Part of the sequence: Rationality and Philosophy

Consider these two versions of the famous trolley problem:

Stranger: A train, its brakes failed, is rushing toward five people. The only way to save the five people is to throw the switch sitting next to you, which will turn the train onto a side track, thereby preventing it from killing the five people. However, there is a stranger standing on the side track with his back turned, and if you proceed to thrown the switch, the five people will be saved, but the person on the side track will be killed.

Child: A train, its brakes failed, is rushing toward five people. The only way to save the five people is to throw the switch sitting next to you, which will turn the train onto a side track, thereby preventing it from killing the five people. However, there is a 12-year-old boy standing on the side track with his back turned, and if you proceed to throw the switch, the five people will be saved, but the boy on the side track will be killed.

Here it is: a standard-form philosophical thought experiment. In standard analytic philosophy, the next step is to engage in conceptual analysis — a process in which we use our intuitions as evidence for one theory over another. For example, if your intuitions say that it is "morally right" to throw the switch in both cases above, then these intuitions may be counted as evidence for consequentialism, for moral realism, for agent neutrality, and so on.

Alexander (2012) explains:

Philosophical intuitions play an important role in contemporary philosophy. Philosophical intuitions provide data to be explained by our philosophical theories [and] evidence that may be adduced in arguments for their truth... In this way, the role... of intuitional evidence in philosophy is similar to the role... of perceptual evidence in science...

Is knowledge simply justified true belief? Is a belief justified just in case it is caused by a reliable cognitive mechanism? Does a name refer to whatever object uniquely or best satisfies the description associated with it? Is a person morally responsible for an action only if she could have acted otherwise? Is an action morally right just in case it provides the greatest benefit for the greatest number of people all else being equal? When confronted with these kinds of questions, philosophers often appeal to philosophical intuitions about real or imagined cases...

...there is widespread agreement about the role that [intuitions] play in contemporary philosophical practice... We advance philosophical theories on the basis of their ability to explain our philosophical intuitions, and appeal to them as evidence that those theories are true...

In particular, notice that philosophers do not appeal to their intuitions as merely an exercise in autobiography. Philosophers are not merely trying to map the contours of their own idiosyncratic concepts. That could be interesting, but it wouldn't be worth decades of publicly-funded philosophical research. Instead, philosophers appeal to their intuitions as evidence for what is true in general about a concept, or true about the world.

In this sense,

We [philosophers] tend to believe that our philosophical intuitions are more or less universally shared... We... appeal to philosophical intuitions, when we do, because we anticipate that others share our intuitive judgments.

But anyone with more than a passing familiarity with cognitive science might have bet in advance that this basic underlying assumption of a core philosophical method is... incorrect.

For one thing, philosophical intuitions show gender diversity. Consider again the Stranger and Child versions of the Trolley problem. It turns out that men are less likely than women to think it is morally acceptable to throw the switch in the Stranger case, while women are less likely than men to think it is morally acceptable to throw the switch in the Child case (Zamzow & Nichols 2009).

Or, consider a thought experiment meant to illuminate the much-discussed concept of knowledge:

Peter is in his locked apartment and is reading. He decides to have a shower. He puts his book down on the coffee table. Then he takes off his watch, and also puts it on the coffee table. Then he goes into the bathroom. As Peter's shower begins, a burglar silently breaks into Peter's apartment. The burglar takes Peter's watch, puts a cheap plastic watch in its place, and then leaves. Peter has only been in the shower for two minutes, and he did not hear anything.

When presented with this vignette, only 41% of men say that Peter "knows" there is a watch on the table, while 71% of women say that Peter "knows" there is a watch on the table (Starman & Friedman 2012). According to Buckwalter & Stich (2010), Starmans & Friedman ran another study using a slightly different vignette with a female protagonist, and that time only 36% of men said the protagonist "knows," while 75% of women said she "knows."

The story remains the same for intuitions about free will. In another study reported in Buckwalter & Stich (2010), Geoffrey Holtman presented subjects with this vignette:

Suppose scientists figure out the exact state of the universe during the Big Bang, and figure out all the laws of physics as well. They put this information into a computer, and the computer perfectly predicts everything that has ever happened. In other words, they prove that everything that happens has to happen exactly that way because of the laws of physics and everything that's come before. In this case, is a person free to choose whether or not to murder someone?

In this study, only 35% of men, but 63% of women, said a person in this world could be free to choose whether or not to murder someone.

Intuitions show not only gender diversity but also cultural diversity. Consider another thought experiment about knowledge (you can punch me in the face, later):

Bob has a friend Jill, who has driven a Buick for many years. Bob therefore thinks that Jill drives an American car. He is not aware, however, that her Buick has recently been stolen, and he is also not aware that Jill has replaced it with a Pontiac, which is a different kind of American car. Does Bob really know that Jill drives an American car, or does he only believe it?

Only 26% of Westerners say that Bob "knows" that Jill drives an American car, while 56% of East Asian subjects, and 61% of South Asian subjects, say that Bob "knows."

Now, consider a thought experiment meant to elicit semantic intuitions:

Suppose that John has learned in college that Gödel is the man who proved... the incompleteness of arithmetic. John is quite good at mathematics and he can give an accurate statement of the incompleteness theorem, which he attributes to Gödel as the discoverer. But this is the only thing that he has heard about Gödel. Now suppose that Gödel was not the author of this theorem. A man called "Schmidt"… actually did the work in question. His friend Gödel somehow got a hold of the manuscript and claimed credit for the work, which was thereafter attributed to Gödel... Most people who have heard the name "Gödel" are like John; the claim that Gödel discovered the incompleteness theorem is the only thing that they have ever heard about Gödel.

When presented with this vignette, East Asians are more likely to take the "descriptivist" view of reference, believing that John "is referring to" Schmidt — while Westerners are more likely to take the "causal-historical" view, believing that John "is referring to" Gödel (Machery et al. 2004).

Previously, I asked:

What would happen if we dropped all philosophical methods that were developed when we had a Cartesian view of the mind and of reason, and instead invented philosophy anew given what we now know about the physical processes that produce human reasoning?

For one thing, we would never assume that people of all kinds would share our intuitions.


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Going from the cited examples alone, it seems that most of the diversity in answers may be caused not so much by "different intuitions", but vagueness of questions, as they can be interpreted in many different ways, effectively forcing the respondents to give answers to different questions selected more or less arbitrarily, starting from the vague statements of the questions. That is, the differing intuitions are not intuitions about properties of complicated situations being discussed, but intuitions about how vague words such as "knows" or "refers to" are to be interpreted in the given context.

A lot more tabooing might need to be done before such questionnaires can start indicating differences in intuition about substantive questions. Alternatively, thought experiments phrased as decision problems (such as the trolley problem) mostly avoid this issue, if they don't ask about characterizations of the situation other than the decision that is to be made (such as whether by throwing or not throwing the switch one becomes "responsible" for the deaths).

Right; the point of these thought experiments is to elicit intuitions about non-substantive questions, like what "know" means. Welcome to philosophy.

Which is a problem, because these kinds of quesions are asked to resolve "what does X mean" questions. It may be true that Meaning is Truth Conditions, but it isnt useful., because where meaning is vague, so are truth conditions, and so TC's cannot be used to pin down meaning. "Responsible" is a characterisaion, isn't it?

these kinds of quesions are asked to resolve "what does X mean" questions

Resolving the meaning of vague terms is a pointless activity/bad methodology. One should focus of seeking and answering better questions motivated by the same considerations that motivate the original vague questions instead. This involves asking "What motivates/causes the vague question?" rather than "What does the vague question mean?" as the first step, where the "vague question" is a real-world phenomenon occurring in a scholar's mind.

Sometimes, the cause of a question turns out to be uninteresting, a bug in perception of the world, which dissolves the question. Sometimes, the causes of a question turn out to have interesting and complicated structure and you need a whole lot of new ideas to characterize them. This way, "What is motion?" points towards ideas such as time, velocity, acceleration, inertia, mass, force, momentum, energy, impulse, torque, simultaneity, continuity, differential and integral calculus, etc., which were not there in the heads of the philosophers who first wondered about motion.

Isn't this kind of a counterexample to your point? If, instead of "What is motion?", philosophers had turned to the question "What motivates/causes us to ask 'what is motion'?", the answer have been some variation on "moving stuff", which wouldn't have been much of an advance. In this case the solution really did follow from a first-order process of trying to think very clearly about what the vague term "motion" seemed to be referring to, didn't it?
The distinction I'm making with that example is between asking "What do I mean by 'motion'?", which looks at the person's understanding of the word in detail (and there isn't much useful understanding to be found in their mind if they don't already understand mechanics); and asking "What causes me to wonder about motion?", which points to the stuff that is moving, and motivates studying this moving stuff in detail, asking more specific questions about the way in which it moves.
I see. Thank you for the clarification.
And the empirical version of asking what a word means--examiining instances of usage, rather than introspecting -- can give3 us a useful start on that, eg. by showing that there a usages fall intio distinct clusters, so that there is not in fact one meaning.
0Rob Bensinger10y
"What causes me to wonder about motion?" is the better question if "motion" is a relatively natural kind. If it isn't — if it's plausible that I've made some error in how I group together phenomena — then it may be much more valuable to explain and make explicit what I mean by "motion." See where to draw the boundary []. Philosophy is only important because our intuitions are often unreliable. We can't trust common sense or pragmatism not to import unjustified assumptions, and unjustified assumptions can blow up in our face if left unexamined for too long. Philosophy has never been about asserting 'that's intuitive' and stopping there. (If it were, philosophical theories wouldn't be so ridiculously counter-intuitive!) It's about testing the relationship between intuitions, and the worldly naturalness of our intuitive kinds. If we could do without assumptions and categorization and methodological decisions and intuitive thought altogether in our scientific and everyday activities, then sure, maybe philosophy would be dispensable. But as it happens, errors in our conceptual schemes can bleed into serious errors in our decision-making and in our territory-mapping. Refusing to think about philosophy doesn't immunize you to philosophical error; if anything, it increases your susceptibility to implicit philosophical biases.
i wasn't aware that levels of vagueness are intrinsic and fixed. There is a sense in which "water" is now less vague (and a sense in which "matter" is now more vague). ETA: It seems that when Science makes a term less vague, it does so by stipulation rather than resolution. When philosphers do that, it's a Bad Thing called the True Scotsman Fallacy. In any case, I was only making the point that none of the quoted examples involved philsophers trying to deduce the nature of the external world from lingusitic behavuour.
Not every change is an improvement, but every improvement is a change. "True Scotsman Fallacy" is about changing the question under discussion in an unhelpful manner, often in order to avoid the evaluation of the original question. If we agree that different questions have different degrees of usefulness (given some state of understanding), different ability to elicit further understanding, and are motivated by various purposes (as opposed to somehow being important in themselves), then serving the purpose of a question naturally employs developing different, more useful questions, and shifting the focus of investigation to them.

