Part of the sequence: Rationality and Philosophy
Hitherto the people attracted to philosophy have been mostly those who loved the big generalizations, which were all wrong, so that few people with exact minds have taken up the subject.
I've complained before that philosophy is a diseased discipline which spends far too much of its time debating definitions, ignoring relevant scientific results, and endlessly re-interpreting old dead guys who didn't know the slightest bit of 20th century science. Is that still the case?
You bet. There's some good philosophy out there, but much of it is bad enough to make CMU philosopher Clark Glymour suggest that on tight university budgets, philosophy departments could be defunded unless their work is useful to (cited by) scientists and engineers — just as his own work on causal Bayes nets is now widely used in artificial intelligence and other fields.
How did philosophy get this way? Russell's hypothesis is not too shabby. Check the syllabi of the undergraduate "intro to philosophy" classes at the world's top 5 U.S. philosophy departments — NYU, Rutgers, Princeton, Michigan Ann Arbor, and Harvard — and you'll find that they spend a lot of time with (1) old dead guys who were wrong about almost everything because they knew nothing of modern logic, probability theory, or science, and with (2) 20th century philosophers who were way too enamored with cogsci-ignorant armchair philosophy. (I say more about the reasons for philosophy's degenerate state here.)
As the CEO of a philosophy/math/compsci research institute, I think many philosophical problems are important. But the field of philosophy doesn't seem to be very good at answering them. What can we do?
Why, come up with better philosophical methods, of course!
Scientific methods have improved over time, and so can philosophical methods. Here is the first of my recommendations...
More Pearl and Kahneman, less Plato and Kant
Philosophical training should begin with the latest and greatest formal methods ("Pearl" for the probabilistic graphical models made famous in Pearl 1988), and the latest and greatest science ("Kahneman" for the science of human reasoning reviewed in Kahneman 2011). Beginning with Plato and Kant (and company), as most universities do today, both (1) filters for inexact thinkers, as Russell suggested, and (2) teaches people to have too much respect for failed philosophical methods that are out of touch with 20th century breakthroughs in math and science.
So, I recommend we teach young philosophy students:
|more Bayesian rationality, heuristics and biases, & debiasing,||less||informal "critical thinking skills";|
|more mathematical logic & theory of computation,||less||term logic;|
|more probability theory & Bayesian scientific method,||less||pre-1980 philosophy of science;|
|more psychology of concepts & machine learning,||less||conceptual analysis;|
|more formal epistemology & computational epistemology,||less||pre-1980 epistemology;|
|more physics & cosmology,||less||pre-1980 metaphysics;|
|more psychology of choice,||less||philosophy of free will;|
|more moral psychology, decision theory, and game theory,||less||intuitionist moral philosophy;|
|more cognitive psychology & cognitive neuroscience,||less||pre-1980 philosophy of mind;|
|more linguistics & psycholinguistics,||less||pre-1980 philosophy of language;|
|more causal models & psychology of causal perception,||less||pre-1980 theories of causation.|
(In other words: train philosophy students like they do at CMU, but even "more so.")
So, my own "intro to philosophy" mega-course might be guided by the following core readings:
- Stanovich, Rationality and the Reflective Mind (2010)
- Hinman, Fundamentals of Mathematical Logic (2005)
- Russell & Norvig, Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach (3rd edition, 2009) — contains chapters which briefly introduce probability theory, probabilistic graphical models, computational decision theory and game theory, knowledge representation, machine learning, computational epistemology, and other useful subjects
- Sipser, Introduction to the Theory of Computation (3rd edition, 2012) — relevant to lots of philosophical problems, as discussed in Aaronson (2011)
- Howson & Urbach, Scientific Reasoning: The Bayesian Approach (3rd edition, 2005)
- Holyoak & Morrison (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Thinking and Reasoning (2012) — contains chapters which briefly introduce the psychology of knowledge representation, concepts, categories, causal learning, explanation, argument, decision making, judgment heuristics, moral judgment, behavioral game theory, problem solving, creativity, and other useful subjects
- Dolan & Sharot (eds.), Neuroscience of Preference and Choice (2011)
- Krane, Modern Physics (3rd edition, 2012) — includes a brief introduction to cosmology
(There are many prerequisites to these, of course. I think philosophy should be a Highly Advanced subject of study that requires lots of prior training in maths and the sciences, like string theory but hopefully more productive.)
Once students are equipped with some of the latest math and science, then let them tackle The Big Questions. I bet they'd get farther than those raised on Plato and Kant instead.
You might also let them read 20th century analytic philosophy at that point — hopefully their training will have inoculated them from picking up bad thinking habits.
Previous post: Philosophy Needs to Trust Your Rationality Even Though It Shouldn't
Luke, do you have any ideas how to reform philosophy education and professional practice without antagonizing a lot of current professional philosophers and their students and having the debate degenerate into a blue-vs-green tribal fight? Or more generally see much chance of success for such an attempt? If not, maybe you should reframe your posts (or at least future ones) as being aimed at amateur philosophers, autodidacts, CS and math majors interested in doing FAI research, and the like?
Yes, this is my intention. I don't think I can reform how philosophy is taught at universities quickly enough to make a difference. My purpose, then, is to help "amateur philosophers, autodidacts, CS and math majors interested in doing FAI research" so that they can become better philosophical thinkers outside the university system, and avoid being mind-poisoned by a standard philosophical education.
