"Labels are a necessity in the organization of knowledge, but they also constrain our understanding."

I'm interested in what the word labels implies.

According to the definition in the Cambridge Dictionary, it means: a word or a phrase that is used to describe the characteristics or qualities of people, activities, or things, often in a way that is unfair.

In light of that, does it strictly refer to describing characteristics in an unfair fashion or does it simply refer to the use of adequate terminology, which can be unfair in some respect.

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    The addendum about unfairness is not a defining characteristic, but rather a frequent accompaniment of the modern use of label, which is originally just a description of a strip of cloth worn for identification, and is still extant as a heraldic term referring to a specific charge which traditionally indicates 'child of' the holder of the arms. Commented Sep 30, 2020 at 17:48

2 Answers 2


It means nomenclature in this context, but the author seems to be interested in a slightly broader context. Without further reading it is unclear if they mean unfair.

However "constrain our understanding" is often a way to describe the way in which categorization often fails to capture what in most fields is actually a spectrum or graduated scale.

e.g. "hot" is a label but it is dependent entirely on context and the threshold can seem arbitrary. Compare "Hot soup" and "hot Jupiter."

  • And a cold hot dog. Commented Sep 30, 2020 at 17:58

Labels in this context serve to identify, codify and organize knowledge.

Thus, for example, we have social class labelling in Britain:

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Such labelling is a form of stereotyping. Stereotyping, which is usually a coarse simplification of the continuum of reality, may often appear to be unfair.

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