Harvard Prof. Richard Moran touches on this in a humorous manner:

"As to ‘experimental philosophy, I can’t claim to be very well versed in it, but it seems to be a research program in its early days. I think that by now, even its practitioners are beginning to realise that simply asking people, outside of any particular context, about their “intuitions” about some concept of philosophical interest is not really going to be informative since without any philosophical background to the question, the respondents themselves can’t really know just what question they are being asked to answer, what their responses are responses to. There are just too many different things that can be meant by a question like, “‘Was such-and-such an action intentional or not?”, for example. And without further discussion or further analysis, the experimenters themselves can’t know what answers they are being given by the respondents. It’s not good data. So I can imagine experimental philosophy evolving in a way to account for this, and starting to include some philosophical background to the investigation, perhaps even some philosophical history, to provide the needed context to the particular intuiti... (read more)

This seems to be implying that moral philosophy has little or nothing to do with how untrained people make moral decisions; epistemology has little or nothing to do with how untrained people gain confidence in their beliefs as knowledge, etc.

epistemology has little or nothing to do with how untrained people gain confidence in their beliefs as knowledge, etc.

Epistemology is about how to acquire beliefs correctly. How untrained people actually acquire beliefs is some kind of social science. Just like rocketry is distinct from investigating how untrained people imagine rockets work.

More specifically, epistemology is a formal field of philosophy. Epistemologists study the interaction of knowledge with truth and belief. Basically, what we know and how we know it. They work to identify the source and scope of knowledge. An epistemological statement example goes something like this; I know I know how to program because professors who teach programming, authoritative figures, told me so by giving me passing grades in their classes.
If the aim of moral philosophy is to answer questions like "What ought one to do" or "What ought to exist," then how untrained people make moral decisions has little to nothing to do with moral philosophy.

The examples involving killing people seem like good examples, but the others seem like they could be predicated on disagreements about semantics rather than, say, disagreements about anticipated experiences (or utility functions, I guess). Words would need to be tabooed before I would trust those examples.

All of these examples are, in fact, explicitly about semantics. They are thought experiments mean to elicit our intuitions about the concepts of knowledge, moral rightness, etc.

Agreed. And the example about the watch sounds more like a "gotcha" question than anything else.

For one thing, we would never assume that people of all kinds would share our intuitions.

Isn't this kind of an obvious conclusion ? The entire science of sociology was developed to address it, as far as I understand.

Is there really any kind of a serious debate in modern philosophy circles regarding whether or not our personal intuitions can be generally trusted ?

Is there really any kind of a serious debate in modern philosophy circles regarding whether or not our personal intuitions can be generally trusted?

Yes! The Experimental Philosophy: An Introduction book I linked to is a very brief, up-to-date summary of that debate. The debate over intuitions is one of the hottest in philosophy today, and has been since about 1998.

But it -- at least the "debate over intuitions" that I'm most familiar with -- isn't about whether intuitions are reliable, but rather over whether the critics have accurately specified the role they play in traditional philosophical methodology. That is, the standard response to experimentalist critics (at least, in my corner of philosophy) is not to argue that intuitions are "reliable evidence", but rather to deny that we are using them as evidence at all. On this view, what we appeal to as evidence is not the psychological fact of my having an intuition, but rather the propositional content being judged. The purpose of thought experiments, on this view, is to enable one to grasp new evidence (namely, the proposition in question) that they hadn't considered before. Of course, this isn't a "neutral" methodology because only those who intuit the true proposition thereby gain genuine evidence. But the foolishness of such a "neutrality" constraint (and the associated "psychological" view of evidence) is one of the major lessons of contemporary epistemology (see, esp., Williamson).
A quick review (for the benefit of others): Bugmaster asked []: "Is there really any kind of a serious debate in modern philosophy circles regarding whether or not our personal intuitions can be generally trusted?" I replied []: "Yes... the debate over intuitions is one of the hottest in philosophy today." But Richard is right to say [] that most of the philosophical debate about intuitions "isn't about whether intuitions are reliable, but rather over whether the critics have accurately specified the role they play in traditional philosophical methodology." So, I apologize for my sloppy wording. Now, a few words on intuitionist methodology. When I read the defenders of intuitionist methodology, I'm reminded of something John Doris said in my interview with him [] (slight paraphrase for clarity and succinctness; see the exact quote at the bottom of the transcript): When experimentalists pointed out that our brains don't store concepts as necessary and sufficient conditions [], many philosophers rushed to say that philosophers had never been assuming this in the first place. But clearly, many philosophers were making such false assumptions about how concepts worked, since the "classical" view of concepts — concepts as mental representations captured by necessary and sufficient conditions — held sway for quite some time, even after Wittgenstein (1953) []. (For a review, see Murphy 2004 [].) Or, given that experimentalists have raised worries about using intuitions as e
Yes, that's the idea. I mean, (2) is plausibly true if the "because" is meant in a purely causal, rather than rationalizing, sense. But we don't take the fact that we stand in a certain psychological relation to this content (i.e., intuiting it) to play any essential justifying role. Thanks for following up on this issue! I'm looking forward to hearing the rest of your thoughts.
In that case, I struggle to see why the "defeater critique" wouldn't seriously undermine practice (1) in most cases. Philosophers can't simply assume intuited contents p and then move from p to q. We want to know how likely p is to be true, and if our primary reason for thinking p is true is some unreliable cognitive algorithm (rather than, say, hard scientific data or a mathematical proof), then we are left without much reason to be confident that p is true. Suppose a theist says he knows by Holy Spirit Communication (HSC) that Jesus is magic. An atheist replies, "HSC is not a reliable method. See all this experimental data on people making judgments based on the deliverances of (what they claim is) HSC." The theist then says, "No, I'm not arguing from the HSC mental state to the conclusion that Jesus is magic. I'm arguing from the HSC contents (that is, from proposition p) to the conclusion that Jesus is magic." The atheist would be unimpressed, and correctly so.
In the case you describe, the "HSC content" is just that Jesus is magic. So there's no argument being offered at all. Now, if they offer an actual argument, from some other p to the conclusion that Jesus is magic, then we can assess this argument like any other. How the arguer came to believe the original premise p is not particularly relevant. What you call the "defeater critique", I call the genetic fallacy. It's true that an interlocutor is never going to be particularly moved by an argument that starts from premises he doesn't accept. Such is life. The more interesting question is whether the arguer herself should be led to abandon her intuited judgments. But unless you offer some positive evidence for an alternative rational credence to place in p, it's not clear that a "debunking" explanation of her current level of credence should, by itself, make any difference. Think of intuitied judgments as priors. Someone might say, "There's no special reason to think that your priors are well-calibrated." And that may be true, but it doesn't change what our priors are. We can't start from anywhere but where we start.
Thinking of things in terms of informal fallacies like the genetic fallacy throws away information []. From a Bayesian viewpoint, the source of one's belief is relevant to its likelihood of being true. (Edit 9/2/13: A good example of this is here [].) Right; I mostly complain about arguments made solely from intuited contents when the claims are given with far more confidence than can be justified by the demonstrated reliability of human intuitions in that domain.
Can you cite a specific paper on book chapter which makes the kind of argument you're suggesting here?
Jonathan Ichikawa, 'Who Needs Intuitions []' Elizabeth Harman, 'Is it Reasonable to “Rely on Intuitions” in Ethics? [] Timothy Williamson, 'Evidence in Philosophy', chp 7 of The Philosophy of Philosophy.
Thanks. I'm going to be extremely busy for the next few weeks but I will make sure to get back to you on this (and reply to your comment, so you get a notification) at a later time.
My mind kind of boggled after reading your comment. First of all "Experimental Philosophy" sounds almost like an oxymoron. If it was really "experimental", it would be science, not philosophy. But secondly... debate about the reliability of intuitions, really ? Isn't this basically a very strong sign that modern philosophy can safely be ignored, just like modern astrology ?

"Experimental Philosophy" sounds almost like an oxymoron. If it was really "experimental", it would be science, not philosophy.

Neither Philosophy nor Science are clearly delimited concepts that can be defined by a short sentence; like a lot of categories they are fuzzy and may overlap. Some activities called "doing science" are not experimental (abstract Math), and some experimental activities are not usually called "science" (testing a video game).