Quickly enough? You think you can do it all??
Isn't that one of those things like "they couldn't hit an elephant at this distance" which people traditionally say right before being horribly surprised?
Provocative article. I agree that philosophers should be reading Pearl and Kahneman. I even agree that philosophers should spend more time with Pearl and Kahneman (and lots of other contemporary thinkers) than they do with Plato and Kant. But then, that pretty much describes my own graduate training in philosophy. And it describes the graduate training (at a very different school) received by many of the students in the department where I now teach. I recognize that my experience may be unusual, but I wonder if philosophy and philosophical training really are the way you think they are.
Bearing in mind that my own experiences may be quite unusual, I present some musings on the article nonetheless:
(1) You seem to think that philosophical training involves a lot of Aristotelian ideas (see your entries for "pre-1980 theories of causation" and "term logic"). In my philosophical education, including as an undergraduate, I took two courses that were explicitly concerned with Aristotle. Both of them were explicitly labeled as "history of philosophy" courses. Students are sometimes taught bits of Aristotelian (and Medieval) syllogistic, but those ideas are neve... (read more)
You did indeed have an unusual philosophical training. In fact, the head of your dissertation committee was a co-author with Glymour on the work that Pearl built on with Causality.
Not really. Term logic is my only mention of Aristotle, and I know that philosophy departments focus on first-order logic and not term logic these days. Your training was not unusual in this matter. First-order logic training is good, which is why I said there should be more of it (as part of mathematical logic).
Good, but this is not the norm. Machery was also on your dissertation committee; the author of Doing Without Concepts, a book I've previously endorsed to some degree.
Of course. There are a ... (read more)
I was, in fact, aware of that. ;)
In the grand scheme of things, I may have had an odd education. However, it's not like I'm the only student that Glymour, Spirtes, Machery, and many of my other teachers have had. Basically every student who went through Pitt HPS or CMU's Philosophy Department had the same or deeper exposure to psychology, cognitive science, neuroscience, causal Bayes nets, confirmation theory, etc. Either that, or they got an enormous helping of algebraic quantum field theory, gauge theory, and other philosophy of physics stuff.
You might argue that these are very unusual departments, and I am inclined to agree with you. But only weakly. If you look at Michigan or Rutgers, you find lots of people doing excellent work in decision theory, confirmation theory, philosophy of physics, philosophy of cognitive science, experimental philosophy, etc. A cluster of schools in the New York area -- all pretty highly ranked -- do the same things. So do schools in California, like Stanford, UC Irvine, and UCSD. My rough estimate is that 20-25% of all philosophical... (read more)
You might be right that I'm reading too much into what you've written. However, I suspect (especially given the other comments in this thread and the comments on the reddit thread) that the reading "Philosophy is overwhelmingly bad and should be killed with fire," is the one that readers are most likely to actually give to what you've written. I don't know whether there is a good way to both (a) make the points you want to make about improving philosophy education and (b) make the stronger reading unlikely.
I'm curious: if you couldn't have your whole mega-course (which seems more like the basis for a degree program than the basis for a single course, really), what one or two concrete course offerings would you want to see in every philosophy program? I ask because while I may not be able to change my whole department, I do have some freedom in which courses I teach and how I teach them. If you are planning to cover this in more detail in upcoming posts, feel free to ignore the question here.
Also, I did understand what you were up to with the Spirtes reference, I just thought it was funny. I tried to imagine what the world would have had to be like for me to have been surprised by finding out that Spirtes was the lead author on Causation, Prediction, and Search, and that made me smile.
I agree that modern science provides valuable insights into philosophical problems. I also agree that Bayesian probability theory and machine learning are powerful models for approaching problems in epistemology. This is why I'm in grad school in machine learning, and not for philosophy. Furthermore, I'm not a big fan of ancient philosophers (especially ones who think categories are absolute), and I'd like to see the computational theory of mind excised from popular thought, in favor of something closer to embodied cognition. I actually really like the idea of incorporating modern theories and empirical discoveries into a philosophical curriculum.
Despite this, I have a strong negative reaction to your post, because it suggests there is One True Way to do philosophy and that everyone who does not follow the Ways of Bayes is doing it wrong. The last thing I want us teaching students is any kind of absolutism. It can only damage students to tell them that our current models are the true models, and all past thinkers were necessarily wrong. It would also damage students to restrict them to one philosophical viewpoint; as much as I like Bayesian reasoning and empiricism, I think ... (read more)
You are not supposed to teach them it's the One True Way, just that it's The Best Way Anyone Have Found So Far By A Fair Margin.
It's a graduate level text; to benefit from it adequately, one should have at least a pure math undergraduate major worth of training, including the first courses in naive set theory and formal logic. A text that's too advanced for one's level risks confusing the reader, introducing intuitive misconceptions and giving the illusion of understanding, so it's better to read up on something much more basic. This book might be a long term goal that contributes to shaping the curriculum, but then it should be understood that there are at least 20 books before it on the reading list.
Right; many of my selections presume prior training. I do think philosophy should be a Highly Advanced subject of study that requires lots of prior training in maths and the sciences, like string theory but hopefully more productive.
