Congratulations to Diana Raffman, who has been awarded the 2015 APA Sanders Book Prize for her book Unruly Words: A Study of Vague Language. Raffman is Professor and Chair of Philosophy at the University of Toronto.
Raffman advances a new theory on vagueness drawn from a previously unpublished study of ordinary language use. She contends that virtually all previous treatments of vagueness have made two crucial mistakes: they have supposed that a semantic (non-epistemic) theory must abandon bivalence, and they have paid insufficient attention to the character of ordinary speech using vague words. She develops a new theory of vagueness-the multiple range theory-that corrects both of these errors. The new theory begins with the observation that ordinary speakers seem to apply vague words in multiple arbitrarily different but equally competent ways, even when all contextual factors are held fixed. Raffman interprets this feature of their use as evidence of multiple ranges of application in the semantics of vague words, where a range of application is a range of properties whose instances satisfy the word in question; for example, a range of application of “tall” is a range of heights, a range of “old” a range of ages, and so forth. The fundamental idea is that a vague word has multiple ranges of application, and applies to things relative to those ranges, even given a single fixed context. The fact that the ranges of a vague word are arbitrarily different-there is no reason to favor any particular one-is key to solving the notorious sorites paradox.
The prize will be awarded at the Eastern Division meeting of the APA in January 2016.