Well it doesn't matter that much what you call it. Since it is addressing questions are the mainly of interest to philosophers and that philosophers are trying to answer, I think it's useful to call it "experimental philosophy". Most of the reliance on intuitions in philosophy is for doing conceptual analysis, so figuring out what people mean by terms like knowledge, which there may be problems with, but philosophers aren't relying on intuitions to resolve questions such as what's going to happen to me me in the future, like astrologists are.
There was a fellow in the early 20th century who labeled his religious writings with the catch-phrase, "The Method of Science, the Aim of Religion."
Crowley was surprisingly lucid in methods for someone with a habit of calling himself "The Great Beast 666"; much of his work might be described as what you'd get if you took an empiricist epistemology and applied it to a profoundly anti-reductionist ontology. I've gotten some mileage out of his quotes on religious practice elsewhere.
So did L. Ron Hubbard, doesn't mean that either of them was right. But at least your guy didn't extort money from his followers, AFAIK...
Among other issues, there clearly are productive philosophers out there who are producing good work. Bostrom is a popular example here at LW.
Why not ?
Because in a general sense, ignoring a large and useful body of knowledge out of hand and on the grounds that it triggers intuitive dislikes (esp. when said intuitions are based on a weak strawman interpretation of said discipline) is usually not a good move. More specific to the argument at hand, why should a debate about reliability of intuitions disqualify philosophy? Do you believe this is a settled debate? And if so, on what grounds is it settled? The center of the issue is that you can't answer these questions empirically. What observation(s) could you ever make that would settle the matter? We've got to invoke some form of philosophical justification even if it is vague and implicit. I'd prefer a more rigorous framework, as I imagine would most here, and that is what philosophy does and why it is still taken seriously, Eliezer's exasperation and misunderstanding notwithstanding.
I'm not sure what you mean there. Didn't Luke just present empirical evidence that our intuitions do vary? That answers the question. Our intuitions vary, therefore any way of conducting philosophy based on assuming they don't is wrong.
6Rob Bensinger10y
Richard: myron isn't disputing that it's wrong to presuppose the uniformity of all intuitions. (Though 'intuitions vary' is too crude a way of putting it; do all intuitions vary?) He's claiming that it's a straw-man to treat more than a handful of modern philosophers as committed to the uniformity of all intuitions. (It would be helpful at this stage for people on both sides to start quoting prominent philosophers weighing in on this very issue. The argument will get nowhere without shared data.) And, it bears emphasizing: The question of whether certain sorts of intuitions are reliable is partly independent of the question of whether intuitions vary anthropologically. Some mathematical logicians disagree about whether ¬∀x(Fx) intuitively implies ∃x(¬Fx), but very few mathematicians conclude from this disagreement that our mathematical intuitions never give us insight into the truth.
1) Sometimes you can still get useful work done with wrong assumptions (e.g. Newtonian Physics) 2) Bugmeister was talking about rejecting modern philosophy, which isn't the same as only rejecting "any way of conducting philosophy based on assuming they don't [vary]".
Or we can just toss out the questions as meaningless.
According to Luke, this is not a strawman, but in fact a correct representation of the current state of affairs. I myself am not sure whether that's the case. I don't know what you mean by "settle", but Luke does present several pieces of strong evidence against the proposition that our intuitions can be trusted.
It is correct if you go by a select set of quotes that, from what I can tell, have been chosen specifically to support a presupposed position, i.e., philosophers don't think about obvious problems which have been intimately entwined with moral and ethical philosophy for hundreds of years. Obviously I don't feel that this is correct, or that the quotes given are representative of what they're being made to represent. Sure. And presenting "strong evidence" in a reasoned back-and-forth is the point of philosophy, since every position has evidence which (it considers to be) strong support. This is why the debate is necessary, unless, as I wrote elsewhere, you presuppose there is only one privileged interpretation of the existing data. If you believe that then I'd refer you to the debate around underdetermination and IBE in philosophy of science for a healthy re-orientation of your worldview.

For one thing, we would never assume that people of all kinds would share our intuitions.

You write this like it's an original insight and not a problem that has been taken seriously by every philosopher who ever wrote seriously about ethics or meta-ethics.

You would be surprised to learn how often I talk to Less Wrongers who have been corrupted by a few philosophy classes and therefore engage in the kind of philosophical analysis which assumes that their intuitions are generally shared. Despite being downvoted in this comment [], I think Eliezer is generally right that reading too much mainstream philosophy — even "naturalistic" analytic philosophy — is somewhat likely to "teach very bad habits of thought that will lead people to be unable to do real work."

Is believing in shared intuitions a result of reading philosophy, or is it just that intuitions feel like truths?

