Tenenbaum and Raffman (2012) claim that “most of our projects and ends are vague.” (p.99) But I’m not convinced that any plausibly are. On my own blog, I recently discussed the self-torturer case, and how our interest in avoiding pain is not vague but merely graded. I think similar things can be said of other putative “vague” projects.
T&R’s central example of a vague project is writing a book:
Suppose you are writing a book. The success of your project is vague along many dimensions. What counts as a sufficiently good book is vague, what counts as an acceptable length of time to complete it is vague, and so on. (p.99)
But it strikes me as strange for one’s goal to be to reach some vague level of sufficiency. When I imagine writing a book, my preferences here are graded: each incremental improvement in quality is pro tanto desirable; each reduction in time spent is also pro tanto desirable. These two goals seem like they should be able to be traded off against each other — perhaps precisely, or (if they are not perfectly commensurable goods) then perhaps not, but this sort of rough incomparability between two goods is (I take it) not the same as either good itself being vague.
I could imagine a cynical person who really doesn’t care to improve the quality of their book above a sufficient level. Perhaps they just want it to be of sufficient quality to earn a promotion, or some other positive social appraisal. But these desired consequences are even more clearly not vague.
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