Without any comment on if the post is correct or not, I want to note that if the sequences have done their job LWers will not be pursuaded by this post. It looks at a large number of abstracts, picks a non representive (and small) sample and then quotes them to make them salient in the reader's mind.
It could have been made more convincing by using a less biased sampling such as generating 3 random numbers for each journal, than multiplying by the number of total articles in the journal and then posting the abstract for those articles.
Hang on. Did you mean to say that the conclusion of this post is wrong? If the sequences did their job, then LWers should steelman the arguments, and be persuaded if-f the conclusion is correct, regardless of the arguments presented.
It's hard to steelman, for example, an incorrect proof of Fermat's Theorem in the way you describe.
Filling in the gaps in this post requires doing some research into the current state of philosophy. Some of the commenters are in fact trying to do just that. But it's much harder to lay an egg than to tell if one is rotten.
Let's add some data. Noûs is the second-highest rated general philosophy journal. Here are its 2012 articles, with abstracts/introductions:... (read more)
Ok. This excerpt gives me a much higher opinion of the piece in question and substantially reduces the validity of my criticisms. Since this was the article that most strongly seemed to support the sort of point that Luke was making, I'm forced to update strongly against Luke's selected papers being at all representative.
I have a feeling I will have a lot to say about this posting, but I will start with one small issue: what is the watershed that occurred in metaphycs circa 1980? I'm pretty sure the Wikipedia article isn't going to tell me, because I wrote the "history and schools" section.
When you say things like "More machine learning, more physics, more game theory, more math", what I hear is, "more of anything that's not philosophy".
For example, Machine Learning alone is a topic whose understanding requires a semi-decent grounding in math, computer science, and practical programming. That's at least a year of study for someone with an IQ over 150, and probably something like three or four years for the rest of us. And that's just one topic; you list others as well. It sounds like you want us to just stop doing philosophy altogether, and stick to the more useful stuff.
Imagine people who are trying to write books, without knowing the alphabet. They keep trying for ages, but produce nothing that other person could unambiguously read.
So someone comes and says: "You should learn alphabet first."
And they respond: "We are interested in writing books, not learning alphabet. The more time we spend learning alphabet, the less time we will have for actually writing books. We desire to become writers, not linguists." (Famous writers are high status, linguistics is considered boring by most.)
Similarly it seems to me that many philosophers are too busy discussing deep topics about the world, so they don't have time to actually study the world. To be fair, they do study a lot -- but mostly the opinions of people who used the same strategy, decades and centuries ago. Knowing Plato's opinions on X is higher status than knowing X.
This would be acceptable in situations where science does not know anything about X, so the expert's opinion is the best we can have. But in many topics this simply isn't true. Learning what we already know about X is the cost of ability to say something new and correct about X. The costs are higher than 2000 years a... (read more)
The world is complicated.
Yeah, it sucks that you can't do good philosophy without knowing a ton of other stuff, but that's life. We don't listen to electrical engineers when they complain about needing to know nitty-gritty calculus, and that's a year of study for someone with an IQ over 150. Sometimes fields have prerequisites.
And we independently observe that almost no one can do good philosophy at all, so the theory checks out.
Nothing better than a hypothesis that makes correct empirical predictions!
It doesn't really take that long to learn things. But good philosophy already looks like this - my favorite political philosophy professor threw out references to computing, physics, history, etc. assuming students would get the references or look them up. Much like pride is the crown of the virtues, philosophy should be the crown of the sciences.
We certainly don't start science students off with the latest and greatest science, because there's a boatload of other science they have to study before it'll do them any good. In practice,almost everything we teach undergrads in hard science fields is pre-1980, because of the amount of time it takes to get a student up to speed with where the frontier of the field had progressed to by 1980.
1) The science that lukeprog is concerned with comes from subfields that are substantially younger than most major fields in the hard sciences, e.g. the heuristics and biases program is much younger than Newtonian mechanics.
2) Old hard science at least has the benefit of working within a certain domain, e.g. Newtonian mechanics is valuable because it is still applicable to macroscopic objects moving slowly, and any future theory of physics is constrained by having to reduce to Newtonian mechanics in certain limits. The older results in the science that lukeprog is concerned with are misleading at best and dangerously wrong at worst.
In other words, I think what lukeprog is advocating is less analogous to teaching undergraduates about string theory before Newtonian mechanics now and more analogous to teaching undergraduates about thermodynamics before phlogiston theory in the 1800s (edit: and I see JoshuaZ made this point already).
So if I had to design an intro to philosophy/first-year philosophy course (and I will), at the moment I would do this:
There are four ideas in philosophy which stand above the others as ideas which have shaped our thinking and our civilization to the point where you've probably heard of these before you came to class: Plato's theory of forms, Aristotle's theory of causes, Descartes' 'Cogito ergo sum', and Kant's categorical imperative. The aim of this course is to understand what philosophy is, and why one should engage in it.
The course will discuss the writings of these four philosophers:
Plato- Selections from Plato's Republic and Phaedo
Aristotle- Physics book I and II, and III.1, and De Anima II.1, 5.
Descartes- The Meditations
Kant- Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals
That's my thought. I'm a frequent reader, and sometimes poster on Less Wrong. I'm also going to be teaching undergraduates philosophy in about two years, and right now my idea of how to go about doing this is very different from yours. I very much do not want to do a bad job, or hurt my students, so if I'm wrong, I should be convinced otherwise.
