[LINK] Why Talk to Philosophers: Physicist Sean Carroll Discusses "Common Misunderstandings" about Philosophy

post by shminux · 2014-06-23T19:09:54.047Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 59 comments

Why Talk to Philosophers? Part I. by philosopher of science Wayne Myrvold.

See also Sean Carroll's own blog entry, Physicists Should Stop Saying Silly Things about Philosophy

Sean classifies the disparaging comments physicists make about philosophy as follows: "Roughly speaking, physicists tend to have three different kinds of lazy critiques of philosophy: one that is totally dopey, one that is frustratingly annoying, and one that is deeply depressing". Specifically:

He counters each argument presented.


Personally, I am underwhelmed, since he does not address the point of view that philosophy is great at asking interesting questions but lousy at answering them. Typically, an interesting answer to a philosophical question requires first recasting it in a falsifiable form, so that is becomes a natural science question, be it physics, cognitive sciences, AI research or something else. This is locally known as hacking away at the edges. Philosophical questions don't have philosophical answers.

 

59 comments

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comment by Manfred · 2014-06-24T03:30:41.831Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I feel like this is just making the negative case that some physicists are being unfair to some philosophers. I still want to see the positive case that people with the job title of "philosopher" are worth consulting about difficult philosophical issues. I think this case can be made, but with more difficulty and ambiguity.

There are philosophers who are unambiguously making useful contributions, but I worry that there are philosophers who seem good to consult, but merely happen to hold smart-sounding positions on the things you checked by something like chance - it's bound to happen, given the number of philosophers who happen to hold dumb-sounding positions by something like chance.

comment by pragmatist · 2014-06-25T07:31:12.902Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There are philosophers who are unambiguously making useful contributions, but I worry that there are philosophers who seem good to consult, but merely happen to hold smart-sounding positions on the things you checked by something like chance - it's bound to happen, given the number of philosophers who happen to hold dumb-sounding positions by something like chance.

As a philosopher, I must admit that there is some truth to this claim. There is, unfortunately, no established philosophical methodology that is reliably truth-producing. Thus, the competence of the practitioner becomes far more relevant than it is in science. In science, mediocre practitioners may not be relied upon to produce ground-breaking results, but they can at least be relied upon to produce results that are more likely true than not (if they are at least competent enough to follow the conventions of the discipline). This is because a significant amount of the cognitive labor involved in producing truth is codified in the scientific method, which every practitioner can be trained to follow. Philosophy has developed no such innovation.

In so far as there is "philosophical methodology", its advantage is not so much that it helps get at the truth but that it helps explore logical space and clarify the structure of concepts and the relationships between them. So I think it might be worthwhile to consult philosophers in general for this purpose -- not to try and figure out the answer to some philosophical question, but to get a richer sense of the conceptual terrain associated with the question.

If you're going to consult a philosopher in order to get an idea of the correct answer to the question, however, then you need to proceed on the basis of trust in the particular philosopher, not philosophy in general. It might make sense to say, "I'll ask Dennett what he thinks about this because he says reliably insightful things about the mind and cognition", but unfortunately it does not make as much sense to say "I'll ask Dennett what he thinks about this because he's a philosopher working on this sort of question." Not if the purpose is to get an answer and not merely a richer understanding of the question.

comment by yresim · 2016-04-17T05:53:21.741Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is because a significant amount of the cognitive labor involved in producing truth is codified in the scientific method, which every practitioner can be trained to follow. Philosophy has developed no such innovation.

Um... you do realize that PHILOSOPHERS developed the scientific method, right? That was not something scientists just came up with on their own. So, when you say that philosophy has developed no such innovation, you miss two things.

First, philosophy did come up with that exact innovation, for science.

Second, scientists have not come up with any such innovation, for themselves or others.

comment by TheAncientGeek · 2014-06-24T09:06:22.774Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Who better than a philosopher to ask about philosophical questions?

comment by Manfred · 2014-06-24T15:07:21.696Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Suppose we can draw a random person from a profession to answer our question. If you want to know "what is probability?" you'd probably have better luck with statisticians than with philosophers. If you want to know "what is free will?" you should decide to talk to someone who's involved in computer chess. If you want to know "why is the universe the way it is?" the best version of "I don't know, and maybe anthropics" you'll get is from a physicist. If you want to know "what is good in life?" it's better to talk to an experimental psychologist.

Not just because these people have domain knowledge that's relevant to the philosophical question - also because they might actually be better at doing this bit of philosophy than a similarly-sampled philosopher.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-06-24T17:55:35.360Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you want to know "what is good in life?" it's better to talk to an experimental psychologist.

Oh, boy X-D

And why an experimental psychologist is an expert on what is good in life?

comment by [deleted] · 2014-06-24T18:40:05.551Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Because he lives in the real universe where "good in life" is a fact about people rather than about the Awesomon, the fundamental particle of goodness.

comment by torekp · 2014-06-24T21:55:34.356Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The correct term is Moron, the fundamental particle of morality. Ronald Dworkin's straw man of a straw man. Well, I liked it.

comment by Manfred · 2014-06-24T18:51:10.504Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, suppose someone went out and asked a bunch of old people what they had done that they loved, and what they wished they'd changed. What journal would they publish their findings in?

And again, it's not just that knowing more about what people love and regret is useful, or that going out and doing science requires solving relevant harder-to-communicate issues - it's also that being interested enough to ask the question is a good sign. A person who actually goes out and collects data is someone who is trying to learn new things, push the boundaries of human knowledge. It makes me willing to bet on the average experimental psychologist over the average philosopher who's interested in well-being.

comment by TheAncientGeek · 2014-06-24T17:06:02.434Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ok. Lookslike "philosophers have no domain knowledge of anything" is another myth.

In all your specific examples, I amnot so much going to The answer, or even a good answer, but the answer someone is capable of comimg up with given their bacground.Your chess programmer might tell me that I have feeling of FW because I can't predict my own actions., and I might reply that I am talking about an ability,not a feeling.

Understanding the question is difficult.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2014-06-24T21:53:10.838Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In all your specific examples, I amnot so much going to The answer, or even a good answer, but the answer someone is capable of comimg up with given their bacground.Your chess programmer might tell me that I have feeling of FW because I can't predict my own actions., and I might reply that I am talking about an ability,not a feeling.

In which case the people to talk to are the physicist and the biologist who will tell you that they aren't sure what ability you are talking about but that there's nothing approximating it that's consistent with how we know how humans empirically work.

Understanding the question is difficult.

Understanding when the question is ill-posed or is due to bad human intuitions is what is difficult here. Some philosophers recognize this. Others? Not so much.

comment by TheAncientGeek · 2014-06-25T13:15:42.850Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why shouldn't I talk to the philosopher, who does know what I am talking about?

there's nothing approximating it

Is that a fact?

No. It isn't.

I trained as a physicist before becoming interested in philosophy. I think you can approximate FW using physics. So I am already a cointerexample.

But that's only part of the problem. You think it's OK to have an opinion on questions you don't really understand, and that your imaginary physicist would think it is too. Many real physicists would refuse yourge answer, and the rest would give the kind of bad answer your imaginary physicist would give...bad because it is premature and not based on understanding the question. Bad rationality because good rationalits don't need the comfort factor of a meaningless, catechistic answer to a question they never understood.

Philosophy is only doing badly in a meaningful sense if someone else is doing better AT THE SAME PROBLEMS.

All LWs critics of philosophy are able to do is substitute worse philosophy...

Some philosophers don't recognise ill posed questions...some non philosophers don't either. What does that, In the absence of an qualitative data, add up to?

comment by JoshuaZ · 2014-06-25T16:07:07.091Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why shouldn't I talk to the philosopher, who does know what I am talking about?

