Michael Bérubé has a characteristically witty post about Bill Belichick’s maleficence. I appreciate Bérubé’s analysis, and have greatly praised him in the past. Unfortunately, Bérubé is a professor of literature, and we know that nothing good can come of that. In particular, while he quotes Wittgenstein to great effect, he seems unaware of a few developments in philosophy that have happened since the days when “ordinary language” philosophers were kings. Ordinary language philosophers are a curious subspecies of professor that lived in middle of the last century. They were quite fond of abruptly declaring your ideas to be nonsense. We now return the favor, by attributing absurd opinions to unspecified ordinary language philosophers.
In particular, progress has given us new theories of vagueness. I’ll just consider one, since I’d need a lot of scotch to cover the whole field.† Epistemicism is the view that when we have a vague predicate, such as “is tall,” “is a heap,” or “is the 12th NY Giants player on the field,” then there is a precise cutoff in any sequence of cases delineating the cases in which the predicate is true from those in which it is false. If you have one grain of sand, it’s not a heap. Nor is two. But at some point, perhaps 14916, you add one more grain and suddenly you get a heap. For extra fun, there is no way to determine where that line falls. Take some case where the player is out of bounds and move one atom. If you are lucky, you will have thereby caused him to be inbounds.
There are two reasons why epistemicism is popular. First, its main proponent is a brilliant man. Disclosure: I’ve read half of this book and it is a delight. I haven’t read any of the relevant one. I am speaking in my official capacity as a philosophy grad student not interested in the subject. Second, no philosopher has come up with a single good theory of anything since the predicate calculus was invented. Relatively speaking, epistemicism looks quite good (try someone more charitable than me: Bryan Frances).
The upshot? Wittgenstein was wrong and the rules of football are correct in every detail.
† Only beer tonight, thank you. I’ll only need scotch after I finish this monstrous post.