Complement Luke's Mega-Course for Aspiring Philosophers

by diegocaleiro5 min read7th Dec 20123 comments

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Luke has mentioned much of the research that aspiring philosophers ought to read here.

In fact, he delineated a basis upon which good philosophy can be build, a worldview brought by science and experimentation that relates to, and informs, the kinds of facts which philosophers need to understand to increase their probabilities of asking, and giving good answers to, relevant questions.

Some argued that his list is biased, let us assume for the time being it isn't.

Some argued that the main problem with the list is that it requires either unmanageable amount of time to go through, or improbable levels of intelligence/motivation to do so. This argument does make sense if the purpose of the list was "Let us create a good Philosophy Course".

But this is not the purpose of it. The purpose of it, as most of what Luke publicly does is to save the World. And if doing so requires making people go through an enormous amount of pages of content besides their formal education, well, then so be it. If it has to be a six year course, then it has to.

At the end of his post he says:

You might also let them read 20th century analytic philosophy at that point [after going through his Mega-Course] — hopefully their training will have inoculated them from picking up bad thinking habits.

Now 20th century Analytic Philosophy, and some philosophy that isn't strictly analytic, should definitely be at a philosophy course. I urge other LessWronger philosophers to guide people through that.

Here is a list I have published here before, for Philosophy of Mind and Language (sometimes considered subsets or children of Analytic Philosophy). It covers only the minimal reading necessary to grasp the place of computationalism, and so-called computational theories of mind within the larger debate of philosophy. 

But the last century has seen a lot of good philosophy that by luck didn't conflict with neither the science of the day, nor the science that was developed until 2012. Sometimes authors were very careful when writing their philosophy, and well versed in science, like Dennett, Hofstadter, Putnam, Ned Block, and Chalmers. Finally, frequently the topics at hand are sufficiently orthogonal with scientific development that it simply didn't matter that the author didn't know in 1970 what we (after the Mega-Course) know today. 

So I ask Luke, Pragmatist, Carl Shulman and others to help build the layer that will sit on top of the science layer in the "Philosophy Given Science" Mega-Course for aspiring philosophers. The course will have four layers. Below the science layer, will be its prerequisites (admittedly large), and atop the one I'm suggesting here, we hope to start building a really good philosophy that is compatible with our scientific understanding, tackles mostly Big Questions which are highly likely to be meaningful, and frequently also useful for the major issues we still have time to solve.

This is the pyramidal  structure I suggest we create, 1,2 and 3 being the content of the Mega-Course, and 4 being the likely outcome we expect it to facilitate, made by those who undertake it:

4) Philosophy given 1,2 and 3. Tackling the Big Questions, and making it portable to areas such as AGI, Biotech, etc...

3) Philosophy, up to 2012, that is well informed about or orthogonal to Science so far. Or lucky.

2) Science that is relevant to philosophy. This.

1) Prerequisites for 2.

 

In this post we begin layer three, I'll start by copying the Mind and Language I had sent. After I'll include some of Bostrom's recommendations within philosophy to me as an undergrad, and my selection of Dennett's, and Dennett's selection of science:

Language and Mind:

From Bostrom's suggestions:

  • Philosophical Papers - David Lewis
  • Parfit
  • Frank Arntzenius
  • Timothy Williamson
  • Brian Skyrms

By Dennett:

  • Real Patterns
  • True Believers
  • Kinds of Minds
  • Intentional Systems In Cognitive Ethology
  • Those mentioned above in the Mind and Language list.

Not previously cited, but in Luke's favorites list:

  • Noam Chomsky
  • Stephen Stich
  • Hilary Kronblith
  • Eric schwitzgebel
  • Michael Bishop

Dennett's suggestions on interdisciplinary science (layer 2):

  • The Company of Strangers - Paul Seabright
  • Not by Genes Alone - Boyd and Richerson
  • I Am a Strange Loop. - Hofstadter

By Bostrom

  • Probably easier to list what should not be read...

This may initially appear overwhelming, but it is probably one order of magnitude less content than Luke's original post about layer 2. Once again I ask philosophers to specify more things within areas that are not well addressed here, such as ethics. Also books by scientists dealing with philosophical topics (such as Sam Harris: The Moral Landscape) can be added here. 

The "Philosophy Given Science" MegaCourse may never actually take place, but it will be a very valuable guideline for institutions to influence actual Philosophy courses, for Philosophy teachers to get cohesive and preselected content to teach, and most importantly for diligent aspiring philosophers willing to get to the Big and relevant problems, instead of being the ball in the chaotic Pinball game that academic philosophy has become, despite all good things it brought. When the path is too long, a shortcut is not a shortcut anymore, it is the only way to get there before it is too late.

 

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Scientifically informed ethical philosophy:

The Emotional Construction of Morals by Jesse Prinz

The Evolution of Morality by Richard Joyce

Braintrust by Patricia Churchland

The Ethical Project by Philip Kitcher

Evolution of the Social Contract by Brian Skyrms

Natural Justice by Ken Binmore

Experiments in Ethics by Kwame Anthony Appiah

Thanks! I don't know the vast majority of LessWrongers to associate them with their nicknames here, but if you know some who are philosophers, ask them to help us out!

I think it may be necessary to distinguish between people who want to learn what philosophy has found out so far, because they want to use it, and people who want also want to learn how to carry out philosophy, adding to the body of knowledge through participation in the published academic discourse.

Because, to do the latter:

(A) It may be helpful to observe at least some of the inner workings of the bootstrap process by which philosophy went from near totally wrong, to slightly less near totally wrong. There's a difference between learning a new recipe from a great cook, and learning the process by which that cook came up with the new recipe. In other words, at least some dead ends ought to be covered by the course, if only to help combat the feeling otherwise engendered "Oh, of course I'd recognise if I were going wrong. Why, the whole history of philosophy was an inevitable forwards progress to where I stand today, and I'm just continuing that."

and

(B) While it is false that there's nothing new under the sun, there are many many concepts that have already been proposed and discussed. If you don't cover them, then you invite time being wasted on reinventing the wheel, that could have been avoided if, at minimum, the people involved had been using familiar words and phrases from past philosophers that the others in the field would readily recognise. A necessary requirement for joining in and adding to the academic discourse is understanding and sharing the terminology, crediting each concept to the earliest person to come up with it. (modulo Stigler's law of eponymy)

Which isn't to say the balance should remain as it is. But neither should the baby be thrown out with the bathwater.