Oh I doubt I'd be surprised, but that's more a problem of the people coming out of Philosophy 101 than the discipline itself. Frege and Bertrand Russell put most of the metaphysical extravagances to bed (in the Anglo-American tradition at least) with the turn towards formal logic and language, and the modern-day analytic tradition hasn't ever looked back. As it stands the field has about as much to do with mind-body dualism or idealism (or their respective toolkits) as theoretical physics. This goes for ethics and meta-ethics, and no serious writer in that topic would entertain Cartesian dualism or Kantian deontology or any other such in a trivial form. The idea of contingent, historical, contextually-sensitive ethics is widely recognized and is indeed a topic of lively discussion.
No, seriously: the assumption that others will share one's philosophical intuitions is rampant in contemporary philosophy. Go read all the angry papers written in response to the work of experimental philosophers, or the works of the staunch intuitionists like George Bealer and Ernest Sosa.
The field as a whole (or rather, some within it, to be more accurate) takes these issues seriously as a matter of debate, yes, but arguing over controversial claims is the entire point of philosophy so that's no mark against it. It's also a radically different position from the strong claim you've advanced here that the field itself is broken, which is nonsense to anyone familiar with modern moral philosophy and ethics/meta-ethics and is dangerously close to a strawman argument. To say the problem is "rampant" is to admit to a limited knowledge of the field and the debates within it.
You have precisely identified the fundamental problem with philosophy [].
And your better alternative is...?
DDTT []. Don't study words as if they had meanings that you could discover by examining your intuitions about how to use them. Don't draw maps without looking out of the window. Positively, they could always start here [].
BS. For example, Eliezer's take on logical positivism in the most recent Sequence is interesting. But logical positivism has substantial difficulties [] - identified by competing philosophical schools - that Eliezer has only partially resolved. Aristotle tried to say insightful things merely by examining etymology, but the best of modern philosophy has learned better.
I only see objections to traditional strains of positivism. It doesn't seem they even apply to what EY's been doing. In particular, the problems in objections 1, 3C1, 3C2, and 3F2 have been avoided by being more careful about what is not said. Meanwhile, 2 and 3F1 seem incoherent to me.
I don't see how Eliezer could dodge this objection, or why he would want to. Very colloquially, Eliezer thinks there is an arrow leading to "Snow is white" from the fact that snow is white. Labeling that arrow "causal" does nothing to explain what that arrow is. If you don't explain what the arrow is, how do you know that (1) you've said something rigorous or (2) that the causal arrows are the same thing as what we want to mean by "true"? As stated, this objection is too strong (because it assumes moral anti-realism is true). The correspondence theory can be agnostic in the dispute between moral realism [] and moral anti-realism []. But moral realists intend to use the word "true" in exactly the same way that scientists use the word. Thus, a correspondence-theory moral realist needs to be able to identify what corresponds to any particular moral truth - otherwise, moral anti-realism is the correct moral epistemology. Most people are moral realists, so if your theory of truth is inconsistent with moral realism, they will take that as evidence that your theory of truth is not correct. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Look, no one but a total idiot believes Mark's epistemic theory []. There is an external world, with sufficient regularity that our physical predictions will be accurate within the limits of our knowledge and computational power. The issue is whether that can be stated more rigorously - and the different specifications are where logical positivists, physical pragmitists, Kunn [] and other theorists disagree. I do agree that objections 2 and 3F2 are not particularly compelling (as I understand them).
0Rob Bensinger10y
This is actually a very easy one to respond to. Truthbearers do resemble non-truthbearers. What must ultimately be truth-bearing, if anything really is, is some component of the world -- a brain-state, an utterance, or what-have-you. These truth-bearing parts of the world can resemble their referents, in the sense that a relatively simple and systematic transformation on one would yield some of the properties of the other. For instance, a literal map clearly resembles its territory; eliminating most of the territory's properties, and transforming the ones that remain in a principled way, could produce the map. But sentences also resemble the territories they describe, e.g., through temporal and spatial correlation. Even Berkeley's argument clearly fails for this reason; an immaterial idea can systematically share properties with a non-idea, if only temporal ones. Language use is a natural phenomenon. Hence, reference is also a natural phenomenon, and one we should try to explain as part of our project of accounting for the patterns of human behavior. Here, we're trying to understand why humans assert "Snow is white" in the particular patterns they do, and why they assign truth-values to that sentence in the patterns they do. The simplest adequate hypothesis will note that usage of "snow" correlates with brain-states that in turn resemble (heavily transformed) snow, and that "white" correlates with brain-states resembling transformed white light, and that "Snow is white" expresses a relationship between these two phenomena such that white light is reflected off of snow. When normal English language users think white light reflects off of snow, they call the sentence "snow is white" true; and when they think the opposite, they call "snow is white" false. So, there is a physical relationship between the linguistic behavior of this community and the apparent properties of snow. Yes, but is our goal to convince everyone that we're correct, or to be correct? The unpopul
In brief, I disagree that we are trying to explain human behavior. We are trying to develop an agent-universal explanation of truth. The risk of focusing on human behavior (or human brain states) is that the theory of truth won't generalize to non-human agents. Regarding moral facts, I agree that our goal is true philosophy, not comforting philosophy. I'm a moral anti-realist independent of theory-of-truth considerations. But most people seem to feel that their moral senses are facts (yes, I'm well aware of the irony of appealing to universal intuitions in a post that urges rejection of appeals to universal intuitions). The widespread nature of belief in values-as-truths cries out for explanation, and the only family of theories I'm aware [] of that even try to provide such an explanation is wildly controversial and unpopular in the scientific community.
0Rob Bensinger10y
I'm not sure 'agent' is a natural kind. 'Truth' may not be a natural kind either; it may be a very gerrymandered, odd-looking collection of properties. So I spoke in terms of concrete human behaviors in order to maintain agnosticism about how generalizable these properties are. If they do turn out to be generalizable, then great. I don't think any part of my account precludes that possibility. Yes. My explanation is that our mental models do treat values as though they were real properties of things. Similarly, our mental models treat chairs as discrete solid objects, treat mathematical objects as mind-independent reals, treat animals as having desires and purposes, and treat possibility and necessity as worldly facts. In all of these cases, our evidence for the metaphysical category actually occurring is much weaker than our apparent confidence in the category's reality. So the problem is very general; it seems that most of our beliefs are predicated on useful fictions (analogous to our willingness to affirm the truth of 'Sherlock Holmes is a detective, not a carpenter'), in which case we are committed either to an error theory or to revising our standards for what 'truth' is.
If so. rationalists may as well shut up shop, because anyone would be able to add an interest-specific lump to the gerrymander. ETA I go for the third option.
0Rob Bensinger10y
People already do that, and yet rationalists see no reason to 'shut up shop' as a result. 'True' is just a word. Rationality is about systematic optimization for our goals, not about defending our favorite words from the rabble. Sometimes it's worthwhile to actively criticize a use of 'truth;' sometimes it's worthwhile to participate in the gerrymandering ourselves; and sometimes it's worthwhile just to avoid getting involved in the kerfuffle. For instance, criticizing people for calling 'Sherlock Holmes is a detective' true is both less useful and less philosophically interesting than criticizing people for calling 'there is exactly one empty set' true. Also, it's important to remember that there are two different respects in which 'truth' might be gerrymandered. First, it might be gerrymandered for purely social reasons. Second, it might be gerrymandered because it's a very complicated property of high-level representational systems. One should not expect mental states in general to be simply and nondisjunctively definable in a strictly physical language. Yet if we learned that 'pain' were a highly disjunctive property rather than a natural kind, this would give us no reason to stop deeming pain unpleasant.
People try to do that, but rationalists don't have to regard it as legitimate, and can object. However, if a notion of truth is adopted that is pluralistic and has no constraint on its pluralism --Anythng Goes -- rationalists could no longer object to,eg. Astrological Truth. So you say. Most rationalists are engaged in some sort of wider debate. Even if it is intellectually dishonest to do so? I think you may have confused truth with statesof-mind-having-content-about-truth. Electrons are simple, thoughts about them aren't. Somethings not being a natural kind, is not justification for arbitrarily changing its definition. I don't get to redefine the taste of chocolate as a kind of pain.
0Rob Bensinger10y
No one on this thread, up till now, has mentioned an arbitrarily changing or anything goes model of truth. Perhaps you misunderstood what I meant by 'gerrymandered.' All I meant was that the referent of 'truth' in physical or biological terms may be an extremely complicated and ugly array of truth-bearing states. Conceding that doesn't mean that we should allow 'truth' (or any word) to be used completely anarchically.
It might be. Then philosphers would be correct to look for a sense that all those referents have in common [].
I would phrase that as that he has recast it so it is non-objectionable. A lot of the other objections are of the nature "how do you know?" And generally he lets the answer be, "we don't know that to a degree of certainty that - it has been correctly pointed out - would philosophically objectionable."
Well, that moves much closer to making objection 2 meaningful. If all that the correspondence theory of truth can do is reassure us that our colloquial usage of "truth" gestures at a unified and meaningful philosophical concept, then it isn't much use. It is not like anyone seriously doubts that "empirically true" is a real thing. And I say that as a post-modernist.
I still don't understand this 'usefulness' objection. If the correspondence theory of truth is a justification for colloquial notions of truth, its primary utility does lie in our not worrying too much about things we don't actually need to worry about. There are other uses such as molding the way one approaches knowledge under uncertainty. The lemmas needed to produce the final "everything's basically OK" result provide significant value.
There are many concepts where the precise contours of the correct position makes no practical difference to most people. Examples include (1) Newtonian vs. Relativity and QM, (2) the meaning of infinity, or (3) persistence of identity. Many of the folk versions of those types of concepts are inadequate in dealing with edge cases (e.g. the folk theory of infinity is hopelessly broken []). The concept of "truth" is probably in this no-practical-implications category. As I said, there's no particular reason to doubt truth exists, whether the correspondence theory is correct or not. Anyway, edge cases don't tend to come up in ordinary life, so there's no good reason for most people to be worried. If one isn't worried, then the whole correspondence-theory-of-truth project is pointless to you. Without worry, reassurance is irrelevant. By contrast, if you are worried, the correspondence theory is insufficient to reassure you. Your weaker interpretation is vacuous, Eliezer's stronger version has flaws. None of this says that one should worry about what "truth" is, but having taken on the question, I think Eliezer has come up short in answering.
I don't see where it's coming up short in the first two examples you gave. What else would you want from it? As far as the third, well, I don't know that the meaning of truth is directly applicable to this problem.
I haven't communicated clearly. There are two understandings of useful - practical-useful and philosophy-useful. Arguments aimed at philosophy-use are generally irrelevant to practical-use (aka "Without worry, reassurance is irrelevant"). In particular, the correspondence theory of truth has essentially no practical-use. The interpretation you advocate here [] removes philosophical-use. "Everything's basically ok." is a practical-use issue. Therefore, it's off-topic in a philosophical-use discussion. I mentioned the examples to try to explain the distinction between practical-use and philosophical-use. Believing the correspondence theory of truth won't help with any of the examples I gave. Ockham's Razor is not implied by the correspondence theory. Nor is Bayes' Theorem. Correspondence theory implies physical realism, but physical realism does not imply correspondence theory.
Out of curiosity, which theory of truth does have a practical use ?
I think is important to note that what we've been calling theories of truth are actually aimed at being theories of meaningfulness. As lukeprog implicitly asserts, there are whole areas of philosophy where we aren't sure there is anything substantive at all. If we could figure out the correct theory of meaningfulness, we could figure out which areas of philosophy could be discarded entirely without close examination. For example, Carnap and other logical positivists thought Heidegger's assertion that "Das nicht nichtet" was meaningless nonsense []. I'm not [] sure [] I agree, but figuring out questions like that is the purpose of a theory of meaning / truth.
I see, so you aren't really concerned with practical-use applications; you're more interested in figuring out which areas of philosophy are meaningful. That makes sense, but, on the other hand, can an area of philosophy with a well-established practical use still be meaningless ?