Maybe it wasn't your purpose, but there's no argument in this post. Please, please, please present an argument. You (or whoever wants to try) would be doing me a very great benefit by correcting me on this, if indeed I am wrong.
I think you need to focus in on what your goals are. Lukeprog's idea of an intro to philosophy class sounds like a boot camp for aspiring professional philosopher-kings and intellectual revolutionaries. Yours sounds like a historical overview of the effects of a scattered set of ideological trends upon human culture. There isn't any clear unifying content of your imagined course, as there would be if you focused, say, just on game-changing epistemological texts (like the much more engaging and well-written Berkeley in lieu of Aristotle) or just on game-changing meta-ethical ones.
On the other hand, if your goal is to make students think critically and rigorously about very deep issues, not just to expand their historical horizons, then you may want to choose more accessible secondary literature. John Perry's A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality is a superb candidate; a short, accessible dialogue packed with arguments much clearer and more human than those you'd find in a Platonic dialogue.
I think the most important thing an introductory philosophy class can do is to taboo philosophy. Ask instead: What can I get away with teaching a bunch of undergraduates under the umbrella term 'philosophy' that will be most useful to human beings (or specifically to the sorts of human beings who are likely to study 'philosophy'), and that they are least likely to acquire by other means? Your goal shouldn't be to make them understand what people tend to classify as 'philosophy' vs. 'non-philosophy;' it should be to maximize their ability to save the world and live fulfilling lives. I don't think reading Berkeley need be unhelpful for saving the world; but it all really comes down to how you read Berkeley.
That's a very large question, and my answer will depend on where you're coming from and where you want to take this discussion. You probably have your own intuitive conception of where, in some general terms, you'd like the world to go. 'Philosophy' is a largely artificial, arbitrary, and unhelpful schema, and you owe it no fealty. So my main goal was not to persuade you to adopt my own vision of a happier and more rational world. It was to motivate you to reframe what teaching a 'philosophy' class is in a way that makes you more likely to exploit this opportunity to move the world infinitesimally closer to your own vision for the world.
If I were teaching an Intro to Philosophy class, I might break it down as follows:
Part 1: Destroy students' complacence. Spend a few weeks methodically annihilating students' barriers, prejudices, thought-terminating clichés, and safety nets. Don't frame the discussion as 'philosophy.' Frame it as follows:
"OK, we're trying to understand the world, and get what we want out of life. And we can't just rely on authorities, common sense, or usual practice; those predictably fail. So we'll need to reason our way to understanding the world. But our re... (read more)
How do I sign up?
Who do I give my money to?
10 weeks is pretty short! Sounds like a good challenge. I was assuming 16 weeks while trying to lay out a simple curriculum last night, and I got the following structure:
I. The Problem of Doubt
II. The Problem of Death
III. The Problem of Life
Those aren't the world's top 5 philosophy departments, those are the top 5 for the United States. In the rankings for the English-speaking world, Oxford is #2 after NYU (after that the rankings are the same until you get down to ANU and Toronto, which are tied with a bunch of other schools for #15).
Furthermore, the Philosophical Gourmet Report doesn't try to compare English-speaking and non-English-speaking universities.
Playing Devil's Advocate...
As Eliezer has argued, it would be greatly beneficial if science were kept secret. It would be wonderful if students had the opportunity to make scientific discoveries on their own, and being trained to think that way would greatly advance the rate of scientific progress. Making a scientific breakthrough would be something a practicing scientist would be used to, rather than something that happens once a generation, and so it would happen more reliably. Rather than having science textbooks, students could start with old (wrong) science textbooks or just looking at the world, and they'd have to make all their own mistakes along the way to see what making a breakthrough really involves.
This is how Philosophy is already taught! While many philosophers have opinions on what Philosophical questions have already been settled, they do not put forth their opinions straightforwardly to undergrads. Rather, students are expected to read the original works and figure out for themselves what's wrong with them.
For example, students might learn about the debate between Realism and Nominalism, and then be expected to write a paper about which one they think is corre... (read more)
While a nice idea, it's hardly workable. There are roughly two types of science consumers: researchers and users. The users do not care what's under the hood, they just need working tools. Engineering is an example. Making them discover the Newton's laws instead of teaching how to apply them to design stable bridges is a waste of time. Researchers build new tools and so have to understand how and why the existing tools work. This is a time-consuming process as it is (20+ years if you count all education levels including grad studies). Making people stumble through all the standard dead ends, while instructive, will likely make it so much longer. The current compromise is teaching some history of science while teaching science proper.
Indeed. And look where it led. The whole discipline appears largely useless to the outsiders, who hardly care what misinformed opinion some genius held 1000 years ago.
Your examples of bad philosophy ... your reasons why they are bad ... aargh! Apparently it's bad to (1) reason about psychology (2) use the ideas of ancient philosophers (3) argue about definitions (4) mention religion at all. (I'm just guessing that this is the problem with the last item in the list.)
So far as I can see, the only problem you should have with papers 1 and 3 is that they're not sexy enough to hold your interest. They're not bursting at the seams with citations of experimental psychology or computational epistemology. Really, you shouldn't dismiss paper 2 as you do either, but I concede that seeing value in the psychological reflections of antiquity would require unusual broadmindedness. (Paper 4 is just oddball and I won't try to defend it as a representative of an important and unjustly maligned class of philosophical research.)
