:15-18:00)

Dr Darragh Byrne (email:

Philosophy Society 2013-2014

David Etlin (LMU Munich, DE)

Vague Desire: the Sorites and the Money Pump


The similarity between the sorites paradox of vagueness and the money pump of decision theory has been noted by Dummett (in "Wang's Paradox"), but the connection has not been widely recognized or developed. We argue that on one plausible philosophical theory of linguistic meaning, the Gricean intention based account (as developed in Schiffer's "Meaning"), the paradox of vagueness turn out to be a puzzle about intransitive preferences. Given this, one can solve the sorites paradox by diagnosing the appealing but mistaken principle connecting preference and choice leading to the money pump. We argue for a resolution of the money pump having consequences not only for diachronic principles of rational choice, but also the standard synchronic principle of rationalizable actions. Our approach to vagueness helps overcome worries about the arbitrariness of rejecting instances of the sorites step, and also supports a treatment of vague expressions that don't immediately lend themselves to soritical reasoning.

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