All of mikerpiker's Comments + Replies

Philosophical Landmines

I used to occasionally remark that consequentialism is a slam-dunk as far as practical every-day rationality goes; if you care about what happens, you think about what will happen as a result of possible actions. Duh.

The predictable consequence of this sort of statement is that someone starts going off about hospitals and terrorists ?and organs and moral philosophy and consent and rights and so on. This may be controversial, but I would say that causing this tangent constitutes a failure to communicate the point. Instead of prompting someone to think, you

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1[anonymous]9yI rewrote that section to clarify. Does it help?

What's gone wrong? "Consequentialism" is used in philosophy as a term for the view that the morality of an action depends only on the consequences of that action.

Worse, the idea of consequentialism (or "utilitarianism") is often taken by people with a little philosophy awareness to mean the view that "the ends justify the means" without regard for actual outcomes — that if you mean well and can convince yourself that the consequences of an action will be good, then that action is right for you and nobody has any business cr... (read more)

Rationality quotes: August 2010

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

-H.P. Lovecraft

0toto11yThis seems to be the premise of Isaac Asimov's "Nightfall []".
9AlanCrowe11yThis belongs on the parody site []. Please build it :-)
8Kyre11yI never read Lovecraft as being any kind of metaphor for the real world, so I wouldn't vote this up as a rationalist quote for that reason. But I like it as a device used Lovecraft to try to convey a sheer magnitude of horror. Can you imagine discovering something so horrific you wished you could delete the whole thing from your memory ? The more you pride yourself as a rationalist, the more horrific it would have to be.

Sounds like Caveman Science Fiction to me. "Why should we risk learning about new things, when there's a possibility they'll be scary?"

Less Wrong Q&A with Eliezer Yudkowsky: Ask Your Questions


I think I agree with everything you say in response to my original post.

It seems like you basically agree with me that facts about the opinions of philosophers who work in some area (where this group is suitibly defined to avoid the difficulties you point out) should be important to us if we are trying to figure out what to believe in that area.

Why aren't studies being carried out to find out what these facts are? Do you think most philosophers would not agree that they are important?

1Jack12yYeah, I've felt for a while now that philosophers should do a better job explaining and popularizing the conclusions they come to. I've never been able to find literature reviews or meta-analysis, either. Part of the problem is definitely that a lot of philosophers are skeptical that they have anything true or interesting to say to non-philosophers. Also, despite some basic agreements about what is definitely wrong philosophers, at least with a lot of issues have so many different views that it wouldn't be very educational to poll them. Also, a lot of philosophy involves conceptual analysis and since it is really hard to poll a philosophical issue without resorting to concepts you might have a lot of respondents refusing to accept the premises of the question. But none of these arguments are very good. If I ever make it in the field I'll put one together.
Less Wrong Q&A with Eliezer Yudkowsky: Ask Your Questions

It seems like, if I'm trying to make up my mind about philosophical questions (like whether moral realism is true, or whether free will is an illusion) I should try to find out what professional philosophers think the answers to these questions are.

If I found out that 80% of professional philosophers who think about metaethical questions think that moral realism is true, and I happen to be an anti-realist, then I should be far less certain of my belief that anti-realism is true.

But surveys like this aren't done in philosophy (I don't think). Do you thin... (read more)

5Jack12yMy answer to this depends on what you mean by "professional philosophers who think about". You have to be aware that subfields have selection biases. For example, the percent of philosophers of religion who think God exists is much, much larger than the percent of professional philosophers generally who think God exists. This is because if God does not exist philosophy of religion ceases to be a productive area of research. Conversely, if you have an irrational attachment to the idea that God exists this than you are likely to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to prove one exists. This issue is particularly bad with regard to religion but it is in some sense generalizable to all or most other subfields. Philosophy is also a competitive enterprise and there are various incentives to publishing novel arguments. This means in any given subfield views that are unpopular among philosophers generally will be overrepresented. So the circle you draw around "professional philosophers who think about [subfield x] questions" needs to be small enough to target experts but large enough that you don't limit your survey to those philosophers who are very likely to hold a view you are surveying in virtue of the area they work in. I think the right circle is something like 'professional philosophers who are equipped to teach an advanced undergraduate course in the subject'. Edit: The free will question will depend on what you want out of a conception of free will. But the understanding of free will that most lay people have is totally impossible.