Concerning your curriculum for philosophy students, well, such zeal as yours is the basis for the renewal of a subject, but in the end I still think something like Plato and Kant would be a better foundation than Pearl and Kahneman. Causal diagrams and behavioral economics do not touch the why of causation or the how of conscious knowledge. If they were not complemented by something that promoted an awareness of the issues that these formalisms inherently do not answer, then philosophically they would define just another dogma parading itself as truth.
Please help me compare: what useful things does Plato say about the why of causation, and why should I believe him? How can I use Plato's knowledge about causality to achieve things in the real world (except for impressing people by quoting him)?
This seems to be more indicative that if one thinks hard enough about any world view it will seem to be useful and make sense. This is essentially as much of an argument to take Aristotle seriously as C. S. Lewis's claim that "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else." is an argument to take Christianity seriously.
This doesn't answer the question or even the type of question as phrased by Viliam. The claim isn't that you can use a systematic approach to make your own thoughts ordered in some fashion, but how to make the claims pay rent.
I think you'd have an easier time justifying the thesis 'Kant was wrong about everything' than 'Kant was not super-super-crazy-influential.' Consider:
Kant ⇒ Schopenhauer ⇒ Nietzsche ⇒ all the postmodernists and relativists
Kant ⇒ Schopenhauer ⇒ Wittgenstein ⇒ most of the positivists
Kant ⇒ Schopenhauer ⇒ Nietzsche ⇒ Freud
Kant ⇒ Fichte ⇒ Hegel ⇒ Marx
Kant ⇒ von Mises ⇒ the less fun libertarians
My conclusion, by Six-Degrees-of-Hitler/Stalin/RonPaul ratiocination, is that Kant is directly and personally responsible for every atrocity of the 20th century.
Below this line is the part I cut from the original article.
Below are some quotes from the abstracts of recent papers appearing in the top 5 philosophy journals, along with my reactions.
What are you doing? We have experimental psychology now.
This article examines Aristotle's model of deliberation as inquiry (zêtêsis), arguing that Aristotle does not treat the presumption of open alternatives as a precondition for rational deliberation... (Deliberation as Inquiry)
Please move to the history department. Philosophy is supposed to be ... (read more)
r/philosophy is not amused by this:
As a philosophy student with a great interest in math and computing, I can definitely attest to the lack of scientific understanding in my department. Worse, it often seems like some professors actively encourage an anti-scientific ideology. I'm wondering if anybody has any practical ideas on how to converse with students and professors [who are not supportive or knowledgeable of the rationalist and Bayesian world-view] in a positive and engaging way.
The things on your curriculum don't seem like philosophy at all in the contemporary sense of the word. They are certainly very valuable at figuring out the answers to concrete questions within their particular domains. But they are less useful for understanding broader questions about the domains themselves or the appropriateness of the questions. Learning formal logic, for example, isn't that much help in understanding what logic is. Likewise, knowing how people make moral decisions is not at all the same as knowing what the moral thing to do would be. I gather your point is that it's only certain concrete questions that have any real meaning.
This naive logical positivism is dismaying in a blog about rationality. I certainly agree that there is plenty of garbage philosophy, and that most of Aristotle's scientific claims were wrong. But the problem with logical positivism is that its claim about what's meaningful and what isn't fails to be a meaningful claim under its own criteria.
Your dismissal of certain types of philosophy inevitably rests on particular implicit answers to the kinds of philosophical questions you dismiss as worthless (like what makes a philosophical idea wrong?). Dismissing those questions—failing to think through the assumptions on which your viewpoint rests—only guarantees that your answers to those questions will be pretty bad. And that's something that you could learn from a careful reading of Plato.
It certainly doesn't hurt! Learning formal logic gives you data with which to test meta-logical theories. Moreover, learning formal logic helps in understanding everything; and logic is one of the things, so, there ya go. Instantiate at will.
Sure. But for practical purposes (and yes, there are practical philosophical purposes), you can't be successful in either goal without some measure of success in both.
Where does lukeprog say that? And by 'meaning' do you mean importance, or do you mean semantic content?
Lukeprog and Eliezer are not logical positivists in the relevant sense. And although logical positivism is silly, it's not silly for obvious reasons like 'it's self-refuting;' it isn't self-refuting. The methodology of log... (read more)
Reforming phil. and leaving it alone are not the only options. There is also the option of setting up a new cross-disciplinary subject parallel to Cognitive Science
This post has a number of useful insights, but I'm not so sure about this:
As someone who is currently studying philosophy at the undergraduate level--and thus has first-hand knowledge of what it is like to start with Plato and Kant--I don't quite see where you're getting the claim that starting with ancient philosophers either (1) in fact teaches students to revere them/their methods, or (2) is at least meant to teach students to revere them/their methods. My own experience, what I've heard from fellow students, and the academic papers that we are actually assigned to read all run counter to your claim.
First, one of the primary, if not the main, purposes in starting with ancient philosophers is precisely to discuss how and where they went wrong. The professor does not just tell us whether a certain philosopher is right/wrong, but has the students critically evaluate that philosopher's claims both in papers and in discussions. Second, there are numerous academic articles... (read more)
So I have a couple of problems with this post.
