interesting post eliezer!
i think there probably is a genuine norm for truth-telling in some contexts, and we punish people who don't tell the truth, but not in others.
so we throw someone in jail for perjury but we don't punish someone for lying about liking the dinner they were just served.
there's a value in deception and a value in truth, i suppose, and for our benefit, it makes sense to use both at times, i suspect.
knowing when lying and truth-telling are valuable does seem to require some commitment to looking into what is the truth of a matter.
i'm inclined to replace self-deception with a lethargy to investigate some possible leads to the truth with great energy, presumably because such behavior was self-protective and rewarded by evolutionary processes.
my feeling about a sort of absolute commitment to expressing the truth is that the instinct to be a truth-teller despite social costs does have some value--'this guy tells the truth even when it hurts him. we want the unvarnished truth, we go to him. we should make sure he sticks around to cut through the nonsense.'
there's a danger in everyone being that way in a interdependent group though, it seems to me, because when you're at war with another group, you don't want everyone expressing the battle plans to the enemy, or being unable to deceive and reap its strategic benefits.
"The primary thing is to help others, whatever the means. So shut up and multiply!"
Would you submit to torture for 50 years to save countless people? I'm not sure I would, but I think I'm more comfortable with the idea of being self-interested and seeing all things through the prism of self interest.
Similar problem: if you had this choice--you can die peacefully and experience no afterlife, or literally experience hell for 100 years if one was rewarded with an eternity of heaven, would you choose the latter? Calculating which provides the greatest utility, the latter would be preferable, but I'm not sure I would choose it.
For me, the main point is incremental advancement towards perfection means expending resources and creating other consequences. The questions ultimately have to be 'how much is it worth to move closer to perfection? What other consequences probably will happen?' This question obviously depends on your context. It appears that some kinds of perfectionism, as far as I can tell, have negative effects on the holder of perfectionistic standards, in the view of psychologists, relevant experts on the matter, and that costs have to be considered when moving in the direction of perfection--and it might even be worthwhile to move away from perfection in one context if the costs are too great and benefits too small.
That said, I think the ethos of this blog seems to be "We're too comfortable with our imperfections in thinking," which I think is true enough. On the other hand, emphasizing how bad or dopey we are is depressing or off-putting, true though it may be in many cases, and focusing on how we'd be happier and more powerful with less bias is exciting, and it can be fun (lots of people like betting, which can help us see our biases, for example).
I've just read a little on evolutionary psychology and processes, so forgive me if I make an obvious error--I am trying to figure out how one would separate individual selection--choosing for your own fitness, versus selection for the fitness of a group of individuals.
I presumably am trying to bring into the world as many children that can survive and thrive, if I understand right, and this might, and does with humans, imply I am concerned for their well-being, since not being concerend for my infant child's wellbeing hurts my own fitness.
But could it be I am also interested in my brother's fitness, and my cousin's fitness, and so forth, because they have some of my genes? So from idividual traits that favor ones own genes being passed on, one acts in a somewhat group-oriented way (what is good for my children, my brothers, cousins, people who look like me, think and talk like me--assuming they are more probable to have more of my genes than not) et c. Is it that we favor people who are as much like us (physically and in behavior perhaps too--perhaps including belief-inclinations) as possible because they are more probable to be related to us genetically, and therefor helping them helps out own genes pass on and propagate?
Kaj, looking into it more, I think you're closer to the mark than me overall.
That said, I'm unclear if Eliezer's attitude is healthy or not by these standards. "All-or-nothing-thinking" associated with perfectionism seems to be considered negative, if one can trust the wikipedia article.
Kaj, I'm not asking him to reply to psychologists. Do you believe psychologists generally approve of perfectionism, or are indifferent to it?
What do you know about psychology that makes you superior to psychologists in general? Chances are experts know more about their field than you do.
Eliezer, I think most psychologists would probably say perfectionism is a bad thing. What would your response to them be?
I loved the Tao is Silent too. You seem like you're on the same page as Smullyan to me! Recall the chapter in which three people talk about making an effort--one everything is easy for, one person everythign is hard for, and another is in the middle, IIRC. I took it as different people have different natures, and trying to change those natures is a bit like being the Horse Trainer who harms the horses in his effort to make them 'better'. Edison was an inefficient workhorse perhaps, whereas Tesla was a more efficient type. But they both achieved great things.
I do wonder if Rand was a sort of an evangelist in a sense for a more reasoned-out philosophy than what existed and maybe she thought something like, "Okay, this is good enough for now--now I'm going to go out and spread the word of this particular philosophy." Certainty does have a certain rhetorical use, and if it persuades people away form a less reasonable approach, maybe it's worthwhile. If we all sat around waiting for perfect knowledge before we started talking about our ideas, we'd never speak.
Not to say I necessarily endorse Rand's approach--my impression is she was too rigid, but at the same time, did she do a service for advancing better ideas than the average to the general public? I think a decent case could be made for her on that count.