Concept of Vagueness
by Larry M. Jorgensen
The account of vagueness Bertrand Russell provided in his 1923
paper, entitled simply “Vagueness” (see Russell 1997), has
been thought by some to be inconsistent. One main objection, raised by
Timothy Williamson (1994), is that Russell’s attempt early in the paper
to distinguish vagueness from generality is at odds with the definition of
vagueness he presents later in the same paper. It is as if, as Williamson
puts it, Russell “backslides” from his previous distinction (1994, 60),
resulting in a conflation of generality and vagueness that is at best
problematic for a rigorous account of the phenomenon of vagueness.
In this paper, I will defend Russell from this particular objection.
While his 1923 paper may not be as clear at various points as one might
hope, I do believe it is possible to construct a single theory of vagueness
that can be applied equally well to his earlier and later discussions.
Thus, Russell’s view is not ultimately inconsistent. In this paper, I will
first present the interpretation of Russell’s concept of vagueness that
falls prey to the charge of conflating vagueness and generality. Once the
problem is clear, I will present an alternative interpretation, one that
arises from certain reflections on G. W. Leibniz’s theory of perception.
This Leibnizian interpretation of Russell, I will argue, resolves the apparent
contradiction in Russell’s account of vagueness.