Intuitions Aren't Shared That Way

post by lukeprog · 2012-11-29T06:19:50.305Z · score: 33 (33 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 237 comments

Part of the sequence: Rationality and Philosophy

Consider these two versions of the famous trolley problem:

Stranger: A train, its brakes failed, is rushing toward five people. The only way to save the five people is to throw the switch sitting next to you, which will turn the train onto a side track, thereby preventing it from killing the five people. However, there is a stranger standing on the side track with his back turned, and if you proceed to thrown the switch, the five people will be saved, but the person on the side track will be killed.

Child: A train, its brakes failed, is rushing toward five people. The only way to save the five people is to throw the switch sitting next to you, which will turn the train onto a side track, thereby preventing it from killing the five people. However, there is a 12-year-old boy standing on the side track with his back turned, and if you proceed to throw the switch, the five people will be saved, but the boy on the side track will be killed.

Here it is: a standard-form philosophical thought experiment. In standard analytic philosophy, the next step is to engage in conceptual analysis — a process in which we use our intuitions as evidence for one theory over another. For example, if your intuitions say that it is "morally right" to throw the switch in both cases above, then these intuitions may be counted as evidence for consequentialism, for moral realism, for agent neutrality, and so on.

Alexander (2012) explains:

Philosophical intuitions play an important role in contemporary philosophy. Philosophical intuitions provide data to be explained by our philosophical theories [and] evidence that may be adduced in arguments for their truth... In this way, the role... of intuitional evidence in philosophy is similar to the role... of perceptual evidence in science...

Is knowledge simply justified true belief? Is a belief justified just in case it is caused by a reliable cognitive mechanism? Does a name refer to whatever object uniquely or best satisfies the description associated with it? Is a person morally responsible for an action only if she could have acted otherwise? Is an action morally right just in case it provides the greatest benefit for the greatest number of people all else being equal? When confronted with these kinds of questions, philosophers often appeal to philosophical intuitions about real or imagined cases...

...there is widespread agreement about the role that [intuitions] play in contemporary philosophical practice... We advance philosophical theories on the basis of their ability to explain our philosophical intuitions, and appeal to them as evidence that those theories are true...

In particular, notice that philosophers do not appeal to their intuitions as merely an exercise in autobiography. Philosophers are not merely trying to map the contours of their own idiosyncratic concepts. That could be interesting, but it wouldn't be worth decades of publicly-funded philosophical research. Instead, philosophers appeal to their intuitions as evidence for what is true in general about a concept, or true about the world.

In this sense,

We [philosophers] tend to believe that our philosophical intuitions are more or less universally shared... We... appeal to philosophical intuitions, when we do, because we anticipate that others share our intuitive judgments.

But anyone with more than a passing familiarity with cognitive science might have bet in advance that this basic underlying assumption of a core philosophical method is... incorrect.

For one thing, philosophical intuitions show gender diversity. Consider again the Stranger and Child versions of the Trolley problem. It turns out that men are less likely than women to think it is morally acceptable to throw the switch in the Stranger case, while women are less likely than men to think it is morally acceptable to throw the switch in the Child case (Zamzow & Nichols 2009).

Or, consider a thought experiment meant to illuminate the much-discussed concept of knowledge:

Peter is in his locked apartment and is reading. He decides to have a shower. He puts his book down on the coffee table. Then he takes off his watch, and also puts it on the coffee table. Then he goes into the bathroom. As Peter's shower begins, a burglar silently breaks into Peter's apartment. The burglar takes Peter's watch, puts a cheap plastic watch in its place, and then leaves. Peter has only been in the shower for two minutes, and he did not hear anything.

When presented with this vignette, only 41% of men say that Peter "knows" there is a watch on the table, while 71% of women say that Peter "knows" there is a watch on the table (Starman & Friedman 2012). According to Buckwalter & Stich (2010), Starmans & Friedman ran another study using a slightly different vignette with a female protagonist, and that time only 36% of men said the protagonist "knows," while 75% of women said she "knows."

The story remains the same for intuitions about free will. In another study reported in Buckwalter & Stich (2010), Geoffrey Holtman presented subjects with this vignette:

Suppose scientists figure out the exact state of the universe during the Big Bang, and figure out all the laws of physics as well. They put this information into a computer, and the computer perfectly predicts everything that has ever happened. In other words, they prove that everything that happens has to happen exactly that way because of the laws of physics and everything that's come before. In this case, is a person free to choose whether or not to murder someone?

In this study, only 35% of men, but 63% of women, said a person in this world could be free to choose whether or not to murder someone.

Intuitions show not only gender diversity but also cultural diversity. Consider another thought experiment about knowledge (you can punch me in the face, later):

Bob has a friend Jill, who has driven a Buick for many years. Bob therefore thinks that Jill drives an American car. He is not aware, however, that her Buick has recently been stolen, and he is also not aware that Jill has replaced it with a Pontiac, which is a different kind of American car. Does Bob really know that Jill drives an American car, or does he only believe it?

Only 26% of Westerners say that Bob "knows" that Jill drives an American car, while 56% of East Asian subjects, and 61% of South Asian subjects, say that Bob "knows."

Now, consider a thought experiment meant to elicit semantic intuitions:

Suppose that John has learned in college that Gödel is the man who proved... the incompleteness of arithmetic. John is quite good at mathematics and he can give an accurate statement of the incompleteness theorem, which he attributes to Gödel as the discoverer. But this is the only thing that he has heard about Gödel. Now suppose that Gödel was not the author of this theorem. A man called "Schmidt"… actually did the work in question. His friend Gödel somehow got a hold of the manuscript and claimed credit for the work, which was thereafter attributed to Gödel... Most people who have heard the name "Gödel" are like John; the claim that Gödel discovered the incompleteness theorem is the only thing that they have ever heard about Gödel.

When presented with this vignette, East Asians are more likely to take the "descriptivist" view of reference, believing that John "is referring to" Schmidt — while Westerners are more likely to take the "causal-historical" view, believing that John "is referring to" Gödel (Machery et al. 2004).

Previously, I asked:

What would happen if we dropped all philosophical methods that were developed when we had a Cartesian view of the mind and of reason, and instead invented philosophy anew given what we now know about the physical processes that produce human reasoning?

For one thing, we would never assume that people of all kinds would share our intuitions.

 

Next post: Philosophy Needs to Trust Your Rationality Even Though It Shouldn't

Previous post: Living Metaphorically

 

 

 

237 comments

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comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2012-11-29T12:24:30.069Z · score: 13 (15 votes) · LW · GW

Going from the cited examples alone, it seems that most of the diversity in answers may be caused not so much by "different intuitions", but vagueness of questions, as they can be interpreted in many different ways, effectively forcing the respondents to give answers to different questions selected more or less arbitrarily, starting from the vague statements of the questions. That is, the differing intuitions are not intuitions about properties of complicated situations being discussed, but intuitions about how vague words such as "knows" or "refers to" are to be interpreted in the given context.

A lot more tabooing might need to be done before such questionnaires can start indicating differences in intuition about substantive questions. Alternatively, thought experiments phrased as decision problems (such as the trolley problem) mostly avoid this issue, if they don't ask about characterizations of the situation other than the decision that is to be made (such as whether by throwing or not throwing the switch one becomes "responsible" for the deaths).

comment by lukeprog · 2012-11-29T16:21:23.244Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Right; the point of these thought experiments is to elicit intuitions about non-substantive questions, like what "know" means. Welcome to philosophy.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-11-29T16:29:31.384Z · score: -3 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Right; the point of these thought experiments is to elicit intuitions about non-substantive questions, like what "know" means.

Ahem! Those questions are highly substantive. They are just not very empirical. Confusing verifiability and meaningfullness is a Very Bad Habit of Thought picked up from LW, IMNSHO.

Welcome to philosophy.

I thought that was my catchphrase.

comment by DaFranker · 2012-11-29T16:42:11.704Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

You'll have to explain your claim that "What does 'know' mean?" is a substantive rather than confused question (rational-tabooing "know" does appear to solve all the problems), because I'm quite sure I'm not the only one for whom this is not obvious or who has evidence saying otherwise.

Confusing verifiability and meaningfullness is a Very Bad Habit of Thought picked up from LW, IMNSHO.

Errh, non-sequitur much? I don't see where there's a relevant example of a confusion between verifiability and meaningfulness in this conversation.

I do agree that LWers are more likely to pick up this bad habit, and that it is not beneficial compared to many other, much healthier possible habits of thought. It just doesn't seem directly relevant to mention that here.

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2012-11-29T18:20:23.086Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Here's an idea: Let's taboo 'substantive'. I suspect that by 'substantive' some of you mean 'important,' while others of you mean 'concerning the extra-mental world' or 'carving Nature at its joints.'

So: Are we arguing about whether our criteria for saying people know or fail to know things matter? Or are we aguing about whether there's a completely human-independent 'fact of the matter' about what the word 'know' does, or ought, mean?

Obviously purely conceptual questions can nevertheless be very humanly important; they can be conceptually deep. (Even completely arbitrary issues of rule-picking and definition-choosing can be extremely important. For instance, it matters a lot that we all agree on whether to drive on the right or left side of a given road, even though it's fundamentally arbitrary which side we all agree on.) And, equally obviously, most joint-carving questions are not humanly important at all.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-11-29T17:07:15.129Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

most of the diversity in answers may be caused not so much by "different intuitions", but vagueness of questions,

Which is a problem, because these kinds of quesions are asked to resolve "what does X mean" questions. It may be true that Meaning is Truth Conditions, but it isnt useful., because where meaning is vague, so are truth conditions, and so TC's cannot be used to pin down meaning.

whether by throwing or not throwing the switch one becomes "responsible" for the deaths).

"Responsible" is a characterisaion, isn't it?

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2012-11-29T17:51:42.738Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

these kinds of quesions are asked to resolve "what does X mean" questions

Resolving the meaning of vague terms is a pointless activity/bad methodology. One should focus of seeking and answering better questions motivated by the same considerations that motivate the original vague questions instead. This involves asking "What motivates/causes the vague question?" rather than "What does the vague question mean?" as the first step, where the "vague question" is a real-world phenomenon occurring in a scholar's mind.

Sometimes, the cause of a question turns out to be uninteresting, a bug in perception of the world, which dissolves the question. Sometimes, the causes of a question turn out to have interesting and complicated structure and you need a whole lot of new ideas to characterize them. This way, "What is motion?" points towards ideas such as time, velocity, acceleration, inertia, mass, force, momentum, energy, impulse, torque, simultaneity, continuity, differential and integral calculus, etc., which were not there in the heads of the philosophers who first wondered about motion.

comment by Tyrrell_McAllister · 2012-11-29T20:59:30.033Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Sometimes, the causes of a question turn out to have interesting and complicated structure and you need a whole lot of new ideas to characterize them. This way, "What is motion?" points towards ideas such as time, velocity, acceleration, inertia, mass, force, momentum, energy, impulse, torque, simultaneity, continuity, differential and integral calculus, etc., which were not there in the heads of the philosophers who first wondered about motion.

Isn't this kind of a counterexample to your point?

If, instead of "What is motion?", philosophers had turned to the question "What motivates/causes us to ask 'what is motion'?", the answer have been some variation on "moving stuff", which wouldn't have been much of an advance.

In this case the solution really did follow from a first-order process of trying to think very clearly about what the vague term "motion" seemed to be referring to, didn't it?

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2012-11-29T21:24:34.651Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The distinction I'm making with that example is between asking "What do I mean by 'motion'?", which looks at the person's understanding of the word in detail (and there isn't much useful understanding to be found in their mind if they don't already understand mechanics); and asking "What causes me to wonder about motion?", which points to the stuff that is moving, and motivates studying this moving stuff in detail, asking more specific questions about the way in which it moves.

comment by Tyrrell_McAllister · 2012-11-30T01:12:11.904Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I see. Thank you for the clarification.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-11-29T22:43:55.840Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

And the empirical version of asking what a word means--examiining instances of usage, rather than introspecting -- can give3 us a useful start on that, eg. by showing that there a usages fall intio distinct clusters, so that there is not in fact one meaning.

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2012-11-29T22:43:23.649Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"What causes me to wonder about motion?" is the better question if "motion" is a relatively natural kind. If it isn't — if it's plausible that I've made some error in how I group together phenomena — then it may be much more valuable to explain and make explicit what I mean by "motion." See where to draw the boundary.

Philosophy is only important because our intuitions are often unreliable. We can't trust common sense or pragmatism not to import unjustified assumptions, and unjustified assumptions can blow up in our face if left unexamined for too long. Philosophy has never been about asserting 'that's intuitive' and stopping there. (If it were, philosophical theories wouldn't be so ridiculously counter-intuitive!) It's about testing the relationship between intuitions, and the worldly naturalness of our intuitive kinds. If we could do without assumptions and categorization and methodological decisions and intuitive thought altogether in our scientific and everyday activities, then sure, maybe philosophy would be dispensable. But as it happens, errors in our conceptual schemes can bleed into serious errors in our decision-making and in our territory-mapping.

Refusing to think about philosophy doesn't immunize you to philosophical error; if anything, it increases your susceptibility to implicit philosophical biases.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-11-29T22:37:05.334Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Resolving the meaning of vague terms is a pointless activity/bad methodology.

i wasn't aware that levels of vagueness are intrinsic and fixed. There is a sense in which "water" is now less vague (and a sense in which "matter" is now more vague).

ETA: It seems that when Science makes a term less vague, it does so by stipulation rather than resolution. When philosphers do that, it's a Bad Thing called the True Scotsman Fallacy.

In any case, I was only making the point that none of the quoted examples involved philsophers trying to deduce the nature of the external world from lingusitic behavuour.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2012-11-29T22:51:22.291Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Not every change is an improvement, but every improvement is a change. "True Scotsman Fallacy" is about changing the question under discussion in an unhelpful manner, often in order to avoid the evaluation of the original question. If we agree that different questions have different degrees of usefulness (given some state of understanding), different ability to elicit further understanding, and are motivated by various purposes (as opposed to somehow being important in themselves), then serving the purpose of a question naturally employs developing different, more useful questions, and shifting the focus of investigation to them.

comment by Suryc11 · 2012-11-29T18:43:27.033Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Harvard Prof. Richard Moran touches on this in a humorous manner:

"As to ‘experimental philosophy, I can’t claim to be very well versed in it, but it seems to be a research program in its early days. I think that by now, even its practitioners are beginning to realise that simply asking people, outside of any particular context, about their “intuitions” about some concept of philosophical interest is not really going to be informative since without any philosophical background to the question, the respondents themselves can’t really know just what question they are being asked to answer, what their responses are responses to. There are just too many different things that can be meant by a question like, “‘Was such-and-such an action intentional or not?”, for example. And without further discussion or further analysis, the experimenters themselves can’t know what answers they are being given by the respondents. It’s not good data. So I can imagine experimental philosophy evolving in a way to account for this, and starting to include some philosophical background to the investigation, perhaps even some philosophical history, to provide the needed context to the particular intuitions that they are trying to expose and test for. At that point, the experimental situation might also become less one-sided, with a researcher examining a respondent, and could allow for the experimental subjects themselves to ask questions of the experimenters, including questions of clarification and disambiguation, and perhaps even challenges to the way the experimenter has framed the questions.

Later it might be found useful to conduct such experiments in small groups rather than individually, with one experimenter and one subject, and instead the respondents could be encouraged to discuss the questions among themselves as well as with the experimenter. People could meet in these groups two or three times a week and perhaps some relevant reading could be assigned, to clarify and expand upon the question, and the respondents would be given time to do the reading, and asked to write something later on about the question in connection with the reading and the discussions they have had. Then the experimenter could provide “comments” on this writing for the experimental subjects themselves. I think grading the results would be optional on such an arrangement, and probably of no experimental interest, but other than that I think something like this could be the future of experimental philosophy. It’s worth trying anyway."

http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/keeping-sartre-and-other-passions/2/

comment by fubarobfusco · 2012-11-29T21:18:12.099Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This seems to be implying that moral philosophy has little or nothing to do with how untrained people make moral decisions; epistemology has little or nothing to do with how untrained people gain confidence in their beliefs as knowledge, etc.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-11-30T18:28:20.039Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

epistemology has little or nothing to do with how untrained people gain confidence in their beliefs as knowledge, etc.

Epistemology is about how to acquire beliefs correctly. How untrained people actually acquire beliefs is some kind of social science. Just like rocketry is distinct from investigating how untrained people imagine rockets work.

comment by JaySwartz · 2012-11-30T18:43:16.566Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

More specifically, epistemology is a formal field of philosophy. Epistemologists study the interaction of knowledge with truth and belief. Basically, what we know and how we know it. They work to identify the source and scope of knowledge. An epistemological statement example goes something like this; I know I know how to program because professors who teach programming, authoritative figures, told me so by giving me passing grades in their classes.

comment by BerryPick6 · 2012-11-30T18:30:39.835Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

This seems to be implying that moral philosophy has little or nothing to do with how untrained people make moral decisions

If the aim of moral philosophy is to answer questions like "What ought one to do" or "What ought to exist," then how untrained people make moral decisions has little to nothing to do with moral philosophy.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2012-11-29T07:31:18.627Z · score: 7 (11 votes) · LW · GW

The examples involving killing people seem like good examples, but the others seem like they could be predicated on disagreements about semantics rather than, say, disagreements about anticipated experiences (or utility functions, I guess). Words would need to be tabooed before I would trust those examples.

comment by lukeprog · 2012-11-29T16:19:19.449Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

All of these examples are, in fact, explicitly about semantics. They are thought experiments mean to elicit our intuitions about the concepts of knowledge, moral rightness, etc.

