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Chapter 10 - Vagueness and Ambiguity

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University of Ottawa
Iva Apostolova

PHI 1101 – Chapter 10 Vagueness and Ambiguity Monday, November 25, 2013 Vagueness (p.163) - “Terms are vague to the extent that they have blurry boundaries – are fuzzy at the edges – so there are borderline cases to which they may or may not apply.” o Example: how bald does baldy need to be to be bald? - Vagueness: the lack of precise meaning - Vagueness is not always undesirable - Deliberate Vagueness: being intentionally vague is often a strategic rhetorical device o Example: Someone asks you for dinner Saturday night. If you don’t want to offend them, you tell them you’re busy instead. In this case, ‘being busy’ is vague enough to include dinner at the Mayor’s house or a night of TV watching - Unintentional Vagueness: many times people speak in vague language with clichés and slogans without really saying something deliberate and meaningful. This results in unintentional miscommunication at least. At worst, it corrupts our ability to think clearly… Ambiguity - When two or more precise meanings are conflated and/or confused - Ambiguity is always to be avoided - Types of ambiguity: o Referential: occurs when the referring word of phrase can be interpreted as pointing to more than one thing  This may result in two things: either the other person is confused about which thing we’re referring to, or the other person believes that we’re referring to the wrong thing  Examples: • The keys are always in the last place you look. o The last place there is to look or the last place you in fact looked • Ms. Leigh was reportedly upset upon hearing that Alfred Hitchcock had wanted a much bigger actress for the role she placed in Psycho. o What does “bigger” mean? More fame or chubbier? o Grammatical: occurs when the grammatical structure of sentence allows two or more interpretations and it is not clear from the context which meaning is
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