I feel that all three of these terms can have different meanings, but are they all vague as well?

For example, proper education could mean a university education/college education/education in the work force, etc. At the same time, proper education can mean literally anything.

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  • Yes.. they're all garbage phrases. 'Formal education' or 'tertiary education' have concrete meanings. Successful life.. what is that? Not dying? one needs a metric for success. Financial? Happy? Critically acclaimed? If you can't measure it... it doent exist. – Richard Feb 12 at 21:26
  • "Ambiguous" refers to two or more, but few, clearly distinct meanings, as in "bow" the tied ribbon, "bow" the weapon, and "bow" the ship's front. When there is a continuous range of meanings with no sharp boundaries, as in the cases listed, the expression is called "vague". – Conifold Feb 12 at 21:37

As written the terms are vague. A reader can misinterpret the terms as well and from their view the terms could be ambiguous as well. You can prevent the issue by writing more descriptive. This means waiting more details if you actually have more specific information so readers wont misinterpret your message. If the message is vague you need to combat that with more specifics. You would need to avoid cliche, slogans, being to general when you have more details but you dont want to commit to anything you write. Be more assertive and less passive in the writing to avoid vague and ambiguous language.

  • I would think that "proper education" and "successful life" are vague, but would you say that "real life education" is vague or would you say its ambiguous? – Thomas Formal Feb 12 at 21:37
  • I would say it too has the same issue as the other claims. You would need to specifically add details to the sentence to make it clear. Proper education may imply some humans are being educated Falsely as in on purpose. Is that what you mean? – Logikal Feb 12 at 21:39

Roy Sorensen offers the follow description of vagueness:

Vagueness is standardly defined as the possession of borderline cases. For example, ‘tall’ is vague because a man who is 1.8 meters in height is neither clearly tall nor clearly non-tall. No amount of conceptual analysis or empirical investigation can settle whether a 1.8 meter man is tall.

He attempts to distinguish between vagueness and ambiguity:

Words are only vague indirectly, by virtue of having a sense that is vague. In contrast, an ambiguous word bears its ambiguity directly—simply in virtue of having multiple meanings.


This contrast between vagueness and ambiguity is obscured by the fact that most words are both vague and ambiguous.

Even languages can be considered vague and ambiguous:

Every natural language is both vague and ambiguous. However, both features seem eliminable. Indeed, both are eliminated in miniature languages such as checkers notation, computer programming languages, and mathematical descriptions.

Even the word "vague" itself is vague. So one can expect the terms under consideration: "proper education", "real world education" and "successful life" to be both vague and ambiguous. That is, they all possess a sense in which there is no precise borderline allowing one to determine when something has the predicate or not and one can imagine multiple meanings of the terms that would suggest ambiguity.

The OP notes that all three terms can have multiple meanings. This is what would make them ambiguous. The question is whether they are vague.

If there is a borderline case that makes it difficult to determine if that case has or does not have the predicate, then the predicate is vague. For "proper education" consider the case of someone who has finished a junior level at a high school. If they have a proper education they should not need to continue to senior level to get a proper education. For "real world education" consider someone who has one year experience working at a job. Do they need another year of work experience to have real world education? For "successful life" consider someone who feels they are happy and they have $100 worth of savings. Do they need to have more money to have a successful life. Do they need a different sense of happiness for a successful life?

Since "most words are both vague and ambiguous" it should be easy to find both borderline cases and multiple meanings for them.

Sorensen, Roy, "Vagueness", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2018/entries/vagueness/.

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