A concise version of “Twelve Virtues of Rationality”, with Anki deck


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In an effort to internalise the Twelve Virtues of Rationality, I created an Anki deck. It's already been done, so the reason I'm posting is to share a condensed version of the article (created as a side effect of my making the deck).

Hopefully it will make it easier to quickly refresh the concepts if you've already read the article.

If you're not using spaced repetition, you should. Don't believe me? Try reading Gwern's thorough review of the topic.

Then download the “Twelve Virtues of Rationality” deck.



The twelve virtues of rationality: Curiosity, relinquishment, lightness, evenness, argument, empiricism, simplicity, humility, perfectionism, precision, scholarship, and the void.

The first virtue is curiosity.

Curiosity seeks to annihilate itself; there is no curiosity that does not want an answer.

A burning itch to know is higher than a solemn vow to pursue truth.

To feel the burning itch of curiosity requires both that you be ignorant, and that you desire to relinquish your ignorance.

The second virtue is relinquishment.

P. C. Hodgell said: “That which can be destroyed by the truth should be.”

If the iron approaches your face, and you believe it is hot, and it is cool, the Way opposes your fear.

Evaluate your beliefs first and then arrive at your emotions.

The third virtue is lightness.

Surrender to the truth as quickly as you can.

If you regard evidence as a constraint and seek to free yourself, you sell yourself into the chains of your whims.

The fourth virtue is evenness.

Beware lest you place huge burdens of proof only on propositions you dislike, and then defend yourself by saying: “But it is good to be skeptical.”  

Do not seek to argue for one side or another, for if you knew your destination, you would already be there.

To be clever in argument is not rationality but rationalization.

The fifth virtue is argument. 

Those who smile wisely and say: “I will not argue” remove themselves from help, and withdraw from the communal effort.

The part of yourself that distorts what you say to others also distorts your own thoughts.

Seek a test that lets reality judge between you.

The sixth virtue is empiricism.

The roots of knowledge are in observation and its fruit is prediction.

Do not ask which beliefs to profess, but which experiences to anticipate.

The seventh virtue is simplicity. 

When you profess a huge belief with many details, each additional detail is another chance for the belief to be wrong.

In mathematics a mountain of good deeds cannot atone for a single sin. Therefore, be careful on every step.

The eighth virtue is humility.

To be humble is to take specific actions in anticipation of your own errors.

It is useless to be superior: Life is not graded on a curve. 

The best physicist in ancient Greece could not calculate the path of a falling apple.


The ninth virtue is perfectionism.

The more errors you correct in yourself, the more you notice.

If you tolerate the error rather than correcting it, you will not advance to the next level and you will not gain the skill to notice new errors.

Do not be content with the answer that is almost right; seek one that is exactly right.

The tenth virtue is precision.

What is true of one apple may not be true of another apple; thus more can be said about a single apple than about all the apples in the world.

The narrowest statements slice deepest.

Do not walk to the truth, but dance. On each and every step of that dance your foot comes down in exactly the right spot.

The eleventh virtue is scholarship.

Study many sciences and absorb their power as your own.

If you swallow enough sciences the gaps between them will diminish and your knowledge will become a unified whole. 

The Art must have a purpose other than itself, or it collapses into infinite recursion.

Before these eleven virtues is a virtue which is nameless.

Miyamoto Musashi wrote, in The Book of Five Rings:  “The primary thing when you take a sword in your hands is your intention to cut the enemy.”

Every step of your reasoning must cut through to the correct answer in the same movement.

Do not ask whether it is “the Way” to do this or that. Ask whether the sky is blue or green.

All techniques are one technique.


The twelve virtues of rationality: Curiosity, relinquishment, lightness, evenness, argument, empiricism, simplicity, humility, perfectionism, precision, scholarship, and the void.




If I've made any mistakes or omissions, please speak up!



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