I'm not completely sure what your question is here, but it sounds like it may be begging.

there's nothing approximating it

Is that a fact

Yes. There's no indication in the laws of physics or of biology of anything that resembles a genuine choice. If you think otherwise, show it.

I trained as a physicist before becoming interested in philosophy. I think you can approximate FW using physics. So I am already a cointerexample.

I'm not sure what you think you are being a counterexample to here. No one has claimed that no one studying physics hasn't gotten some ideas in this regard. Heck, Roger Penrose, whose opinions I should take far more seriously than yours (or almost anyone on LW) has similar ideas. The question isn't "is there a minority who have studied physics and think there's room for free-will" but what the facts actually support. It isn't tough to find minority views of all sorts that aren't terribly justified- Jonathan Sarfati is an accomplished chemist and a staunch young earth creationist for example. One needs a lot more than simply saying "I've studied this and I disagree" (and frankly- given your posts here I've seen no indication that you have any substantial physics background at all).

But that's only part of the problem. You think it's OK to have an opinion on questions you don't really understand

Again, apparently begging the question. You claim that people here don't understand the questions. Arguing that a set of questions is ill-formed or has simple answers is not by itself a sign one doesn't understand the question.

Many real physicists would refuse yourge answer, and the rest would give the kind of bad answer your imaginary physicist would give

I don't know what you mean by "refuse" an answer- and I fail to see why you think these are answers that would be given by an "imaginary physicist"- but it may be that you are actually falling into the common failure mode of a lot of bad philosophy where you think having a minority view of something makes it a genuine case in controversy. The rest of your paragraph is simply repeating what you've already claimed.

Philosophy is only doing badly in a meaningful sense if someone else is doing better AT THE SAME PROBLEMS.

This does not follow. At best, this is a possible metric. And when there's a large number of people who are at work at something, noting that they are doing badly at what they are trying is highly relevant. But it is worth noting that many major aspects of what LW's approach are ideas supported by major, prominent philosophers, like Quine. And in fact, if one looks at actual data for what professional philosophers think, many attitudes of LW are decidedly mainstream. To a large extent, the problem isn't that philosophers haven't gotten the right answers, it is that many of them then spend inordinate amounts of time on the bad ones.

What does that, In the absence of an qualitative data, add up to?

I'm not sure what you mean here, and suspect you may mean quantitative data. In that case, I suggest looking at the link I gave earlier which is a systematic survey of what professional philosophers believe.

Being blunt, I'm one of the people who more frequently than not is arguing that people on LW should read more philosophy and that there are substantial aspects of it that matter. But that doesn't change that philosophy as practiced today has deep-seated problems. And moreover, simply repeatedly asserting that professional philosophy is somehow in good shape is just like asserting that you believe in free-will, you may or may not have a choice about doing that, but either way, it isn't productive.

comment by TheAncientGeek · 2014-06-25T17:37:38.870Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why shouldn't I talk to the philosopher, who does know what I am talking about?I'm not completely sure what your question is here, but it sounds like it may be begging.

In the sense of "why shouldn't I take my toothache to the dentist"

Yes. There's no indication in the laws of physics or of biology of anything that resembles a genuine choice. If you think otherwise, show it.

It is a fact that naturalistic libertarianism has been advanced Robert Kane , Tony Dore and others.

I would invite you to reflect on 3 things:

Why you think your own opinions are a bether approximation to facticity than a survey of expert opinion.

What you mean by Genuine Choice.

And...whether you are looking for Genuine Choice only in fundamental laws, or allowing it to be a mechanism allowed by, but not necessitated, by fundamental laws.

Naturalistic libertarianism is a genuine case, because it is backed by some professional philosophers. That may not be good enou.gh for you , but it is good enough for Wikipedia.

You are arguing as though scientists are the only relevant authorities, and as though thethe vast majority of them agree with you...as though you are on the evolution side of an evolution vs creation debate.

But you are not. You have presented no evidence for such a majority, nor does it exist.

. To a large extent, the problem isn't that philosophers haven't gotten the right answers, it is that many of them then spend inordinate amounts of time on the bad ones.

Ie, the ones you don't like. But maybe the professionals are better able to judge what is good or bad.

, simply repeatedly asserting that professional philosophy is somehow in good shape

That's the default hypothesis. The burden is in you.

er. But that doesn't change that philosophy as practiced today has deep-seated problems.

Unsupported opinion. Provide evidence that someone else can do better.

is just like asserting that you believe in free-will,

I didn't assert that I believe in it. I asserted that I can see a way in which it could work that is compatible with physics. It is an empirically confirmable ,model, and I would only be glad if someone with access to a laboratory were to confirm or falsify it.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2014-06-25T23:46:44.990Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In the sense of "why shouldn't I take my toothache to the dentist"

If I replaced dentist with back pain and chiropractor, or any disease and homeopath, would that logic work? What about a problem with the state of your soul and a priest? Taking apparent subject matter experts as genuine experts as a default is fraught with peril. That's before we deal with how that's worse in disciplines which lack easy metrics that they are succeeding.

Yes. There's no indication in the laws of physics or of biology of anything that resembles a genuine choice. If you think otherwise, show it.

It is a fact that naturalistic libertarianism has been advanced Robert Kane , Tony Dore and others.

That doesn't respond substantially to the point other than to say "hey, someone disagrees with you". But let's look at Robert Kane's ideas briefly. I'm curious if you've read Dennett or Clarke's criticism of Kane. From my standpoint, Kane is an excellent example of how often philosophers fail to pay attention to modern science, such as psychology. In this case, Kane's ideas are a variant of the two stage model of free will, where one first generates possibilities and then selects among them. But we know this isn't how humans make decisions- in fact, part of the Sequences summarizes one of the major problems with that. But this isn't terribly interesting by itself- the mere presence of individuals who think that they have found a solution to something isn't a strong reason to think they have.

Why you think your own opinions are a bether approximation to facticity than a survey of expert opinion

I do not a priori think so- note that I'm the one who mentioned a survey of actual philosophers and how that showed that much of what LW thinks is in fact mainstream. About 70% of the philosophers surveyed are atheists, about 90% reject libertarian free will, and about three quarters are scientific realists. Heck, given how few accept any notion of libertarian free will, it might make more sense to ask the question to you. The questions where LW has developed opinions that are counter to common philosophical viewpoints are largely questions where there isn't any strong consensus- such as Newcomb's problem. However, if one looks at rather philosophers within their area of expertise things look different for some divisions- strikingly, the same survey shows that although most philosophers are atheists, 70% of philosophers of religion are theists! So any fully general argument for trusting experts needs to explain why one would be ok with trusting all philosophers as a group but only some of the subject matter experts.

What you mean by Genuine Choice.

And...whether you are looking for Genuine Choice only in fundamental laws, or allowing it to be a mechanism allowed by, but not necessitated, by fundamental laws.

I didn't capitalize that for a reason- it was a comment in the context of my earlier statement where I was talking about approximations of free will. As far as I can tell, most versions of it are either obviously false, or are intuitively appealing but logically incoherent.

Naturalistic libertarianism is a genuine case, because it is backed by some professional philosophers. That may not be good enou.gh for you , but it is good enough for Wikipedia.

I'm not sure what you mean by "good enough for Wikipedia"- but I think you may want to look at the project's criteria for inclusion- correctness is not what matters- Verifiability is what matters. Theism is also backed by some professional philosophers, and that includes a majority of phil religion people. Should I pay attention to theism?

You are arguing as though scientists are the only relevant authorities, and as though thethe vast majority of them agree with you...as though you are on the evolution side of an evolution vs creation debate.

