I almost totally agree here. The implementations are often provocative rather than rational. It's an emotionally charged subject and yeah, the formalization and thorough understanding of the problems it addresses leaves a lot to be desired. Yet some of the ideas are right, and just discarding the commentary makes the problem seem worse to anyone introduces to those ideas encountering your average 'bunch of intellectual-seeming guys' style forum.
I wouldn't say just feminists have generally "no reasoning" about the problems involved -- that strikes me as a little wide of a generalization. Thanks a lot for the well-referenced post.
comment by HughRistik
· score: 4 (4 votes) · LW
The implementations are often provocative rather than rational.
And there's nothing wrong with a good polemic... as long as a rational version can be found somewhere.
Yet some of the ideas are right, and just discarding the commentary makes the problem seem worse to anyone introduces to those ideas encountering your average 'bunch of intellectual-seeming guys' style forum.
I agree that claims shouldn't be blanketly dismissed even if they come from a questionable source.
I wouldn't say just feminists have generally "no reasoning" about the problems involved -- that strikes me as a little wide of a generalization.
I wouldn't either, and I think I put it a bit differently. I said that "feminists don't have rigorous reasoning (or often, any reasoning) behind feminist theory." To put this a bit more rigorously, I wouldn't say either that feminism completely lacks rigorous reasoning. Some feminists, or feminist arguments, engage in rigorous reasoning (I discuss an example here).
Feminists can reason somewhat rigorously inside the world of feminist concepts. Yet those concepts invoked in nearly all feminist writing—such as "oppression," "male privilege", "male dominance", "patriarchy", and even "feminism" are non-rigorous.
Now, just because a concept is non-rigorous doesn't mean that it isn't valuable, or that it doesn't relate to some truth. To make intellectual progress, it is necessary to sometimes discuss concepts without fully defining them, or define them in the process of discussing them (for instance, we have been defining "rationality" on this blog while discussing it). Yet when we select a concept as important during informal and vague discussion, then it becomes necessary to start pinning down what it means in a more rigorous manner, especially when it is of political significance.
The lack of rigor in feminist concepts is a problem, but it isn't a damning problem. The measure of their worth really lies in what happens when we do try to formalize them (and by "formalizing," I am not talking about something extreme, but rather basic rigor like defining what terms mean).
I argue that when we do try to make sense of feminist concepts, they either collapse, they contradict observable evidence or fail to explain past events (for instance, could you predict or explain the "women and children first" phenomena demonstrated on the HMS Birkenhead), where the men sacrificed themselves by giving all the space on the lifeboats to the women, using feminist theories of oppression, male, privilege, and patriarchy?), or they contradict other aspects of feminist theory (for instance, when a feminist sociologist starts defining "oppression" in a rigorous way, she quickly concludes that men are oppressed also, not just women, a view explicitly denied by academic feminists).
Since the vast majority of feminist writing rests of non-rigorous concepts that collapse or subvert feminism under close scrutiny, the vast majority of feminist writing lacks rigorous reasoning, though rigorous reasoning does exist when we step into the circle of feminist concepts. This is still the case even though particular feminist notions might make sense when viewed at first glance. For instance, when hearing feminists say "women are oppressed," I can think up reasonable definitions for "oppression" that make this statement true (e.g. "unjust systemic disadvantage"), yet on closer examination of the feminist discourse surrounding "oppression", I encounter elements that seem non-intuitive and which contradict the reasonable definition of oppression that I projected onto the feminist concept, such as the claim that men are not oppressed also.
When I take a more cynical view, I start to suspect that the lack of rigor of feminist concepts might be more a "feature" than a "bug." If you don't have to pin down when you are saying, then it's harder to challenge you; you can use a more radical conceptualization when riling compatriots, and then back down to a more moderate formulation when challenged. Prospective allies and open-minded people can project their own views onto those concepts, though they might be in a nasty surprise upon further investigation when they find that feminists don't share their initial intuitions and consider your elaborations of their theories heretical (Wow, the notion of "privilege" really opened my eyes to the unjust advantages men have over women, and it also made me see that women have certain privileges over men, too!... Wait, why is there no such thing as female privilege?). Under this view, it would be incorrect to suppose that feminist concepts have a fixed meaning: they mean whatever they need to mean to justify each other, and the political, moral, and emotional stances of feminists.
comment by whpearson
· score: 1 (1 votes) · LW
Have we fixed the meaning of intelligence, rationality and recursive self-improvement?
I'm not saying that we redefine these words to be whatever we want. But it does make criticizing the beliefs behind SIAI very difficult.