It sure would be surprising if that happened. But meaningfulness is not the only criteria one could apply to a theory. No one thinks Newtonian physics is meaningless, even though everyone thinks Newtonian physics is wrong (i.e. less right than relativity and QM). In other words, one result of a viable theory of truth would be a formal articulation of "wronger than wrong."
That's not the same as "wrong", though. It's just "less right", but it's still good enough to predict the orbit of Venus (though not Mercury), launch a satellite (though not a GPS satellite), or simply lob cannonballs at an enemy fortress, if you are so inclined. From what I've seen, philosophy is more concerned with logical proofs and boolean truth values. If this is true, then perhaps that is the reason why philosophy is so riddled with deep-sounding yet ultimately useless propositions ? We'd be in deep trouble if we couldn't use Newtonian mechanics just because it's not as accurate as QM, even though we're dealing with macro-sized cannonballs moving slower than sound.
... except, as described below, to discard volumes worth of overthinking the matter.
As far as I can tell, we're in the middle of a definitional dispute - and I can't figure out how to get out. My point remains that Eliezer's reboot of logical positivism does no better (and no worse) than the best of other logical positivist philosophies. A theory of truth needs to be able to explain why certain propositions are meaningful. Using "correspondence" as a semantic stop sign [] does not achieve this goal. Abandoning [] the attempt to divide the meaningful from the non-meaningful avoids many of the objections to Eliezer's point, at the expense of failing to achieve a major purpose of the sequence.
It's not so much a definitional dispute as I have no idea what you're talking about. Suggesting that there's something out there which our ideas can accurately model isn't a semantic stop sign at all. It suggests we use modeling language, which does, contra your statement elsewhere, suggest using Bayesian inference. It gives sufficient criteria for success and failure (test the models' predictions). It puts sane epistemic limits on the knowable. That seems neither impractical nor philosophically vacuous.
The philosophical problem has always been he apparent arbitrariness of the rules. You can say that "meaningful" sentences are empircially verifiable ones. But why should anyone believe that? The sentence "the only meaningful sentences are the empircially verifiable ones" isn't obviously empirically verifiable. You have over-valued clarity and under-valued plausibility.
Definitions don't need to be empirically verifiable. How could they be?
They need to be meaningful. If your definition of meaningfullness assers its own meaninglessness, you have a problem. If you are asserting that there is truth-by-stipulation as well as truth-by-correspondence, you have a problem.
Clarity cannot be over-valued; plausibility, however, can be under-valued.
If you believe that, I have two units of clarity to sell you, for ten billion dollars.
Before posting, you should have spent a year thinking up ways to make that comment clearer.
What about mathematics, then ? Does it correspond to something "out there" ? If so, what/where is it ? If not, does this mean that math is not meaningful ?
Math is how you connect inferences. The results of mathematics are of the form 'if X, Y, and Z, then A'... so, find cases where X, Y, and Z, and then check A. It doesn't even need to be a practical problem. Every time you construct an example, that counts.
I don't see how that addresses the problem. You have said that there is one kind of truth/meanignullness, based on modelling relaity, and then you describe mathematical truth in a form that doens't match that. If any domain can have its own standards of truth, then astrologers can say there merhcandise is "astrologically true". You have anything goes. This stuff is a tricky , typically philophsical problem because the obvious answers all have problems. Saying that all truth is correspondence means that either mathematical Platonism holds -- mathematical truths correspond to the status quo in Plato's heaven--or maths isn't meaningful/true at all. Or truth isn't correspondence, it's anything goes. I don't think those problems are iresolvable, and EY has in fact suggested (but not originated) what I think is a promissing approach.
How does it not match? Take the 4 color problem. It says you're not going to be able to construct a minimally-5-color flat map. Go ahead. Try. That's the kind of example I'm talking about here. The examples are artificial, but by constructing them you are connecting the math back to reality. Artificial things are real. What? How is holding everything is held to the standard of 'predict accurately or you're wrong' the same as 'anything goes'? I mean, if astrology just wants to be a closed system that never ever says anything about the outside world... I'm not interested in it, but it suddenly ceases to be false.
That doesn't matfch reality because it would still be true in universes with different laws of physics. It isn't. It's a standard of truth that too narrow to include much of maths. That doens't follow. Astrologers can say their merchandise is about the world, and true, but not true in a way that has anything to do with correspondence or prediction.
If you're in a different universe with different laws of physics, your implementation of the 4 color problem will have to be different. Your failure to correctly map between math and reality isn't math's problem. Math, as noted above, is of the form 'if X and Y and Z, then A' - and you can definitely arrange formal equivalents to X, Y, and Z by virtue of being able to express the math in the first place. It's about the world but it doesn't correspond to anything in the world? Then the correspondence model of truth has just said they're full of shit. Victoreeee! (note: above 'victory' claim is in reference to astrologers, not you)
I don't have to implement it at all to see its truth. Maths is not just applied maths. I don't see that you mean. (Non-applied) maths is just formal, period, AFAIAC.. And Astrologers can just say that the CToT is shit and they have a better ToT.
2Rob Bensinger10y
People who have different 'theories' of truth really have different definitions of the word 'truth.' Taboo that word away, and correspondence theorists are really criticizing astrologists for failing to describe the world accurately, not for asserting coherentist 'falsehoods.' Every reasonable disputant can agree that it is possible to describe the world accurately or inaccurately; correspondence theorists are just insisting that the activity of world-describing is important, and that it counts against astrologists that they fail to describe the world. (P.S. Real astrologists are correspondence theorists. They think their doctrines are true because they are correctly describing the influence celestial bodies have on human behavior. Even idealists at least partly believe in correspondence theory; my claims about ideas in my head can still be true or false based on whether they accurately describe what I'm thinking.)
That is not at all obvious. Let "that which should be believed" be the defintiion of truth. Then a correspondence theorist and coherence theorist stlll have plenty to disagree about, even if they both hold to the definition.
0Rob Bensinger10y
Agreed. However, it's still the right view, as well as being the most useful one, since tabooing lets us figure out why people care about which 'theory' of 'truth' is.... (is what? true?). The real debate is over whether correspondence to the world is important in various discussions, not over whether everyone means the same thing ('correspondence') by a certain word ('truth'). You can stipulate whatever you want, but "that which should be believed" simply isn't a credible definition for that word. First, just about everyone thinks it's possible, in certain circumstances, to ought to believe a falsehood. Second, propositional 'belief' itself is the conviction that something is true; we can't understand belief until we first understand what truth is, or in what sense 'truth' is being used when we talk about believing something. Truth is a more basic concept than belief.
At the very least, you can make something formally equivalent if you're capable of talking about it. If your branch of mathematics is so unapplied that you can't even represent it in our universe, I suspect it's no longer math.
Any maths can be represented the way it ususally is, by writing down some essentially aribtrary symbols. That does not indicate anything about "correspondence" to reality. The problem is the "arbitrary" in arbitrary symbol. Lets say space is three dimensional. You can write down a formula for 17 dimensional space, but that doens't mean you have a chunk of 17 dimesional space for the maths to correspond to. You just have chalk on a blackboard.
Sure. And yet, you can implement vectors in 17 dimensional spaces by writing down 17-dimensional vectors in row notation. Math predicts the outcome of operations on these entities.
Right, but as Peterdjones said, in this case you have a meaningful system that does not correspond to anything besides, possibly, itself.
Example, please?
Physics uses a subset of maths, so the rest would be examples of vald (I am substituing that for "meaninful", which I am not sure how t apply here) maths that doesn;t correspond to anything external, absent Platonism.
But you can BUILD something that corresponds to that thing.
Which thing, and why does that matter?
The word "True" is overloaded in the ordinary vernacular. Eliezer's answer is to set up a separate standard [] for empirical and mathematical propositions. Empirical assertions use the label "true" when they correspond to reality. Mathematical assertions use the label "valid" when the theorem follows from the axioms.
I dont' think it is, and that's a bad answer anyway. To say that two unrelated approaches are both truth allows anthing to join the truth club, since there are no longer criteria for membership. However, there is an approach that allows pluralism, AKA "overloading", but avoids Anything Goes []
Well, I don't think that Eliezer would call mathematically valid propositions "true." I don't find that answer any more satisfying than you do. But (as your link suggests), I don't think he can do better without abandoning the correspondence theory.
Simply put, there's no one who disagrees with this point. And the correspondence theory cannot demonstrate it, even if there were a dispute. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Let me make an analogy to decision theory: In decision theory, the hard part is not figuring out the right answer in a particular problem. No one disputes that one-boxing in Newcomb's problem has the best payoff. The difficulty in decision theory is rigorously describing a decision theory that comes up with the right answer on all the problems. To make the parallel explicit, the existence of the external world is not the hard problem. The hard problem is what "true" means. For example, this comment [] is a sophisticated argument that "true" (or "meaningful") are not natural kinds. Even if he's right, that doesn't conflict with the idea of an external world.
I'm trying and failing to figure out for what reference class this is supposed to be true.
Who thinks that there isn't something out there which our ideas can model?
If I understood you correctly, then Berkeley-style Idealists would be an example. However, I have a strong suspicion that I've misunderstood you, so there's that...
Solipsists, by some meanings of "out there". More generally, skeptics. Various strong forms of relativism, though you might have to give them an inappropriately modernist interpretation to draw that out. My mother-in-law.
I need to knowpositively how to answer typical philosophhical questions such as the meaning of life. That's a re-invention of LP, which has problems well known to philosophers.
Eliezer has written quite a bit about how to do philosophy well, and I intend to do so in the future. If you'll pardon the pun, I leave you with "Why I Stopped Worrying About the Definition of Life, and Why You Should as Well []".
I ha ve read a lot of philosophy, and I don't think EY is doing it at particualrly well. His occasional cross-disciplinary insights keep me going (I'm cross disiplinary too, I started in science and work in I.T). But he often fails to communicate clearly (I still don't know whether he thinks numbers exist) and argues vaguely. I don't see your point. For one thing, I'm not on the philosohpy "side" in some sense exclusive of being on the science or CS side or whatever. For another. there are always plenty of phils. who are agin GOCFA (Good Old Fashioned Conceptual Analysis). The collective noun for philosophers is "a disagreement". Tha'ts another of my catchphrases.
Agree! Very frustrating. What I had in mind was, for example, his advice about dissolving the question [], which is not the same advice you'd get from logical positivists or (most) contemporary naturalists. Sorry, I should have been clearer that I wasn't trying to make much of a point by sending you the Machery article. I just wanted to send you a bit of snark. :)
I don't see the significance of that. You definitely get it from some notable naturalists, []
I skimmed the paper. Dennett's project is a dissolving one, though he does less to explain why we think we have qualia than Yudkowsky did with regard to why we think we have free will. But perhaps Dennett wrote something later which more explicitly sets out to explain why we think we have qualia?
Only if the question is meaningful. Of course, just saying "Don't do that then" doesn't tell you how to resolve whether that's the case or not, but necessarily expecting an answer rather than a dissolution is not necessarily correct.
Defund philosophy departments to the benefit of computer science departments?
Well, Lukeprog certainly doesn't have a limited knowledge of philosophy. Maybe you can somehow show that the problem isn't rampant.
Just see if people are arguing over it. Duh.
0Rob Bensinger10y
Amusing in light of Russell's rather exotic metaphysical views.
You can understand the difference between being a rough progenitor of a historical tradition in thought, on the one hand, and the views held by an individual, correct? Honestly I'd expected a little better than the strategy of circling of the wagons and defending the group on the site of Pure Rationality where we correct biased thinking. Turns out LW is like every other internet forum and the focus on "rationality" makes no difference in the degree biases underpinning the arguments?
Show me three of your favorite papers from the last year in ethics or meta-ethics that highlight the kind of the philosophy you think is representational of the field. (And if you've been following Lukeprog's posts for any length of time, you'd see that he's probably read more philosophy than most philosophers. His gestalt impression of the field is probably accurate.)
Also could you expand on this as I didn't catch it before the edit? It's not obvious what the "bad habits" might be, and what they are bad relative to. This reads as a claim that would be very hard to defend at face value, and without clarification it reads like a throwaway attack not to be taken seriously.