Firstly, I think that luke simply has a very different idea of what philosophy ought to be doing compared to most philosophers. For example, most philosophers think that doing a fair amount of what is (more or less explicitly) History of Philosophy is a) of independent interest b) useful for training new philosophers and c) potentially fruitful.
I'm not terribly convinced by a), I have some sympathy with b) (many classic philosophers are surprisingly convincing and it's worth taking the time to figure out why they're wrong), and I strongly disagree with c) (if they had good insights, there should be better presentations of them by now!). I think the disagreement about a) is the most important, however, as it indicates a simple difference in what people are trying to do with philosophy.
On that ground it just seems childish of luke to criticise Article #2 on the grounds that it's really history: of course it is, that's part of what philosophy departments do. So luke wants to change the way philosophy tends to be done, fine, but it's churlish to assume that that's the way things already are and that the current practitioners are just bad a... (read more)
I am curious about the qualifier "pre-1980." Do you think later work in these disciplines is noticeably better?
"pre-1980" = "pre-lukeprog", and thus, the ancient days
There is some interesting discussion at Hacker News about this article.
I was going to say something about the ease of which I can come up with obviously confused or unimportant "science" abstracts, but then I realized I was missing the point. Philosophy can be improved (and probably more easily than science) and your proposed introductory sequence is actually pretty good.
Luke, this is my first comment on LessWrong so forgive me if I'm missing some of the zeitgeist. But I was wondering if you could elaborate on a couple points:
You recommend replacing ethics with moral psychology and decision theory. Hearing that, I'm concerned that replacing ethics with moral psychology would be falling for a naive is/ought fallacy: just because most people's psychological makeup makes them consider morality in a certain way does not make those moral intuitions correct. And replacing ethics with decision theory would be sidestepping the ... (read more)
Working in philosophy, I see some move toward this, but it is slow and scattered. The problem is probably partially historical: philosophy PhDs trained in older methods train their students, who become philosophy PhDs trained in their professor's methods+anything that they could weasel into the system which they thought important. (which may not always be good modifications, of course)
It probably doesn't help that your average philosophy grad student starts off by TAing a bunch of courses with a professor who sets up the lecture and the material and the gr... (read more)
Downvoted for sloganeering and applause-lighting.
That's quite an applause-lighting slogan you have there.
Yes, good idea.
The "reactions" to the abstracts of philosophical papers are a clear example of what I mean. To me, these alternating sections of carefully worded academic abstracts, followed by a few words of sarcastic barb, feel too much like a solid dig at the other side instead of a thoughtful argument.
Another example of "yay-science"-ing: The post mentions with approval a suggestion to defund all university philosophy programs that don't lead to scientific advances. Of course, if philosophy were only useful for its impact on science and engineering, then that might be a good idea. But that premise is not obviously true. However, the post appears to accept it uncritically.
The opening quotation is flippant and hyperbolic, and is neither qualified nor argued for in the rest of the post.
The proposed curriculum reform is a smorgasbord of LW interests (yay LW!). Yet the post does not argue for the curriculum. Instead, it asserts that curricula need more X and less Y, where X sounds scientific and Y sounds prehistoric. This is what I'd call sloganeering.
Wording: Also in the curriculum bit, the post states that universities teach students to "revere
Speaking as someone who has read a lot of philosophy...
If I had a boatload of money, I would currently be throwing it at you to make this thing happen.
I do not know that specifically.
However, the advice I would give to anyone thinking of majoring in philosophy is: don't major in philosophy.
That said, I don't think it matters too much what you major in. The main benefit of a liberal arts degree is the liberal arts part - being exposed to people from many different disciplines with different ways of thinking, being forced to take them seriously for a while, and getting a chance to see the connections between them.
Really, if you want to major in something, you should take the opportunity to learn a skill, or else to take advantage of machinery that you'll only find in a university. There are things that you can learn in college, like how to mix chemicals in a lab or how to make pottery, that are difficult to learn without the proper facilities. And if you do prefer learning academic subjects in a class, remember that math and computing are good bases for everything.
You can read philosophy on your own time, and if you're reasonably intelligent then reading it in a class probably won't help. A philosophy club might be a good idea - those are often as good as seminar classes.
When I saw the title "Religious Music for Godless Ears," I was sure it would be in some second rate journal, maybe Religious Studies at best. But nope! It's in freakin' Mind.
Is this problem limited to philosophy?
Good work in virtually every discipline requires a semi-decent grounding in math (with the possible exception of menial work)
Indeed, the universities teaching such subjects would do well to realize this and make math an integral part of the curriculum in most subjects, as opposed to the tackled-on (or non-existent) math courses they have now.
I agree that there is good work to be done with math in all of those fields. But there's plenty of good work in most of them that can be done without math too.
Yes. Two caveats:
1) The person doing the good work without math should remember to consult someone with the math skills before publishing their results, if they are trying to say something math-like.
For example, to invent a hypothesis, design an experiment and collect data, the math may be unnecessary. But it becomes necessary at the last step when the experimenter says: "So I did these experiments 10 times: 8 times the results seemed to support my hypothesis, 2 times they did not; therefore... what exactly?"
2) There should be enough people in the given field knowing the math, so when the person from the first example wants to find a colleague with domain knowledge and math skills, they actually find one.
