Vagueness and ambiguity are defined by being indefinable; nothing is definitely for certain and there is neither a designated beginning nor end. People can be vague because their own knowledge is limited or because they don’t want to reveal too much to others. Aristotle’s contemporary, Eubulides described it best with the Sorites Paradox. “How many grains of sand make up a heap, and is one less grain, not a heap?” Vagueness and ambiguity has stood the test of time and is still alive with us today. In Hanunoo, “black”, “white,” “red”, and “green” are the only four color terms. And in Japanese, awo can mean “blue,” “green”, or “pale.”
Even Statistics welcomes vagueness into a math based on its precision. When comparing a sample to the population, the term statistically significant has to be used. Statistically significant simply means that based on the sample size and results compared to the population; there is sufficient evidence to conclude that something probably did have an affect on the population. It is intentionally vague because Statistics lacks 100% confidence in everything. Besides in Statistics, vagueness has a home in Literature class. Shakespeare constantly toyed with two characters carrying on a conversation, just vague enough, that both characters are talking about a different topic.
Vague statements are necessary to all languages but it is important to recognize them for what they are. If the speed limit is 65 because that’s safer than 66, shouldn’t the real speed limit be 64, or 63, or 62…all the way to zero? Most of the time ambiguity is inappropriate. The purpose of language is to obtain knowledge, but that is impossible if everything said is vague or ambiguous. In fact, vagueness even disagrees with basic Aristotelian logic. Ambiguity and vagueness have to fit in with Fuzzy Logic, because it can be defined in a truth table. It contains too many “what ifs” to ever be restricted by a simple truth table.
Sometimes ambiguous statements can be beneficial. Vague statements that appear to have important content often make the speaker seem wise. In fact, all politicians rely on these ambiguous statements in order to make themselves appear good, while not really providing any real specifics for their opponents to argue with. This way, politicians are not lying (the one and only way). Vagueness spurs a conversation of clarification. In which case, the point will definitely be put across.
Vagueness and ambiguity need to be avoided whenever something specific is in need. In all other cases, ambiguous statements are welcomed and often encouraged. These statements often keep a conversation alive. I just wish I would have specified with the waitress, she ended up giving me too much cream.