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-11-29T08:55:23.579Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Agreed. And the example about the watch sounds more like a "gotcha" question than anything else.

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2012-11-29T07:24:10.544Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

The point is very well-made. But it's not a philosophy-specific one. Mathematicians with a preferred ontology or axiomatization, theoretical physicists with a preferred nonstandard model or QM interpretation, also have to face up to the fact that neither intuitiveness nor counter-intuitiveness is a credible guide to truth — even in cases where there is no positive argument contesting the intuition. Some account is needed for why we should expect intuitions in the case in question to pick out truths.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-11-29T13:55:09.982Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

What else have we got (one)? We might accept QM's counterintuitive ideas about locality and causality on the basis of trust in empiricism. But where is the nonintutive basis for empiricism? Epistemology grounds out in intuitions as much as anything else. So when we accpet the counterintuitive content of QM, we are sacrificing one intuition to another.

What else have we got (two)? In mathematics, a theorem is considerred true if it is an axiom or derivable from an axiom. What third thing is there that would make an axiom true? It is not that intutitve axioms have some guarantee to fulfil some external criterion of truth (to correspond to affairs in Plato's Heaven perhaps) it is that there is no external criterion.

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2012-11-29T17:49:01.609Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Epistemology and ethics, construed as systems or normative rules, must certainly hit rock bottom at some point -- in values, in concerns, in interests. But that's a foundational point, and I'm not sure we should retain the logic of criterionless foundational decisions once we're done with the founding.

I'm not sure 'assuming empiricism' is the foundation in question, though. Depending on what you mean by 'empiricism,' it might go at least a level or two deeper.

a theorem is considerred true if it is an axiom or derivable from an axiom. What third thing is there that would make an axiom true?

My point was that if you're going to criticize most philosophers for abusing intuitiveness, you should criticize most mathematicians for abusing it to an even greater degree. Mathematical realists, and mathematical platonists in particular -- a majority of mathematicians, as far as I'm aware -- are of the view that some mathematical structures we could build are right and others are just wrong, for one reason or another. What worries me isn't that the arguments for realism and platonism are weak; what worries me is that most mathematicians don't seem to even feel that they need to provide an argument to take this view seriously, as though the very act of noticing the intuition gave them reason to update in favor of realism.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-11-29T22:47:35.538Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But that's a foundational point, and I'm not sure we should retain the logic of criterionless foundational decisions once we're done with the founding.

I don't see what you're gettig at all. If there are ciiteria for being "foundational", how could they not be even more foundational? If there aren;t, how could foundations not be criterionless?

Depending on what you mean by 'empiricism,' it might go at least a level or two deeper.

Then what would it be? Are you sayign empricisim has intutivie or apriori sub-foundations?

My point was that if you're going to criticize most philosophers for abusing intuitiveness, you should criticize most mathematicians for abusing it to an even greater degree

Personally, I wasn;t criticising phis. for abusing intutiveness.

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2012-11-29T22:54:17.086Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't see what you're gettig at all. If there are ciiteria for being "foundational", how could they not be even more foundational?

I'm not saying there are criteria for making foundational decisions. (Though there may be causes. A cause differs from a criterion in that not all causes give me reasons to decide as I do.) I'm saying that we should be very wary about letting the arbitrariness of criterionless choices infect criterionful ones.

Then what would it be? Are you sayign empricisim has intutivie or apriori sub-foundations?

As I said, it depends on what you mean by 'empiricism.' So, what do you mean by it?

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-11-30T14:34:21.363Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm saying that we should be very wary about letting the arbitrariness of criterionless choices infect criterionful ones.

Do we have a choice? How to we protect any choice when it ultimately has an aribtrary foundation?

As I said, it depends on what you mean by 'empiricism.'

I don't see why: the problem seems to affect eveything.

So, what do you mean by it?

"Empiricism is a theory of knowledge that asserts that knowledge comes only or primarily from sensory experience."

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2012-11-30T19:31:16.085Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

How to we protect any choice when it ultimately has an aribtrary foundation?

By choosing to treat non-foundational issues in a single unified way that is distinct from how we treat foundational issues, we keep our thought more ordered and localize whatever problems there might be to our axioms.

"Empiricism is a theory of knowledge that asserts that knowledge comes only or primarily from sensory experience."

I see no need to assume such a doctrine. If it turned out to be false (say, if we were programmed from birth with many innate truths), we could still do science. It's also worth noting that the logically knowable truths are far greater in number than the empirically knowable ones.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-11-30T23:19:07.793Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

By choosing to treat non-foundational issues in a single unified way that is distinct from how we treat foundational issues, we keep our thought more ordered and localize whatever problems there might be to our axioms.

That just says they are different. They have to be, because we can pin non-foundational issues to foundationail issues, but we can't pin foundational issues to foundational issues. However a difference is not the difference* -- the differnce tha would show that any arbitrariness of foundations affects what is founded on them

If [empiricism] turned out to be false (say, if we were programmed from birth with many innate truths), we could still do science

I suppose there could be a weak empiricism that just fills out the gaps in apriopri reasoning. However, it is doubtful that apriori reasoning can supply truth at all. See below.

It's also worth noting that the logically knowable truths are far greater in number than the empirically knowable ones.

So long as you are willing to accept valid derivations from arbitrary premises as actually true. One can derive all sorts of things from the cheesiness of the Moon..

comment by JoshuaZ · 2012-11-30T19:37:35.505Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's also worth noting that the logically knowable truths are far greater in number than the empirically knowable ones.

Can you explain what makes you conclude this inequality? It isn't obvious to me.

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2012-11-30T19:43:38.160Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Sure. p → p is a logical truth. p → (p → p) is also a logical truth. So too p → (p → (p → p)). You can iterate this procedure to build arbitrarily long assertions. Likewise for mathematical equations. I don't think that what we ordinarily mean by 'empirical facts' can be generated so easily. The empirical facts are a vanishingly small subset of the things we can know.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2012-11-30T19:50:37.136Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If that sort of thing is acceptable, can't I also generate new empirical truths by for example just concatenating existing truths together? Say "The moon orbits the Earth, and George Washington was the first President"? That seems to be very close to what you are doing. Worse, I can use counterfactuals in a similar fashion, so "If homeopathy works then the moon is made out of green cheese" becomes an empirical truth?

There's an argument here that these statements I'm using are mixes of empirical and logical truth, and if one buys into that then it seems like you are correct.

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2012-11-30T20:03:19.092Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Say "The moon orbits the Earth, and George Washington was the first President"?

That still will only get you as many truths as there are combinations of empirical facts. A better method is to use disjunction: Since 'The moon orbits the Earth' is true 'The moon orbits the Earth or is a hamster' is true; hence 'Either the moon orbits the earth or is a hamster, or the moon is a hamster' is also true. And so on. Here we do get infinite strings, if we want them. But at this point it's not clear to me that these new truths are 'empirical facts.' If so, then the class of empirical truths is indeed comparable in size to the class of logical truths.

And just how 'empirical' are counterfactuals? I don't know. I try to avoid them when possible. There be dragons.

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2012-11-30T20:30:52.271Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You could also concatenate truths with themselves. 'The moon orbits the Earth, and the moon orbits the Earth, and the moon orbits the Earth....'

comment by thomblake · 2012-11-30T20:22:33.997Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Here we do get infinite strings, if we want them.

Not in English, I'd say. But you do get an infinite set of finite strings of arbitrary length.

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2012-11-30T20:29:05.496Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

'Rule 338(b) of the English Language: Sentences stop being grammatical when the number of morphemes equals ω₁. Seriously. Don't do that shit. It's obnoxious.'

comment by JoshuaZ · 2012-11-30T20:14:30.137Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm convinced. Thanks.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-11-30T23:38:50.696Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That seems to be very close to what you are doing

Check this out.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-11-30T23:22:14.333Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

They're all just valid. You haven't got to sound yet.

The empirical facts are a vanishingly small subset of the things we can know

OK, I see what you mean better now. For one single empirical fact (sound premise) on can generate an infinite number of sound logical sentences, which basically say the same thing in ever more complicated ways. If p is true, (p & T) is true as are (p & T &T..). Many people have the instict that these are trivial "cambridge" truths and don;t add up to konwing an extra countable infinity of facts every time you learn one empirical fact.

It would be intersting to think about how that pans out in terns of the JTB theory.

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2012-12-01T07:11:21.550Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

They're all just valid. You haven't got to sound yet.

'Valid' and 'sound' are predicated of arguments. 'p → p' and the other sentences I listed are sentences, not arguments. Sentences are true or false, not valid or invalid, nor sound or unsound.

Many people have the instict that these are trivial "cambridge" truths and don;t add up to konwing an extra countable infinity of facts every time you learn one empirical fact.

Perhaps, but it will be a pretty huge project to explain 'know' in a way that clearly distinguishes the 'fake' knowledge from the real stuff.

comment by JaySwartz · 2012-11-30T19:47:06.717Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think a semantic check is in order. Intuition can be defined as an immediate cognition of a thought that is not inferred by a previous cognition of the same thought. This definition allows for prior learning to impact intuition. Trained mathematicians will make intuitive inferences based on their training, these can be called breakthroughs when they are correct. It would be highly improbable for an untrained person to have the same intuition or accurate intuitive thoughts about advanced math.

Intuition can also be defined as untaught, non-inferential, pure knowledge. This would seem to invalidate the example above since the mathematician had a cognition that relied on inferences from prior teachings. Arriving at an agreement on which definition this thread is using will help clarify comments.

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2012-11-30T19:57:51.819Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The former definition sounds more promising. "Untaught" and "pure" are scary qualifiers to ask philosophers to be committed to when they probe themselves (or others) with thought experiments. Philosophical intuitions might be less rigorous or systematic than mathematical ones, but it's not as though they come free of cultural trappings or environmental influences.

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-11-29T07:14:25.664Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

For one thing, we would never assume that people of all kinds would share our intuitions.

Isn't this kind of an obvious conclusion ? The entire science of sociology was developed to address it, as far as I understand.

Is there really any kind of a serious debate in modern philosophy circles regarding whether or not our personal intuitions can be generally trusted ?

comment by lukeprog · 2012-11-29T07:22:49.527Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Is there really any kind of a serious debate in modern philosophy circles regarding whether or not our personal intuitions can be generally trusted?

Yes! The Experimental Philosophy: An Introduction book I linked to is a very brief, up-to-date summary of that debate. The debate over intuitions is one of the hottest in philosophy today, and has been since about 1998.

comment by RichardChappell · 2012-12-03T21:53:45.525Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The debate over intuitions is one of the hottest in philosophy today

But it -- at least the "debate over intuitions" that I'm most familiar with -- isn't about whether intuitions are reliable, but rather over whether the critics have accurately specified the role they play in traditional philosophical methodology. That is, the standard response to experimentalist critics (at least, in my corner of philosophy) is not to argue that intuitions are "reliable evidence", but rather to deny that we are using them as evidence at all. On this view, what we appeal to as evidence is not the psychological fact of my having an intuition, but rather the propositional content being judged.

The purpose of thought experiments, on this view, is to enable one to grasp new evidence (namely, the proposition in question) that they hadn't considered before. Of course, this isn't a "neutral" methodology because only those who intuit the true proposition thereby gain genuine evidence. But the foolishness of such a "neutrality" constraint (and the associated "psychological" view of evidence) is one of the major lessons of contemporary epistemology (see, esp., Williamson).

comment by lukeprog · 2012-12-19T03:30:41.961Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

A quick review (for the benefit of others): Bugmaster asked: "Is there really any kind of a serious debate in modern philosophy circles regarding whether or not our personal intuitions can be generally trusted?" I replied: "Yes... the debate over intuitions is one of the hottest in philosophy today." But Richard is right to say that most of the philosophical debate about intuitions "isn't about whether intuitions are reliable, but rather over whether the critics have accurately specified the role they play in traditional philosophical methodology." So, I apologize for my sloppy wording.

Now, a few words on intuitionist methodology. When I read the defenders of intuitionist methodology, I'm reminded of something John Doris said in my interview with him (slight paraphrase for clarity and succinctness; see the exact quote at the bottom of the transcript):

If experimentalists say that something is a mistake, then no one will admit they said it. And I'm no different: "Oh, is that false? Then I disagree. That's not what I really meant."

When experimentalists pointed out that our brains don't store concepts as necessary and sufficient conditions, many philosophers rushed to say that philosophers had never been assuming this in the first place. But clearly, many philosophers were making such false assumptions about how concepts worked, since the "classical" view of concepts — concepts as mental representations captured by necessary and sufficient conditions — held sway for quite some time, even after Wittgenstein (1953). (For a review, see Murphy 2004.)

Or, given that experimentalists have raised worries about using intuitions as evidence in general, Ichikawa (forthcoming) now rushes to say that philosophers generally don't rely on intuitions in a "central" way. (To narrow our discussion, I'll focus on this, the first article you sent me.) What does Ichikawa mean by this? He distinguishes three metaphilosophical claims:

  1. Intuited contents are (often) taken as important evidence/reasons/data/input in armchair philosophy.
  2. Intuited contents are (often) taken as important evidence/reasons/data/input in armchair philosophy because they are intuited.
  3. Intuition states, or facts about intuition states, are (often) taken as important evidence/reasons/data/input in armchair philosophy.

As far as I can tell, Ichikawa wants to argue that (1) represents philosophical practice better than (2) or (3), and that (1) is not particularly undermined by experimentalist critiques. Have I got that right? (I'll hold my reply until I hear whether you agree with my interpretation. I found Ichikawa to be unclear on this, though not as unclear as Yudkowsky or Muehlhauser often are in their philosophical writings.)

comment by RichardChappell · 2012-12-19T05:04:04.275Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, that's the idea. I mean, (2) is plausibly true if the "because" is meant in a purely causal, rather than rationalizing, sense. But we don't take the fact that we stand in a certain psychological relation to this content (i.e., intuiting it) to play any essential justifying role.

Thanks for following up on this issue! I'm looking forward to hearing the rest of your thoughts.

comment by lukeprog · 2012-12-19T05:59:56.179Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, that's the idea.

In that case, I struggle to see why the "defeater critique" wouldn't seriously undermine practice (1) in most cases. Philosophers can't simply assume intuited contents p and then move from p to q. We want to know how likely p is to be true, and if our primary reason for thinking p is true is some unreliable cognitive algorithm (rather than, say, hard scientific data or a mathematical proof), then we are left without much reason to be confident that p is true.

Suppose a theist says he knows by Holy Spirit Communication (HSC) that Jesus is magic. An atheist replies, "HSC is not a reliable method. See all this experimental data on people making judgments based on the deliverances of (what they claim is) HSC." The theist then says, "No, I'm not arguing from the HSC mental state to the conclusion that Jesus is magic. I'm arguing from the HSC contents (that is, from proposition p) to the conclusion that Jesus is magic."

The atheist would be unimpressed, and correctly so.

comment by RichardChappell · 2012-12-19T19:34:29.453Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In the case you describe, the "HSC content" is just that Jesus is magic. So there's no argument being offered at all. Now, if they offer an actual argument, from some other p to the conclusion that Jesus is magic, then we can assess this argument like any other. How the arguer came to believe the original premise p is not particularly relevant. What you call the "defeater critique", I call the genetic fallacy.

It's true that an interlocutor is never going to be particularly moved by an argument that starts from premises he doesn't accept. Such is life.

The more interesting question is whether the arguer herself should be led to abandon her intuited judgments. But unless you offer some positive evidence for an alternative rational credence to place in p, it's not clear that a "debunking" explanation of her current level of credence should, by itself, make any difference.

Think of intuitied judgments as priors. Someone might say, "There's no special reason to think that your priors are well-calibrated." And that may be true, but it doesn't change what our priors are. We can't start from anywhere but where we start.

comment by lukeprog · 2012-12-19T21:26:46.400Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What you call the "defeater critique", I call the genetic fallacy.

Thinking of things in terms of informal fallacies like the genetic fallacy throws away information. From a Bayesian viewpoint, the source of one's belief is relevant to its likelihood of being true.

(Edit 9/2/13: A good example of this is here.)

The more interesting question is whether the arguer herself should be led to abandon her intuited judgments. But unless you offer some positive evidence for an alternative rational credence to place in p, it's not clear that a "debunking" explanation of her current level of credence should, by itself, make any difference.

Right; I mostly complain about arguments made solely from intuited contents when the claims are given with far more confidence than can be justified by the demonstrated reliability of human intuitions in that domain.

comment by lukeprog · 2012-12-04T00:37:17.644Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Can you cite a specific paper on book chapter which makes the kind of argument you're suggesting here?

comment by RichardChappell · 2012-12-04T18:48:15.922Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Jonathan Ichikawa, 'Who Needs Intuitions'

Elizabeth Harman, 'Is it Reasonable to “Rely on Intuitions” in Ethics?

Timothy Williamson, 'Evidence in Philosophy', chp 7 of The Philosophy of Philosophy.

comment by lukeprog · 2012-12-04T19:52:28.383Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks. I'm going to be extremely busy for the next few weeks but I will make sure to get back to you on this (and reply to your comment, so you get a notification) at a later time.

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-11-29T07:36:08.494Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

My mind kind of boggled after reading your comment. First of all "Experimental Philosophy" sounds almost like an oxymoron. If it was really "experimental", it would be science, not philosophy. But secondly... debate about the reliability of intuitions, really ? Isn't this basically a very strong sign that modern philosophy can safely be ignored, just like modern astrology ?

comment by Emile · 2012-11-29T15:07:10.947Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

"Experimental Philosophy" sounds almost like an oxymoron. If it was really "experimental", it would be science, not philosophy.