It's not obvious what the "bad habits" might be, and what they are bad relative to.

Examples of bad habits often picked up from reading too much philosophy: arguing endlessly about definitions, or using one's own intuitions as strong evidence about how the external world works. These are bad habits relative to, you know, not arguing endlessly about definitions, and using science to figure out how the world works.

Is the problem the arguing, or the arguing endlessly? In science, there is little need to argue about definitions because Someone Somewhere has settled the issue, often by stipulation. In philosophy, there is no Someone Somewhere who convenientyl does this for you. Philosophy deals with non-empirical questions (or it would be science), which means it deals with concepts, and since we access concepts with words, it deals with definitions. So the criticism that philosophers shouldn't argue definitions is tantamount to criticising philosophy for being philosophy. Uless the problem was the "endlessly". Who does that? (ETA: at least for the past one hundred years) None of your examples work that way. Questions like "what is knowledge" and "what is the right thing to do" are not about the EW.
The problem is "arguing" as compared to "investigating". If there's a disagreement about how human minds implement certain ideas, then it's more productive to do experimental psychology than to discuss it abstractly, for the usual scientific reasons: nailing it down to a prediction makes sure that the idea in question is actually coherent, and also there are a lot of potential pitfalls when humans try to use their own brains to examine their own brains. Though on the other hand, coming up with good experiments for this stuff is really tricky. As Suryc mentions above, you can't just ask people what they mean by "intentional" or whatever, you'll get garbage results. Just like how if you ask somebody with no linguistics knowledge to explain English grammar to you you'll get nonsense back, even if that person is quite capable at actually writing in English.
Also: Who says that concepts are non-empirical? Doesn't it come down to something like a scientific investigation into the operations of the human brain?
Not with current technology.
So this comes down to what you said previously about not liking people who came out of Philosophy 101, e.g., it's an argument against a philosophical tradition that does not actually exist. You mention naturalism as a "bad habit" for using science to understand the world? Do you actually understand what naturalism is and what relationship it has with science?

You mention naturalism as a "bad habit" for using science to understand the world?

No, he doesn't (which is why I downvoted this comment, BTW). Luke says that even naturalistic philosophers exhibit these bad habits. He does not say that naturalism is a bad habit, or that it's a bad habit because it uses science to understand the world.