On the contrary, philosophers are highly relevant. I've already mentioned Putnam and Quine. The best philosophy is done not by scientists, but by philosophers who pay attention to science. One doesn't need to be a neurologist to know that classical libertarianism fails for example, and one doesn't need to be a GR subject matter expert to know that it raises serious issues for many versions of A-time. This shouldn't be surprising- the best work in almost any field is informed by work in other fields. Philosophy is not an exception.

But it is worth noting that regarding your other claim- I don't need a consensus of physicists to make an argument about what physics implies in another field, and I especially don't need it when the central problem is that many in the other field are simply ignoring physics wholesale when discussing these issues. It isn't the job of physicists to think about free will. It is the job of philosophers to think about it, and part of that job is to actually pay attention to what implications physics has for free will.

simply repeatedly asserting that professional philosophy is somehow in good shape

That's the default hypothesis. The burden is in you.

You've been around LW long enough that I suspect you are familiar with a lot of the prior discussion here, such as this. I'd also point to Peter Unger's recent book. But I think the earlier cited 70% figure for theism should be sufficient. That 70% of a major discipline consistently get such a basic question wrong and the rest of the philosophers are taking them even remotely seriously as a discipline shows a major part of the problem.

But that doesn't change that philosophy as practiced today has deep-seated problems.

Unsupported opinion. Provide evidence that someone else can do better.

I already commented that "someone can do better than X" and "X is doing badly" are not the same thing, and you apparently ignored it. If you don't get that imagine someone saying "People working on cold fusion are doing a terrible job getting cold fusion to work" and someone relies saying "Yeah but show me someone who is doing better!" And again, there are professional philosophers doing good work, the trouble is that so many are doing bad work and are focusing on things which we know are just wrong. But if you want an example of good philosophy that's being done outside professional, academic philosophy, I'd be happy to point to the recent paper by Eliezer et. al. on modal agents and the prisoner's dilemma. See here. That paper, a careful mix of philosophy, decision theory, game theory and proof theory is what good philosophy looks like. It is the sort of thing one expects from people like Kripke, Quine and Lakatos, all of whom were mainstream philosophers.

I asserted that I can see a way in which it could work that is compatible with physics. It is an empirically confirmable ,model, and I would only be glad if someone with access to a laboratory were to confirm or falsify it.

I'm curious what your model is and how you intend to test it given the resources.

comment by TheAncientGeek · 2014-06-26T12:48:38.942Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

? Taking apparent subject matter experts as genuine experts as a default is fraught with peril.

You have no evidence that philosophers are frauds. It's all (uninformed) opinion.

That doesn't respond substantially to the point other than to say "hey, someone disagrees with you".

If you have put forward the fact that you, uninformed, can't see how it works as amounting to the fact that it cannot work, then the existence of Kanes work is significant....because, whilst his theory may just .be opinion, so therefore is yours.

But we know this isn't how humans make decisions- i

Please expand

many in the other field are simply ignoring physics wholesale when discussing these issues.

Please provide examples

will. As far as I can tell, most versions of it are either obviously false, or are intuitively appealing but logically incohere.nt

But you made no attempt to steelman the contrary view by surveying the literature to find the best arguments for it. If you had, you would have heard of Kane.

Basically, you are making the Argument from Personal Incomprehension so notorious in Creationism

The creationists problem is that they are treating uninformed subjective grockage as the epistemic last word and it isn't...not for them, not for you.

y general argument for trusting experts needs to explain why one would be ok with trusting all philosophers as a group

What I have been saying us that none knows more about philosophy. I certainly didn't mean trust them to come up a definitive answer to everything.

Theism is also backed by some professional philosophers, and that includes a majority of phil religion people. Should I pay attention to theism?

You can't claim to know theism is false unless you can refute the best arguments for it. Where do you go for those? (Do you think of theists as some sort of Bad people that no one should associate with in case it's inferiors

One doesn't need to be a neurologist to know that classical libertarianism

What do you mean by classical libertarianism?

prior discussion

No different in content to the percent discussion

nt. That 70% of a major discipline consistently get such a basic question wrong and the rest of the philosophers are taking them even remotely seriously as a discipline shows a major part of the problem.

My epistemology is that ideas are true, when they are true for reason, and in offer to find out whether p or not p is true, you look at the best arguments on both sides. Therefore , you need arguments on both sides. Like a trial where the prosecution and defence put forward their best cases, even though one of them must be wrong.

You epistemology seems to be that there is a list of things that are Wrong for no Particular Reason, and that none should argue for thing that are Wrong...and that "knowing" what is right .or wrong is a a matterof reading them of the Lists.

You metaphysics may be the opposite of theism, but your epistemology is identical.

g. But if you want an example of good philosophy that's being done outside professional, academic philosophy, I'd be happy to point to the recent paper by Eliezer et. al. on modal agents and the prisoner's dilemma. See here.

Not philosophy. Filed under .CS.

Counterexample: his theory of metaethics...the one no one understands.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2014-06-26T14:09:06.748Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Replying separately to the section you edited in after your reply. If you are going to edit in additional replies it might be helpful for you to note when you have done so explicitly so people can see them.

You metaphysics may be the opposite of theism, but your epistemology is identical.

This sentence is apparently part of your general insults to my epistemological framework, so I'll just note that I'm mildly amused here- you accused me earlier of thinking of "theists as some sort of Bad people that no one should associate with in case it's inferiors" ([sic]^3) but you seem to think that theism must inherently be connected with terrible epistemologies, which isn't the case as demonstrated by the many theists in many disciplines (math, science, history, etc.) who do very good work.

. But if you want an example of good philosophy that's being done outside professional, academic philosophy, I'd be happy to point to the recent paper by Eliezer et. al. on modal agents and the prisoner's dilemma. See here.

Not philosophy. Filed under .CS.

This seems like a No True Scotsman more than anything else. Have you read the paper in question? If so, can you explain how what they are doing does not have a strong philosophical element?

Counterexample: his theory of metaethics...the one no one understands.

I don't think the word "counterexample" is what you are looking for here; it might make sense if I had argued that everything philosophically Eliezer says is great and productive or something like that. Since no one has made that argument, your "counterexample" isn't terribly relevant.

comment by TheAncientGeek · 2014-06-27T11:39:03.001Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not saying there are no good amateur philosophers. I am saying there are not enough good enough amateur philosophers to iindicate that the professionals are systematically underperformi.ng by comparison.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2014-06-27T21:13:21.709Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not saying there are .ni good amateur philosophers. I am saying there are not enough good enough amateur philosophers to iindicate that the professionals are systematically underperforming.

There are multiple problems with this response. First, I already outlined how "X is performing better than Y" is not the only metric to decide that "Y is performing badly" or "Y could perform better." To expand on that point, since it apparently didn't occur the last time, it might help to consider other fields that currently have serious issues. Many branches of science have terrible problems with reproducing results, biology and psychology being high on that list. I don't need to point to someone currently doing psychology today to identify this as a problem and discuss causes and solutions. Similarly, another related problem is the file-drawer effect. I don't need to show that someone else is avoiding it to discuss that it is a bad thing and discuss what one can do to prevent it.

comment by TheAncientGeek · 2014-06-27T21:27:15.333Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Anything can be said to fall short of some theoretical ideal. Usain Bolt runs slower than some theoretical person who runs faster.

Biology and psychology are presumably doing worse than other, real, actually existing sciences...otherwise, why single them out?

If you have a realistic proposal to get more good quality work done in the same time, lets hear it. So far, it sounds like you want to get things done faster by cutting corners.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2014-06-29T00:10:00.027Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Anything can be said to fall short of some theoretical ideal. Usain Bolt runs slower than some theoretical person who runs faster.

Sure, but that doesn't mean we cannot discuss ways of running faster. Even the best athletes are able to work at getting better at what they do without seeing anyone better than they are.