Neither Philosophy nor Science are clearly delimited concepts that can be defined by a short sentence; like a lot of categories they are fuzzy and may overlap. Some activities called "doing science" are not experimental (abstract Math), and some experimental activities are not usually called "science" (testing a video game).

comment by Jabberslythe · 2012-12-05T02:16:58.177Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

My mind kind of boggled after reading your comment. First of all "Experimental Philosophy" sounds almost like an oxymoron. If it was really "experimental", it would be science, not philosophy.

Well it doesn't matter that much what you call it. Since it is addressing questions are the mainly of interest to philosophers and that philosophers are trying to answer, I think it's useful to call it "experimental philosophy".

But secondly... debate about the reliability of intuitions, really ? Isn't this basically a very strong sign that modern philosophy can safely be ignored, just like modern astrology ?

Most of the reliance on intuitions in philosophy is for doing conceptual analysis, so figuring out what people mean by terms like knowledge, which there may be problems with, but philosophers aren't relying on intuitions to resolve questions such as what's going to happen to me me in the future, like astrologists are.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2012-11-29T08:22:55.922Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If it was really "experimental", it would be science, not philosophy.

There was a fellow in the early 20th century who labeled his religious writings with the catch-phrase, "The Method of Science, the Aim of Religion."

comment by Nornagest · 2012-11-29T08:34:42.602Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Crowley was surprisingly lucid in methods for someone with a habit of calling himself "The Great Beast 666"; much of his work might be described as what you'd get if you took an empiricist epistemology and applied it to a profoundly anti-reductionist ontology. I've gotten some mileage out of his quotes on religious practice elsewhere.

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-11-29T08:34:30.958Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So did L. Ron Hubbard, doesn't mean that either of them was right. But at least your guy didn't extort money from his followers, AFAIK...

comment by JoshuaZ · 2012-12-05T02:20:05.507Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Among other issues, there clearly are productive philosophers out there who are producing good work. Bostrom is a popular example here at LW.

comment by myron_tho · 2012-11-29T07:44:25.325Z · score: -1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

But secondly... debate about the reliability of intuitions, really ? Isn't this basically a very strong sign that modern philosophy can safely be ignored, just like modern astrology ?

No.

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-11-29T07:55:39.499Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Why not ?

comment by myron_tho · 2012-11-29T09:01:41.232Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Because in a general sense, ignoring a large and useful body of knowledge out of hand and on the grounds that it triggers intuitive dislikes (esp. when said intuitions are based on a weak strawman interpretation of said discipline) is usually not a good move.

More specific to the argument at hand, why should a debate about reliability of intuitions disqualify philosophy? Do you believe this is a settled debate? And if so, on what grounds is it settled?

The center of the issue is that you can't answer these questions empirically. What observation(s) could you ever make that would settle the matter? We've got to invoke some form of philosophical justification even if it is vague and implicit. I'd prefer a more rigorous framework, as I imagine would most here, and that is what philosophy does and why it is still taken seriously, Eliezer's exasperation and misunderstanding notwithstanding.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2012-11-29T13:07:33.387Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

More specific to the argument at hand, why should a debate about reliability of intuitions disqualify philosophy? Do you believe this is a settled debate? And if so, on what grounds is it settled?

The center of the issue is that you can't answer these questions empirically.

I'm not sure what you mean there. Didn't Luke just present empirical evidence that our intuitions do vary? That answers the question. Our intuitions vary, therefore any way of conducting philosophy based on assuming they don't is wrong.

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2012-11-29T18:35:53.985Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Richard: myron isn't disputing that it's wrong to presuppose the uniformity of all intuitions. (Though 'intuitions vary' is too crude a way of putting it; do all intuitions vary?) He's claiming that it's a straw-man to treat more than a handful of modern philosophers as committed to the uniformity of all intuitions. (It would be helpful at this stage for people on both sides to start quoting prominent philosophers weighing in on this very issue. The argument will get nowhere without shared data.)

And, it bears emphasizing: The question of whether certain sorts of intuitions are reliable is partly independent of the question of whether intuitions vary anthropologically. Some mathematical logicians disagree about whether ¬∀x(Fx) intuitively implies ∃x(¬Fx), but very few mathematicians conclude from this disagreement that our mathematical intuitions never give us insight into the truth.

comment by Emile · 2012-11-29T15:02:00.804Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

1) Sometimes you can still get useful work done with wrong assumptions (e.g. Newtonian Physics)

2) Bugmeister was talking about rejecting modern philosophy, which isn't the same as only rejecting "any way of conducting philosophy based on assuming they don't [vary]".

comment by DanArmak · 2012-11-30T18:25:06.207Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The center of the issue is that you can't answer these questions empirically. What observation(s) could you ever make that would settle the matter? We've got to invoke some form of philosophical justification even if it is vague and implicit.

Or we can just toss out the questions as meaningless.

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-11-29T19:45:45.658Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

According to Luke, this is not a strawman, but in fact a correct representation of the current state of affairs. I myself am not sure whether that's the case.

What observation(s) could you ever make that would settle the matter?

I don't know what you mean by "settle", but Luke does present several pieces of strong evidence against the proposition that our intuitions can be trusted.

comment by myron_tho · 2012-11-29T20:11:47.790Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

According to Luke, this is not a strawman, but in fact a correct representation of the current state of affairs.

It is correct if you go by a select set of quotes that, from what I can tell, have been chosen specifically to support a presupposed position, i.e., philosophers don't think about obvious problems which have been intimately entwined with moral and ethical philosophy for hundreds of years.

Obviously I don't feel that this is correct, or that the quotes given are representative of what they're being made to represent.

I don't know what you mean by "settle", but Luke does present several pieces of strong evidence against the proposition that our intuitions can be trusted.

Sure. And presenting "strong evidence" in a reasoned back-and-forth is the point of philosophy, since every position has evidence which (it considers to be) strong support. This is why the debate is necessary, unless, as I wrote elsewhere, you presuppose there is only one privileged interpretation of the existing data.

If you believe that then I'd refer you to the debate around underdetermination and IBE in philosophy of science for a healthy re-orientation of your worldview.

comment by myron_tho · 2012-11-29T06:37:37.043Z · score: 4 (10 votes) · LW · GW

For one thing, we would never assume that people of all kinds would share our intuitions.

You write this like it's an original insight and not a problem that has been taken seriously by every philosopher who ever wrote seriously about ethics or meta-ethics.

comment by lukeprog · 2012-11-29T06:44:43.681Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

You would be surprised to learn how often I talk to Less Wrongers who have been corrupted by a few philosophy classes and therefore engage in the kind of philosophical analysis which assumes that their intuitions are generally shared.

Despite being downvoted in this comment, I think Eliezer is generally right that reading too much mainstream philosophy — even "naturalistic" analytic philosophy — is somewhat likely to "teach very bad habits of thought that will lead people to be unable to do real work."

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-11-29T11:15:26.653Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Is believing in shared intuitions a result of reading philosophy, or is it just that intuitions feel like truths?

comment by myron_tho · 2012-11-29T07:14:33.220Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think Eliezer is generally right that reading too much mainstream philosophy — even "naturalistic" analytic philosophy — is somewhat likely to "teach very bad habits of thought that will lead people to be unable to do real work."

Also could you expand on this as I didn't catch it before the edit?

It's not obvious what the "bad habits" might be, and what they are bad relative to. This reads as a claim that would be very hard to defend at face value, and without clarification it reads like a throwaway attack not to be taken seriously.

comment by lukeprog · 2012-11-29T07:29:14.319Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

It's not obvious what the "bad habits" might be, and what they are bad relative to.

Examples of bad habits often picked up from reading too much philosophy: arguing endlessly about definitions, or using one's own intuitions as strong evidence about how the external world works. These are bad habits relative to, you know, not arguing endlessly about definitions, and using science to figure out how the world works.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-11-29T13:01:47.437Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

arguing endlessly about definitions,

Is the problem the arguing, or the arguing endlessly? In science, there is little need to argue about definitions because Someone Somewhere has settled the issue, often by stipulation. In philosophy, there is no Someone Somewhere who convenientyl does this for you. Philosophy deals with non-empirical questions (or it would be science), which means it deals with concepts, and since we access concepts with words, it deals with definitions. So the criticism that philosophers shouldn't argue definitions is tantamount to criticising philosophy for being philosophy. Uless the problem was the "endlessly".

using one's own intuitions as strong evidence about how the external world works.

Who does that? (ETA: at least for the past one hundred years) None of your examples work that way. Questions like "what is knowledge" and "what is the right thing to do" are not about the EW.

comment by DSimon · 2012-12-04T20:30:26.465Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The problem is "arguing" as compared to "investigating".

If there's a disagreement about how human minds implement certain ideas, then it's more productive to do experimental psychology than to discuss it abstractly, for the usual scientific reasons: nailing it down to a prediction makes sure that the idea in question is actually coherent, and also there are a lot of potential pitfalls when humans try to use their own brains to examine their own brains.

Though on the other hand, coming up with good experiments for this stuff is really tricky. As Suryc mentions above, you can't just ask people what they mean by "intentional" or whatever, you'll get garbage results. Just like how if you ask somebody with no linguistics knowledge to explain English grammar to you you'll get nonsense back, even if that person is quite capable at actually writing in English.

comment by DSimon · 2012-12-04T20:32:15.853Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Also: Who says that concepts are non-empirical? Doesn't it come down to something like a scientific investigation into the operations of the human brain?

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-12-05T11:09:29.855Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Not with current technology.

comment by myron_tho · 2012-11-29T07:32:31.000Z · score: -1 (9 votes) · LW · GW

arguing endlessly about definitions, or using one's own intuitions as strong evidence about how the external world works.

So this comes down to what you said previously about not liking people who came out of Philosophy 101, e.g., it's an argument against a philosophical tradition that does not actually exist.

These are bad habits relative to, you know, not arguing endlessly about definitions, and using science to figure out how the world works.

You mention naturalism as a "bad habit" for using science to understand the world?

Do you actually understand what naturalism is and what relationship it has with science?

comment by PaulWright · 2012-11-29T11:03:41.899Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

You mention naturalism as a "bad habit" for using science to understand the world?

No, he doesn't (which is why I downvoted this comment, BTW). Luke says that even naturalistic philosophers exhibit these bad habits. He does not say that naturalism is a bad habit, or that it's a bad habit because it uses science to understand the world.

comment by myron_tho · 2012-11-29T19:24:48.018Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Luke says that even naturalistic philosophers exhibit these bad habits. He does not say that naturalism is a bad habit, or that it's a bad habit because it uses science to understand the world.

Not quite:

reading too much mainstream philosophy ... is somewhat likely to "teach very bad habits of thought that will lead people to be unable to do real work."

"Teach" implies that engaging one's self with "too much" mainstream philosophy will cause bad habits to arise (and make one unable to do 'real work', whatever that might be).

Unexamined presuppositions make a wonderful basis for discourse.

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2012-11-29T07:44:42.455Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think that's what lukeprog meant. That said, thinking 'naturalism' is a unitary concept that the members of some relevant linguistic community or intellectual elite share is itself a startlingly good example of the sort of practice lukeprog's 'intuitions aren't shared' meme is warning about.

The Stanford Encyclopedia article on naturalism itself begins, amusingly enough:

"The term ‘naturalism’ has no very precise meaning in contemporary philosophy. [...'N]aturalism’ is not a particularly informative term as applied to contemporary philosophers. The great majority of contemporary philosophers would happily accept naturalism[...]—that is, they would both reject ‘supernatural’ entities, and allow that science is a possible route (if not necessarily the only one) to important truths about the ‘human spirit’.

Even so, this entry will not aim to pin down any more informative definition of ‘naturalism’. It would be fruitless to try to adjudicate some official way of understanding the term. Different contemporary philosophers interpret ‘naturalism’ differently. This disagreement about usage is no accident. For better or worse, ‘naturalism’ is widely viewed as a positive term in philosophical circles—few active philosophers nowadays are happy to announce themselves as ‘non-naturalists’. This inevitably leads to a divergence in understanding the requirements of ‘naturalism’. Those philosophers with relatively weak naturalist commitments are inclined to understand ‘naturalism’ in a unrestrictive way, in order not to disqualify themselves as ‘naturalists’, while those who uphold stronger naturalist doctrines are happy to set the bar for ‘naturalism’ higher."

comment by myron_tho · 2012-11-29T07:54:30.487Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Thinking 'naturalism' is a unitary concept that the members of some relevant linguistic community or intellectual elite share is itself a startlingly good example of the 'intuitions aren't shared' corrective lukeprog was making.

But calling it a "bad habit" with no justification or qualification is exempt from being an equally good (better, in fact, given that I'd not at all expanded on naturalism and certainly not with a dismissive one-liner) example of the "corrective"?

PS -- the Stanford Encyclopedia is as good a "proof" as posting a link from Wikipedia. There is (of course) debate in philosophy, but to claim that "naturalism" encourages "bad habits" is just plain sloppy thinking and a strawman built against equally sloppy philosophy undergrads.

If intuitions aren't reliable, then this entire line of thought is unreliable :-)

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2012-11-29T08:03:18.114Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

To be frank, although I speak for myself and not lukeprog, framing the scientific method or world-view in terms of 'naturalism,' or in terms of a nature/'supernature' dichotomy, is a bad habit. I can't say much more than that until you explain what you personally mean by 'naturalism.'

the Stanford Encyclopedia is as good a "proof" as posting a link from Wikipedia.

I don't follow. A Stanford Encyclopedia is much better evidence for the professional consensus of philosophers than is a Wikipedia article.

If intuitions aren't reliable, then this entire line of thought is unreliable :-)

Are you alluding to the fact that we all rely on intuitions in our everyday reason? If so, this is an important point. The take-away message from philosophy's excesses is not 'Avoid all intuitions.' It's 'Scrutinize intuitions to determine which ones we have reason to expect to match the contours of the territory.' The successes of philosophy -- successes like 'science' and 'mathematics' and 'logic' -- are formalized and heavily scrutinized networks of intuitions, intuitions that we have good empirical reason to think happen to be of a rare sort that correspond to the large-scale structure of reality. Most of our intuitions aren't like that, though they may still be useful and interesting in other respects.

comment by myron_tho · 2012-11-29T08:50:24.902Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

To be frank, although I speak for myself and not lukeprog, framing the scientific method or world-view in terms of 'naturalism,' or in terms of a nature/'supernature' dichotomy, is a bad habit. I can't say much more than that until you explain what you personally mean by 'naturalism.'

I'm thinking of naturalism as broadly accepted by modern analytic philosophy, in Quine's terms and in more modern constructions which emphasize i) that the natural world is the "only" world (this is not to be confused with a dualistic opposition to anything "supernatural"; the supernatural is simply ruled out as an option) and ii) that science is a preferred means of obtaining knowledge about said world.

I realize that's less clear than you may want, but the vagueness of the term is part of why I found it objectionable to treat is as instilling "bad habits".

Are you alluding to the fact that we all rely on intuitions in our everyday reason?

Well, indirectly, but the specific point was that the argument presented here is an intuition about what goes on in philosophy, what constitutes the current trends and debates within the discipline, and so on, and it appears to me that it is more strawman than a rigorous reply to those activities.

Given that it's an intuition underpinning an article about the unreliability of intuitions, well...you can appreciate the meta-humor I found there.

It's 'Scrutinize intuitions to determine which ones we have reason to expect to match the contours of the territory.'

Of course, and as I've relayed in other comments, this is no insight to philosophers -- philosophers already do this. We could of course point out instances where the philosopher's argument is predicated on validating intutions, but even there you are guaranteed to see a more nuanced position than the uncritical acceptance of common-sense intuitions, and as such even those positions mandate more than a sweeping dismissal.

The successes of philosophy -- successes like 'science' and 'mathematics' and 'logic' -- are formalized and heavily scrutinized networks of intuitions, intuitions that we have good empirical reason to think happen to be of a rare sort that correspond to the large-scale structure of reality.

And ethics/meta-ethics, moral theory, social theory, aesthetics...all of these are, at least in part, beyond the realm of the empirical, and it is a philosophical stance you have taken which puts them in the realm of the physical and empirical or else excludes their reality (if you go the eliminativist route).

These domains are arguably as successful at what they do as math and logic have been in their respective domains, and frankly they don't operate anything like what you've described (re: empirically-discovered relations to the large scale of reality). This is part of why we need naturalistic philosophy, because without it you wind up with unabashed scientism like this, which sits right on the precipice of "ethical" choices which can be monstrous.

Personally I think even other forms of philosophy are not only useful, but what have been called "bad habits" by Eliezer et al. are actually central components of a lived human life. I wouldn't be so hasty to get rid of them, and certainly not with such a sweeping set of dismissals about the primacy of science.

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2012-11-29T18:04:59.840Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

i) that the natural world is the "only" world

Define "natural world" so that it's clearer how the above is non-tautological.

(this is not to be confused with a dualistic opposition to anything "supernatural";

If you aren't denying or opposing anything, then what work is "only" doing in the sense "the natural world is the only world"?

the supernatural is simply ruled out as an option)

What does it mean in this context to 'rule out as an option' something? How does this differ from 'opposing' an option?

and ii) that science is a preferred means of obtaining knowledge about said world.

Define 'science,' while you're at it. Is looking out the window science? Is logical deduction science? Is logical deduction science when your premises are 'about the world'? Same question for mathematical reasoning. I'd think most scientists in their daily lives would actually consider logical or mathematical reasoning stronger than, 'preferred' over, any scientific observation or theory.