Not quite: "Teach" implies that engaging one's self with "too much" mainstream philosophy will cause bad habits to arise (and make one unable to do 'real work', whatever that might be). Unexamined presuppositions make a wonderful basis for discourse.
7Rob Bensinger10y
I don't think that's what lukeprog meant. That said, thinking 'naturalism' is a unitary concept that the members of some relevant linguistic community or intellectual elite share is itself a startlingly good example of the sort of practice lukeprog's 'intuitions aren't shared' meme is warning about. The Stanford Encyclopedia article on naturalism [] itself begins, amusingly enough:
But calling it a "bad habit" with no justification or qualification is exempt from being an equally good (better, in fact, given that I'd not at all expanded on naturalism and certainly not with a dismissive one-liner) example of the "corrective"? PS -- the Stanford Encyclopedia is as good a "proof" as posting a link from Wikipedia. There is (of course) debate in philosophy, but to claim that "naturalism" encourages "bad habits" is just plain sloppy thinking and a strawman built against equally sloppy philosophy undergrads. If intuitions aren't reliable, then this entire line of thought is unreliable :-)
1Rob Bensinger10y
To be frank, although I speak for myself and not lukeprog, framing the scientific method or world-view in terms of 'naturalism,' or in terms of a nature/'supernature' dichotomy, is a bad habit. I can't say much more than that until you explain what you personally mean by 'naturalism.' I don't follow. A Stanford Encyclopedia is much better evidence for the professional consensus of philosophers than is a Wikipedia article. Are you alluding to the fact that we all rely on intuitions in our everyday reason? If so, this is an important point. The take-away message from philosophy's excesses is not 'Avoid all intuitions.' It's 'Scrutinize intuitions to determine which ones we have reason to expect to match the contours of the territory.' The successes of philosophy -- successes like 'science' and 'mathematics' and 'logic' -- are formalized and heavily scrutinized networks of intuitions, intuitions that we have good empirical reason to think happen to be of a rare sort that correspond to the large-scale structure of reality. Most of our intuitions aren't like that, though they may still be useful and interesting in other respects.
I'm thinking of naturalism as broadly accepted by modern analytic philosophy, in Quine's terms and in more modern constructions which emphasize i) that the natural world is the "only" world (this is not to be confused with a dualistic opposition to anything "supernatural"; the supernatural is simply ruled out as an option) and ii) that science is a preferred means of obtaining knowledge about said world. I realize that's less clear than you may want, but the vagueness of the term is part of why I found it objectionable to treat is as instilling "bad habits". Well, indirectly, but the specific point was that the argument presented here is an intuition about what goes on in philosophy, what constitutes the current trends and debates within the discipline, and so on, and it appears to me that it is more strawman than a rigorous reply to those activities. Given that it's an intuition underpinning an article about the unreliability of intuitions, can appreciate the meta-humor I found there. Of course, and as I've relayed in other comments, this is no insight to philosophers -- philosophers already do this. We could of course point out instances where the philosopher's argument is predicated on validating intutions, but even there you are guaranteed to see a more nuanced position than the uncritical acceptance of common-sense intuitions, and as such even those positions mandate more than a sweeping dismissal. And ethics/meta-ethics, moral theory, social theory, aesthetics...all of these are, at least in part, beyond the realm of the empirical, and it is a philosophical stance you have taken which puts them in the realm of the physical and empirical or else excludes their reality (if you go the eliminativist route). These domains are arguably as successful at what they do as math and logic have been in their respective domains, and frankly they don't operate anything like what you've described (re: empirically-discovered relations to the large scale of rea
1Rob Bensinger10y
Define "natural world" so that it's clearer how the above is non-tautological. If you aren't denying or opposing anything, then what work is "only" doing in the sense "the natural world is the only world"? What does it mean in this context to 'rule out as an option' something? How does this differ from 'opposing' an option? Define 'science,' while you're at it. Is looking out the window science? Is logical deduction science? Is logical deduction science when your premises are 'about the world'? Same question for mathematical reasoning. I'd think most scientists in their daily lives would actually consider logical or mathematical reasoning stronger than, 'preferred' over, any scientific observation or theory. The vagueness of the term 'naturalism' is the primary reason it's a bad habit to define your methods or world-view in terms of it. I don't know what you mean by 'beyond the realm of the empirical.' Plenty of logic and mathematics also transcends the observable. I think we'd get a lot further in this discussion if we started defining or tabooing 'science,' 'philosophy,' 'empirical,' 'natural,' etc. To be honest, this sentence here pretty much sums up what I think is wrong with modern philosophy. There is virtually no content to 'naturalism' or 'scientism,' beyond the fact that both are associated with science and the former has a positive connotation, while the latter has a negative connotation. Thus we see much of the modern philosophical (and pop-philosophical) discourse consumed in hand-wringing over whether something is 'naturalistic' (goodscience! happy face!) or whether something is 'scientistic' (badscience! frowny face!), and the whole framing does nothing but obscure what's actually under debate. Any non-trivial definition of 'naturalism' and 'scientism' will allow that a reasonable scientist might be forced to forsake naturalism, or adopt scientism, in at least some circumstances; and any circular or otherwise trivial one is not worth discussing.
In that there is "no more than", in ontological terms, there are no other fundamental categories of being. I don't have to explicitly deny that unicorns exist in order to rule them out of any taxonomy of equine animals. If you've presupposed a worldview that allows for "supernatural" or "mystical" or Cartesian mind-substance or what have you, then of course the opposition seems obvious, but modern analytical naturalism as it stands makes no such allowance. This is why we cannot take our presuppositions for granted. You don't have the space on this forum for that debate. However, for pragmatic purposes, let's (roughly) call it the social activity of institutionalized formal empirical inquiry, inclusive of the error-correcting norms and structures meant to filter our systematic errors. Maybe if you didn't take flippant comments and run with them you wouldn't encounter this problem. I brought up naturalism because I found it hilarious that "even modern analytic philosophy" teaches these laughably vague "bad habits" -- which you still seem surprisingly unconcerned with, given the far more serious issues there -- and contemporary naturalism as practiced by many philosophers in the English-speaking world is as pro-science a set of ideas as you'll find. Spiraling it out into this protracted debate about whether we can accurately define naturalism -- on your terms, no less -- is not the point of the exercise (and I suspect it's only happened to take the focus off the matter at hand: that there is no adequate account of these "bad habits" and we're seeing an interference play to keep eyes off it). Yes I'm well aware of the dislike of anything intrinsically opposed to the formal and computable around these parts, and I also find that position to be laughable (and a shining example of why you folks need to engage with philosophy rather than jumping head-first into troubling [and equally laughable] moral-ethical positions). But, as per the thread, there is a more interest
No. It's an argument against a philosophical tradition that does exist. In this "Philosophy by Humans" sub-sequence, it seems like the most common response I get is, "No, philosophers can't actually be that stupid," even though my post went to the trouble of quoting philosophers saying "Yes, this thing here is our standard practice."
I'll say it again: by "intuition" they might mean "shared intuition", in which case they are doing nothing wrong so long as there are some, and so long as they rejected purported intuitions which aren't shared.
So? I can quote scientists saying all manner of stupid, bizarre, unintuitive things...but my selection of course sets up the terms of the discussion. If I choose a sampling that only confirms my existing bias against scientists, then my "quotes" are going to lead to the foregone conclusion. I don't see why "quoting" a few names is considered evidence of anything besides a pre-existing bias against philosophy. On a second and more important point, you've yet to elaborate on why having a debate about ethics is problematic in the first place. Your appeal to Eliezer and his vague handwaving about "bad habits" and "real work" (which range from "too vague" to "nonsensical" depending on how charitable you want to be) is not persuasive, so I'd ask again: what is wrong with philosophy doing what it is supposed to do, i.e., examine ideas? I realize that declaring it "wrong" by fiat seems to be the rule around here, if the comments are any indication, but from the philosophical standpoint that's a laughable argument to make, and it's not persuasive to anyone who doesn't already share your presuppositions.
So you're worried about the problem of filtered evidence []. Throughout this sequence, I've given lots of citations and direct quotes of philosophers doing things — and saying that they're doing things — which don't make sense given certain pieces of scientific evidence. Can you, then, provide citations or quotes of philosophers saying "No, we aren't really appealing to intuitions in this way?" I'll bet you can find a few, but I don't think they'll say that their own approach is the standard one. You're asking me to do all the work, here. I've provided examples and evidence, and you've just flatly denied my examples and evidence without providing any counterexamples or counterevidence. That's logically rude []. Here, you managed to straw man me twice in a single paragraph. I never said that debates about ethics are problematic, and I never said there's something wrong with philosophy examining ideas. I've only ever said that specific, particular ways of examining ideas or having philosophical debates are problematic, and I've explained in detail why those specific, particular methods are problematic. You're just ignoring what I've actually said, and what I have not said. Again, I'm the one who bothered to provide examples and evidence for my position. You're the one who keeps declaring things wrong without providing any examples and evidence to support your own view. Declaring something wrong without providing reason or evidence is against the cultural norm around here, and you are the one who is violating it.
Improving upon this: why care about what the worst of a field has to say? It's the 10% (stergeon's law) that aren't crap that we should care about. The best material scientists give us incremental improvements in our materials technology, and the worst write papers that are never read or do research that is never used. But what do the best philosophers of meta-ethics give us? More well examined ideas? How would you measure such a thing? How can those best philosophers know they're making progress? How can they improve the tools they use? Why should we fund philosophy departments?
1Rob Bensinger10y
The best ethical philosophers give us the foundations of utility calculation, clarify when we can (and can't) derive facts and values from each other, generate heuristics and frameworks within which to do politics and resolve disputes over goals and priorities. The best metaphysicians give us scientific reasoning, novel interpretations of quantum mechanics, warnings of scientists becoming overreliant on some component of common sense, and new empirical research programs (Einstein's most important work consisted of metaphysical thought experiments). The best logicians and linguistic philosophers give us the propositional calculus, knowledge of valid and invalid forms, etc., etc. Even if you think the modalists and dialetheists are crazy, you can be very thankful to them for developing modal and paraconsistent logics that have valuable applications outside of traditional philosophical disputes. And, of course, philosophy in general is useful for testing the tools of our trade. We can be more confident of and skilled in our reasoning in specific domains, like physics and electrical engineering and differential calculus, when those tools have been put to the test in foundational disputes. A bad Philosophy 101 class can lead to hyperskepticism or metaphysical dogmatism, but a good Philosophy 101 class can lead to a healthy skepticism mixed with intellectual curiosity and dynamism. Ultimately, the reason to fund 'philosophy' departments is that there is no such thing as 'philosophy;' what the departments in question are really teaching is how to think carefully about the most difficult questions. The actual questions have nothing especially in common, beyond their difficulty, their intractability before our ordinary methods.
I'm a bit worried that your conception of philosophy is riding on the coat tails of long-past-philosophy where the distinction between philosophy, math, and science were much more blurred than they are now. Being generous, do you have any examples from the last few decades (that I can read about)? I'll agree with you that having some philosophical training is better than none in that it can be useful in getting a solid footing in basic critical thinking skills, but then if that's a philosophy department's purpose then it doesn't need to be funded beyond that.
0Rob Bensinger10y
Could you taboo/define 'philosophy,' 'math,' and 'science' for me in a way that clarifies exactly how they don't overlap? It'd be very helpful. Is there any principled reason, for example, that theoretical physics [] cannot be philosophy? Or is some theoretical physics philosophy, and some not? Is there a sharp line, or a continuum between the two kinds of theoretical physics? If that's a philosophy department's purpose, and nothing else can fulfill the same purpose, then philosophy departments are vastly underfunded as it stands. (Though I agree the current funding could be better managed.) But the real flaw is that we think of philosophy as a college thing. Philosophical training should be fully integrated into quite early-age education in logical, scientific, mathematical, moral, and other forms of reasoning.
I didn't say they don't overlap. I said the distinctions have become less blurred (I think because of the need for increased specialization in all intellectual endeavours as we accumulate more knowledge). I define philosophy, math, and science by their professions. That is, their university departments, their journals, their majors, their textbooks, and so on. Hence, I think the best way to ask if "philosophy" is a worthwhile endeavour is to asked "why should we fund philosophy departments?" A better way to ask that question is "why should we fund philosophy research and professional philosophers (as opposed to teachers of basic philosophy)?" And though while I think basic philosophy can be helpful in getting a footing in critical thinking, I also think CFAR is considerably better at teaching critical thinking. I don't see any principled reason for why we can't all be generalists without labels. Practical reasons, yes.
0Rob Bensinger10y
I thought you were saying that the distinctions have become less blurred? Now I'm confused. That's fine for some everyday purposes. But if we want to distinguish the useful behaviors in each profession from the useless ones, and promote the best behaviors both among laypeople and among professionals, we need more fine-grained categories than just 'everything that people who publish in journals seen as philosophy journals do.' I think it would be useful to distinguish Professional Philosophy, Professional Science, and Professional Mathematics from the basic human practices of philosophizing, doing science, or reasoning mathematically. Something in the neighborhood of these ideas would be quite useful: mathematics: carefully and systematically reasoning about quantity, or (more loosely) about the quantitative properties and relationships of things. philosophy: carefully reasoning about generalizations, via 'internal' reflection (phenomenology, thought experiments, conceptual analysis, etc.), in a moderately (more than shamanic storytelling, less than math or logic) systematic way. science: carefully collecting empirical data, and carefully reasoning about its predictive and transparently ontological significance. Do you think these would be useful fast-and-ready definitions for everyday promotion of scientific, philosophical, and mathematical literacy? Would you modify any of them?
Yup, my bad. You caught me before my edit. I think you're reifying abstraction and doing so will introduce pitfalls when discussing them. Math, science, and philosophy are the abstracted output of their respective professions. If you take away science's competitive incentive structure or change its mechanism of output (journal articles) then you're modifying science. If you install a self-improving recursive feedback cycle with reality in philosophy, then I think you've recreated math and science within philosophy (because science is fundamentally concrete reasoning while math is abstract reasoning and philosophy carries both). If I'm going to promote something to laypeople, it's that a mechanism of recursive self-improvement is desirable. There's plenty to unpack there, though. Like you need a measure of improvement that contacts reality.
0Rob Bensinger10y
I think your definitions are more abstract than mine. For me, mathematics, philosophy, and science are embodied brain behaviors — modes of reasoning. For you, if I'm understanding you right, they're professions, institutions, social groups, population-wide behaviors. Sociology is generally considered more abstract or high-level than psychology. (Of course, I don't reject your definitions on that account; denying the existence of philosophizing or of professional philosophy because one or the other is 'abstract' would be as silly as denying the existence of abstractions like debt, difficulty, truth, or natural selection. I just think your abstraction is of somewhat more limited utility than mine, when our goal is to spread good philosophizing, science, and mathematics rather than to treat the good qualities of those disciplines as the special property of a prestigious intellectual elite belonging to a specific network of organizations.) Feedback cycles are great, but we don't need to build them into our definition of 'science' in order to praise science for happening to possess them; if we put each scientist on a separate island, their work might suffer as a result, but it's not clear to me that they would lose all ability to do anything scientific, or that we should fail to clearly distinguish the scientifically-minded desert-islander for his unusual behaviors. Also, it's not clear in what sense mathematics has a self-improving recursive feedback cycle with reality. Actually, mathematics and philosophy seem to function very analogously in terms of their relationship to reality and to science. I'm not sure that's the best approach. Telling people to find a recursively self-improving method is not likely to be as effective as giving them concrete reasoning skills (like how to perform thought experiments, or how to devise empirical hypotheses, or how to multiply quantities) and then letting intelligent society-wide behaviors emerge via the marketplace of ideas (or
You're kind of understanding me. Abstractly, bee hives produce honey. Concretely, this bee hive in front of me is producing honey. Abstractly, science is the product of professions, institutions, ect. Concretely, science is the product of people on our planet doing stuff. I'm literally trying to not talk about abstractions or concepts but science as it actually is. And of course, science as it actually is does things that we can then categorize into abstractions like feedback cycles. But when you say science is a bunch of abstractions (like I think your definitions are), then you're missing out on what it actually is. This is exactly why I want to avoid defining science with abstractions. It literally does not make sense if you think of science as it is. "Scientific" imports essentialism. Mathematics is self-improving while at the same time hinging on reality. This is tricky to explain so I might come back to it tomorrow when I'm more well rested (i.e., not drunk). No, I think that kernel (and we are speaking in the context of "fast-and-ready") of thought is really the most important thing to convey. Speaking abstractly, even science doesn't take that kernel seriously enough. It doesn't question how it should allocate its limited resources or improve its function. This is costing millions of lives, untold suffering, and perhaps our species continued existence. But it does employ a self-improving feedback cycle on reality which is just enough for it to uncover reality. It needs to install a self-improving feedback cycle on itself. And then we need a self-improving feedback cycle on feedback cycles. I can't think of any abstraction more important in making progress with something.
0Rob Bensinger10y
It sounds like you're conflating abstract/concrete with general/particular. But a universal generalization might just be the conjunction of a lot of particulars. I prefer to think of 'abstract' as 'not spatially extended or localized.' Societies are generally considered more abstract than mental states because mental states are intuitively treated as more localized. But 'lots of mental states' is not more abstract than 'just one mental state,' in the same way that thousands of bees (or 'all the bees,' in your example) can be just as concrete as a single bee. We're back at square one. I still don't see why reasoning is more abstract than professions, institutions, etc. We agree that it all reduces to human behaviors on some level. But the 'abstract vs. concrete' discussion is a complete tangent. What's relevant is whether it's useful to have separate concepts of 'the practice of science' vs. 'professional science,' the former being something even laypeople can participate in by adopting certain methodological standards. I think both concepts are useful. You seem to think that only 'professional science' is a useful concept, at least in most cases. Is that a fair summary? Counterfactuals don't make sense if you think of things as they are? I don't think that's true in any nontrivial sense.... 'Scientific' is not any more guilty of essentializing than are any of our other fuzzy, ordinary-language terms. There are salient properties associated with being a scientist; I'm suggesting that many of those clustered properties, in particular many of the ones we most care about when we promote and praise things like 'science' and 'naturalism,' can occur in isolated individuals. If you don't like calling what I'm talking about 'scientific,' then coin a different word for it; but we need some word. We need to be able to denote our exemplary decision procedures, just to win the war of ideas. 'Professional science' is not an exemplary decision procedure, any more than 'the bui
I prefer to think of it as anything existing at least partly in mind, and then we can say we have an abstraction of an abstraction or that something something is more abstract (something from category theory being a pure abstraction, while something like the category "dog" being less abstract because it connects with a pattern of atoms in reality). By their nature, abstractions are also universals, but things that actually exist like the bee hive in front of me aren't particulars at the concrete level. The specific bee hive in my mind that I'm imagining is a particular, or the "bee hive" that I'm seeing and interpreting into a bee hive in front of me is also a particular, but the bee hive is just a "pattern" of atoms. I think that you're stuck in noun-land while I'm in verb-land [], but I don't think noun-land is concrete (it's an abstraction). Framing those concepts in terms of usefulness isn't helpful, I think. I'd simply say the laypeople are doing something different unless they're contributing to our body of knowledge. In which case, science as it is requires that those laypeople interact with science as it is (journals and such). No, I mean thinking of someone as being scientific doesn't make sense if you think of science as it is because e.g. the sixth grader at the science fair that we all "scientific" isn't interacting with science as it is. We're taking some essential properties we pattern match in science as it is, and then we abstract them, and then we apply them by pattern matching. We can imagine an immortal human being on another planet replicating everything science has done on Earth thus far. So, yes I think it can occur in isolated individuals, but that's only because the individual has taken on everything that science is and not some like "carefully collecting empirical data, and carefully reasoning about its predictive and transparently ontological significance." If I'm
2Rob Bensinger10y
That's problematic, first, because it leaves mind itself in a strange position. And second because, if mathematical platonism (for example) were true, then there would exist abstract objects that are mind-independent. You seem to be assuming the pattern-matching of this sort is a vice. If it's useful to mark the pattern in question, and we recognize that we're doing so for utilitarian reasons and not because there's a transcendent Essence of Scienceyness, then the pattern-matching is benign. It's how humans think, and we can't become completely inhuman if our goal is to take the rest of mankind with us into the future. Not yet, anyway. Religions are also feedback loops. The more I believe, the more my belief gets confirmed. Remarkable! The primary problem with this ultra-attenuated notion of what we want is that all the work is being done by the black-box normative terms like 'improvement' and 'better' and 'optimal.' Everything we're actually trying to concretely teach is hidden behind those words. We also need more content than 'working with a feedback loop from reality'; that kind of metaphorical talk might fly on LessWrong, but it's really a summary of some implicit intuitions we already share, not instruction we could in those words convey to someone who doesn't already see what we're getting at. After all, everything exists in a back-and-forth with reality, and everything is for that matter part of reality. Perhaps my formulations of what we want are too concrete; but yours are certainly too abstract and underdetermined.
This seems reasonable.
Agreed. What is critical here is whether there are better habits.