Biology and psychology are presumably doing worse than other, real, actually existing sciences...otherwise, why single them out?

If you prefer we can look at chemistry which is not doing as badly compared to biology and psychology. I can still look at it and notice frequent failures to reproduce, retracted papers, and other signs of problems and conclude that there are steps to improve.

If you have a realistic proposal to get more good quality work done in the same time, lets hear it. So far, it sounds like you want to get things done faster by cutting corners.

So in the case of the STEM fields, the basic steps are pretty clear: pre-registration of experiments, better use of meta-studies, willingness to accept papers that don't do much other than just reproduce an earlier experiment, etc.

In the case of philosophy, the steps are also pretty clear :Teach introductory philosophy with less emphasis on the ancients, don't make philosophy students read primary source texts when there are better secondary texts (Kant is one serious example of this), make phil students have to take more STEM classes as undergraduates. These are all concrete, obvious proposals.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2014-06-26T13:58:24.418Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

? Taking apparent subject matter experts as genuine experts as a default is fraught with peril.

You have no evidence that philosophers are frauds. It's all (uninformed) opinion.

Ok. First of all, no one has said that professional philosophers are "frauds" or anything like that. Not doing your subject well, is not at all the same thing as being a fraud. You may want to reread this discussion subthread- I've tried repeatedly to explain that the problem under discussion is not that no one is doing good philosophy, it is that a large fraction of the discipline is not, and that includes focusing on questions that should be already settled. Since I've also explained already that many attitudes on LW are mainstream philosophical standpoints, it would be very strange for me to think that philosophers as a whole were frauds.

I'm also puzzled by your choice of reply. It may be that there's some subtle illusion of transparency issue here, but it looks to me like you took one sentence, repeated and assertion as a reply to that sentence and didn't grapple with the central point of the paragraph containing that sentence: It is easy to give examples of whole classes of nominal classes of subject matter experts who are just wrong. As I said, any presumption of subject matter experts by itself being worthwhile to pay attention to is difficult at best. Now, do you intend to actually respond to this issue?

That doesn't respond substantially to the point other than to say "hey, someone disagrees with you".

If you have put forward the fact that you, uninformed, can't see how it works as amounting to the fact that it cannot work, then the existence of Kanes work is significant....because, whilst his theory may just .be opinion, so therefore is yours.

It appears you are (ironically enough!) presuming a degree of ignorance on my part which isn't accurate. I'm familiar with Kane's work, I summarized already the many problems with it. It might help if you'd actually read that section of my response.

But we know this isn't how humans make decisions- i

Please expand

You know, I did give a link which does just that. But if you want, I'll expand on how this is relevant: Two stage notions of free will posit that there are two steps: first, a list of options is compiled, then a mind makes a decision from that list. But we have a host of psychological data demonstrating that that isn't how humans make decisions. Options which occur early on are given more weight than those which occur later for example.

many in the other field are simply ignoring physics wholesale when discussing these issues.

Please provide examples

Aside from free will proponents, I already gave an example- most versions of A-time are not consistent with the laws of physics.

will. As far as I can tell, most versions of it are either obviously false, or are intuitively appealing but logically incohere.nt

But you made no attempt to steelman the contrary view by surveying the literature to find the best arguments for it. If you had, you would have heard of Kane.

I'm mildly curious what makes you think I hadn't heard of Kane. Do you really think Kane's arguments are so strong that anyone who disagrees with them, and doesn't feel a need to bring them up specifically out of a myriad of different views must not be familiar with them? This is not a helpful approach to things.

I'm going to skip your comparison to creationism other than to note that insulting comparisons really aren't helpful, and that if you think I'm making any form of argument that amounts to one of personal incredulity you really need to reread what I've wrote.

Theism is also backed by some professional philosophers, and that includes a majority of phil religion people. Should I pay attention to theism?

You can't claim to know theism is false unless you can refute the best arguments for it. Where do you go for those? (Do you think of theists as some sort of Bad people that no one should associate with in case it's inferiors

Ok. This is exactly what you don't seem to be getting. There are plenty of people out there who've spent massive amounts of time for all sorts of arguments for theism- there's a strong incentive over literally thousands of years for people to come up with good arguments for it. And the arguments that are thrown around today are the same things thrown around a hundred or two hundred years ago or more, cosmological arguments, design arguments, ontological argument, etc. You have the language dressed up to the point where they try to do things like make the arguments look more sophisticated (like Platinga and others trying to use modal logic in the ontological argument). But at a certain point, after enough study of these arguments, it gets to the point where one can say that if there were a genuinely convincing argument it would have shown up at some point. If someone introduces what looks like a genuinely novel argument and not just ontological argument iteration 552, I'll take a look. As to your second sentence, it is obnoxious and irrelevant: I've made no comment at all about "associating" with theists as being bad, or that they are inferior, and your implications that there is something like that going on is not conducive to a productive conversation.

One doesn't need to be a neurologist to know that classical libertarianism

What do you mean by classical libertarianism?

Something like the naive versions of free will espouses by most of the general population when they mean free will- it has a mix of interaction dualism and a notion that choices are being made by irreducible ontologica mental entities.

prior discussion

No different in content to the percent discussion

As a guess, I suspect you mean "recent" rather than percent (are you typing with some sort of autocorrect? None of the letters in "recent" are near "p" on a standard QWERTY keyboard). In any event, simply asserting that rather than actually discussing the linked prior discussion is not helpful. I note that you incidentally completely dropped my point to Unger's work- so let's be clear here, we're talking about a professional analytic philosopher who essentially sees the same problems in question.

That 70% of a major discipline consistently get such a basic question wrong and the rest of the philosophers are taking them even remotely seriously as a discipline shows a major part of the problem.

My epistemology is that ideas are true, when they are true for reason, and in offer to find out whether p or not p is true, you look at the best arguments on both sides. Therefore , you need arguments on both sides. Like a trial where the prosecution and defence put forward their best cases, even though one of them must be wrong.

You epistemology seems to be that there is a list of things that are Wrong for no Particular Reason, and that none should argue for thing that are Wrong...and that "knowing" what is right .or wrong is a a matterof reading them of the Lists

It is generally not a sign of a productive conversation where one feels a need to not just insult a strawman of someone's argument but apparently their entire epistemological approach. Therefore, unless you have something really interesting to say in any reply, this is going to be my last reply in this subthread. (I hope! There are of course, always problems with that).

It may surprise you that our epistemological frameworks are more similar than you think, and that people can disagree with you without having an epistemological framework that is utterly wrong.

The issue you seem to be missing is that there's a point where the best arguments or best evidence for a position is weak enough that further investigation is not warranted. To use your trial analogy, at a certain point the trial is over- if there's some sort of substantial new evidence then maybe a new trial will occur, but we don't need to spend time on every single question. And even you believe that- I suspect for example that you aren't searching out for the best arguments for flat earthism or hollow earthism (you can find sincere proponents of both on the internet), and in terms of philosophy, I suspect you aren't spending much time looking for the best arguments for Aristotle's four causes or Heraclitus's claim that all is fire. So, the problem is that many philosophers are doing essentially that sort of thing, and it is worth noting that they are doing it the most for things like free will and A-time where there are basic human psychological reasons to want to believe they are true.

Despite my earlier request you haven't given any expansion at all of what your testable theory of free will is. Are you going to discuss it or not?

comment by TheAncientGeek · 2014-06-27T11:06:11.652Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

naive versions of free will

You don't like them. I don't like them. Professional philosophers don't like them. So how do they plug into an argument about philosophers getting FW wrong? The philosophers who are libertarians are defending much more sophitisticated theories.

prior discussion,

Been there and they contain nothing that isn't in this discussion.

