Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


Comments on Helen Daly's "Sex, Vagueness, and the Olympics"


Philosophy Department


College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Date Range



Social and Behavioral Sciences


Helen Daly discusses a central piece of new evidence in the International Olympic Committees (IOCs) 2012 ruling regarding eligibility for competition in womens events, and public responses to it. Our traditional sex categories, male and female, are vague, yet international athletic competitions require that each person compete as a man or a woman. The IOC needed to clarify who may compete as a woman. But saying who is a woman, even for a limited purpose, is contentious. Surprisingly, the ensuing debate over the IOCs ruling rests on a shared assumption: criteria for the sex-categorization of athletes are not fixed by physical and semantic facts; they are chosen. Daly argues that this shared assumption is further evidence for Soames account of vague word use, and it illustrates the impossibility of some crucial moral reasoning for epistemic theories of vagueness. I agree with Daly's assessment that the epistemicism's usage of sex categories covers over the normative implications of the categories themselves. I argue that part of the harm, however, is not merely in this covering over; the harm is also about the naturalization of sex with the reduction of it to the biological (i.e., one's sex is something that is, or can be, written on the body). In addition, I evaluate whether a third category, "intersexed", is a useful means of challenging the heteronormative binary (male-female). I argue that merely presenting a tertiary category does not, in itself, disrupt the binary. Rather, a third category may even play into, reinforce, and perpetuate it..

Conference Name

Central Division Meeting

Conference Location

Chicago, IL.

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