Fara On Vagueness

"Fara’s theory, which she presented in a 2000 paper called “Shifting Sands,” had an answer. She argued that vagueness was an expression of our ever-changing purposes: that there is a precise point at which a heap becomes a nonheap, but it “shifts around” as our objectives do. In fact, because the act of considering two comparable heaps accentuates their similarity, “the boundary can never be where we are looking.” No wonder we think it doesn’t exist.

Imagine that a gym teacher has hastily divided a large class of students into two groups according to height. If you enter the gym, you will have no trouble declaring one group the tall students and the other the short ones. But had you been presented with the undivided class and asked to say where the tallness boundary was, you would have despaired of an answer. Tallness is not just a matter of height, Fara concluded. As with all such properties, what gets to be tall is also shaped by our interests at a given moment."

"The problem of vagueness is considered by many, both from a technical perspective in logic and a broader philosophical perspective, to be the hardest area of analytic philosophy. Here too, Fara’s contributions match those of anyone in the field. Her paper “Shifting Sands: An Interest Relative Theory of Vagueness”, is one of the most cited papers in analytic philosophy in the 21st century. In it, she argues that the problem of vagueness runs so deep as to force us to reconsider the nature of the reality we discuss. To solve it, she argues, we must accept that the properties and objects that we refer to are themselves constituted in part by human interests. According to her, no solution less radical than this is adequate to the challenge vagueness poses. Her work on vagueness was deeply impactful across many fields of philosophy, from philosophical logic to epistemology, where her “interest-relative metaphysics” was pivotal in the systematic development of a novel view about the nature of knowledge."