Unger

People are always criticising philosophy, and always defending it. Not dispositive.

further investigation is not warranted

You have not established that this is the case about FW.

psychological reasons

I am equally entitled to point out that less wrongs disdain for FW, moral realism, etc, could be interpreted as pattern matching them to religion, and as extending, irrationally, to rejecting naturalized versions.

your testable theory

I have published some extracts which you appear not to have read.

It has recently born confirmed.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2014-06-27T15:53:44.534Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

naive versions of free will

You don't like them. I don't like them. Professional philosophers don't like them. So how do they plug into an argument about philosophers getting FW wrong? The philosophers who are libertarians are defending much more sophitisticated theories.

Context matters here- you may want to reread the conversation above. I gave classical libertarianism as an example of the sort of thing where we both agree that science raises issues with it. I wrote:

On the contrary, philosophers are highly relevant. I've already mentioned Putnam and Quine. The best philosophy is done not by scientists, but by philosophers who pay attention to science. One doesn't need to be a neurologist to know that classical libertarianism fails for example, and one doesn't need to be a GR subject matter expert to know that it raises serious issues for many versions of A-time. This shouldn't be surprising- the best work in almost any field is informed by work in other fields. Philosophy is not an exception.

You then asked what I meant by classical libertarianism, and that is what lead to the mention of naive free will versions.

Slight tangent: It is worth noting (going back to the original subject) that there's a serious problem that can arise when one constructs more sophisticated versions of naive ideas. Frequently the sophisticated version is so far removed from the basic intuition that the connection is tenuous. Worse, people then try after establishing some sort of argument for the "sophisticated" version to then reason with the full set of connotations of the naive versions. One sees this not just with free will- for example, look at people who try to define God as a "uncaused cause" or as a "universal moral will" or something similar. It is worth asking whether at a certain point what one is calling free will is accomplishing much by labeling it as such. (In Kane's case, I think it is, partially because it is one of the less sophisticated (if you will) versions of free will out there, but that's also part of why it fails.)

prior discussion,

Been there and they contain nothing that isn't in this discussion.

Are you a sophisticated bot? I ask because the part you are responding to read:

prior discussion

No different in content to the percent discussion

As a guess, I suspect you mean "recent" rather than percent (are you typing with some sort of autocorrect? None of the letters in "recent" are near "p" on a standard QWERTY keyboard). In any event, simply asserting that rather than actually discussing the linked prior discussion is not helpful. I note that you incidentally completely dropped my point to Unger's work- so let's be clear here, we're talking about a professional analytic philosopher who essentially sees the same problems in question.

So, I don't see how simply repeating your assertion advances the conversation.

Unger

People are always criticising philosophy, and always defending it. Not dispositive.

I'm curious- have you read any of what Unger has to say on this topic?

further investigation is not warranted

You have not established that this is the case about FW.

Great! We've now made progress: We've now apparently agreed that there is some point where it is no longer useful to spend time looking at a question. So let me ask, what sort of evidence would convince you that that was the case for free will?

psychological reasons

I am equally entitled to point out that less wrongs disdain for FW, moral realism, etc, could be interpreted as pattern matching them to religion, and as extending, irrationally, to rejecting naturalized versions.

I'm not sure what you mean by "entitled" but I'd certainly accept that as a valid reason that LW should worry about its consensus attitudes (although as far as I can tell moral realism in some form or another isn't that uncommon here). But yes, pattern matching here is a valid concern.

I have published some extracts which you appear not to have read.

It has recently born confirmed.

Great, that sounds potentially quite interesting. Can you point me to them?

comment by TheAncientGeek · 2014-06-27T17:09:14.915Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

We've now apparently agreed that there is some point where it is no longer useful to spend time looking at a question.

I have never argued from the premise that all questions should be kept open forever.

It might be interesting to note at this point that the idea of detatchable , Cartesian souls actually has been abandoned in philosophy.

Free will could be noise in the brain

comment by JoshuaZ · 2014-06-29T00:20:21.157Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

We've now apparently agreed that there is some point where it is no longer useful to spend time looking at a question.

I have never argued from the premise that all questions should be kept open forever.

That seemed not the case earlier, but I'm happy to conclude that was a misinterpretation on my part. So, are you going to respond to the other issues raised?

It might be interesting to note at this point that the idea of detatchable , Cartesian souls actually has been abandoned in philosophy.

"Abandoned?" Really? What evidence do you have for that? Also how is that relevant to the issue at hand?

Free will could be noise in the brain.

I presume that this is in response to my last question (again, actually indicating what you are responding to would be helpful). Giving citations that aren't popular articles would also be helpful, but if you can explain in useful way how that research backs up a notion of free will I'd appreciate it. Because as far as I can tell from that summary that's talking about determinism- that some choices are made from noise and very small inputs doesn't give us any choice about them.

comment by TheAncientGeek · 2014-06-29T13:51:37.469Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So, are you going to respond to the other issues raised?

What other issues?

abandoned

I can't see I've seen many defences of soul theory lately, The most recent seems to John C Eccles.

that some choices are made from noise and very small inputs doesn't give us any choice about them.

I can't see what your objection is. Thermalnoise is random. As explained here

Or maybe you want an essential homuncular self that has a final say on everything.

All naturalistic theories can offer you is self that is distributed over a complex system, freedom that comes from physics,and control that comes from cybernetics.

comment by TheAncientGeek · 2014-06-27T10:54:17.077Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Frauds

Homeopaths?

should be already be settled

How do you know?

subject matter experts who are just wrong..

Again, that needs some epistemology. If experts disagree, then some if them are wrong. That is the only straightforward case. Otherwise, if you think someone somewhere is wrong about something specific, you need to say why...and how come you know better.

options that occur earlier on are given more weight.

I can't see how that is any kind of objection to two stage theories. They state that some sort of option generation occurs, that some sort of weighting occurs , and that some sort of selection occurs. These are black boxes, and you are free to fill in the details to match empirical data.

problems with Kane

You have been seeking to argue that the FW is a settled question, the answer to which is that it doesn't exist. The fact that Kane has his critics does not i.mply that, since everyone has their critics, and since his critics have their critics. FW is a live issue with arguments on both sides.

theology

You know as well as I do that the theological bandwagon will keep rolling for the foreseeable future because there is a sociological demand for it, because there are are individuals and organisations willing to sponsor it.

Likewise, French speaking society demands an endless supply of fashionable obscurantusts...CP isn't going away any time soon.either.

But......aside from those sideshows, your DO have a form of philosophy that is orientated toward's rigour, clarity and scientific naturalism.

So maybe the glass is half full.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2014-06-27T16:09:21.698Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Frauds

Homeopaths?

Again context matters, and it might help if you reread the context of what you are replying to. I gave the homeopaths example as one of a list where expertise is not in general reliable. That can occur for a variety of reasons. That doesn't say that philosophers are frauds in any way shape or form. For that matter, I'm not even sure I'd label homeopaths frauds to start with- many of them are quite sincere.

Again, that needs some epistemology. If experts disagree, then some if them are wrong. That is the only straightforward case. Otherwise, if you think someone somewhere is wrong about something specific, you need to say why...and how come you know better.

Sure- I and others have outlined reasons for that. That you don't find them persuasive is something that therefore requires further discussion.

options that occur earlier on are given more weight.

I can't see how that is any kind of objection to two stage theories. They state that some sort of option generation occurs, that some sort of weighting occurs , and that some sort of selection occurs. These are black boxes, and you are free to fill in the details to match empirical data.

The problem is twofold: if simple physical and temporal factors have a direct impact, and the process of deciding is wound together with the option generation, then it is hard to see there being a distinct two stages. Second, if the more we study a process the more we find it is predictable, that's evidence in the direction that the process really is predictable.

