Can we stop using the word "rationalism"?

interesting but useless and nothing new

I occasionally ponder what LW's objective place in the scheme of things might be. Will it ever matter as much as, say, the Vienna Circle? Or even just as much as the Futurians? - who didn't matter very much, but whose story should interest the NYC group. The Futurians were communists, but that was actually a common outlook for "rationalists" at the time, and the Futurians were definitely future-oriented.

Will LW just become a tiresome and insignificant rationalist cult? The more that people want to conduc... (read more)

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I think it's likely that the second option will be true of someone - that at least one, and maybe several people, who are contributing to this site or just reading it, will, years from now, be making discoveries, in psychology or in some field that doesn't yet exist, and it will be because this site warped their sensibility (or straightened it).

But it is also likely that there is someone out there who will be effected negatively by this site. Your statement is only slightly relevant to the question of whether LessWrong is overall a positive influence. In other words, it's rhetorical dark arts.

0snarles9yI enjoyed reading this post, in no small part due to the narcissistic pleasure of discussing a small community I am (to some degree) a part of. If there was some option to split a comment into a thread it seems like an ideal use would be found here. At the very least, lesswrong provides a fairly high quality forum for discussion of topics appealing to nerdy types. Similar communities include stackexchange and math/science blogs, which are 'harder' than lesswrong; sites like reddit and xkcd forums tend to be on the 'softer' side of the spectrum. Lesswrong, so far, is the best open forum for the discussion of 'futurist' issues. What lesswrong lacks in comparison to 'harder' sites is a broad base of subject specialists. The scope of discussion on lesswrong is quite broad; however, the base of expertise on lesswrong is very narrow as it consists mainly of SIAI members. It would be hard to argue that lesswrong would not benefit from the active participation of more experts from domains relevant to its interests: economics, psychology, computer science, mathematics, statistics. However, up to now, LW has attracted few such users, due perhaps to its low profile and the fact that the core members of the community do not seem to prioritize subject expertise. Yet until LW has that kind of userbase, it seems unlikely any high impact developments will arise from activity on LW (excluding efforts from SIAI members themselves.) In contrast, seems like precisely the recipe for combining expertise through the internet for the advancement of the sciences. Perhaps what is more important is the emergence of the lesswrong "rationalist" subculture itself. Future historians might lump this subculture with the larger "atheism" subculture, which has much in common with the LW community in terms of demographic composition. What would be much more interesting is if the LW community grew to incorporate a much more demographically diverse userbase. I would say lesswrong ha
2Bongo9yI disagree with the connotation that the latter constitute a "dark side" of Less Wrong and that if you take them seriously and try to persuade people of them you're being cultish.

Can we stop using the word "rationalism"?

by [anonymous] 1 min read19th Mar 201165 comments


You see, I've seen the word "rationalism" used to mean all five of these things at different times:

  • The belief that we should come to know the world through reason and experimentation, shunning intuition.
  • The belief that we should come to know the world through reason and intuition, shunning experimentation.
  • The belief that we should come to know the world through knowledge of (and correction for) cognitive biases, and knowledge of (and correct use of) probability theory.
  • Being effective at believing things that are true and not things that are false.
  • Being effective at doing things that are good and not things that are bad.
In most of the mainstream philosophy I've read, the word "rationalism" has been used, without qualification, to mean the second of these, even though that type of rationalism strongly contradicts the stuff we call rationalism! One of my friends has freely used the word "rationalism" in conversation, referring to "our" rationalism, completely unaware that, to most people, the word means something completely different. Another of my friends said that he "hates rationalism with a passion"—and I have no idea which of these five things is the one he hates!
Given that "rationalism" to most people (or, at least, most philosophers) means something utterly unlike what it means to us, perhaps calling our philosophy "rationalism" is about as wise as developing a political philosophy, based on socialism but with nationalist influences, and calling it "national socialism".
I suggest that we use the word "sensibilism" instead, since nobody else is using it, it seems unobjectionable, and I think it captures what we're all about.
Edited to remove a proposed solution.

Edited to reinstate that proposed solution, since this discussion is presumably finished.