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Ambiguity and vagueness in political terminology

Mis à jour : 21 Mai 2018

Ambiguity and vagueness in political terminology: On coding and referential imprecision

Keith Dowding and William Bosworth, European Journal of Political Theory, May 16, 2018. Research Article


Analytic political philosophy tries to make our political language more precise. But in doing so it risks departing from our natural language and intuitions. This article examines this tension. We argue that the ambiguity and vagueness of our political language can be overcome with coding decisions. While vagueness is a deeper philosophical problem than ambiguity, there are important conceptual similarities. Gareth Evans has formally proved that there can be conflicting yet equally valid precisifications of vague terms. We show that this is the case for complex terms in political philosophy, where each precisification captures part of the sense of the complex term. Vagueness can be overcome by eliminating the terms in certain contexts of analysis. Versions of the subscript gambit can be used to resolve both ambiguity and vagueness.