I like this post. Can you think of any pre-20th century philosophers whose works you still hold to be valid/useful today? [or from that list, any pre-21st century...]
Hume turns out to have been right about an awful lot, but still... why read Hume when you can read contemporary works of science and philosophy there are clearer, more precise, and more correct? (If you're reading Hume for his lovely prose, I suppose that's a different matter.)
Speaking of Hume, the Nov. 30th episode of Philosophy Bites was kind of amusing. A bunch of philosophers, including famous ones, gave their answers to "Who's your favorite philosopher?" IIRC, when giving their reasons for liking their favorite philosopher, almost nobody said "because this philosopher turned out to be correct about so much" — except for all the people who picked Hume.
Bostrom simply said: "I'm not sure I have one favorite philosopher. Contemporary philosophy, at least the way I'm doing it, is more like science in that there are many people who have made significant contributions and you're not so much following in the footsteps of one great individual. [Instead] you're drawing on the heritage accumulated by many people working for a long time."
Because Hume drew correct conclusions from very little information (relative to what it took for Science to catch up), and I want to learn how to do that.
Qiaochu_Yuan has a point, but Hume was conspicuously right about so many things that almost everyone around him was wrong about, I think there might indeed be some "Humeness" having an effect going on there. Maybe: unusual good rationality. Or maybe he was a plant from our simulators.
Someone asked me via PM, in reference to this post, "Do you have any specific recommendations on the most useful fields, ideas, or techniques thus far [for solving FAI-related philosophical problems]?" I figure I'd answer here publicly in case anyone else finds my answer helpful. This is a list of topics that I studied over the years that I think contributed most to what philosophical progress I managed to make. (The order given here is not very significant. It's just roughly the order in which I encountered and started studying these topics.)
Another view of Philosophy, which I believe Russell also subscribed to (but I can't seem to find a reference for presently) is that philosophy was the 'mother discipline'. It was generative. You developed your branch of Philosophy until you got your ontology and methodology sorted out, and then you stopped calling what you were doing philosophy. (This has the amusing side-effect of making anything philosophers say wrong by definition-- sometimes useful, but always wrong.)
The Natural Sciences, Psychology, Logic, Mathematics, Linguistics-- they all got their... (read more)
I'm not sure if this really applies to philosophers in general or just a few that have been commenting here, but I think I've found one source of friction. It seems that SI/Luke care about problems/questions that are different enough from what philosophers think their field is about for even good(by its own standards) philosophy to be largely worthless for SI's purposes, while still being similar enough on the surface for a lot of destructive interference to happen. By destructive interference I mean things like LWers thinking that phil should have releva... (read more)
There don't seem to be anything that shouldn't be changed, and thus it seems meaningless to keep the label "philosophy". Hence why I object to saying LW is about philosophy as well. The ONLY similarity is that it tries to resolve questions (previously) though to be the domain of philosophy to solve, but that used to be the case with many other things that are now their own sciences. I say just plain scrap all of philosophy, and move all the supposed tasks of it that are worth keeping over to new fields if they aren't resolved by existing ones already.
Would you consider turning this knowledge into an actual curriculum that includes practice problems and exams?
I'm thinking of something in the lines of MIT's free curriculum and Khan Academy's Math section. I have no problem with still linking to these text books as long as the freely available curriculum made by you or your team fills the gaps and there are plenty of ways to test understanding. I name khan's math section specifically because it uses that infinite practice problems and 10 in a row signals proficiency and has built in SRS.
Unlike khan however i would want to see mastery of whatever is the current status of the field instead of the low target of a certain school's exam requirements.
And here's a philosopher correcting a scientist
"The interconnection of neuroscience and free will has many researchers trying to make bold claims about their findings. In my last post I called Sam Harris’ conclusion that “free will is an illusion” into question. Specifically, I suggested that there were competing interpretations that could be made from the data that neuroscientist Benjamin Libet was using to debunk free will (I mentioned Al Mele’s interpretation as a counterexample to Libet’s). Finally, some neuroscientists seem to have considered Mel... (read more)
Much of professional analytic philosophy makes my heart sink too. Reading Kant isn't fun - even if he gains in translation. But I don't think we can just write off Kant's work, let alone the whole of still unscientised modern philosophy. In particular, Kant's exploration of what he calls "The Transcendental Unity of Apperception" (aka the unity of the self) cuts to the heart of the SIAI project - not least the hypothetical and allegedly imminent creation of unitary, software-based digital mind(s) existing at some level of computational abstractio... (read more)
You seem to want philosophers to start being generalists who understand the cutting edge that science and math have to offer. But what kind of contributions do you expect them to make: some examples where a philosopher added critical insight because of his/her generalist background would be nice. Clark Glymour was a good one, but his work seems to have been just math and CS (I maybe wrong). Do you think his background as a generalist made it more likely for him to achieve his insights, compared to say someone with just a math or CS background?
Also, do you expect that the kind of philosophers you are proposing could someday be hired by the private sector?
Thank you for clearly expressing what is wrong with the current state of philosophy as practiced by professional philosophers. It sums up my own vague reservations pretty well. (Yes, I know, confirming evidence bias.) Catchy title, too. The next time I hear someone quoting Plato or Kant, I'll be tempted to reply "Bzzt! wrong P&K!".
