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Sorites Paradox

The sorites paradox is the name given to a class of paradoxical arguments, also known as little-by-little arguments, which arise as a result of the indeterminacy surrounding limits of application of the predicates involved. For example, the concept of a heap appears to lack sharp boundaries and, as a consequence of the subsequent indeterminacy surrounding the extension of the predicate ‘is a heap’, no one grain of wheat can be identified as making the difference between being a heap and not being a heap. Given then that one grain of wheat does not make a heap, it would seem to follow that two do not, thus three do not, and so on. In the end it would appear that no amount of wheat can make a heap. We are faced with paradox since from apparently true premises by seemingly uncontroversial reasoning we arrive at an apparently false conclusion.

This phenomenon at the heart of the paradox is now recognised as the phenomenon of vagueness (see the entry onvagueness). Though initially identified with the indeterminacy surrounding limits of application of a predicate along some dimension, vagueness can be seen to be a feature of syntactic categories other than predicates. Names, adjectives, adverbs and so on are all susceptible to paradoxical sorites reasoning in a derivative sense.

Sorites arguments of the paradoxical form are to be distinguished from multi-premise syllogisms (polysyllogisms) which are sometimes also referred to as sorites arguments. Whilst both polysyllogisms and sorites paradoxes are chain-arguments, the former need not be paradoxical in nature and the latter need not be syllogistic in form.

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