I realize that's less clear than you may want, but the vagueness of the term is part of why I found it objectionable to treat is as instilling "bad habits".

The vagueness of the term 'naturalism' is the primary reason it's a bad habit to define your methods or world-view in terms of it.

And ethics/meta-ethics, moral theory, social theory, aesthetics...all of these are, at least in part, beyond the realm of the empirical

I don't know what you mean by 'beyond the realm of the empirical.' Plenty of logic and mathematics also transcends the observable. I think we'd get a lot further in this discussion if we started defining or tabooing 'science,' 'philosophy,' 'empirical,' 'natural,' etc.

This is part of why we need naturalistic philosophy, because without it you wind up with unabashed scientism like this, which sits right on the precipice of "ethical" choices which can be monstrous.

To be honest, this sentence here pretty much sums up what I think is wrong with modern philosophy. There is virtually no content to 'naturalism' or 'scientism,' beyond the fact that both are associated with science and the former has a positive connotation, while the latter has a negative connotation. Thus we see much of the modern philosophical (and pop-philosophical) discourse consumed in hand-wringing over whether something is 'naturalistic' (goodscience! happy face!) or whether something is 'scientistic' (badscience! frowny face!), and the whole framing does nothing but obscure what's actually under debate. Any non-trivial definition of 'naturalism' and 'scientism' will allow that a reasonable scientist might be forced to forsake naturalism, or adopt scientism, in at least some circumstances; and any circular or otherwise trivial one is not worth discussing.

comment by myron_tho · 2012-11-29T19:39:56.494Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If you aren't denying or opposing anything, then what work is "only" doing in the sense "the natural world is the only world"?

In that there is "no more than", in ontological terms, there are no other fundamental categories of being. I don't have to explicitly deny that unicorns exist in order to rule them out of any taxonomy of equine animals.

If you've presupposed a worldview that allows for "supernatural" or "mystical" or Cartesian mind-substance or what have you, then of course the opposition seems obvious, but modern analytical naturalism as it stands makes no such allowance. This is why we cannot take our presuppositions for granted.

Define 'science,' while you're at it.

You don't have the space on this forum for that debate. However, for pragmatic purposes, let's (roughly) call it the social activity of institutionalized formal empirical inquiry, inclusive of the error-correcting norms and structures meant to filter our systematic errors.

The vagueness of the term 'naturalism' is the primary reason it's a bad habit to define your methods or world-view in terms of it.

Maybe if you didn't take flippant comments and run with them you wouldn't encounter this problem. I brought up naturalism because I found it hilarious that "even modern analytic philosophy" teaches these laughably vague "bad habits" -- which you still seem surprisingly unconcerned with, given the far more serious issues there -- and contemporary naturalism as practiced by many philosophers in the English-speaking world is as pro-science a set of ideas as you'll find.

Spiraling it out into this protracted debate about whether we can accurately define naturalism -- on your terms, no less -- is not the point of the exercise (and I suspect it's only happened to take the focus off the matter at hand: that there is no adequate account of these "bad habits" and we're seeing an interference play to keep eyes off it).

There is virtually no content to 'naturalism' or 'scientism,' beyond the fact that both are associated with science and the former has a positive connotation, while the latter has a negative connotation.

Yes I'm well aware of the dislike of anything intrinsically opposed to the formal and computable around these parts, and I also find that position to be laughable (and a shining example of why you folks need to engage with philosophy rather than jumping head-first into troubling [and equally laughable] moral-ethical positions).

But, as per the thread, there is a more interesting and proximate criticism: your intuitions on such are unreliable, by your own lights, so you'll pardon me if I am hardly persuaded by your fiat declaration that i) there is "no content" to a whole wide-ranging debate (of which you seem barely familiar with, at that, with your introduction of yet another nonsensical opposition that might as well be fiction for all it reflects the actual process*) and ii) that we should -- again by decree -- paint as "useless" the tools and methods used to engage in the debate.

We are only fortunate that the actual intellectual world doesn't conduct itself like a message board.

  • PS There is no serious debate "between" naturalism and scientism. The latter isn't even a "position" as such, even less so than naturalism could be.
comment by lukeprog · 2012-11-29T17:48:27.979Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

So this comes down to what you said previously about not liking people who came out of Philosophy 101, e.g., it's an argument against a philosophical tradition that does not actually exist.

No. It's an argument against a philosophical tradition that does exist.

In this "Philosophy by Humans" sub-sequence, it seems like the most common response I get is, "No, philosophers can't actually be that stupid," even though my post went to the trouble of quoting philosophers saying "Yes, this thing here is our standard practice."

comment by myron_tho · 2012-11-29T20:01:28.295Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

In this "Philosophy by Humans" sub-sequence, it seems like the most common response I get is, "No, philosophers can't actually be that stupid," even though my post went to the trouble of quoting philosophers saying "Yes, this thing here is our standard practice."

So? I can quote scientists saying all manner of stupid, bizarre, unintuitive things...but my selection of course sets up the terms of the discussion. If I choose a sampling that only confirms my existing bias against scientists, then my "quotes" are going to lead to the foregone conclusion. I don't see why "quoting" a few names is considered evidence of anything besides a pre-existing bias against philosophy.

On a second and more important point, you've yet to elaborate on why having a debate about ethics is problematic in the first place. Your appeal to Eliezer and his vague handwaving about "bad habits" and "real work" (which range from "too vague" to "nonsensical" depending on how charitable you want to be) is not persuasive, so I'd ask again: what is wrong with philosophy doing what it is supposed to do, i.e., examine ideas?

I realize that declaring it "wrong" by fiat seems to be the rule around here, if the comments are any indication, but from the philosophical standpoint that's a laughable argument to make, and it's not persuasive to anyone who doesn't already share your presuppositions.

comment by lukeprog · 2012-11-29T20:23:05.554Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

If I choose a sampling that only confirms my existing bias against scientists, then my "quotes" are going to lead to the foregone conclusion. I don't see why "quoting" a few names is considered evidence of anything besides a pre-existing bias against philosophy.

So you're worried about the problem of filtered evidence. Throughout this sequence, I've given lots of citations and direct quotes of philosophers doing things — and saying that they're doing things — which don't make sense given certain pieces of scientific evidence. Can you, then, provide citations or quotes of philosophers saying "No, we aren't really appealing to intuitions in this way?" I'll bet you can find a few, but I don't think they'll say that their own approach is the standard one.

You're asking me to do all the work, here. I've provided examples and evidence, and you've just flatly denied my examples and evidence without providing any counterexamples or counterevidence. That's logically rude.

you've yet to elaborate on why having a debate about ethics is problematic in the first place... what is wrong with philosophy doing what it is supposed to do, i.e., examine ideas?

Here, you managed to straw man me twice in a single paragraph. I never said that debates about ethics are problematic, and I never said there's something wrong with philosophy examining ideas. I've only ever said that specific, particular ways of examining ideas or having philosophical debates are problematic, and I've explained in detail why those specific, particular methods are problematic. You're just ignoring what I've actually said, and what I have not said.

I realize that declaring it "wrong" by fiat seems to be the rule around here, if the comments are any indication, but from the philosophical standpoint that's a laughable argument to make, and it's not persuasive to anyone who doesn't already share your presuppositions.

Again, I'm the one who bothered to provide examples and evidence for my position. You're the one who keeps declaring things wrong without providing any examples and evidence to support your own view. Declaring something wrong without providing reason or evidence is against the cultural norm around here, and you are the one who is violating it.

comment by myron_tho · 2012-11-29T20:39:44.644Z · score: -6 (10 votes) · LW · GW

You're asking me to do all the work, here. I've provided examples and evidence, and you've just flatly denied my examples and evidence without providing any counterexamples or counterevidence.

All I've asked you to do is at least pretend you have some familiarity with the field's content, and how that content relates to its raison d'etre. As before, I don't have to provide "counterevidence" that science doesn't take luminiferous ether seriously as a hypothesis; anyone familiar with the field would already know this.

I never said that debates about ethics are problematic, and I never said there's something wrong with philosophy examining ideas.

Of course you didn't say it, because that would be stupid, but it's implicit in the points you've repeatedly made, viz. "philosophers are stupid, if they only paid attention to science...." Well, they do pay attention to science, in fact there is a whole realm of philosophers who pay attention to science and make that a centerpiece of their discussion, and that given philosophy's purpose as "engagement with ideas" it is implicit that, wonder of wonders, some philosophers will take positions that disagree with the claim you've put forth.

That latter statement is the issue, as you said in your article that, since some philosophers accept intuitions as valid (a claim you never bothered to unpack or examine in any detail), therefore we should consider philosophy a primitive and useless artifact of Cartesian thinking.

You've taken it for granted without outright saying it. Maybe if you read more philosophy you wouldn't make these kinds of errors.

Again, I'm the one who bothered to provide examples and evidence for my position. You're the one who keeps declaring things wrong without providing any examples and evidence to support your own view. Declaring something wrong without providing reason or evidence is against the cultural norm around here, and you are the one who is violating it.

I see, so the cultural norm is to take unfavorable samples of a field you don't like, present them as exemplars, used them as grounds to justify a giant-sized strawman against said field, complain when people don't accept that position without criticism, and then hide behind conveniently linked rules meant to fortify your pre-existing groupthink.

Sounds far more rational than every other web forum ever.

comment by TimS · 2012-11-29T20:53:11.117Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

To expand on your point, philosophers like Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend provide a vision of what sophisticated modern philosophy can do to improve the scientist's perspective.

Sounds far more rational than every other web forum ever.

It's so much fun to write that. Still, please don't. Your point is well made in the previous paragraph - this sentence only detracts from your persuasiveness.

comment by lukeprog · 2012-11-29T20:49:09.168Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

All I've asked you to do is at least pretend you have some familiarity with the field's content, and how that content relates to its raison d'etre.

I don't understand. Certainly, I'm at least "pretending" to have "some familiarity" with the field's content, and how that content relates to its raison d'etre, by way of citing hundreds of works in the field, quoting philosophers, hosting a podcast for which I interviewed dozens of philosophers for hours on end, etc.

it's implicit in the points you've repeatedly made, viz. "philosophers are stupid, if they only paid attention to science...." Well, they do pay attention to science, in fact there is a whole realm of philosophers who pay attention to science and make that a centerpiece of their discussion

Of course many philosophers pay attention to science. When Eliezer wrote, "If there's any centralized repository of reductionist-grade naturalistic cognitive philosophy, I've never heard mention of it," I replied (earlier in this sequence):

When I read that I thought: What? That's Quinean naturalism! That's Kornblith and Stich and Bickle and the Churchlands and Thagard and Metzinger and Northoff! There are hundreds of philosophers who do that!

Again: you're straw-manning me. I've said specific things about the ways in which many philosophers are ignoring scientific results, but I'm quite aware that they pay attention to other parts of science, and of course that many of them (e.g. the experimental philosophers) pay attention to the kinds of evidence that I'm accusing others of ignoring.

you said in your article that, since some philosophers accept intuitions as valid... therefore we should consider philosophy an artifact of Cartesian thinking.

Straw man number... 5? 6? I've lost count. Where did I say that?

You've taken it for granted without outright saying it.

Wait, first you claim that "you said in your article that..." and in the very next paragraph you claim that I've "taken it for granted without outright saying it"? I'm very confused.

I see, so the cultural norm is to take unfavorable samples of a field you don't like, present them as exemplars, complain when people don't accept that position without criticism, and then hide behind rules meant to fortify your pre-existing groupthink.

No. I complain when I do all the work of presenting arguments, examples, and evidence, and you simply deny it all without presenting any arguments, examples, and evidence of your own.

comment by myron_tho · 2012-11-29T21:00:31.417Z · score: -4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Certainly, I'm at least "pretending" to have "some familiarity" with the field's content, and how that content relates to its raison d'etre, by way of citing hundreds of works in the field, quoting philosophers, hosting a podcast for which I interviewed dozens of philosophers for hours on end, etc.

You'd think if this were the case you'd be able to make a more honest assessment of the field.

I've said specific things about the ways in which many philosophers are ignoring scientific results, but I'm quite aware that they pay attention to other parts of science, and of course that many of them (e.g. the experimental philosophers) pay attention to the kinds of evidence that I'm accusing others of ignoring.

Alright, I'll grant you this. You've still made the point that the field of philosophy has not acknowledged the unreliability of intuitions, as if this were a novel insight and not something that is taken very seriously in the modern-day (at least) debates, and that this is a fundamental flaw in the discipline itself.

Where did I say that?

Right here:

What would happen if we dropped all philosophical methods that were developed when we had a Cartesian view of the mind and of reason, and instead invented philosophy anew given what we now know about the physical processes that produce human reasoning?

The implication being that Cartesian views of mind and reason are in any way relevant to modern philosophy. This isn't even true for Continental philosophy and hasn't been for a long time.

Wait, first you claim that "you said in your article that..." and in the very next paragraph you claim that I've "taken it for granted without outright saying it"? I'm very confused.

I agree, you are, so let's slow down and look at my actual criticism again.

What you wrote was that philosophers accept intutions at face value, uncritically...which isn't true, and I responded accordingly.

What you implied, in that it follows necessarily from your explicitly-made argument, is that since some philosophers accept intutions as valid, therefore the discipline-as-a-whole is broken. But that isn't true; the entire point is to discuss disparate, conflicting, and even dubious ideas; this is no blackmark as you've construed it.

No. I complain when I do all the work of presenting arguments, examples, and evidence, and you simply deny it all without presenting any arguments, examples, and evidence of your own.

A convenient way to hide behind your biases, I suppose, but I'm not sure what it accomplishes otherwise. Even the Stanford Encyclopedia's entries on moral theory and ethics don't back up your "unique" assessment of the field.

comment by lukeprog · 2012-11-29T21:06:35.694Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think this is going anywhere useful. You're still straw-manning me and failing to provide exact counterexamples and counter-evidence. I'm moving on to more productive activities.

comment by siodine · 2012-11-29T20:20:40.824Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

So? I can quote scientists saying all manner of stupid, bizarre, unintuitive things...but my selection of course sets up the terms of the discussion. If I choose a sampling that only confirms my existing bias against scientists, then my "quotes" are going to lead to the foregone conclusion. I don't see why "quoting" a few names is considered evidence of anything besides a pre-existing bias against philosophy.

Improving upon this: why care about what the worst of a field has to say? It's the 10% (stergeon's law) that aren't crap that we should care about. The best material scientists give us incremental improvements in our materials technology, and the worst write papers that are never read or do research that is never used. But what do the best philosophers of meta-ethics give us? More well examined ideas? How would you measure such a thing? How can those best philosophers know they're making progress? How can they improve the tools they use? Why should we fund philosophy departments?

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2012-11-29T20:52:34.755Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The best ethical philosophers give us the foundations of utility calculation, clarify when we can (and can't) derive facts and values from each other, generate heuristics and frameworks within which to do politics and resolve disputes over goals and priorities. The best metaphysicians give us scientific reasoning, novel interpretations of quantum mechanics, warnings of scientists becoming overreliant on some component of common sense, and new empirical research programs (Einstein's most important work consisted of metaphysical thought experiments). The best logicians and linguistic philosophers give us the propositional calculus, knowledge of valid and invalid forms, etc., etc. Even if you think the modalists and dialetheists are crazy, you can be very thankful to them for developing modal and paraconsistent logics that have valuable applications outside of traditional philosophical disputes.

And, of course, philosophy in general is useful for testing the tools of our trade. We can be more confident of and skilled in our reasoning in specific domains, like physics and electrical engineering and differential calculus, when those tools have been put to the test in foundational disputes. A bad Philosophy 101 class can lead to hyperskepticism or metaphysical dogmatism, but a good Philosophy 101 class can lead to a healthy skepticism mixed with intellectual curiosity and dynamism. Ultimately, the reason to fund 'philosophy' departments is that there is no such thing as 'philosophy;' what the departments in question are really teaching is how to think carefully about the most difficult questions. The actual questions have nothing especially in common, beyond their difficulty, their intractability before our ordinary methods.

comment by siodine · 2012-11-29T21:00:27.507Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm a bit worried that your conception of philosophy is riding on the coat tails of long-past-philosophy where the distinction between philosophy, math, and science were much more blurred than they are now. Being generous, do you have any examples from the last few decades (that I can read about)?

I'll agree with you that having some philosophical training is better than none in that it can be useful in getting a solid footing in basic critical thinking skills, but then if that's a philosophy department's purpose then it doesn't need to be funded beyond that.

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2012-11-29T23:17:04.928Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Could you taboo/define 'philosophy,' 'math,' and 'science' for me in a way that clarifies exactly how they don't overlap? It'd be very helpful. Is there any principled reason, for example, that theoretical physics cannot be philosophy? Or is some theoretical physics philosophy, and some not? Is there a sharp line, or a continuum between the two kinds of theoretical physics?

if that's a philosophy department's purpose then it doesn't need to be funded beyond that.

If that's a philosophy department's purpose, and nothing else can fulfill the same purpose, then philosophy departments are vastly underfunded as it stands. (Though I agree the current funding could be better managed.)

But the real flaw is that we think of philosophy as a college thing. Philosophical training should be fully integrated into quite early-age education in logical, scientific, mathematical, moral, and other forms of reasoning.

comment by siodine · 2012-11-29T23:44:30.378Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I didn't say they don't overlap. I said the distinctions have become less blurred (I think because of the need for increased specialization in all intellectual endeavours as we accumulate more knowledge). I define philosophy, math, and science by their professions. That is, their university departments, their journals, their majors, their textbooks, and so on.

