It’s become hip to scoff at ideological labels. You’ll sometimes hear the ultra-woke deny all ‘isms’. I agree with the spirit. “Think for yourself!” “Why put yourself in a box?” “Attachment to labels is tribalism!” These are all fine points.
Except for the fact that there are really only two ways to avoid ideological labels:
Have no positions; or
Refuse to name your positions.
(1) isn’t as bad as it seems. You probably should withhold opinion on matters into which you have not put significant analysis or research. (This is assuming you want to hold your opinions because you’re justified in thinking them to be more likely correct than alternatives, and not simply for sport.) But (1) is not the reason for the anti-label imperative. The same people who tell you to avoid labels will also tell you to think through the issues and come up with your own answer. So they would not agree with (1).
(I hope it’s obvious by now that I have no concrete examples of who these ‘people’ are who supposedly argue against labels. I hope you know who I’m talking about. If not, alas, this post is not so serious.)
(2) is, of course, silly. Naming things is necessary for reference and communication, activities I highly recommend.
So, what’s up?
I think the problem isn’t with labels in general, but with labels that are insufficiently specific. Unspecific labels have a tendency to conceal the substance of positions. My favorite example of this is ‘capitalism’. As Roderick Long has helpfully noted in a clip short enough that some people might actually watch it, ‘capitalism’ sometimes means ‘free market’; sometimes ‘means of production owned by capitalists instead of workers’; sometimes ‘this economic system we have in the contemporary west’.…
Consider the sentence C: “If this sentence is true, then David Ripley is a purple giraffe”. Suppose the sentence is true. Then the antecedent of the sentence (“this sentence is true”) is true. According to the inference rule modus ponens, if an if-then sentence (such as C) is true and its antecedent is true, then its consequent (“David Ripley is a purple giraffe”) must be true. It follows that if C is true, then David Ripley is a purple giraffe. But this conclusion is C: in other words, by simply supposing how things might turn out if C were true, we have proved that C, in fact, is true. So C is true, and since C’s antecedent is the claim that C is true, its antecedent is true as well. Now we can use modus ponens again to show that C’s consequent must be true. In other words, David Ripley really is a purple giraffe. QED.
This argument is Curry’s paradox. Obviously, the choice of “David Ripley is a purple giraffe” is arbitrary; a sentence of the form of “If this sentence is true, then X” can be used to prove any claim X. Now, in actual fact, David Ripley is not a purple giraffe, but a philosopher of language and logic. According to Ripley, solutions to paradoxes like Curry’s (as well as the Liar and the Sorites) fall into two broad categories: those that solve the paradoxes by messing with the meanings of important concepts (such as the meaning of “if-then”, truth, “not”, etc.) and those that solve them by changing the structural rules of inference by appeal to substructural logics.…
A quick announcement, since I apparently do think that the tree makes a sound.
I’ve been hosting Who Shaves the Barber? as a weekly podcast for nearly a year now (I just released Episode 50 today). It’s been a lovely and fruitful experiment. Alas, you can only do a weekly in-depth podcast for so long while still having a full-time job and attacking other ambitious projects. So I’m officially calling the end of the weekly release. I’m still releasing episodes, but not on any regular schedule.
There are two episodes I expect to release in August that I’m super excited about. One is with David Ripley about Curry’s paradox. I’ve wanted to do a primer on Curry since the inception of the podcast, but it has always seemed daunting since it is something of a technical paradox (though fairly broad and fundamental issues lie at its heart). So I’m super stoked to talk to Dave Ripley himself about it.
The other is with a good friend of mine, Kazi Reza. This will be unlike any other interview in that I don’t expect it to focus on any one topic. Rather, I’ll be trying out how a casual, mostly undirected philosophical conversation works as a Barber episode. This may be excellent, it may not work at all – we’ll find out shortly. I also hope during that interview to talk about some of the new projects that have me stepping away from the podcast.