The point is very well-made. But it's not a philosophy-specific one. Mathematicians with a preferred ontology or axiomatization, theoretical physicists with a preferred nonstandard model or QM interpretation, also have to face up to the fact that neither intuitiveness nor counter-intuitiveness is a credible guide to truth — even in cases where there is no positive argument contesting the intuition. Some account is needed for why we should expect intuitions in the case in question to pick out truths.

What else have we got (one)? We might accept QM's counterintuitive ideas about locality and causality on the basis of trust in empiricism. But where is the nonintutive basis for empiricism? Epistemology grounds out in intuitions as much as anything else. So when we accpet the counterintuitive content of QM, we are sacrificing one intuition to another. What else have we got (two)? In mathematics, a theorem is considerred true if it is an axiom or derivable from an axiom. What third thing is there that would make an axiom true? It is not that intutitve axioms have some guarantee to fulfil some external criterion of truth (to correspond to affairs in Plato's Heaven perhaps) it is that there is no external criterion.
0Rob Bensinger10y
Epistemology and ethics, construed as systems or normative rules, must certainly hit rock bottom at some point -- in values, in concerns, in interests. But that's a foundational point, and I'm not sure we should retain the logic of criterionless foundational decisions once we're done with the founding. I'm not sure 'assuming empiricism' is the foundation in question, though. Depending on what you mean by 'empiricism,' it might go at least a level or two deeper. My point was that if you're going to criticize most philosophers for abusing intuitiveness, you should criticize most mathematicians for abusing it to an even greater degree. Mathematical realists, and mathematical platonists in particular -- a majority of mathematicians, as far as I'm aware -- are of the view that some mathematical structures we could build are right and others are just wrong, for one reason or another. What worries me isn't that the arguments for realism and platonism are weak; what worries me is that most mathematicians don't seem to even feel that they need to provide an argument to take this view seriously, as though the very act of noticing the intuition gave them reason to update in favor of realism.
I don't see what you're gettig at all. If there are ciiteria for being "foundational", how could they not be even more foundational? If there aren;t, how could foundations not be criterionless? Then what would it be? Are you sayign empricisim has intutivie or apriori sub-foundations? Personally, I wasn;t criticising phis. for abusing intutiveness.
0Rob Bensinger10y
I'm not saying there are criteria for making foundational decisions. (Though there may be causes. A cause differs from a criterion in that not all causes give me reasons to decide as I do.) I'm saying that we should be very wary about letting the arbitrariness of criterionless choices infect criterionful ones. As I said, it depends on what you mean by 'empiricism.' So, what do you mean by it?
Do we have a choice? How to we protect any choice when it ultimately has an aribtrary foundation? I don't see why: the problem seems to affect eveything. "Empiricism is a theory of knowledge that asserts that knowledge comes only or primarily from sensory experience."
4Rob Bensinger10y
By choosing to treat non-foundational issues in a single unified way that is distinct from how we treat foundational issues, we keep our thought more ordered and localize whatever problems there might be to our axioms. I see no need to assume such a doctrine. If it turned out to be false (say, if we were programmed from birth with many innate truths), we could still do science. It's also worth noting that the logically knowable truths are far greater in number than the empirically knowable ones.
That just says they are different. They have to be, because we can pin non-foundational issues to foundationail issues, but we can't pin foundational issues to foundational issues. However a difference is not the difference* -- the differnce tha would show that any arbitrariness of foundations affects what is founded on them I suppose there could be a weak empiricism that just fills out the gaps in apriopri reasoning. However, it is doubtful that apriori reasoning can supply truth at all. See below. So long as you are willing to accept valid derivations from arbitrary premises as actually true. One can derive all sorts of things from the cheesiness of the Moon..
Can you explain what makes you conclude this inequality? It isn't obvious to me.
4Rob Bensinger10y
Sure. p → p is a logical truth. p → (p → p) is also a logical truth. So too p → (p → (p → p)). You can iterate this procedure to build arbitrarily long assertions. Likewise for mathematical equations. I don't think that what we ordinarily mean by 'empirical facts' can be generated so easily. The empirical facts are a vanishingly small subset of the things we can know.
If that sort of thing is acceptable, can't I also generate new empirical truths by for example just concatenating existing truths together? Say "The moon orbits the Earth, and George Washington was the first President"? That seems to be very close to what you are doing. Worse, I can use counterfactuals in a similar fashion, so "If homeopathy works then the moon is made out of green cheese" becomes an empirical truth? There's an argument here that these statements I'm using are mixes of empirical and logical truth, and if one buys into that then it seems like you are correct.
4Rob Bensinger10y
That still will only get you as many truths as there are combinations of empirical facts. A better method is to use disjunction: Since 'The moon orbits the Earth' is true 'The moon orbits the Earth or is a hamster' is true; hence 'Either the moon orbits the earth or is a hamster, or the moon is a hamster' is also true. And so on. Here we do get infinite strings, if we want them. But at this point it's not clear to me that these new truths are 'empirical facts.' If so, then the class of empirical truths is indeed comparable in size to the class of logical truths. And just how 'empirical' are counterfactuals? I don't know. I try to avoid them when possible. There be dragons.
4Rob Bensinger10y
You could also concatenate truths with themselves. 'The moon orbits the Earth, and the moon orbits the Earth, and the moon orbits the Earth....'
Not in English, I'd say. But you do get an infinite set of finite strings of arbitrary length.
8Rob Bensinger10y
'Rule 338(b) of the English Language: Sentences stop being grammatical when the number of morphemes equals ω₁. Seriously. Don't do that shit. It's obnoxious.'
I'm convinced. Thanks.
Check this out. []
They're all just valid. You haven't got to sound yet. OK, I see what you mean better now. For one single empirical fact (sound premise) on can generate an infinite number of sound logical sentences, which basically say the same thing in ever more complicated ways. If p is true, (p & T) is true as are (p & T &T..). Many people have the instict that these are trivial "cambridge" truths and don;t add up to konwing an extra countable infinity of facts every time you learn one empirical fact. It would be intersting to think about how that pans out in terns of the JTB theory.
2Rob Bensinger10y
'Valid' and 'sound' are predicated of arguments. 'p → p' and the other sentences I listed are sentences, not arguments. Sentences are true or false, not valid or invalid, nor sound or unsound. Perhaps, but it will be a pretty huge project to explain 'know' in a way that clearly distinguishes the 'fake' knowledge from the real stuff.
I think a semantic check is in order. Intuition can be defined as an immediate cognition of a thought that is not inferred by a previous cognition of the same thought. This definition allows for prior learning to impact intuition. Trained mathematicians will make intuitive inferences based on their training, these can be called breakthroughs when they are correct. It would be highly improbable for an untrained person to have the same intuition or accurate intuitive thoughts about advanced math. Intuition can also be defined as untaught, non-inferential, pure knowledge. This would seem to invalidate the example above since the mathematician had a cognition that relied on inferences from prior teachings. Arriving at an agreement on which definition this thread is using will help clarify comments.
2Rob Bensinger10y
The former definition sounds more promising. "Untaught" and "pure" are scary qualifiers to ask philosophers to be committed to when they probe themselves (or others) with thought experiments. Philosophical intuitions might be less rigorous or systematic than mathematical ones, but it's not as though they come free of cultural trappings or environmental influences.

Does it matter how much the diversity correlates with gender, society, etc.? If they're basing it on the fact that our intuitions are shared, and they aren't shared, what difference does it make if our gender is shared?

Bit of an implied false dichotomy, or at least an uncharitable reading.

You should get near universal agreement for stating that our intuitions are not strictly universally shared. Even the relevant quote you used qualified the "universally shared" with a "more or less".

Since we do share a cognitive architecture with many common elements, we should expect that - analogous to our various utility functions for which we surmise the existence of a CEV - there is a CEV-concept-analogon usable for philosophical intuitions, a sort of CEI. Whe... (read more)

Indeed - like most philosophy, x-phi focuses on the controversial questions, so the conclusion that intuitions generally vary is not justified. However, for this reason it's a fairly effective attack on philosophy which attempts to use exactly those intuitions to solve exactly those questions.

Philosophy isn't the only discipline that uses intuition to adjudicate between theories. Even physicists rely on intuitive notions of "simplicity" when arguing for one model over another.

Though most of the time they use straightforward formal notions of simplicity.

Following the sequence link at the top, I found this similar post, which has an impressive list of references. You include there this paper by Timothy Williamson. It seems to me an oversight you don't mention the paper's argument at all, as it's a sustained critique of the position you're representing.

The basic idea is that the kind of doubts about intuitions you raise are relevantly similar to more familiar forms of philosophical scepticism (scepticism about the external world, etc). I understand Williamson sees a dilemma: either they are mistaken for the... (read more)

In fairness there are potential issues here with signalling and culture. Although people might profess to believe X, in reality X just might be a more common type of cached knowledge, or X might be something that they say because they think it is socially useful, or as a permutation of those two they might have conditioned themselves to believe in X. Or, perhaps they interpret the meaning of "X" differently than others do, but they really mean the same thing underneath.

I think there should be a distinction between types of intuitions, or at least... (read more)

For one thing, we would never assume that people of all kinds would share our intuitions.

Here are some circumstances where we should:-

First we define "intuition" as a basic idea or principle that we need , and which can't be derived from anything else.

Secondly, we further stipulate that intutions must be shared.

Thirdly, we use empirical philosophy to reject any purported intuitions that don't meet the last criterion.

Fourthly: If the result is a non-empty set, we should accept that there are shared intuitions.

But then, if we do that, we haven't assumed it. We've carefully selected and tested and research which ones are actually shared.
The second stage means we have assumed there are no non-shared intuitions. The fourth stage just established that the set of stipulatively shared intutions isn't empty.
How exactly does this differ from the "No true Scotsman" fallacy []? First and second, we define "true Scottsman" as what we want him to be. Third, we reject everyone who does not meet our definition. Fourth, hopefully there remains at least one person compatible with our definition.
I'm well aware of the parallel. But a lot of LWer's seem to approve of the TSD when it takes the form redefining a term scientifically. ETA: case in point []