In this situation, we have no evidence (either psychological, neurological or otherwise) suggesting that there's anywhere that there are two stages occurring. And yes, you can keep changing what you mean by the two stages so that anything whatsoever fits into your "black box" but it should be clear what that isn't helpful.

You have been seeking to argue that the FW is a settled question, the answer to which is that it doesn't exist. The fact that Kane has his critics does not i.mply that, since everyone has their critics, and since his critics have their critics. FW is a live issue with arguments on both sides.

Sure, the mere existence of critics doesn't imply that. The fact that critics have completely smacked down Kane's approach is what is relevant here.

theology

You know as well as I do that the theological bandwagon will keep rolling for the foreseeable future because there is a sociological demand for it, because there are are individuals and organisations willing to sponsor it.

The word "theology" doesn't appear in my post anywhere. It would be helpful for you to clarify what you are talking about, and also be careful about putting things in quotes when they aren't quotes. Are you talking about the paragraph discussing arguments for the existence of God? If so, then yes, that's exactly a major reason why that is still the case- and I'd argue that many of the problems with philosophy as practiced today are similar- there are incentives (in this case, deep-seated human intuitions about free will) that keep the subject going, developing more sophisticated versions of the claims, rather than moving on.

comment by TheAncientGeek · 2014-06-27T16:58:04.040Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

... distinct two stages ...

The point of the simplistic two stage model is to avoid the false dichotomy of the"it's either all random or all determined" . Two stage models have the indetrmimism needed for free choice occurring at one place and time, and determinism need to carry out actions occurring another.

That doesn't get lost in more sophisticated versions.

A simplistic computer programme might perform calculation A, and then serially perform calculation B once A has finished.

You could rewrite that so that A and B run in parallel, with A pipelining it's results to B.

But A and B would still be performing conceptually distinct roles..and that is the point.

...the more it's predictable..

You can't predict that an earlier option will definitely occur, and you also can't predict which option occurs earliest. At best you have statistical predictability..

Critics have smacked down Kane...

Subjective opinion.

theology/incentives

You're fee of incentives? It's not the case that you hate FW because you're an atheist and it seems theistic?

Who's incentivising Kane and co?

comment by JoshuaZ · 2014-06-29T00:04:10.085Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The point of the simplistic two stage model is to avoid the false dichotomy of the"it's either all random or all determined" . Two stage models have the indetrmimism needed for free choice occurring at one place and time, and determinism need to carry out actions occurring another.

Yes, that's the attempted goal. How is it relevant in this context?

You can't predict that an earlier option will definitely occur, and you also can't predict which option occurs earliest. At best you have statistical predictability..

So? The point that we are getting more and more ability to predict as we get more data is exactly what determinism suggests.

theology/incentives

You're fee of incentives? It's not the case that you hate FW because you're an atheist and it seems theistic?

It would help a lot if you would not add things in quotes that don't appear- it is both annoying and it makes it difficult to figure out exactly what you are responding. It is even less helpful when I just asked you clarify last time whether you are talking about a specific paragraph. I tentatively presume from context that you are responding to my final paragraph. I'll respond under that interpretation: Sure, incentives are always a problem, and we all need to be careful about them. In my own case, I don't think that I "hate FW" so it seems problematic to ask if "I hate FW because of X" for any X. If you mean something like "Do you discount free will because you're an atheist and it seems theistic?" then I have to answer that I suspect that isn't the case. Belief in free will doesn't strike me as connected to theism much at all except in so far as they are both motivated by human intuitions, which applies to a lot of things (some of which are correct, others not so). I cannot rule out some other motivation at work, but I suspect that that's not the case here. But it also isn't that relevant: if I'm easily lead astray by my own motivations (and likely I am in many ways), that doesn't make it less of a problem that that's happening for a lot of professional philosophers.

Who's incentivising Kane and co?

The question to a large extent here is not "who" but "what"- that is one thing they both share a similarity, a need to fill in deep seated intuitions. In this case, the near universal intuition that we have choices about our actions. I strongly share that intuition, and I sometimes think to myself "But I made that choice" even as I'm intellectually sure that the free will argument is extremely weak.

comment by TheAncientGeek · 2014-06-29T13:21:42.340Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So? The point that we are getting more and more ability to predict as we get more data is exactly what determinism suggests.theology/incentives

If what you are predicting X from is indeterministic, X is indeterministic. Cf the thermal noise result.

that is one thing they both share a similarity, a need to fill in deep seated intuitions.

It is matter of fact that chairs in theology are funded the way they are. It's your opinion that people have the motivations you think.

In any case, if you can explain common intuitions, why reject them?

comment by TheAncientGeek · 2014-06-26T15:35:07.094Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Kane versus Dennett II

Dennett has a real point against Kane with his accusation that there is a special time at which free will occurs. In Kane's theory the essence of free will is something called a "self forming action" which occurs at particular times in the life of an individual. This leads to a number of problems:1 An SFA may or may not occur at all in an individual, yet by all common-sense standards an individual without SFA's is as free and responsible as anyone else.2 Since SFA's are the essence of an individual's free will, they must also be the essence of an individual's responsibility. Yet they are indeterministic — mere caprice!3 There must have been a first SFA , which itself cannot have been brought about intentionally, freely and responsibly.

II.4.iv.1 First Objection to Self-Forming Actions

An SFA may or may not occur at all in an individual, yet by all common-sense standards an individual without SFA's is as free and responsible as anyone else. This is a valid objection to SFA One of the innovations of our approach will be to replace Kane's isolated SFA's with an "ongoing process of self-formation" which all physically and psychologically normal adults engage in.

II.4.iv.2 Second Objection to Self-Forming Actions

Since SFA's are the essence of an individual's free will, they must also be the essence of an individual's responsibility. Yet they are indeterministic — mere caprice! This is a very important objection which gets to the heart of what people dislike about indeterminism-based free will. Bear in mind that we have accepted Dennett's point about the distributed mind. It is the agent as a whole who is responsible, not the any particular part of the agent, including any "indeterminism" module the agent might possess. The agents actions are not caused by any particular neuron, or any particular subsystem, but by the central nervous system acting in concert. An "indeterminism" module would therefore not cause actions, simpliciter, any more than any other module.Responsibility is a relationship that holds or fails to hold between an agent and an action performed externally. You are not responsible for things like earthquakes: the relationship fails to hold. You are also not responsible for neural firings as such; in this case is a category error to say that you are responsible or not for your neural firings. A different relationship holds: you are constituted by them. So, no, you cannot be held responsible for what your RIG does. But you are responsible for actions you perform (whether or not your RIG is involved).Moreover, in our model we posit another module in addition to the indeterminism module (or Random Idea Generator) whose function is specifically to "filter" the output of the Random Idea Generator. Thus the objection that you cannot control which signal the indeterminism module is going to generate is vitiated by placing the control after the generation of the signal. (Just as Natural Selection rescues Darwinian evolution from being mere caprice by acting on genes after they have mutated). There is no straightforward inference from a lack of causal responsibility for one's indeterminism generator to a lack of moral responsibility an agentFinally, recall that in our discussion of semicompatibilism and responsibility we agreed that there are forms of moral responsibility which are compatible with determinism. Thus, responsibility does not kick in when and only when the R.I.G or indeterminism module fires; responsibility is not created ex nihilo. 3

