Wednesday, December 08, 2004

On Labeling

The Analphilosopher has stolen my thunder once again. I was brewing up a fine rant on labeling, when I saw a moment ago that Dr. Keith has done half of my work for me.

He points out half of what I wanted to say, namely, that it is a mistake to think that there is something wrong with labeling people and positions.

The other half is that is is a mistake to think that one can refute a view by merely slapping a label on it. That's nominalism! (realism! psychologism! quietism! panpsychism! pantheism!. . .). Label we must, if we are to understand the world at all; but the mere act of labeling a person or a position does not and cannot amount to an evaluation of it. Identifying a position as pantheistic, for example, allows said position to be distinguished from its competitors in the theological vicinity; but it cannot count as a refutation of it. That requires the further step from identification to evaluation.

The two mistakes are related in an interesting way. Whereas the first mistake gives too little power to labels, the second gives them too much.