Vagueness and Voluntarism

Everyone who has taken the vagueness test so far has got the
results Kamp and Raffman predict. I would be very pleased to hear
counterevidence, but I doubt there’s going to be much of that. It would be nice
to have a test of this that didn’t involve phenomenal properties, but I can’t
see how to do it in this framework. If I could even come up with a Sorites
series that went from ‘Cars are vehicles’ to ‘Skateboards are vehicles’ to
‘Sheep are vehicles’ to ‘Chairs are vehicles’ we couldn’t run this test,
because the subjects would remember the cases as they were going back down the
scale. Not that inevitable experimental design flaws have stopped me before!

Nick
Zangwill suggested a nice variation on the vague picture case below. Instead of having a malicious vandal
change the picture, as I was suggesting doing, just imagine a normal painting
that fades. This will eventually not represent anything at all, but it does not
seem there is a first time when it stops being representational. And this in
turn does not seem to be because of vagueness in the word ‘representational’,
though I admit I don’t have much of an argument for that last claim, and indeed
am prepared to believe it if I don’t have any other choices.

Some
would bridle at this talk of being prepared to believe things. It sounds like I
can just choose what I believe. Well, contrary to what you might have heard, it
is possible to choose what you believe at least some of the time. The other
day, for instance, I decided to believe that voluntarism about belief is true.
I was worried that this was irrational, but it can hardly be irrational to have
self-verifying beliefs.

There
is a more serious argument for this kind of voluntarism. Sometimes I slip into
believing that p on the basis of manifestly insufficient evidence. For
example, I was tricked into believing that the departing Clintonistas really
did steal all the W keys off White House keyboards. (I actually thought this
was mildly amusing in the circumstances.) As we all know, this didn’t happen,
and I would have been better served to have not believed it. More often, when I
hear stories like this about the greatest president since Truman, I am tempted
to believe them, especially if they are in the New York Times, but I have a
technique for guarding against such belief. I decide to believe that I don’t
have sufficient evidence to believe the anti-Clinton story. It really isn’t too
hard to make such decisions; the practice of becoming a skeptic, in the good
sense of that term, involves remembering to make this decision, not implementing
it, which is really very easy.