II.4.iv.iii Third Objection to Self-Forming Actions

There must have been a first SFA , which itself cannot have been brought about intentionally, freely and responsibly. It's important to understand the difference between a regress and an infinite regress. Earlier, we said:And this works —up to a point. If you did something you intended to do, you are responsible, and if you did something which was not your intention, it was accidental or under duress. But the intention has to have the right sort of causal history. If the intention "flew into your head" shortly before you performed an action based on it, without being based on previous intentional stated, you action was not responsible — or rather you are not a responsible person. Equally, our intuition is that people, or other entities, are not responsible if they did not originate their intention. We don't hold people who are acting under hypnotic suggestion responsible. If a mad scientist created an intelligent killing-machine, we would hold him ultimately responsible even if the machine was a sophisticated enough AI to be deemed rational.Since we must exclude capricious intentional states, states that do not have enough of history of being produced intentionally by previous states. Thus, there must be some kind of a regress to intentional states. Dennett has a parable that can act as a warning of what happens if you think about regresses in a too rigid, absolute way. it also illustrates that this is indeed a structural problem about regresses, not a problem about free will specifically)."You may think you're a mammal, and that dogs and cows and whales are mammals, but there really aren't any mammals at all — there can't be! Here's a philosophical argument to prove it.1) Every mammal has a mammal for a mother 2) If there have been any mammals at all, there have been only a finite number of mammals 3) but if there has been even one mammal, by (1), there has been an infinity of mammals , which contradicts (2), so there can't have been any mammals.Since we know perfectly well there are mammals, we take this argument only a challenge to discover what fallacy is lurking within it. [..] A gradual transition occurred from clear mammals to clear reptiles, with a lot of hard-to-classify intermediaries filling the gaps "(Daniel Dennett, "Freedom Evolves", p126)The absolutist way of thinking about things falls on the "infinite" side of the dichotomy. For the absolutist, and intentional state has to be fully and 100% brought about by the preceding state...ad infinitum.Kane's SFA's fall on the other side ...the regress just stops dead.We favour the kind of solution that is the correct solution to the Prime Mammal problem. The parent of a mammal only needs to be more-or-less mammalian. The mammalhood can fade out as you trace things go back. Likewise the "at least partially" clause in the definition of free will allows us to regard present intentional states as being only more-or-less engendered by previous ones, so that the causal and intentional history of an intentional state peters out rather than going back forever or stopping dead.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2014-06-26T18:44:14.559Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Can you please explain what I'm supposed to get out of these long copy&pasted without attribution texts? Also, you may want to note that when you are replying to yourself it is very easy for the intended recipient to not notice it if you don't tell them.

comment by TheAncientGeek · 2014-06-27T09:44:55.061Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I thought you wanted to know what I thought of Dennet s critique of Kane. After all, if Dennet does not succeed in refuting libertarianism, that is impactuvive on your case.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2014-06-27T15:34:20.170Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I thought you wanted to know what I thought of Dennet s critique of Kane.

So copy and pasting without attribution helps that how? Also, do you really expect me to read that monstrosity with its almost complete lack of formatting or paragraph breaks?

After all, if Dennet does not succeed in refuting libertarianism, that is impactuvive on your case.

Impactuvive? I'm trying to figure out what word was supposed to go there? Do you mean it impacts?

comment by TheAncientGeek · 2014-06-26T15:30:36.467Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Kate versus Dennett I

"Ultimate Responsibility" is a term introduced by the Naturalistic Libertarian Robert Kane. It, and the thinking behind it, have led to some confusion."Only a Libertarian account, Kane claims, can provide the features we [...] yearn for, which he calls ultimate Responsibility. Libertarianism begins with a familiar claim: If determinism is true every, then every decision I make, like every breath I take, is an effect, ultimately,, of chains of causes leading back into times before I was born. [...] As many have claimed, then, if my decisions are caused by events leading back before my birth, I can be causally responsible for the results of my deeds in the same way a tree limb falling in a storm can be causally responsible for the results of the death of the person it falls on, but it's not the limb's fault that it was only a strong as it was, or that the wind blew so fiercely, or that the tree grew so close to the footpath. To be morally responsible I have to be the ultimate source of my decision and that can be true only if no earlier influences were sufficient to secure the outcome, which was truly "up to me". Harry Truman used to have a sign on his desk in the Oval office saying the "The Buck Stops Here". The human mind has a place where the buck stops, Kane says, and only libertarianism can provide this kind of free will, the kind that provides Ultimate Responsibility".(Daniel Dennett, "Freedom Evolves", p99Let's get one confusion out of the way: the libertarian only needs to claim that responsibility stops with the agent, not that there is a single place within the agent where it stops, or a single time at which it stops.Dennett has an eloquent series of arguments against a "single place" within the mind where it "all happens", a "homunculus", which he has developed in "Consciousness Explained", and which he re-deploys in "Freedom Evolves".If it really matters, as Libertarians think, then we had better shield your process of deliberation from all such externalinfluenceWhy all ? Our definition of free will is "The power or ability to rationally choose and consciously perform actions, at least some of which are not brought about necessarily and inevitably by external circumstances". "At least some of which" is not "all" there is no need for such "shielding". The engineering is not required by the specification. (Ultimate) Responsibility belongs to the agent as a whole, not to a subsystem within the agent. We are quite happy to accept Dennett's distributed model of the mind.Compatibilists and determinists are able to argue that it is undesirable for a "snap" decision to be made randomly, since such decisions need to be reliable — indeed, they may even be "life or death" decisions. This is far from being a smoking-gun refutation of Libertarianism, however. The libertarian only needs to be able to say that her decision could have been different under the same external circumstances at time T. The libertarian's internal state could have been different under the circumstances prevailing at T (In other words, there are sets of possible worlds where everything outside the libertarian is identical), so the action resulting from the libertarian's internal state could have been different, even if it was brought about more-or-less deterministically by their state at time T. Thus they could have done otherwise so long as the series of states leading up to the reactive snap decision could have been different. Thus, freedom of the will can, as it were, be stored and used at a later date. (The idea that free decisions occur immediately before action is criticised in section III.1. We also argue for this point in section II.2; and compare what Dennett says about Libet's work in section II.4)To use another metaphor, it is as though there is a conscious executive which sets "policy" which less conscious sub-systems then follow in making snap decisions. In an organisation, responsibility stops with the executive who sets policy, rather than the junior staff member who implements it. Likewise people are held morally and legally responsible for acts which are snap decisions, because they have trained themselves to react in that particular way.However, this idea of stored inentionality (or deferred responsibility) has some problems, whcih we will now consider.Dennett has a real point against Kane with his accusation that there is a special time at which free will occurs. In Kane's theory the essence of free will is something called a "self forming action" which occurs at particular times in the life of an individual. This leads to a number of problems

comment by Pfft · 2014-06-24T15:27:12.526Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The Less Wrong open thread? :)

comment by TheAncientGeek · 2014-06-24T16:00:39.195Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Seriously? :-)

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-06-24T15:00:58.968Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Personally, I am underwhelmed, since he does not address the point of view that philosophy is great at asking interesting questions but lousy at answering them.

Maybe it's because he wanted to address misconceptions?

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2014-06-23T20:00:34.641Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't have a problem with philosophers doing philosophy of science when they bother to do it right. I've had a number of conversations with philosophers who utterly mangle the science. Usually, this has to do with quantum mechanics, but sometimes it has to do with relativity. Sometimes it has to do with combining the two.

comment by shminux · 2014-06-23T20:05:06.491Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Which philosophers do "philosophy of science" right?

comment by Stabilizer · 2014-06-23T21:42:36.940Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Some names come to mind: Ernest Nagel, Ian Hacking, Peter Galison, Alex Rosenberg, Samir Okasha, Tim Maudlin, David Albert, David Wallace, Massimo Pigliucci.

Actually, I haven't really encountered famous but shoddy philosophers of science. The reputed people seem to understand the problems they're thinking about very deeply, have deep domain knowledge and also write very clearly.

As a side note, I highly recommend Samir Okasha's A Very Short Introduction to the Philosophy of Science. For philosophy of physics, The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Physics has a great selection of topics.

comment by pragmatist · 2014-06-23T22:22:52.543Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For philosophy of physics, The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Physics has a great selection of topics.