Hence, I think the best way to ask if "philosophy" is a worthwhile endeavour is to asked "why should we fund philosophy departments?" A better way to ask that question is "why should we fund philosophy research and professional philosophers (as opposed to teachers of basic philosophy)?"

And though while I think basic philosophy can be helpful in getting a footing in critical thinking, I also think CFAR is considerably better at teaching critical thinking.

I don't see any principled reason for why we can't all be generalists without labels. Practical reasons, yes.

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2012-11-30T00:03:41.335Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I said the distinctions have become more blurred

I thought you were saying that the distinctions have become less blurred? Now I'm confused.

I define philosophy, math, and science by their professions.

That's fine for some everyday purposes. But if we want to distinguish the useful behaviors in each profession from the useless ones, and promote the best behaviors both among laypeople and among professionals, we need more fine-grained categories than just 'everything that people who publish in journals seen as philosophy journals do.' I think it would be useful to distinguish Professional Philosophy, Professional Science, and Professional Mathematics from the basic human practices of philosophizing, doing science, or reasoning mathematically. Something in the neighborhood of these ideas would be quite useful:

mathematics: carefully and systematically reasoning about quantity, or (more loosely) about the quantitative properties and relationships of things.

philosophy: carefully reasoning about generalizations, via 'internal' reflection (phenomenology, thought experiments, conceptual analysis, etc.), in a moderately (more than shamanic storytelling, less than math or logic) systematic way.

science: carefully collecting empirical data, and carefully reasoning about its predictive and transparently ontological significance.

Do you think these would be useful fast-and-ready definitions for everyday promotion of scientific, philosophical, and mathematical literacy? Would you modify any of them?

comment by siodine · 2012-11-30T00:25:21.540Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I thought you were saying that the distinctions have become less blurred?

Yup, my bad. You caught me before my edit.

Do you think these would be useful fast-and-ready definitions for everyday promotion of scientific, philosophical, and mathematical literacy? Would you modify any of them?

I think you're reifying abstraction and doing so will introduce pitfalls when discussing them. Math, science, and philosophy are the abstracted output of their respective professions. If you take away science's competitive incentive structure or change its mechanism of output (journal articles) then you're modifying science. If you install a self-improving recursive feedback cycle with reality in philosophy, then I think you've recreated math and science within philosophy (because science is fundamentally concrete reasoning while math is abstract reasoning and philosophy carries both).

If I'm going to promote something to laypeople, it's that a mechanism of recursive self-improvement is desirable. There's plenty to unpack there, though. Like you need a measure of improvement that contacts reality.

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2012-11-30T00:49:21.782Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think you're reifying abstraction and doing so will introduce pitfalls when discussing them.

I think your definitions are more abstract than mine. For me, mathematics, philosophy, and science are embodied brain behaviors — modes of reasoning. For you, if I'm understanding you right, they're professions, institutions, social groups, population-wide behaviors. Sociology is generally considered more abstract or high-level than psychology.

(Of course, I don't reject your definitions on that account; denying the existence of philosophizing or of professional philosophy because one or the other is 'abstract' would be as silly as denying the existence of abstractions like debt, difficulty, truth, or natural selection. I just think your abstraction is of somewhat more limited utility than mine, when our goal is to spread good philosophizing, science, and mathematics rather than to treat the good qualities of those disciplines as the special property of a prestigious intellectual elite belonging to a specific network of organizations.)

Feedback cycles are great, but we don't need to build them into our definition of 'science' in order to praise science for happening to possess them; if we put each scientist on a separate island, their work might suffer as a result, but it's not clear to me that they would lose all ability to do anything scientific, or that we should fail to clearly distinguish the scientifically-minded desert-islander for his unusual behaviors.

Also, it's not clear in what sense mathematics has a self-improving recursive feedback cycle with reality. Actually, mathematics and philosophy seem to function very analogously in terms of their relationship to reality and to science.

If I'm going to promote something to laypeople, it's that a mechanism of recursive self-improvement is desirable.

I'm not sure that's the best approach. Telling people to find a recursively self-improving method is not likely to be as effective as giving them concrete reasoning skills (like how to perform thought experiments, or how to devise empirical hypotheses, or how to multiply quantities) and then letting intelligent society-wide behaviors emerge via the marketplace of ideas (or via top-down societal structuring, if necessary). Don't fixate first and foremost on telling people about what our abstract models suggest makes science on a societal scale so effective; fixate first and foremost on making them good scientists in their daily lives, in every concrete action.

comment by siodine · 2012-11-30T01:17:45.333Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

For you, if I'm understanding you right, they're professions, institutions, social groups, population-wide behaviors. Sociology is generally considered more abstract or high-level than psychology.

You're kind of understanding me. Abstractly, bee hives produce honey. Concretely, this bee hive in front of me is producing honey. Abstractly, science is the product of professions, institutions, ect. Concretely, science is the product of people on our planet doing stuff.

I'm literally trying to not talk about abstractions or concepts but science as it actually is. And of course, science as it actually is does things that we can then categorize into abstractions like feedback cycles. But when you say science is a bunch of abstractions (like I think your definitions are), then you're missing out on what it actually is.

Feedback cycles are great, but we don't need to build them into our definition of 'science' in order to praise science for happening to possess them; if we put each scientist on a separate island, their work might suffer as a result, but it's not clear to me that they would lose all ability to do anything scientific, or that we should fail to clearly distinguish the scientifically-minded desert-islander for his unusual behaviors.

This is exactly why I want to avoid defining science with abstractions. It literally does not make sense if you think of science as it is. "Scientific" imports essentialism.

Also, it's not clear in what sense mathematics has a self-improving recursive feedback cycle with reality.

Mathematics is self-improving while at the same time hinging on reality. This is tricky to explain so I might come back to it tomorrow when I'm more well rested (i.e., not drunk).

I'm not sure that's the best approach. Telling people to find a recursively self-improving method is not likely to be as effective as giving them concrete reasoning skills (like how to perform thought experiments, or how to devise empirical hypotheses, or how to multiply quantities) and then letting intelligent society-wide behaviors emerge via the marketplace of ideas (or via top-down societal structuring, if necessary). Don't fixate first and foremost on telling people about what our abstract models suggest makes science on a societal scale so effective; fixate first and foremost on making them good scientists in their daily lives, in every concrete action.

No, I think that kernel (and we are speaking in the context of "fast-and-ready") of thought is really the most important thing to convey. Speaking abstractly, even science doesn't take that kernel seriously enough. It doesn't question how it should allocate its limited resources or improve its function. This is costing millions of lives, untold suffering, and perhaps our species continued existence. But it does employ a self-improving feedback cycle on reality which is just enough for it to uncover reality. It needs to install a self-improving feedback cycle on itself. And then we need a self-improving feedback cycle on feedback cycles. I can't think of any abstraction more important in making progress with something.

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2012-11-30T01:49:35.222Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Abstractly, bee hives produce honey. Concretely, this bee hive in front of me is producing honey. Abstractly, science is the product of professions, institutions, ect. Concretely, science is the product of people on our planet doing stuff.

It sounds like you're conflating abstract/concrete with general/particular. But a universal generalization might just be the conjunction of a lot of particulars. I prefer to think of 'abstract' as 'not spatially extended or localized.' Societies are generally considered more abstract than mental states because mental states are intuitively treated as more localized. But 'lots of mental states' is not more abstract than 'just one mental state,' in the same way that thousands of bees (or 'all the bees,' in your example) can be just as concrete as a single bee.

But when you say science is a bunch of abstractions (like I think your definitions are)

We're back at square one. I still don't see why reasoning is more abstract than professions, institutions, etc. We agree that it all reduces to human behaviors on some level. But the 'abstract vs. concrete' discussion is a complete tangent. What's relevant is whether it's useful to have separate concepts of 'the practice of science' vs. 'professional science,' the former being something even laypeople can participate in by adopting certain methodological standards. I think both concepts are useful. You seem to think that only 'professional science' is a useful concept, at least in most cases. Is that a fair summary?

This is exactly why I want to avoid defining science with abstractions. It literally does not make sense if you think of science as it is. "Scientific" imports essentialism.

Counterfactuals don't make sense if you think of things as they are? I don't think that's true in any nontrivial sense....

'Scientific' is not any more guilty of essentializing than are any of our other fuzzy, ordinary-language terms. There are salient properties associated with being a scientist; I'm suggesting that many of those clustered properties, in particular many of the ones we most care about when we promote and praise things like 'science' and 'naturalism,' can occur in isolated individuals. If you don't like calling what I'm talking about 'scientific,' then coin a different word for it; but we need some word. We need to be able to denote our exemplary decision procedures, just to win the war of ideas.

'Professional science' is not an exemplary decision procedure, any more than 'the buildings and faculty at MIT' is an exemplary decision procedure. It's just an especially effective instantiation thereof.

I can't think of any abstraction more important in making progress with something.

Maybe we're just not approaching the problem at the same levels. When I ask about what the optimal way is to define our concepts, I'm trying to define them in a way that allows us to consistently and usefully explain them (in any number of paraphrased forms) to 8th-graders, to congressmen, to literary theorists, such that we can promote the best techniques we associate with scientists, philosophers, and mathematicians. I'm imagining how we would design a scientific+philosophical+mathematical+etc. literacy pamphlet that would teach people how to win at life. It sounds like you're instead trying to think of a single sentence that summarizes what winning at life is, at its most abstract. 'Adopt a self-improving feedback cycle linking you to reality' is just a fancy way of saying 'Behave in a way that predictably makes you better and better at doing good stuff.' Which is great, but not especially contentful as yet. I only care about people understanding how winning works insofar as this understanding helps them actually win.

comment by siodine · 2012-11-30T15:52:15.522Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I prefer to think of 'abstract' as 'not spatially extended or localized.'

I prefer to think of it as anything existing at least partly in mind, and then we can say we have an abstraction of an abstraction or that something something is more abstract (something from category theory being a pure abstraction, while something like the category "dog" being less abstract because it connects with a pattern of atoms in reality). By their nature, abstractions are also universals, but things that actually exist like the bee hive in front of me aren't particulars at the concrete level. The specific bee hive in my mind that I'm imagining is a particular, or the "bee hive" that I'm seeing and interpreting into a bee hive in front of me is also a particular, but the bee hive is just a "pattern" of atoms.

Is that a fair summary?

I think that you're stuck in noun-land while I'm in verb-land, but I don't think noun-land is concrete (it's an abstraction).

What's relevant is whether it's useful to have separate concepts of 'the practice of science' vs. 'professional science,' the former being something even laypeople can participate in by adopting certain methodological standards. I think both concepts are useful. You seem to think that only 'professional science' is a useful concept, at least in most cases. Is that a fair summary?

Framing those concepts in terms of usefulness isn't helpful, I think. I'd simply say the laypeople are doing something different unless they're contributing to our body of knowledge. In which case, science as it is requires that those laypeople interact with science as it is (journals and such).

Counterfactuals don't make sense if you think of things as they are?

No, I mean thinking of someone as being scientific doesn't make sense if you think of science as it is because e.g. the sixth grader at the science fair that we all "scientific" isn't interacting with science as it is. We're taking some essential properties we pattern match in science as it is, and then we abstract them, and then we apply them by pattern matching.

I'm suggesting that many of those clustered properties, in particular many of the ones we most care about when we promote and praise things like 'science' and 'naturalism,' can occur in isolated individuals.

We can imagine an immortal human being on another planet replicating everything science has done on Earth thus far. So, yes I think it can occur in isolated individuals, but that's only because the individual has taken on everything that science is and not some like "carefully collecting empirical data, and carefully reasoning about its predictive and transparently ontological significance."

If I'm going to apply an abstraction to what I praise in science to individuals, it's not "being scientific" or "doing science", it's "working with feedback." It's what programmers do, it's what engineers do, it's what mathematicians, it's what scientists do, it's what people that effectively lose weight do, and so on. It's the kernel of thought most conducive to progress in any area.

Maybe we're just not approaching the problem at the same levels. When I ask about what the optimal way is to define our concepts, I'm trying to define them in a way that allows us to consistently ..

I think we are approaching the problem at the same level. I think I have optimally defined the concepts, and I think "behave in a way that predictably makes you better and better at doing good stuff" is what needs to be communicated and not "science: carefully collecting empirical data, and carefully reasoning about its predictive and transparently ontological significance." If we're going to add more content, then we should talk about how to effectively measure self-improvement, how to get solid feedback and so on. With that knowledge, I think a bunch of kids working together could rebuild science from the ground up.

If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generation of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words? I believe it is the atomic hypothesis that all things are made of atoms — little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance... -- Feynman

I'd pass on how important "behave in a way that predictably makes you better and better at doing good stuff" is.

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2012-11-30T20:24:47.204Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I prefer to think of it as anything existing at least partly in mind

That's problematic, first, because it leaves mind itself in a strange position. And second because, if mathematical platonism (for example) were true, then there would exist abstract objects that are mind-independent.

We're taking some essential properties we pattern match in science as it is, and then we abstract them, and then we apply them by pattern matching.

You seem to be assuming the pattern-matching of this sort is a vice. If it's useful to mark the pattern in question, and we recognize that we're doing so for utilitarian reasons and not because there's a transcendent Essence of Scienceyness, then the pattern-matching is benign. It's how humans think, and we can't become completely inhuman if our goal is to take the rest of mankind with us into the future. Not yet, anyway.

Religions are also feedback loops. The more I believe, the more my belief gets confirmed. Remarkable! The primary problem with this ultra-attenuated notion of what we want is that all the work is being done by the black-box normative terms like 'improvement' and 'better' and 'optimal.' Everything we're actually trying to concretely teach is hidden behind those words.

We also need more content than 'working with a feedback loop from reality'; that kind of metaphorical talk might fly on LessWrong, but it's really a summary of some implicit intuitions we already share, not instruction we could in those words convey to someone who doesn't already see what we're getting at. After all, everything exists in a back-and-forth with reality, and everything is for that matter part of reality. Perhaps my formulations of what we want are too concrete; but yours are certainly too abstract and underdetermined.

comment by Jahed · 2012-11-29T20:02:39.997Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This seems reasonable.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-11-29T18:47:48.378Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'll say it again: by "intuition" they might mean "shared intuition", in which case they are doing nothing wrong so long as there are some, and so long as they rejected purported intuitions which aren't shared.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-11-29T12:53:45.588Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Agreed. What is critical here is whether there are better habits.

comment by myron_tho · 2012-11-29T06:53:09.430Z · score: 3 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Oh I doubt I'd be surprised, but that's more a problem of the people coming out of Philosophy 101 than the discipline itself. Frege and Bertrand Russell put most of the metaphysical extravagances to bed (in the Anglo-American tradition at least) with the turn towards formal logic and language, and the modern-day analytic tradition hasn't ever looked back.

As it stands the field has about as much to do with mind-body dualism or idealism (or their respective toolkits) as theoretical physics. This goes for ethics and meta-ethics, and no serious writer in that topic would entertain Cartesian dualism or Kantian deontology or any other such in a trivial form. The idea of contingent, historical, contextually-sensitive ethics is widely recognized and is indeed a topic of lively discussion.

comment by lukeprog · 2012-11-29T06:58:36.166Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Oh I doubt I'd be surprised, but that's more a problem of the people coming out of Philosophy 101 than the discipline itself.

No, seriously: the assumption that others will share one's philosophical intuitions is rampant in contemporary philosophy. Go read all the angry papers written in response to the work of experimental philosophers, or the works of the staunch intuitionists like George Bealer and Ernest Sosa.

comment by myron_tho · 2012-11-29T07:04:01.982Z · score: -1 (11 votes) · LW · GW

The field as a whole (or rather, some within it, to be more accurate) takes these issues seriously as a matter of debate, yes, but arguing over controversial claims is the entire point of philosophy so that's no mark against it. It's also a radically different position from the strong claim you've advanced here that the field itself is broken, which is nonsense to anyone familiar with modern moral philosophy and ethics/meta-ethics and is dangerously close to a strawman argument.

To say the problem is "rampant" is to admit to a limited knowledge of the field and the debates within it.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2012-11-29T13:13:28.493Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW · GW

arguing over controversial claims is the entire point of philosophy

You have precisely identified the fundamental problem with philosophy.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-11-29T15:28:40.696Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

And your better alternative is...?

comment by RichardKennaway · 2012-11-29T15:45:45.320Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

DDTT. Don't study words as if they had meanings that you could discover by examining your intuitions about how to use them. Don't draw maps without looking out of the window.

Positively, they could always start here.

comment by TimS · 2012-11-29T15:54:10.664Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

BS. For example, Eliezer's take on logical positivism in the most recent Sequence is interesting. But logical positivism has substantial difficulties - identified by competing philosophical schools - that Eliezer has only partially resolved.

Aristotle tried to say insightful things merely by examining etymology, but the best of modern philosophy has learned better.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2012-11-29T16:05:56.322Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I only see objections to traditional strains of positivism. It doesn't seem they even apply to what EY's been doing. In particular, the problems in objections 1, 3C1, 3C2, and 3F2 have been avoided by being more careful about what is not said. Meanwhile, 2 and 3F1 seem incoherent to me.

comment by TimS · 2012-11-29T18:43:45.301Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

3C1: The correspondence relation must be some sort of resemblance relation. But truthbearers do not resemble anything in the world except other truthbearers—echoing Berkeley's “an idea can be like nothing but an idea”.

