Russell on Metaphysical Vagueness


  • Mark Colyvan University of Tasmania



Recently a fascinating debate has been rekindled over whether vagueness is metaphysical or linguistic. That is, is vagueness an objective feature of reality or is it merely an artifact of our language? Bertrand Russell's contribution to this debate is considered by many to be decisive. Russell suggested that it is a mistake to conclude that the world is vague simply because the language we use to describe it is vague. He argued that to draw such an inference is to commit "the fallacy of verbalism". I argue that this is only a fallacy if we have no reason to believe that the world is as our language says. Since vagueness is apparently not eliminable from our language—a fact that Russell himself acknowledged—an indispensability argument can be launched for metaphysical vagueness. In this paper I outliine such an argument.

Author Biography

Mark Colyvan, University of Tasmania

Professor of Philosophy, Director, Sydney Centre for the Foundations of Science, Department of Philosophy, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia.