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Not Exactly: In Praise of Vagueness [Paperback]

Kees van Deemter

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Book Description

May 16 2012
Not everything is black and white. Our daily lives are full of vagueness or fuzziness. Language is the most obvious example - for instance, when we describe someone as tall, it is as though there is a particular height beyond which a person can be considered "tall". Likewise the terms 'blond" or "overweight" in common usage. We often think in discontinuous categories when we are considering something continuous.

In this book, van Deemter cuts across various disciplines in consideringthe nature and importance of vagueness. He looks at the principles of measurement, and how we choose categories; the vagueness lurking behind what seems at first sight crisp concepts such as that of the biological "species"; uncertainties in grammar and the impact of vagueness on the programmes of Chomsky and Montague; vagueness and mathematical logic; computers, vague descriptions, and Natural Language Generation in AI (a new class of programs will allow computers to handle descriptions such as "the man in the yellow shirt").

Van Deemter shows why vagueness is in various circumstances both unavoidable and useful, and how we are increasingly able to handle fuzziness in mathematical logic and computer science.

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Review

Review from previous edition: "Amusing, persuasive. conversational and engaging." --John Gilbey, Times Higher Education Supplement 04/02/2010

"Engaging and approachable book." --John Gilbey, Times Higher Education Supplement 04/02/2010

About the Author

Kees van Deemter is a Reader in Computing Science at the University of Aberdeen. He works in computational linguistics, the area of artificial intelligence where computer science meets linguistics and his main areas of expertise are computational semantics and natural language generation. He has previously authored 90 research publications in philosophical logic, artificial intelligence and computational linguistics.

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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very readable introduction to the literature March 26 2010
By M. Henri De Feraudy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a particularly well written introduction to a certain part of the philosophical literature on vagueness.
The author refutes the idea that vagueness is a fault and presents a certain number of different approaches to the problem
explaining the advantages and disadvantages of each.
You can read this book in bits.
I have training in formal logic, so my view is perhaps a little biased, but all in all I have rarely seen a book by a philosopher in which the author bends over
backwards trying to explain subtle concepts and succeeds like this one.
My only niggle is the chapter on Artificial Intelligence which in my opinion spends just a little too much time (for my liking) introducing the subject before
getting into the approaches to vagueness. I was expecting to see Dempster-Shafer theory discussed and didn't find it.

Not only will you read about vagueness, but you should be better prepared to read works on analytic philosophy, in particular a good crash course on formal logic is given, but I'm not the best judge as to how clear that is, as I know much of that. I'm also glad to see he talks about the work of the great Hans Kamp who does very original and useful work in logic.

This is a fun book on a subject which is disquieting. It might well challenge some of your basic views on reasoning. I have a good friend to whom I read parts of this over the phone, it's that well written.
It's interesting that the author is not just a philosopher by training but also works in a computer science department of a university. This might explain why the book is clear: he has a goal of making software deal with vagueness.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Greater emphasis on how uncertainty is operationally handled would have made it better May 14 2011
By Charles Ashbacher - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Defining intelligence is a hard task; one of the best ones is the ability to reason correctly using uncertain, incomplete and even contradictory inputs. Few things in life are absolute except of course for after the event occurs, so dealing with uncertainty or vagueness is a fact of life. Expressing uncertainty in a manner where formal or automated reasoning can be applied to the data is a hard task; several attempts to do so have applied systems such as fuzzy logic, sometimes with excellent success and at other times the results have been disappointing.
This is a book where I disagree with one of the premises although the level of presentation, which is for the mass audience, is acceptable. In the promotional flyer there is the statement "Explores a basic but often unnoticed aspect of our lives - the vagueness inherent in many of our expressions and concepts." I encounter and have to deal with vagueness on a daily basis, both personally and professionally and I am certainly not unique. Hardly a day goes by when I do not end up adapting to a situation made more difficult due to the inherent vagueness of human expressions.
My other criticisms are based on the length of the book and the continued stating of various scenarios with inherent vagueness. The intelligent reader is already well aware of the reality of uncertainty in the world, simply piling on more and more examples does nothing to reinforce the premise. What would be more interesting is more emphasis on how humans manage to process the uncertainty well enough to function and reduce the error rate to a tolerable level. Doing that is the very foundation of what intelligent behavior really is.

Published in Journal of Recreational Mathematics, reprinted with permission
4.0 out of 5 stars a curious book Dec 30 2013
By Steinman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Have been intrigued by language imprecision, vagueness...fuzzy language. This is a really interesting, scholarly, and not infrequently humorous, treatis on the subject.
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent review. Sept. 29 2013
By Arthur Hixson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This topic is very interesting as it has considerable bearing on aspects of human reasoning. The book covers a number of mathematical approaches to the vague way we reason informally. Van Deemter's exposition is clear and the math is not overly difficult.
1 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting though not always convincing Nov. 25 2010
By Mr. Ian D. Gray - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I enjoyed reading this book, however I found parts of it unconvincing for two reasons. Firstly, at no time is the basis of the sorites paradox questioned i.e. that a heap is defined by the quantity of items in it. If you don't accept that initial premise the 'paradox' doesn't work. From a Wittgensteinian perspective what heaps have in common is simply a family resemblance. Different mounds of things appear to us to have a family rsemblance so we apply the same word to them even though they may differ in substance (bricks vs manure) or size ( a heap of dust vs a heap of ore). Conversely the same number of the same thing may or may not form a heap depending on its structure: 64 bricks neatly stacked into a 4x4x4 cube would not generally be a heap ( a stack maybe), while the same number of bricks scattered over a field would not be considered to be a heap either. Yet the same number of bricks piled up in a totally disorderly way probably would be considered a heap of bricks. What this shows is that the underlying premise of the paradox doesn't coincide with how we actually use the word, so its conclusion is dubious rather than paradoxical. Secondly, the paradox of perfect perception on p.178 doesn't appear to be a genuine paradox at all since its second premise is dubious and conclusion 3 is doubtful as well since if you hear two sounds then C doesn't distinguish between A and B, whereas if you hear 3 sounds then you can already perceive a difference between A and B. This assumes that all three sounds are played simultaneously. If they are played sequentially then you would be comparing a perception with a memory in which case conclusion 4 doesn't logically follow. Having said all that I found the discussion interesting moreso in the first half where a number of practical issues are discussed, some of which (the identity of something over time) are interesting phiosophical issues in themselves.

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