I don't see how Eliezer could dodge this objection, or why he would want to. Very colloquially, Eliezer thinks there is an arrow leading to "Snow is white" from the fact that snow is white. Labeling that arrow "causal" does nothing to explain what that arrow is. If you don't explain what the arrow is, how do you know that (1) you've said something rigorous or (2) that the causal arrows are the same thing as what we want to mean by "true"?

Objection 1: Definitions like (1) or (2) are too broad; although they apply to truths from some domains of discourse, e.g., the domain of science, they fail for others, e.g. the domain of morality: there are no moral facts.

As stated, this objection is too strong (because it assumes moral anti-realism is true). The correspondence theory can be agnostic in the dispute between moral realism and moral anti-realism. But moral realists intend to use the word "true" in exactly the same way that scientists use the word. Thus, a correspondence-theory moral realist needs to be able to identify what corresponds to any particular moral truth - otherwise, moral anti-realism is the correct moral epistemology.

Most people are moral realists, so if your theory of truth is inconsistent with moral realism, they will take that as evidence that your theory of truth is not correct.


Look, no one but a total idiot believes Mark's epistemic theory. There is an external world, with sufficient regularity that our physical predictions will be accurate within the limits of our knowledge and computational power. The issue is whether that can be stated more rigorously - and the different specifications are where logical positivists, physical pragmitists, Kunn and other theorists disagree.

I do agree that objections 2 and 3F2 are not particularly compelling (as I understand them).

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2012-11-29T21:13:43.885Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

3C1: The correspondence relation must be some sort of resemblance relation. But truthbearers do not resemble anything in the world except other truthbearers—echoing Berkeley's “an idea can be like nothing but an idea”.

This is actually a very easy one to respond to. Truthbearers do resemble non-truthbearers. What must ultimately be truth-bearing, if anything really is, is some component of the world -- a brain-state, an utterance, or what-have-you. These truth-bearing parts of the world can resemble their referents, in the sense that a relatively simple and systematic transformation on one would yield some of the properties of the other. For instance, a literal map clearly resembles its territory; eliminating most of the territory's properties, and transforming the ones that remain in a principled way, could produce the map. But sentences also resemble the territories they describe, e.g., through temporal and spatial correlation. Even Berkeley's argument clearly fails for this reason; an immaterial idea can systematically share properties with a non-idea, if only temporal ones.

Eliezer thinks there is an arrow leading to "Snow is white" from the fact that snow is white.

Language use is a natural phenomenon. Hence, reference is also a natural phenomenon, and one we should try to explain as part of our project of accounting for the patterns of human behavior. Here, we're trying to understand why humans assert "Snow is white" in the particular patterns they do, and why they assign truth-values to that sentence in the patterns they do. The simplest adequate hypothesis will note that usage of "snow" correlates with brain-states that in turn resemble (heavily transformed) snow, and that "white" correlates with brain-states resembling transformed white light, and that "Snow is white" expresses a relationship between these two phenomena such that white light is reflected off of snow. When normal English language users think white light reflects off of snow, they call the sentence "snow is white" true; and when they think the opposite, they call "snow is white" false. So, there is a physical relationship between the linguistic behavior of this community and the apparent properties of snow.

Most people are moral realists, so if your theory of truth is inconsistent with moral realism, they will take that as evidence that your theory of truth is not correct.

Yes, but is our goal to convince everyone that we're correct, or to be correct? The unpopularity of moral anti-realism counts against the rhetorical persuasiveness of a correspondence theory combined with a conventional scientific world-view. But it will only count against the plausibility of this conjunction if we have reason to think that moral statements are true in the same basic way that statements about the whiteness of snow are true.

comment by TimS · 2012-11-30T15:49:17.693Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

one we should try to explain as part of our project of accounting for the patterns of human behavior.

In brief, I disagree that we are trying to explain human behavior. We are trying to develop an agent-universal explanation of truth. The risk of focusing on human behavior (or human brain states) is that the theory of truth won't generalize to non-human agents.

Regarding moral facts, I agree that our goal is true philosophy, not comforting philosophy. I'm a moral anti-realist independent of theory-of-truth considerations. But most people seem to feel that their moral senses are facts (yes, I'm well aware of the irony of appealing to universal intuitions in a post that urges rejection of appeals to universal intuitions).

The widespread nature of belief in values-as-truths cries out for explanation, and the only family of theories I'm aware of that even try to provide such an explanation is wildly controversial and unpopular in the scientific community.

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2012-11-30T19:51:16.930Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

We are trying to develop an agent-universal explanation of truth. The risk of focusing on human behavior (or human brain states) is that the theory of truth won't generalize to non-human agents.

I'm not sure 'agent' is a natural kind. 'Truth' may not be a natural kind either; it may be a very gerrymandered, odd-looking collection of properties. So I spoke in terms of concrete human behaviors in order to maintain agnosticism about how generalizable these properties are. If they do turn out to be generalizable, then great. I don't think any part of my account precludes that possibility.

The widespread nature of belief in values-as-truths cries out for explanation

Yes. My explanation is that our mental models do treat values as though they were real properties of things. Similarly, our mental models treat chairs as discrete solid objects, treat mathematical objects as mind-independent reals, treat animals as having desires and purposes, and treat possibility and necessity as worldly facts. In all of these cases, our evidence for the metaphysical category actually occurring is much weaker than our apparent confidence in the category's reality. So the problem is very general; it seems that most of our beliefs are predicated on useful fictions (analogous to our willingness to affirm the truth of 'Sherlock Holmes is a detective, not a carpenter'), in which case we are committed either to an error theory or to revising our standards for what 'truth' is.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-12-03T21:30:14.986Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

'Truth' may not be a natural kind either; it may be a very gerrymandered, odd-looking collection of properties.

If so. rationalists may as well shut up shop, because anyone would be able to add an interest-specific lump to the gerrymander.

ETA

So the problem is very general; it seems that most of our beliefs are predicated on useful fictions (analogous to our willingness to affirm the truth of 'Sherlock Holmes is a detective, not a carpenter'), in which case we are committed either to an error theory or to revising our standards for what 'truth' is.

I go for the third option.

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2012-12-03T21:49:16.847Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If so. rationalists may as well shut up shop, because anyone would be able to add an interest-specific lump to the gerrymander.

People already do that, and yet rationalists see no reason to 'shut up shop' as a result. 'True' is just a word. Rationality is about systematic optimization for our goals, not about defending our favorite words from the rabble. Sometimes it's worthwhile to actively criticize a use of 'truth;' sometimes it's worthwhile to participate in the gerrymandering ourselves; and sometimes it's worthwhile just to avoid getting involved in the kerfuffle. For instance, criticizing people for calling 'Sherlock Holmes is a detective' true is both less useful and less philosophically interesting than criticizing people for calling 'there is exactly one empty set' true.

Also, it's important to remember that there are two different respects in which 'truth' might be gerrymandered. First, it might be gerrymandered for purely social reasons. Second, it might be gerrymandered because it's a very complicated property of high-level representational systems. One should not expect mental states in general to be simply and nondisjunctively definable in a strictly physical language. Yet if we learned that 'pain' were a highly disjunctive property rather than a natural kind, this would give us no reason to stop deeming pain unpleasant.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-12-04T10:50:48.571Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

People already do that, and yet rationalists see no reason to 'shut up shop' as a result

People try to do that, but rationalists don't have to regard it as legitimate, and can object. However, if a notion of truth is adopted that is pluralistic and has no constraint on its pluralism --Anythng Goes -- rationalists could no longer object to,eg. Astrological Truth.

'True' is just a word.

Rationality is about systematic optimization for our goals, not about defending our favorite words from the rabble.

So you say. Most rationalists are engaged in some sort of wider debate.

sometimes it's worthwhile to participate in the gerrymandering

Even if it is intellectually dishonest to do so?

First, it might be gerrymandered for purely social reasons. Second, it might be gerrymandered because it's a very complicated property of high-level representational systems.

I think you may have confused truth with statesof-mind-having-content-about-truth. Electrons are simple, thoughts about them aren't.

One should not expect mental states in general to be simply and nondisjunctively definable in a strictly physical language. Yet if we learned that 'pain' were a highly disjunctive property rather than a natural kind, this would give us no reason to stop deeming pain unpleasant.

Somethings not being a natural kind, is not justification for arbitrarily changing its definition. I don't get to redefine the taste of chocolate as a kind of pain.

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2012-12-04T17:54:35.242Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

No one on this thread, up till now, has mentioned an arbitrarily changing or anything goes model of truth. Perhaps you misunderstood what I meant by 'gerrymandered.' All I meant was that the referent of 'truth' in physical or biological terms may be an extremely complicated and ugly array of truth-bearing states. Conceding that doesn't mean that we should allow 'truth' (or any word) to be used completely anarchically.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-12-05T11:32:44.494Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

All I meant was that the referent of 'truth' in physical or biological terms may be an extremely complicated and ugly array of truth-bearing states

It might be. Then philosphers would be correct to look for a sense that all those referents have in common.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2012-11-29T20:09:20.252Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't see how Eliezer could dodge this objection, or why he would want to.

I would phrase that as that he has recast it so it is non-objectionable.

A lot of the other objections are of the nature "how do you know?" And generally he lets the answer be, "we don't know that to a degree of certainty that - it has been correctly pointed out - would philosophically objectionable."

comment by TimS · 2012-11-29T20:42:53.589Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well, that moves much closer to making objection 2 meaningful. If all that the correspondence theory of truth can do is reassure us that our colloquial usage of "truth" gestures at a unified and meaningful philosophical concept, then it isn't much use. It is not like anyone seriously doubts that "empirically true" is a real thing.

And I say that as a post-modernist.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2012-11-29T22:35:29.501Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I still don't understand this 'usefulness' objection. If the correspondence theory of truth is a justification for colloquial notions of truth, its primary utility does lie in our not worrying too much about things we don't actually need to worry about. There are other uses such as molding the way one approaches knowledge under uncertainty. The lemmas needed to produce the final "everything's basically OK" result provide significant value.

comment by TimS · 2012-11-30T15:38:56.919Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

There are many concepts where the precise contours of the correct position makes no practical difference to most people. Examples include (1) Newtonian vs. Relativity and QM, (2) the meaning of infinity, or (3) persistence of identity. Many of the folk versions of those types of concepts are inadequate in dealing with edge cases (e.g. the folk theory of infinity is hopelessly broken). The concept of "truth" is probably in this no-practical-implications category. As I said, there's no particular reason to doubt truth exists, whether the correspondence theory is correct or not.

Anyway, edge cases don't tend to come up in ordinary life, so there's no good reason for most people to be worried. If one isn't worried, then the whole correspondence-theory-of-truth project is pointless to you. Without worry, reassurance is irrelevant. By contrast, if you are worried, the correspondence theory is insufficient to reassure you. Your weaker interpretation is vacuous, Eliezer's stronger version has flaws.

None of this says that one should worry about what "truth" is, but having taken on the question, I think Eliezer has come up short in answering.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2012-11-30T17:25:46.063Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't see where it's coming up short in the first two examples you gave. What else would you want from it?

As far as the third, well, I don't know that the meaning of truth is directly applicable to this problem.

comment by TimS · 2012-12-03T16:27:35.049Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I haven't communicated clearly. There are two understandings of useful - practical-useful and philosophy-useful. Arguments aimed at philosophy-use are generally irrelevant to practical-use (aka "Without worry, reassurance is irrelevant").

In particular, the correspondence theory of truth has essentially no practical-use. The interpretation you advocate here removes philosophical-use.

"Everything's basically ok." is a practical-use issue. Therefore, it's off-topic in a philosophical-use discussion.

I don't see where it's coming up short in the first two examples you gave.

I mentioned the examples to try to explain the distinction between practical-use and philosophical-use. Believing the correspondence theory of truth won't help with any of the examples I gave. Ockham's Razor is not implied by the correspondence theory. Nor is Bayes' Theorem. Correspondence theory implies physical realism, but physical realism does not imply correspondence theory.

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-12-03T16:57:35.702Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In particular, the correspondence theory of truth has essentially no practical-use.

Out of curiosity, which theory of truth does have a practical use ?

comment by TimS · 2012-12-03T17:14:23.985Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think is important to note that what we've been calling theories of truth are actually aimed at being theories of meaningfulness. As lukeprog implicitly asserts, there are whole areas of philosophy where we aren't sure there is anything substantive at all. If we could figure out the correct theory of meaningfulness, we could figure out which areas of philosophy could be discarded entirely without close examination.

For example, Carnap and other logical positivists thought Heidegger's assertion that "Das nicht nichtet" was meaningless nonsense. I'm not sure I agree, but figuring out questions like that is the purpose of a theory of meaning / truth.

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-12-03T19:38:29.325Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I see, so you aren't really concerned with practical-use applications; you're more interested in figuring out which areas of philosophy are meaningful. That makes sense, but, on the other hand, can an area of philosophy with a well-established practical use still be meaningless ?

comment by TimS · 2012-12-03T19:45:21.414Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It sure would be surprising if that happened. But meaningfulness is not the only criteria one could apply to a theory. No one thinks Newtonian physics is meaningless, even though everyone thinks Newtonian physics is wrong (i.e. less right than relativity and QM).

In other words, one result of a viable theory of truth would be a formal articulation of "wronger than wrong."

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-12-03T19:51:19.033Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

No one thinks Newtonian physics is meaningless, even though everyone thinks Newtonian physics is wrong (i.e. less right than relativity and QM).

That's not the same as "wrong", though. It's just "less right", but it's still good enough to predict the orbit of Venus (though not Mercury), launch a satellite (though not a GPS satellite), or simply lob cannonballs at an enemy fortress, if you are so inclined.

From what I've seen, philosophy is more concerned with logical proofs and boolean truth values. If this is true, then perhaps that is the reason why philosophy is so riddled with deep-sounding yet ultimately useless propositions ? We'd be in deep trouble if we couldn't use Newtonian mechanics just because it's not as accurate as QM, even though we're dealing with macro-sized cannonballs moving slower than sound.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2012-12-03T18:49:13.186Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"Everything's basically ok." is a practical-use issue. Therefore, it's off-topic in a philosophical-use discussion.

... except, as described below, to discard volumes worth of overthinking the matter.

comment by TimS · 2012-12-03T19:16:10.559Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

As far as I can tell, we're in the middle of a definitional dispute - and I can't figure out how to get out.

My point remains that Eliezer's reboot of logical positivism does no better (and no worse) than the best of other logical positivist philosophies. A theory of truth needs to be able to explain why certain propositions are meaningful. Using "correspondence" as a semantic stop sign does not achieve this goal.

Abandoning the attempt to divide the meaningful from the non-meaningful avoids many of the objections to Eliezer's point, at the expense of failing to achieve a major purpose of the sequence.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2012-12-03T19:51:24.344Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's not so much a definitional dispute as I have no idea what you're talking about.

Suggesting that there's something out there which our ideas can accurately model isn't a semantic stop sign at all. It suggests we use modeling language, which does, contra your statement elsewhere, suggest using Bayesian inference. It gives sufficient criteria for success and failure (test the models' predictions). It puts sane epistemic limits on the knowable.

That seems neither impractical nor philosophically vacuous.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-12-03T21:15:37.040Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The philosophical problem has always been he apparent arbitrariness of the rules. You can say that "meaningful" sentences are empircially verifiable ones. But why should anyone believe that? The sentence "the only meaningful sentences are the empircially verifiable ones" isn't obviously empirically verifiable. You have over-valued clarity and under-valued plausibility.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2012-12-04T18:46:54.037Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Definitions don't need to be empirically verifiable. How could they be?

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-12-05T11:28:34.897Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

They need to be meaningful. If your definition of meaningfullness assers its own meaninglessness, you have a problem. If you are asserting that there is truth-by-stipulation as well as truth-by-correspondence, you have a problem.

comment by NonComposMentis · 2012-12-03T21:24:07.176Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Clarity cannot be over-valued; plausibility, however, can be under-valued.

comment by thomblake · 2012-12-03T21:37:47.563Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Clarity cannot be over-valued

If you believe that, I have two units of clarity to sell you, for ten billion dollars.

comment by Salemicus · 2012-12-03T21:50:17.000Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Before posting, you should have spent a year thinking up ways to make that comment clearer.

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-12-03T20:00:17.571Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What about mathematics, then ? Does it correspond to something "out there" ? If so, what/where is it ? If not, does this mean that math is not meaningful ?

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2012-12-03T20:24:11.342Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Math is how you connect inferences. The results of mathematics are of the form 'if X, Y, and Z, then A'... so, find cases where X, Y, and Z, and then check A.

It doesn't even need to be a practical problem. Every time you construct an example, that counts.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-12-03T21:21:26.567Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't see how that addresses the problem. You have said that there is one kind of truth/meanignullness, based on modelling relaity, and then you describe mathematical truth in a form that doens't match that. If any domain can have its own standards of truth, then astrologers can say there merhcandise is "astrologically true". You have anything goes.

This stuff is a tricky , typically philophsical problem because the obvious answers all have problems. Saying that all truth is correspondence means that either mathematical Platonism holds -- mathematical truths correspond to the status quo in Plato's heaven--or maths isn't meaningful/true at all. Or truth isn't correspondence, it's anything goes.

I don't think those problems are iresolvable, and EY has in fact suggested (but not originated) what I think is a promissing approach.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2012-12-04T18:49:20.909Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

How does it not match? Take the 4 color problem. It says you're not going to be able to construct a minimally-5-color flat map. Go ahead. Try.

That's the kind of example I'm talking about here. The examples are artificial, but by constructing them you are connecting the math back to reality. Artificial things are real.

