LPS graduate student Cailin O'Connor's article "The Evolution of  Vagueness" was recently accepted for publication in the prestigious philosophy journal Erkenntnis. O'Connor's paper uses methods from evolutionary game theory to study how vague terms such as "hot," "large" or "bald" may evolve.  Ubiquitous in natural language, vague terms are words or expressions that do not have clearly defined boundaries--for instance, there is no precise temperature at which "warm" becomes "hot." Some have argued that vagueness presents a puzzle, since there is a sense in which vague terms are less effective at communicating information than precise ones. O'Connor's paper shows, however, that vagueness is a necessary by-product of a strategy for learning about the world that people use in a wide variety of circumstances. The fact that this strategy allows one to learn quickly and effectively, then, may explain why vagueness is so common. The paper will appear in a special issue of the journal devoted to "Games and Communication."

 

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