A category mistake, or category error, is a semantic or ontological error in which “things of one kind are presented as if they belonged to another”, or, alternatively, a property is ascribed to a thing that could not possibly have that property. All (propositional) mistakes involve some sort of misascription of properties, so in a sense any mistake is a “category mistake”: putting a thing into a class to which it does not belong. But a “category mistake” in colloquial philosophical usage seems to be the most severe form of misascription, involving the endorsement of what is in fact logically impossible. Thus the mistaken claim that “Most Americans are atheists” is not a category mistake, since it is merely contingently true that most Americans are theists. On the other hand, “Most bananas are atheists” is a category mistake. To show that a category mistake has been committed one must typically show that once the phenomenon in question is properly understood, it becomes clear that the claim being made about it could not possibly be true.
I bring this subject up because Bill Moyers makes a major category error:
Obama seems obsessed with wanting to lead the country in what he sees as a post-partisan era while his opponents are so partisan they have only one goal in mind—to destroy him even if they have to burn down the house to do it. Well, you may want with all your heart to save your marriage but if your philandering, uncaring, unredeemable, and narcissistic partner is determined at all costs to break up the marriage, the sooner you decide not to play the fool, the better.
But there’s something else at work here. Obama’s base keeps criticizing him because he’s not liberal or progressive enough. But back in 2008 I told the young African Americans on my staff that he was going to break their hearts. They didn’t believe me and wanted to know why. Because he wants the conservatives to like him too much, I said, and I gave them some articles about how Obama, when he was editor of The Harvard Law Review, was more intent on appealing to his conservative counterparts than on making his own arguments. Do you know that several of those young people have come back to me in the last year to say I was right—he has broken their hearts. Remember, after the election in 2008, when Obama went to Washington before the inauguration, at his own initiative he went to dinner with a collection of conservative pundits. Not one of them supports him today, but he seems still to want to “save the marriage.”
I’ll tell you, I think he is quite comfortable leading the Republican wing of the Democratic Party.
In that last sentence Bill almost gets it. Let me fix it for him:
I’ll tell you, I think he
iswould be quite comfortable leading the Republican wing of the DemocraticParty.
Don’t believe me?
That Reagan’s message found such a receptive audience spoke not only to his skills as a communicator; it also spoke to the failures of liberal government, during a period of economic stagnation, to give middle-class voters any sense that it was fighting for them. For the fact was that government at every level had become too cavalier about spending taxpayer money. Too often, bureaucracies were oblivious to the cost of their mandates. A lot of liberal rhetoric did seem to value rights and entitlements over duties and responsibilities. - The Audacity of Hope
OBAMA: Well, I think there are a whole host of areas where Republicans in some cases may have a better idea.
WALLACE: Such as.
OBAMA: Well, on issues of regulation, I think that back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, a lot of the way we regulated industry was top down command and control. We’re going to tell businesses exactly how to do things.
And I think that the Republican party and people who thought about the margins came with the notion that you know what, if you simply set some guidelines, some rules and incentives for businesses, let them figure out how they’re going to for example reduce pollution. And a cap and trade system, for example, is a smarter way of doing it, controlling pollution, than dictating every single rule that a company has to abide by, which creates a lot of bureaucracy and red tape and oftentimes is less efficient.
I think that on issues of education, I have been very clear about the fact, and sometimes I have gotten in trouble with the teachers union on this, that we should be experimenting with charter schools. (Fox News Sunday 4/27/08)
Does that sound like a progressive Democrat talking?
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