If any domain can have its own standards of truth, then astrologers can say there merhcandise is "astrologically true".

What? How is holding everything is held to the standard of 'predict accurately or you're wrong' the same as 'anything goes'?

I mean, if astrology just wants to be a closed system that never ever says anything about the outside world... I'm not interested in it, but it suddenly ceases to be false.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-12-05T11:22:01.536Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

How does it not match? Take the 4 color problem. It says you're not going to be able to construct a minimally-5-color flat map. Go ahead. Try.

That doesn't matfch reality because it would still be true in universes with different laws of physics.

'predict accurately or you're wrong' the same as 'anything goes'?

It isn't. It's a standard of truth that too narrow to include much of maths.

I mean, if astrology just wants to be a closed system that never ever says anything about the outside world

That doens't follow. Astrologers can say their merchandise is about the world, and true, but not true in a way that has anything to do with correspondence or prediction.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2012-12-06T18:47:32.203Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That doesn't matfch reality because it would still be true in universes with different laws of physics.

If you're in a different universe with different laws of physics, your implementation of the 4 color problem will have to be different. Your failure to correctly map between math and reality isn't math's problem. Math, as noted above, is of the form 'if X and Y and Z, then A' - and you can definitely arrange formal equivalents to X, Y, and Z by virtue of being able to express the math in the first place.

That doens't follow. Astrologers can say their merchandise is about the world, and true, but not true in a way that has anything to do with correspondence or prediction.

It's about the world but it doesn't correspond to anything in the world? Then the correspondence model of truth has just said they're full of shit. Victoreeee!

(note: above 'victory' claim is in reference to astrologers, not you)

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-12-06T19:03:33.604Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If you're in a different universe with different laws of physics, your implementation of the 4 color problem will have to be different.

I don't have to implement it at all to see its truth. Maths is not just applied maths.

Math, as noted above, is of the form 'if X and Y and Z, then A' - and you can definitely arrange formal equivalents to X, Y, and Z by virtue of being able to express the math in the first place.

I don't see that you mean. (Non-applied) maths is just formal, period, AFAIAC..

t's about the world but it doesn't correspond to anything in the world? Then the correspondence model of truth has just said they're full of shit. Victoreeee!

And Astrologers can just say that the CToT is shit and they have a better ToT.

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2012-12-06T19:11:28.643Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

People who have different 'theories' of truth really have different definitions of the word 'truth.' Taboo that word away, and correspondence theorists are really criticizing astrologists for failing to describe the world accurately, not for asserting coherentist 'falsehoods.' Every reasonable disputant can agree that it is possible to describe the world accurately or inaccurately; correspondence theorists are just insisting that the activity of world-describing is important, and that it counts against astrologists that they fail to describe the world.

(P.S. Real astrologists are correspondence theorists. They think their doctrines are true because they are correctly describing the influence celestial bodies have on human behavior. Even idealists at least partly believe in correspondence theory; my claims about ideas in my head can still be true or false based on whether they accurately describe what I'm thinking.)

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-12-06T19:23:38.401Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

People who have different 'theories' of truth really have different definitions of the word 'truth.'

That is not at all obvious. Let "that which should be believed" be the defintiion of truth. Then a correspondence theorist and coherence theorist stlll have plenty to disagree about, even if they both hold to the definition.

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2012-12-06T19:31:43.970Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That is not at all obvious.

Agreed. However, it's still the right view, as well as being the most useful one, since tabooing lets us figure out why people care about which 'theory' of 'truth' is.... (is what? true?). The real debate is over whether correspondence to the world is important in various discussions, not over whether everyone means the same thing ('correspondence') by a certain word ('truth').

Let "that which should be believed" be the defintiion of truth.

You can stipulate whatever you want, but "that which should be believed" simply isn't a credible definition for that word. First, just about everyone thinks it's possible, in certain circumstances, to ought to believe a falsehood. Second, propositional 'belief' itself is the conviction that something is true; we can't understand belief until we first understand what truth is, or in what sense 'truth' is being used when we talk about believing something. Truth is a more basic concept than belief.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2012-12-06T21:53:55.803Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't have to implement it at all to see its truth. Maths is not just applied maths.

At the very least, you can make something formally equivalent if you're capable of talking about it.

If your branch of mathematics is so unapplied that you can't even represent it in our universe, I suspect it's no longer math.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-12-07T11:21:19.180Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If your branch of mathematics is so unapplied that you can't even represent it in our universe, I suspect it's no longer math.

Any maths can be represented the way it ususally is, by writing down some essentially aribtrary symbols. That does not indicate anything about "correspondence" to reality. The problem is the "arbitrary" in arbitrary symbol.

Lets say space is three dimensional. You can write down a formula for 17 dimensional space, but that doens't mean you have a chunk of 17 dimesional space for the maths to correspond to. You just have chalk on a blackboard.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2012-12-07T15:47:23.895Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Sure. And yet, you can implement vectors in 17 dimensional spaces by writing down 17-dimensional vectors in row notation. Math predicts the outcome of operations on these entities.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-12-07T17:08:21.869Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Show me a 17-vector. And what is being predicited? The onlyy way to get at the behaviour is to do the math, and the only way to do the predictions is...to do the math. I think meaningful prediction requires some non-identity between predictee and predictor.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2012-12-07T19:25:45.562Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

(0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) is a perfectly valid 17-vector.

The predictions of the mathematics of 17-dimensional space would, yes, depend on the outcome of other operations such as addition and multiplication - operations we can implement more directly in matter.

I have personally relied on the geometry of 11-dimensional spaces for a particular curve-fitting model to produce reliable results. If, say, the Pythagorean theorem suddenly stopped applying above 3 dimensions, it simply would not have worked.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-12-08T03:50:01.612Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

(0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) is a perfectly valid 17-vector.

I'm seing pixels on a 2d screen. I'm not seeing an existing 17d dimensional thing.

The mathematics of 17d space predict the mathematics of 17d space. They couldn't fail to. Which means no real prediction is happening at all. 1.0 is not a probability.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2012-12-10T09:29:50.934Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

There are things we can model as 17-dimensional spaces, and when we do, the behavior comes out the way we were hoping. This is because of formal equivalence: the behavior of the numbers in a 17-dimensional vector space precisely corresponds to the geometric behavior of a counterfactual 17-dimensional euclidean space. You talk about one, you're also saying something about the other.

Is this point confusing to you?

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-12-10T11:51:11.239Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There are things we can model as 17-dimensional spaces,

But they are not 17 dimensional spaces. They have different physics. Treating them as 17 dimesional isn't modelling them because it isn't representing thema as they are.

comment by Kindly · 2012-12-10T14:23:40.774Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

To be concrete, suppose we have a robotic arm with 17 degrees of freedom of movement. It's current state can and should be represented as a 17-dimensional vector, to which you should do 17-dimensional math to figure out things like "Where is the robotic arm's index finger pointing?" or "Can the robotic arm touch its own elbow?"

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-12-10T14:27:39.577Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

can and should

Not obvious. It would just be a redundant way of representing a 3d object in 3 space.

The point of contention is the claim that for any maths, there is something in reality for it to represent. Now, we can model a system of 10 particles as 1 particle in 30 dimensional space, but that doens;t prove that 30d maths has something in reality to represent, since in reality there are 10 particles. Is was our decision, not reality's to treat is as 1 particle in a higher-d space.

comment by Kindly · 2012-12-10T14:32:23.573Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Past a certain degree of complexity, there are lots of decisions about representing objects that are "ours, not reality's". For example, even if you represent the 10 particles as 10 vectors in 3D space, you still choose an origin, a scale, and a basis for 3D space, and all of these are arbitrary.

The 30-dimensional particle makes correct predictions of the behavior of the 10 particles. That should be enough.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-12-10T15:08:11.392Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Treaing a mathermatical formula as something that cranks out predictions is treating it as instrumentally, is treaing it unrealistically. But you cannot' have coherent notion of modeling or representation if there is no real territory being modeled or represented.

To argue that all maths is representational, you either have to claim we are living in Tegmarks level IV, or you have to stretch the meaning of "representation" to meaninglessness. Kindly and Luke Sommers seem to be heading down the second route.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-12-10T14:45:21.392Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

A correct 30D formula wll make correct predictions, Mathematical space also contains an infinity of formulations that are incorrect. Surely it is obvious that you can't claim eveything in maths correctly models or predicts something in realiy.

comment by Kindly · 2012-12-10T15:04:10.465Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'd say that math either

  1. Predicts something that could happen in reality (e.g. we're not rejecting math with 2+2=4 apples just because I only have 3 apples in my kitchen), or

  2. Is an abstraction of other mathematical ideas.

Do you claim that (2) is no longer modeling something in reality? It is arguably still predicting things about reality once you unpack all the layers of abstraction -- hopefully at least it has consequences relevant to math that does model something.

Or do you think that I've missed a category in my description of math?

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-12-10T15:23:35.819Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It is arguably still predicting things about reality once you unpack all the layers of abstraction

I don't see what abstraction has to do with it. The Standard Model has about 18 parameters. Vary those, and it will mispredict. I don't think all the infinity of incorrect variations of the SM are more abstract.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2012-12-10T14:41:01.331Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Who said vector spaces have anything to do with physics? That's not math anymore, that's physics.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-12-10T14:48:39.662Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Using math to model reality is physics. Phsycis doens't use all of math, so some math doesn' model anything real.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2012-12-10T17:05:16.537Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

As a physicist, I can say with a moderate degree of authority: no.

I have seen mathematical equations to describe population genetics. That was not physics. I have seen mathematical equations used to describe supply and demand curves. That was not physics. Etc.

If you're using math to model something, or even could so use it, that is sufficient for it to have a correspondent for purposes of the correspondence theory of truth.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-12-10T17:07:34.428Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If you're using math to model something, or even could so use it, that is sufficient for it to have a correspondent for purposes of the correspondence theory of truth.

But that is not suffcient to show that all maths models.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2012-12-10T18:35:54.046Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well, you can use math for something other than modeling, sure. Can you give a more concrete example of some math you claim doesn't model anything?

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-12-10T18:47:09.386Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The Standard Model with its 18 parameters set to random values.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2012-12-10T21:37:52.223Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

... okay, you were confusing before, but now you're exceptionally confusing. You're saying that the standard model of particle physics is an example of math that doesn't model anything?

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-12-10T21:52:08.540Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

No, I am saying a mutated, deviant form doens't model anything -- "with its 18 parameters set to random values".

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2012-12-10T22:45:16.099Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Well, it doesn't model our universe. And the Standard Model is awfully complicated for someone to build a condensed matter system implementing a randomized variant of it. But it's still a quantum mechanical system, so I wouldn't bet strongly against it.

And of course if someone decided for some reason to run a quantum simulation using this H-sm-random, then anything you mathematically proved about H-sm-random would be proved about the results of that simulation. The correspondence would be there between the symbols you put in and the symbols you got back, by way of the process used to generate those outputs. It just would be modeling something less cosmically grand than the universe itself, just stuff going on inside a computer. It wouldn't be worth while to do... but it still corresponds to a relationship that would hold if you were dumb enough to go out of your way to bring it about.

The thing about the correspondence theory of truth is that once something has been reached as corresponding to something and thus being eligible to be true, it serves as a stepping-stone to other things. You don't need to work your way all the way down to 'ground floor' in one leap. You're allowed to take general cases, not all of which need to be instantiated. Correspondence to patterns instead of instances is a thing.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-12-11T10:47:04.068Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

And of course if someone decided for some reason to run a quantum simulation using this H-sm-random, the anything you mathematically proved about H-sm-random would be proved about the results of that simulation.

Which, as in your other examples, is case of a model modeling a model. You can build something physical that simulates a universe where electrons have twice the mass, and you can predict the virtual behaviour of the simulation with an SM where the electron mass paramter is doubled, but the simulation will be made of electrons with standard mass.

The correspondence would be there between the symbols you put in and the symbols you got back, by way of the process used to generate those outputs. It just would be modeling something less cosmically grand than the universe itself, just stuff going on inside a computer.

It wouldn't be modeliing reality.

The thing about the correspondence theory of truth

..is that it is a poor fit for mathematical truth. You are making mathetmatical theorems correspondnce-true by giving them something artificial to correspond to. Before the creation of a simulaiton at time T, there is nothing for them to correspond to.This is a mismatch with the intuition that mathematical truths are timelessly true.

is that once something has been reached as corresponding to something and thus being eligible to be true, it serves as a stepping-stone to other things. You don't need to work your way all the way down to 'ground floor' in one leap. You're allowed to take general cases, not all of which need to be instantiated. Correspondence to patterns instead of instances is a thing.

You can gerrymander CToT into something that works, however inelegantly, for maths, or you can abandon it in favour something that doesn't need gerrymandering.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2012-12-11T15:12:05.733Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It's not gerrymandering. What you are doing is gerrymandering. Picking and choosing which parts of the territory we are and aren't allowed to model.

The territory includes the map.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-12-11T15:15:57.756Z · score: -4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

But not as a map. Maphood is in the eye of the beholder.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2012-12-11T15:37:15.256Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The eye of the beholder is part of the territory too. It is a matter of fact that it takes that part of the territory to be a map.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-12-11T15:48:46.392Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Maphood is still not a matter of fact about maps.

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-12-03T21:55:24.169Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Right, but as Peterdjones said, in this case you have a meaningful system that does not correspond to anything besides, possibly, itself.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2012-12-04T18:50:06.665Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Example, please?

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-12-06T19:07:36.737Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Physics uses a subset of maths, so the rest would be examples of vald (I am substituing that for "meaninful", which I am not sure how t apply here) maths that doesn;t correspond to anything external, absent Platonism.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2012-12-06T21:54:32.108Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

But you can BUILD something that corresponds to that thing.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-12-07T11:16:54.848Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Which thing, and why does that matter?

comment by TimS · 2012-12-03T20:08:27.921Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The word "True" is overloaded in the ordinary vernacular. Eliezer's answer is to set up a separate standard for empirical and mathematical propositions.

Empirical assertions use the label "true" when they correspond to reality. Mathematical assertions use the label "valid" when the theorem follows from the axioms.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-12-03T21:26:34.976Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Eliezer's answer is to set up a separate standard for empirical and mathematical propositions.

I dont' think it is, and that's a bad answer anyway. To say that two unrelated approaches are both truth allows anthing to join the truth club, since there are no longer criteria for membership.

However, there is an approach that allows pluralism, AKA "overloading", but avoids Anything Goes

comment by TimS · 2012-12-04T17:01:56.422Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, I don't think that Eliezer would call mathematically valid propositions "true." I don't find that answer any more satisfying than you do. But (as your link suggests), I don't think he can do better without abandoning the correspondence theory.

comment by TimS · 2012-12-03T20:00:01.138Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Suggesting that there's something out there which our ideas can accurately model . . .

Simply put, there's no one who disagrees with this point. And the correspondence theory cannot demonstrate it, even if there were a dispute.


Let me make an analogy to decision theory: In decision theory, the hard part is not figuring out the right answer in a particular problem. No one disputes that one-boxing in Newcomb's problem has the best payoff. The difficulty in decision theory is rigorously describing a decision theory that comes up with the right answer on all the problems.

To make the parallel explicit, the existence of the external world is not the hard problem. The hard problem is what "true" means. For example, this comment is a sophisticated argument that "true" (or "meaningful") are not natural kinds. Even if he's right, that doesn't conflict with the idea of an external world.

comment by thomblake · 2012-12-03T20:18:58.156Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Suggesting that there's something out there which our ideas can accurately model . . .

Simply put, there's no one who disagrees with this point.

I'm trying and failing to figure out for what reference class this is supposed to be true.

comment by TimS · 2012-12-03T20:25:49.795Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Who thinks that there isn't something out there which our ideas can model?

comment by BerryPick6 · 2012-12-03T20:46:21.761Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If I understood you correctly, then Berkeley-style Idealists would be an example. However, I have a strong suspicion that I've misunderstood you, so there's that...

comment by thomblake · 2012-12-03T20:41:54.025Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Solipsists, by some meanings of "out there". More generally, skeptics. Various strong forms of relativism, though you might have to give them an inappropriately modernist interpretation to draw that out. My mother-in-law.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-11-29T15:59:37.243Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Don't...don't...

I need to knowpositively how to answer typical philosophhical questions such as the meaning of life.

Positively, they could always start here.

That's a re-invention of LP, which has problems well known to philosophers.

comment by lukeprog · 2012-11-29T22:14:28.735Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I need to know... how to answer typical philosophical questions such as the meaning of life.

Eliezer has written quite a bit about how to do philosophy well, and I intend to do so in the future.

If you'll pardon the pun, I leave you with "Why I Stopped Worrying About the Definition of Life, and Why You Should as Well".

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-11-29T22:26:03.386Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I ha ve read a lot of philosophy, and I don't think EY is doing it at particualrly well. His occasional cross-disciplinary insights keep me going (I'm cross disiplinary too, I started in science and work in I.T). But he often fails to communicate clearly (I still don't know whether he thinks numbers exist) and argues vaguely.

If you'll pardon the pun, I leave you with "Why I Stopped Worrying About the Definition of Life, and Why You Should as Well".

I don't see your point. For one thing, I'm not on the philosohpy "side" in some sense exclusive of being on the science or CS side or whatever. For another. there are always plenty of phils. who are agin GOCFA (Good Old Fashioned Conceptual Analysis). The collective noun for philosophers is "a disagreement". Tha'ts another of my catchphrases.

comment by lukeprog · 2012-11-29T22:49:00.747Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Eliezer often fails to communicate clearly (I still don't know whether he thinks numbers exist) and argues vaguely.

