Can't Pursue the Art for its Own Sake? Really?

by Ronny2 min read20th Sep 201114 comments

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Can anyone tell me why it is that if I use my rationality exclusively to improve my conception of rationality I fall into an infinite recursion? EY say's this in The Twelve Virtues and in Something to Protect, but I don't know what his argument is. He goes as far as to say that you must subordinate rationality to a higher value.

I understand that by committing yourself to your rationality you lose out on the chance to notice if your conception of rationality is wrong. But what if I use the reliability of win that a given conception of rationality offers me as the only guide to how correct that conception is. I can test reliability of win by taking a bunch of different problems with known answers that I don't know, solving them using my current conception of rationality and solving them using the alternative conception of rationality I want to test, then checking the answers I arrived at with each conception against the right answers. I could also take a bunch of unsolved problems and attack them from both conceptions of rationality, and see which one I get the most solutions with. If I solve a set of problems with one, that isn't a subset of the set of problems I solved with the other, then I'll see if I can somehow take the union of the two conceptions. And, though I'm still not sure enough about this method to use it, I suppose I could also figure out the relative reliability of two conceptions by making general arguments about the structures of those conceptions; if one conception is "do that which the great teacher says" and the other is "do that which has maximal expected utility", I would probably not have to solve problems using both conceptions to see which one most reliably leads to win.

And what if my goal is to become as epistimically rational as possible. Then I would just be looking for the conception of rationality that leads to truth most reliably. Testing truth by predictive power.

And if being rational for its own sake just doesn't seem like its valuable enough to motivate me to do all the hard work it requires, let's assume that I really really care about picking the best conception of rationality I know of, much more than I care about my own life.

It seems to me that if this is how I do rationality for its own sake — always looking for the conception of goal-oriented rationality which leads to win most reliably, and the conception of epistemic rationality which leads to truth most reliably — then I'll always switch to any conception I find that is less mistaken than mine, and stick with mine when presented with a conception that is more mistaken, provided I am careful enough about my testing. And if that means I practice rationality for its own sake, so what? I practice music for its own sake too. I don't think that's the only or best reason to pursue rationality, certainly some other good and common reasons are if you wanna figure something out or win. And when I do eventually find something I wanna win or figure out that no one else has (no shortage of those), if I can't, I'll know that my current conception isn't good enough. I'll be able to correct my conception by winning or figuring it out, and then thinking about what was missing from my view of rationality that wouldn't let me do that before. But that wouldn't mean that I care more about winning or figuring some special fact than I do about being as rational as possible; it would just mean that I consider my ability to solve problems a judge of my rationality.

I don't understand what I loose out on if I pursue the Art for its own sake in the way described above. If you do know of something I would loose out on, or if you know Yudkowsky's original argument showing the infinite recursion when you motivate yourself to be rational by your love of rationality, then please comment and help me out.  Thanks ahead of time.

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