On the Instrumental Value of Vagueness in the Law
Hrafn Asgeirsson (University of Southern California, Monash University)

September 26, 2012, 3:15pm - 4:15pm
Philosophy & Bioethics Departments, Monash University

Philosophy Department Library (Room 916, Bldg. 11, Menzies West)
55 Wellington Rd
Clayton 3800


University of Alabama, Birmingham

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ABSTRACT: It is natural to think that law ought not to be vague. After all, law is supposed to guide conduct and vague law seems poorly suited to do that. Contrary to this common impression, however, a number of authors have argued that vagueness in the law is sometimes a good thing, because it is – in one way or another – a means to achieving certain valuable legislative ends. In this paper, I argue that many authors – including Timothy Endicott and Jeremy Waldron – wrongly associate vagueness with instrumental roles that are really played by a closely related semantic phenomenon – what I call incommensurate multidimensionality. Incommensurate multidimensionality entails vagueness, so it is perhaps unsurprising that the former is sometimes mistaken for the latter. Such a mistake, however, has significant consequences when it comes to the proper attribution of instrumental value, because value only “transmits” from ends to means, but not to necessary consequences of those means.

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