Agree! Very frustrating. What I had in mind was, for example, his advice about dissolving the question, which is not the same advice you'd get from logical positivists or (most) contemporary naturalists.

I don't see your point.

Sorry, I should have been clearer that I wasn't trying to make much of a point by sending you the Machery article. I just wanted to send you a bit of snark. :)

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-11-29T23:47:30.079Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What I had in mind was, for example, his advise about dissolving the question, which is not the same advice you'd get from logical positivists or (most) contemporary naturalists

I don't see the significance of that. You definitely get it from some notable naturalists,

comment by lukeprog · 2012-11-30T22:13:18.750Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I skimmed the paper. Dennett's project is a dissolving one, though he does less to explain why we think we have qualia than Yudkowsky did with regard to why we think we have free will. But perhaps Dennett wrote something later which more explicitly sets out to explain why we think we have qualia?

comment by Sniffnoy · 2012-11-29T17:32:31.968Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I need to knowpositively how to answer typical philosophhical questions such as the meaning of life.

Only if the question is meaningful. Of course, just saying "Don't do that then" doesn't tell you how to resolve whether that's the case or not, but necessarily expecting an answer rather than a dissolution is not necessarily correct.

comment by siodine · 2012-11-29T15:36:22.913Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Defund philosophy departments to the benefit of computer science departments?

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-11-29T16:03:09.611Z · score: -2 (8 votes) · LW · GW

And the CS departments are going to tell us what the meaning of life is?

If have to give up on even trying to answer the questions, you don't actually have a better alternative.

comment by siodine · 2012-11-29T16:11:37.170Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I absolutely loathe the way you phrased that question for a variety of reasons (and I suspect analytic philosophers would as well), so I'm going to replace "meaning of life" with something more sensible like "solve metaethics" or "solve the hard problem of consciousness." In which case, yes. I think computer science is more likely to solve metaethics and other philosophical problems because the field of philosophy isn't founded on a program and incentive structure of continual improvement through feedback from reality. Oh, and computer science works on those kinds of problems (so do other areas of science, though).

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-11-29T16:19:19.318Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think you have phrased "the question" differntly and better, I think you have substituted two differnt questions. Well, maybe you think the MoL is a ragbag of different questions, not one big one. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn't. That would be a philsophical question. I don't see how empiricsm could help. Speaking of which...

What instruments do use to get feedback from reality vis a vis phenomenal consciousness and ethical values? I didn't notice and qualiometers or agathometers last time I was in a lab.

comment by siodine · 2012-11-29T16:31:23.727Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I've substituted problems that philosophy is actually working on (metaethics and conciousness) with one that analytic philosophy isn't (meaning of life). Meaning comes from mind. Either we create our own meaning (absurdism, existentialism, ect) or we get meaning from a greater mind that designed us with a purpose (religion). Very simple. How could computer science or science dissolve this problem? (1) By not working on it because it's unanswerable by the only methods we can have said to have answered something, or (2) making the problem answerable by operationalizing it or by reforming the intent of the question into another, answerable, question.

Through the process of science, we gain enough knowledge to dissolve philosophical questions or make the answer obvious and solved (even though science might not say "the meaning of life is X" but instead show that we evolved, what mind is, and how the universe likely came into being -- in which case you can answer the question yourself without any need for a philosophy department).

What instruments do use to get feedback from reality vis a vis phenomenal consciousness and ethical values? I didn't notice and qualiometers or agathometers last time I was in a lab.

If I want to know what's happening in a brain, I have to understand the physical/biological/computational nature of the brain. If I can't do that, then I can't really explain qualia or such. You might say we can't understand qualia through its physical/biological/computational nature. Maybe, but it seems very unlikely, and if we can't understand the brain through science, then we'll have discovered something very surprising and can then move in another direction with good reason.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-11-29T22:14:17.503Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I've substituted problems that philosophy is actually working on (metaethics and conciousness) with one that analytic philosophy isn't (meaning of life).

Unless it is. Maybe the MoL breaks down into many of the other topics studied by philosophers. Maybe philosophy is in the process of reducing it.

Meaning comes from mind. Either we create our own meaning (absurdism, existentialism, ect) or we get meaning from a greater mind that designed us with a purpose (religion). Very simple

No, not simple

How could computer science or science dissolve this problem? (1) By not working on it because it's unanswerable by the only methods we can have said to have answered something,

You say it is "unanswerable" timelessly. How do you know that? It's unanswered up to present. As are a number of scientific questions.

or (2) making the problem answerable by operationalizing it or by reforming the intent of the question into another, answerable, question.

Maybe. But checking that you have correctly identified the intent, and not changed the subject, is just the sort of armchair conceptual analysis philosophers do.

Through the process of science, we gain enough knowledge to dissolve philosophical questions or make the answer obvious and solved

You say that timelsessly, but at the time of writing we have done where we have and we don't where we haven;t.

(even though science might not say "the meaning of life is X" but instead show that we evolved, what mind is, and how the universe likely came into being -- in which case you can answer the question yourself without any need for a philosophy department).

But unless science can relate that back to the initial question , there is no need to consider it answered.

What instruments do use to get feedback from reality vis a vis phenomenal consciousness and ethical values? I didn't notice and qualiometers or agathometers last time I was in a lab.

If I want to know what's happening in a brain, I have to understand the physical/biological/computational nature of the brain.

That's necessary, sure. But if it were sufficient, would we have a Hard Problem of Consciousness?

If I can't do that, then I can't really explain qualia or such.

But I am not suggesting that science be shut down, and the funds transferred to philosophy.

You might say we can't understand qualia through its physical/biological/computational nature. Maybe, but it seems very unlikely,

It seems actual to me. We don't have such an understanding at present. I don't know what that means for the future, and I don't how you are computing your confident statement of unlikelihood. One doens't even have to believe in some kind of non-physicalism to think that we might never. The philosopher Colin McGinn argues that we have good reason to believe both that consc. is physical, and that we will never understand it.

and if we can't understand the brain through science,

We can't understand qualia through science now. How long does that have to continue before you give up? What's the harm in allowing philsophy to continue when it is so cheap compared to science?

PS. I would be interested in hearing of a scientific theory of ethics that doens't just ignore the is-ought problem.

comment by siodine · 2012-11-29T22:42:37.332Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Even though the wikipedia page for "meaning of life" is enormous, it boils all down to the very simple either/or statement I gave.

How do we know if something is answerable? Did a chicken just materialize 10 billion light years from Earth? We can't answer that. Is the color blue the best color? We can't answer that. We can answer questions that contact reality such that we can observe them directly or indirectly. Did a chicken just materialize in front me? No. Is the color blue the most preferred color? I don't know, but it can be well answered through reported preferences. I don't know if these currently unanswerable questions will always be unanswerable, but given what I know I can only say that they will almost certainly remain unanswerable (because it's unfeasible or because it's a nonsensical question).

Wouldn't science need to do conceptual analysis? Not really, though it could appear that way. Philosophy has "free will", science has "volition." Free will is a label for a continually argued concept. Volition is a label for an axiom that's been nailed in stone. Science doesn't really care about concepts, it just wants to ask questions such that it can answer them definitely.

Even though science might provide all the knowledge necessary to easily answer a question, it doesn't actually answer it, right? My answer: so what? Science doesn't answer a lot of trivial questions like what I exactly should eat for breakfast, even though the answer is perfectly obvious (healthy food as discovered by science if I want to remain healthy).

Why still have the hard problem of consciousness if it's answerable by science? Because the brain is hard to understand. Give another century or so. We've barely explored the brain.

What if consciousness isn't explainable by science? When we get to that point, we'll be much better prepared to understand what direction we need to go to understand the brain. As it is now, philosophy is simply following science's breadcrumbs. There is no point in doing philosophy, unless there is a reasonable expectation that it will solve a problem that can be more likely solved by something else.

A scientific theory of ethics? It wouldn't have any "you ought to do X because X is good," but would be more of the form of "science says X,Y,Z are healthy for you" and then you would think "hey, I want to be healthy, so I'm going to eat X,Y,Z." This is actually how philosophy works now. You get a whole bunch of argumentation as evidence, and then you must enact it personally through hypothetical injunctions like "if I want to maximize well being, then I should act as a utilitarian."

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-11-30T19:45:32.139Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Even though the wikipedia page for "meaning of life" is enormous, it boils all down to the very simple either/or statement I gave.

Providing you ignore the enornous amount of substructure hanging off each option.

do we know if something is answerable?

We generally perform some sort of armchair conceptual analysis.

Wouldn't science need to do conceptual analysis? Not really,

Why not? Doesn't it need to decide which questions it can answer?

Volition is a label for an axiom that's been nailed in stone.

First I've heard of it. Who did that? Where was it published?

Why still have the hard problem of consciousness if it's answerable by science? Because the brain is hard to understand.

Or impossible, or the brain isn't solely or responsible, ro something else. It would have helped to have argued for your prefered option.

Give another century or so. We've barely explored the brain.

As it is now, philosophy is simply following science's breadcrumbs. There is no point in doing philosophy, unless there is a reasonable expectation that it will solve a problem that can be more likely solved by something else.

Philosophy generally can't solve scientific problems, and science generally can't solve philosophical ones.

A scientific theory of ethics? It wouldn't have any "you ought to do X because X is good," but would be more of the form of "science says X,Y,Z are healthy for you" and then you would think "hey, I want to be healthy, so I'm going to eat X,Y,Z."

And what about my interactions with others? Am I entitled to snatch an orange from a starving man because I need a few extra milligrams of vitamin C?

comment by siodine · 2012-11-29T15:40:02.478Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

To say the problem is "rampant" is to admit to a limited knowledge of the field and the debates within it.

Well, Lukeprog certainly doesn't have a limited knowledge of philosophy. Maybe you can somehow show that the problem isn't rampant.

comment by myron_tho · 2012-11-29T20:21:50.447Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe you can somehow show that the problem isn't rampant.

Sure. Should I go about showing there are no unicorns and leprechauns while I'm at it?

ps when a restricted set of statements is used as the exemplar of a very wide and very deep field of which the entire point is to discuss ideas and their implications the proper response to criticism is not "oh yeah well prove it's not true"

comment by siodine · 2012-11-29T20:34:00.843Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

You're both arguing over your impressions of philosophy. I'm more inclined to agree with Lukeprog's impression unless you have some way of showing that your impression is more accurate. Like, for example, show me three papers in meta-ethics from the last year that you think highlight what is representational of that area of philosophy.

From my reading of philosophy, the most well known philosophers (who I'd assume are representational of the top 10% of the field) do keep intuitions and conceptual analysis in their toolbox. But when they bring it out of the toolbox, they dress it up so that it's not prima facie stupid (and then you get a fractal mess of philosophers publishing how the intuition is wrong where their intuition isn't, or how they shouldn't be using intuitions, or how intuitions are useful, and so on with no resolution). If I were to take a step back and look at what philosophy accomplishes, I think I'd have to say "confusion."

You can say this is just the way things are in philosophy, but then why should we fund philosophy?

comment by myron_tho · 2012-11-29T20:49:56.936Z · score: -5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

You can say this is just the way things are in philosophy, but then why should we fund philosophy?

Because some of us realize that there are types of inquiry which are valuable and useful despite the confusion they offer to hyper-systemizing brains who can't accept any view of reality outside a broken conception of radically reductive materialism.

comment by siodine · 2012-11-29T20:54:39.569Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW
  1. I'm not even remotely autistic.
  2. How is philosophy going to get us the correct conception of reality? How will we know it when it happens? (I think science will progress us to the point where philosophy can answer the question, but by then anyone could)
comment by Emile · 2012-11-29T15:23:18.618Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

arguing over controversial claims is the entire point of philosophy

How do you decide whether a claim is controversial?

Just see if people are arguing over it. Duh.

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2012-11-29T18:44:13.769Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Bertrand Russell put most of the metaphysical extravagances to bed (in the Anglo-American tradition at least) with the turn towards formal logic and language

Amusing in light of Russell's rather exotic metaphysical views.

comment by myron_tho · 2012-11-29T19:50:57.787Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You can understand the difference between being a rough progenitor of a historical tradition in thought, on the one hand, and the views held by an individual, correct?

Honestly I'd expected a little better than the strategy of circling of the wagons and defending the group on the site of Pure Rationality where we correct biased thinking. Turns out LW is like every other internet forum and the focus on "rationality" makes no difference in the degree biases underpinning the arguments?

comment by siodine · 2012-11-29T15:21:28.174Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Show me three of your favorite papers from the last year in ethics or meta-ethics that highlight the kind of the philosophy you think is representational of the field. (And if you've been following Lukeprog's posts for any length of time, you'd see that he's probably read more philosophy than most philosophers. His gestalt impression of the field is probably accurate.)

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2012-11-29T13:11:31.161Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Philosophy isn't the only discipline that uses intuition to adjudicate between theories. Even physicists rely on intuitive notions of "simplicity" when arguing for one model over another.

comment by Manfred · 2012-11-29T23:47:02.394Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Though most of the time they use straightforward formal notions of simplicity.

comment by BobTheBob · 2012-12-02T17:43:10.171Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Following the sequence link at the top, I found this similar post, which has an impressive list of references. You include there this paper by Timothy Williamson. It seems to me an oversight you don't mention the paper's argument at all, as it's a sustained critique of the position you're representing.

The basic idea is that the kind of doubts about intuitions you raise are relevantly similar to more familiar forms of philosophical scepticism (scepticism about the external world, etc). I understand Williamson sees a dilemma: either they are mistaken for the same reasons familiar scepticism is mistaken (Williamson's position, to which most of the paper is dedicated), or the doubts undermine way more than its proponents think they do.

It'd be great to hear your summary of the argument there, and what you consider to be its flaw(s).

If you like Williamson, check out also this excellent bit on naturalism.

comment by aaronsw · 2012-12-01T14:02:56.234Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You might enjoy http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/moralbiases

comment by DanielLC · 2012-11-30T06:47:05.491Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Does it matter how much the diversity correlates with gender, society, etc.? If they're basing it on the fact that our intuitions are shared, and they aren't shared, what difference does it make if our gender is shared?

comment by Kawoomba · 2012-11-29T15:56:46.523Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Bit of an implied false dichotomy, or at least an uncharitable reading.

You should get near universal agreement for stating that our intuitions are not strictly universally shared. Even the relevant quote you used qualified the "universally shared" with a "more or less".

Since we do share a cognitive architecture with many common elements, we should expect that - analogous to our various utility functions for which we surmise the existence of a CEV - there is a CEV-concept-analogon usable for philosophical intuitions, a sort of CEI. Whether a CEI still falls under the purview of "more or less" is up to debate. Just as gender-specific (culture-specific) CEVs would show differences, so would gender-specific (culture-specific) CEIs.

If you had to make a bet on whether human X shared a specific intuition with you, don't you think chances are that he/she does?

comment by thomblake · 2012-11-29T18:13:33.521Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Indeed - like most philosophy, x-phi focuses on the controversial questions, so the conclusion that intuitions generally vary is not justified. However, for this reason it's a fairly effective attack on philosophy which attempts to use exactly those intuitions to solve exactly those questions.

comment by chaosmosis · 2012-12-01T03:39:48.457Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In fairness there are potential issues here with signalling and culture. Although people might profess to believe X, in reality X just might be a more common type of cached knowledge, or X might be something that they say because they think it is socially useful, or as a permutation of those two they might have conditioned themselves to believe in X. Or, perhaps they interpret the meaning of "X" differently than others do, but they really mean the same thing underneath.

I think there should be a distinction between types of intuitions, or at least two different poles on a broad spectrum. I think we should consider the extreme of one pole to be truly internalized knowledge that's an extremely core part of that persons personality, and the other extreme to be an extremely shallow belief that's produced by lazy introspection or by no introspection at all, just the automatic repetition of cultural means.

I think that the first type of intuition would be extremely similar. I also think that the first type of intuition is what really matters and probably what controls our actions. I think the second type of intuition probably effects behavior to a limited degree, but I don't think that it would be all that significant. I think these things because humans cooperate with each other so easily, and because there are a great many concepts that translate easily across cultures. Even with some the strangest sounding foreign philosophies that I've encountered, I emphasize with a little, and I think that's because those philosophies have origins common to all people.

The fact that all humans are extremely biologically similar is also a big factor in my thought process.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-11-29T14:40:41.049Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

For one thing, we would never assume that people of all kinds would share our intuitions.

Here are some circumstances where we should:-

First we define "intuition" as a basic idea or principle that we need , and which can't be derived from anything else.

Secondly, we further stipulate that intutions must be shared.

Thirdly, we use empirical philosophy to reject any purported intuitions that don't meet the last criterion.

Fourthly: If the result is a non-empty set, we should accept that there are shared intuitions.

comment by DaFranker · 2012-11-29T15:49:40.797Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

But then, if we do that, we haven't assumed it. We've carefully selected and tested and research which ones are actually shared.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-11-29T15:55:23.300Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The second stage means we have assumed there are no non-shared intuitions. The fourth stage just established that the set of stipulatively shared intutions isn't empty.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2012-11-29T20:25:47.651Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

How exactly does this differ from the "No true Scotsman" fallacy?

First and second, we define "true Scottsman" as what we want him to be. Third, we reject everyone who does not meet our definition. Fourth, hopefully there remains at least one person compatible with our definition.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-11-29T22:30:02.309Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

How exactly does this differ from the "No true Scotsman" fallacy?

I'm well aware of the parallel. But a lot of LWer's seem to approve of the TSD when it takes the form redefining a term scientifically.

ETA: case in point