I see you're point. Many philosophers still like reading and writing about dead people rather than looking to science for entertainment and answers. However, it is a hasty generalization to infer from this fact that "philosophy is a diseased discipline which spends much of its time debating definitions, ignoring relevant scientific results, and endlessly re-interpreting old dead guys who didn't know the slightest bit of 20th century science." And it is a bit myopic to think that your suggestion has not already been addressed by numerous instituti... (read more)
Dogmas of analytic philosophy, part 1/2 and part 2/2 by Massimo Pigliucci in his Rationally Speaking blog.
"old dead guys" is mind kill, and it sounds immature/impolite.
On the post itself, it'd be awesome if SIAI starts this in-house, something along the lines of semester long CFAR boot camp.
The undergrad majors at Yale University typically follow lukeprog's suggestion -- there will be 20 classes on stuff that is thought to constitute cutting-edge, useful "political science" or "history" or "biology," and then 1 or 2 classes per major on "history of political science" or "history of history" or "history of biology." I think that's a good system. It's very important not to confuse a catalog of previous mistakes with a recipe for future progress, but for the same reasons that general hi... (read more)
Hume and Nietzsche are both excellent exceptions to your general rule.
Also, #4 seems completely fine to me.
My impression is that Nietzsche tries to make his philosophical writings an example of his philosophical thought in practice. He likes levity and jokes, so he incorporates them in his work a lot. Nietzsche sort of shifts frames a lot and sometimes disorients you before you get to the meaning of his work. But, there are lots of serious messages within his sarcastic one liners, and also his work comprises a lot more than just sarcastic one liners.
I feel like some sort of comparison to Hofstadter might be apt but I haven't read enough Hofstadter to do that competently, and I think Nietzsche would probably use these techniques more than Hofstadter so the comparison isn't great.
Reading Nietzsche is partially an experience, as well as an intellectual exercise. That doesn't accurately convey what I want to say because intellectual exercises are a subset of experiences and all reading is a kind of experience, but I think that sentence gets the idea across at least.
Weatherson ask what could be done in other departments. R: all the formal methods(logic, decision and game theory), and empirical like x-phi. Besides, I don't want shut down philosophy departments, but I will be happy if they move to something like CMU + cogsci.
So I've made this sort of argument before in a somewhat more limited form. The analogy I like to give is that we don't spend multiple semesters in chemistry discussing the classical elements and phlogiston (even though phlogiston did actually give testable predictions(contrary to some commonly made claims on LW). We mention them for a few days and go on. But in this context, while I'd favor less emphasis on the old philosophers, they are still worth reading to a limited extent, because they did phrase many of the basic questions (even if imprecisely) tha... (read more)
In my Intro to Moral Philosophy course, Kant's work was preceded by an introduction to basic game-theory and such, which most people understood much better than his actual work, so I don't really think his is a necessary foundation or a proper introduction in those fields
I wonder is this study-list also good enough for applied psychology? I would like to learn Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and as you point out above most studies are flawed.
If this post post is not enough could you write another one answering my question?
I studied a philosophy module during my undergraduate in the UK. I noticed that the course was structured very carefully so that in the exam there were two ways of succeeding. (1) Having a very good memory of who had said what, and the ability to write something "English-literature-y" about what they had said. Here I noticed a strong taste for worrying about how stylishly things were said. (2) Doing something more on the logic side of things - this felt much more natural and more precise (less wooly) to me. Now, I have been told that in most mainland Europ... (read more)
You recommend Howson & Urbach's "Scientific Reasoning: The Bayesian Approach." However, ET Jaynes had some fairly harsh things to say about this book in the References section of PT:LoS:... (read more)
I'd argue the old dead guys where much less wrong on a great many things where modern popular educated opinion is not informed by logic, probability theory and science. From the ones you cited I gained non-trivial insight by reading Aristotle and Nietzsche (haven't gotten around to Kant). Feelings of insight on their own probably should be mistrusted, but besides it being an indicator of them being interesting I think they ar... (read more)
All is not lost: Carnegie Melon's philosophy department is teaching its students causality using Pearl :)
This program allows the instructor to draw a hidden causal Bayes net, aka Nature, and students perform experiments on a budget to determine the underlying causal structure:
"In this version of the lab, the Instructor may set a "cost" for collecting data points, and limit the total resources students may spend on collecting data. The lab will keep track of a student's remaining resources, and i... (read more)
Luke, I was curious: where does informal logic fit into this? It is the principal method of reasoning tested on the LSAT's logical reasoning section, and I would say the most practical form of reasoning one can engage in, since most everyday arguments will utilize informal logic in one way or another. Honing it is valuable, and the LSAT percentiles would suggest that not nearly as many people are as good at it as they should be.
In case Singularity University grows over time, maybe one day they will have a philosophy department that teaches it in this way.
It's extremely important to realise what Luke is doing here, even if you agree with it. Cognitive science is a sub-discipline of psychology established to reflect a particular philosophical position. Cognitive neuroscience is a sub-discipline of neuroscience established to reflect a particular philosophical position. In both cases the philosophical position, within that sub-discipline, is assumed rather than defended. What Luke is doing is: (1) denying the legitimacy of other parts of behavioural and neural science, thus misrepresenting the diversity of sc... (read more)
I love you 8)