LW Philosophers versus Analytics

by potato 4 min read28th Nov 201185 comments


By and large, I would bet money that the devoted, experienced, and properly sequenced LWer, is a better philosopher than the average current philosophy majors concentrating in the analytic tradition. I say this because I have regular philosophical conversations with both populations, and notice many philosophical desiderata lacking in my conversations with my classmates, from my school and others, that I find abundantly on this website. Those desiderata, which are roughly the twelve virtues. I find that though my classmates have healthy doses of curiosity, empiricism and even scholarship, they lack in, evenness, lightness, relinquishment, precision, perfectionism and true humility.

How could that be? LW has built a huge positivized reductionist metaphysics, and a Bayesian epistemology which can almost be read as a self improvement manual. These are unprecedented, and in some circles, outrageous truths. This is not to mention the original work that has been done in LW posts and comment trees on, meta-ethics, ethics, biases, mathematics, rationality, quantum physics, economics, self-hack, etc.  We have here a self-updating reliably transmittable well oiled machine, the likes of which philosophy has only so rarely seen.

What is even more impressive to me about LW as a philosophical movement, is that it seems to be nearly self contained when it comes to philosophy. I mean most experienced LWers probably really haven't read very much Kant, maybe some Wittgenstein or Quine; but LWers can still somehow solve the problems philosophers spend their lives solving by building disconnected and competing philosophical systems specifically designed for each task, by the use of roughly one rather generally successful epistemology and metaphysics, which can be called together LWism.

So if you agree that LW does better philosophy than analytic philosophers, let's put our money where our mouths are, as our own philosophy suggests we should. I will post a series of discussion posts each concentrating only on one currentish question from academic philosophy. In each post, I will cover the essentials of the problem, as well as provide external resources on the problem. Each post will also include a list of posts from the sequences which are recommended before participation. Each question will be solved with a consensus of less than 2 to 1 odds amongst professional philosophers, i.e., if more than 2/3s of professional philosophers agree, we won't bother. So as to not waste our time with small fish.

You guys, will then in turn cooperate in comment trees to find solutions and decide amongst them, then I'll compare the LW solutions to the solutions given by a random sampling of vaguely successful analytic philosophers, (I will use a university search for my sampling). I will compare the ratio of types of solutions of the two populations, and look for solutions that happen in the one population that don't occur in the other, then I'll post the results, hopefully the next week. (edit): This process of comparison will be the hardest part of this project for me, and if anyone with training or experience in statistics might want to help me with this, please let me know, and we can work on the comparison and the report thereof together. My prediction is that we will be able to quickly reach a high consensus on many issues that analytics have not internally resolved.

The series will be called: the "Enthusiastic Youngsters Formally Tackle Analytic Problems Test" or "the Eyftapt series" [pronounced: afe-taped]. Alternatively Eyftapt could stand for the "Eliezer Yudkowsky and Friends Train Amazing Philosophers Test." Besides shedding moderate light on our philosophical-competence/toolbox juxtaposed to analytic philosophical-competence/toolbox, I'd also like to learn what LW training offers that analytics are currently missing. So that we can focus in on that kind of training for our own benefit, and so that we can offer some advice to the analytics. That is, assuming my prediction that we'll do better is correct. This will not be as easy as comparing solutions, and I may need much more data than what I'll get out of this series, but it couldn't hurt to have a bunch of LWers doing difficult philosophy added to the available data.

What do you guys and gals think, might you be interested in something like this? Mind you it would be in discussion posts, since the main point is to discuss an issue.

(I know some of you cats don't like "philosophy", just call it "arguing about systems and elucidating messy language and thought in order to answer questions" instead. That is what I think we do better.)

BTW, if you have some problem you think we should work on, or or if you think we would be really good at solving some problem or really bad at it compared to non-LW philosophy, message me or comment below, and I'll give you credit for the suggestion. These are the topics I am already decided on: universals/nominalism, correspondence/deflation/coherency, grue/induction, science realism/constructivism, what is math?, scientific underdetermination, a priori knowledge?, radical translation, analytic synthetic division, proper name/description, deduction induction division, modality and possible worlds, what does it mean for a grammatical sentence to be meaningless and how do you tell?, meta-philosophy, i.e., questions about philosophy, and finally, personal identity, roughly to be posted in that order.


(edited after first posting, I just realized it may be worth mention that):

I was not happy about coming to this view. I have always thought of myself as an aspiring analytic philosopher, and even got attached to the ascetics of analytic philosophy. I thought of analytic philosophy as the new science of philosophy that finally got it right. It bothered me to no end that I had been lead to have more faith in the philosophical maturity/competence of a bunch of amateurs on a blog, than in the experts and students of the field that I planned to spend the rest of my life on. I have committed myself to the methods of academic-analytic philosophy publicly in speeches and to my closest friends, colleagues, and family; to turn around in under a year and say that that was all naive enthusiasm, and that there's this blog of college kids that do it better, made me look very stupid in more than one eye, I cared and care about. More than once, I have dissolved a question in my philosophy and cog-sci classes into an obvious cognitive error, explained why we are built to make this error, and left the class with little to do. Professors have praised me for this, and had even started approaching me outside of class to ask me about where I got my analysis from; their faces often came to a sincere awe when I tell them: "I made it up myself, but all the methods I used are neatly organized, generalized, and exemplified in this text called the 'sequences' on this blog of youngsters called 'Less Wrong'. It's only a few hundred pages, kinda reads like G.E.B."

One day, a few months back, one of my professors who I am on a particularly friendly basis with asked me: "Every time we are in class and there is a question, you use this blog of yours, and it seems it gives you an answer for everything, so why are you still studying the analytics, instead of just studying your blog?" I think he meant to ask this question sardonically, but that is not how I took it. I took it as a serious question about how to optimize my time if my goal is to do good philosophy. Not having a good answer to this question, and craving one, probably more than anything, is what prompted me to think of doing this series.

I may be wrong, and it may be that LW has just as hard of a time forming consensus on the issues that analytics have a hard time with, though I doubt it. But I am much more confident, that for some reason, even though I have had very good training, have a very high GPA, have read every classic philosophy text I could get my hands on, and had been reading several modern philosophy journals, all before I even knew about LW, LW has done more for my philosophical maturity, competence, and persuasiveness, than the entirety of the rest of my training, and I wouldn't doubt that many others have had similar thoughts.