I have a chapter in that handbook! Won't say which one, though.

comment by Manfred · 2014-06-24T19:35:46.590Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have to admit I wasn't very impressed by A Very Short Introduction. The author used "façon-de-parler" when they could have used "figure of speech." They didn't mention or use probabilistic reasoning at any point, except to point out how mysterious (wiggles fingers) probabilities are. And they closed a section on the debate between Newton and Leibniz over whether absolute motion exists with the phrase "the controversy rages on."

comment by shminux · 2014-06-23T22:14:03.509Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks, will check out the last link.

comment by pragmatist · 2014-06-23T21:40:37.528Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Wayne Myrvold is a good example. Others: Huw Price, John Earman, Philip Kitcher, Christopher Hitchcock, David Wallace, David Albert, Clark Glymour.

comment by DanielDeRossi · 2014-06-23T23:37:17.521Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Tim Maudlin, R.J. Deltete, Robin Collins , John Earman

comment by pragmatist · 2014-06-23T22:21:06.048Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Typically, an interesting answer to a philosophical question requires first recasting it in a falsifiable form, so that is becomes a natural science question, be it physics, cognitive sciences, AI research or something else. This is locally known as hacking away at the edges. Philosophical questions don't have philosophical answers.

You seem to be assuming that a "philosophical answer" is fundamentally different in form from an answer in physics, cognitive science or AI research. But, as Carroll says in his post, "at its best, the practice of philosophy of physics is continuous with the practice of physics itself". There is no sharp distinction between the ways in which physicists and philosophers of physics approach foundational questions in physics. As an example, Carroll's recent paper on self-locating belief and MWI is based on ideas that are heavily pre-figured in the philosophical literature.

Many philosophers, especially philosophers of science, are currently engaged in precisely the sort of "hacking away at the edges" problem-solving you endorse. Perhaps you don't see this as a distinctively "philosophical" mode of problem-solving, but that's a semantic quibble. The fact is that plenty of people who self-identify as philosophers are engaged in it, and that is a reason to talk to certain people who self-identify as philosophers.

comment by shminux · 2014-06-23T22:38:54.241Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There is no sharp distinction between the ways in which physicists and philosophers of physics approach foundational questions in physics. As an example, Carroll's recent paper on self-locating belief and MWI is based on ideas that are heavily pre-figured in the philosophical literature.

I am extremely skeptical about this topic, actually, because there is no way to test it out as I can see, without twisting the definition of testing beyond recognition. Carroll is all like "we derive the Born rule from these reasonable assumptions, therefore MWI", and "it's not an interpretation, it's a formulation", but until he can convince Bohmians or QBists that they are wrong and he is right, I will remain unimpressed.

Many philosophers, especially philosophers of science, are currently engaged in precisely the sort of "hacking away at the edges" problem-solving you endorse. Perhaps you don't see this as a distinctively "philosophical" mode of problem-solving, but that's a semantic quibble.

Absolutely, I don't care how it is called, as long as it is done. I would appreciate a few links to papers which do that, just to understand what you are talking about.

comment by pragmatist · 2014-06-24T08:02:55.632Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would appreciate a few links to papers which do that, just to understand what you are talking about.

Most of Dan Dennett's work adopts the methodology you endorse, and as a bonus, it is usually very readable. A good example is the pair of papers, True Believers and Real Patterns.

Since you're a GR guy, you may enjoy the work of David Malament and John Earman, both of whom have written a lot of interesting stuff on foundational issues in GR. Try this paper by Malament. The first two sections are basically just survey, but in the third section he presents some of his original work, with references to papers where he discusses the issues in more detail.

Huw Price (one of the founders of the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at Cambridge) has done a lot of cool work on time, among other topics. Examples: this paper and this paper.

Philip Pettit is a political philosopher who uses social choice theory to address philosophical questions (in the tradition of Rawls, whose Theory of Justice is an excellent example of hacking at the edges). Many of his papers are worth reading. Here's an example.

Christopher Hitchcock does good work on causation. Here's an interesting paper he co-wrote with Joshua Knobe on how our judgments about causation are tied up with normative notions.

comment by kgalias · 2014-06-26T18:06:17.921Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for giving links to papers.

comment by TheAncientGeek · 2014-06-24T09:22:43.239Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You can't test interpretations. That's why they're called interpretations. It's not that anyone is rejecting empiricism, it is that empirical tests aren't available just because you want them to be.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2014-06-26T02:33:24.375Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

pg 144 of Jaynes's PTTLOS: "Philosophers are free to do whatever they please, because they don't have to do anything right".

comment by Caspar42 · 2014-06-24T19:39:09.195Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Philosophy surely is not useless, but some of their arguments just do not make sense to me.

Physicists tend to express bafflement that philosophers care so much about the words. Philosophers, for their part, tend to express exasperation that physicists can use words all the time without knowing what they actually mean.

My experience is that philosophers often carelessly use words to avoid conveying a clear statement, that could be refutable.

This leads directly to the other common misunderstanding among physicists: that philosophers waste their time on grandiose-sounding “Why?” questions that may have no real answers. Perhaps “misunderstanding” isn’t the right word – some such questions are a waste of time, and philosophers do sometimes get caught up in them. (Just as physicists sometimes spend their time on questions that are kind of boring.)

To me, there seems to be a huge difference between "boring" scientific questions and "grandiose-sounding Why?-questions that [..] have no real answers" what Yudkowsky calls wrong questions, e.g. "Why is there anything instead of nothing?" where it remains very unclear how an answer to that problem would look like.

The quest for absolute clarity of description and rigorous understanding is a crucially important feature of the philosophical method.

As Jacob Bronowski and Bruce Mazlish state in The Western Intellectual Tradition, "our confidence in any science is roughly proportional to the amount of mathematics it employs - that is, to its ability to formulate its concepts with enough precision to allow them to be handled mathematically." In my experience, some philsophers sometimes confuse precision with difficult to read sentences, use of latin words etc. If they knew mathematics (or other formalisms) better, they'd probably produce less material that is of no use (in other scientific disciplines) due to lack of precision.

Science often gives us models of the world that are more than good enough [...]. But that’s not really what drives us to do science in the first place. We shouldn’t be happy to do “well enough,” or merely fit the data – we should be striving to understand how the world really works.

How do they expect an answer to the question of how the world really works to look like? More specifically, what would stop one from responding to any answer with: Yeah, but ... how does the world really, actually work?

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-06-26T15:48:12.191Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My experience is that philosophers often carelessly use words to avoid conveying a clear statement, that could be refutable.

If they do it with the purposes of not making a statement that's open to certain refutations I don't see how that's careless.

comment by Caspar42 · 2014-06-26T18:34:03.268Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oops... ;-)

comment by TheAncientGeek · 2014-06-24T10:27:09.757Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Personally, I am underwhelmed, since he does not address the point of view that philosophy is great at asking interesting questions but lousy at answering them.

Philosophers are good at posing and understanding questions, which is non trivial.

The typical failure mode of scientists doing philosophy is getting the question wrong. Show me a non philosopher who has "answered" a philosophical question, and I will show you one who has misunderstood it..

Physics isn't just done for pragmatic reasons. People look to science fir insight into free will, more Ity, consciousness and the origins of the universe. Philosophy can play a role in connecting the popular question to the scientists answers.

comment by Jon_S · 2014-06-29T23:44:54.145Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So your argument is philosophy doesn't provide real contributions and your criterion for a "real contribution" is falsifiability. You do realize that the person who identified falsifiability as the demarcation between science and non-science was Karl Popper - a philosopher, right? The sheer aggressive intellectual ignorance of this post amazes me.