Sequences

On Wholesomeness

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Thanks, yes, I think that you're looking at things essentially the same way that I am. I particularly like your exploration of what the inner motions feel like; I think "unfixation" is a really good word.

I think that for most of what I'm saying, the meaning wouldn't change too much if you replaced the word "wholesome" with "virtuous" (though the section contrasting it with virtue ethics would become more confusing to read). 

As practical guidance, however, I'm deliberately piggybacking off what people already know about the words. I think the advice to make sure that you pay attention to ways in which things feel unwholesome is importantly different from (and, I hypothesize, more useful than) advice to make sure you pay attention to ways in which things feel unvirtuous. And the advice to make sure you pay attention to things which feel frobby would obviously not be very helpful, since readers will not have much of a sense of what feels frobby.

If you personally believe it to be wrong, it's unwholesome. But generically no. See the section on revolutionary action in the third essay.

I think this is essentially correct. The essays (especially the later ones) do contain some claims about ways in which it might or might not be useful; of course I'm very interested to hear counter-arguments or further considerations.

The most straightforward criterion would probably be "things they themselves feel to be mistakes a year or two later". That risks people just failing to own their mistakes so would only work with people I felt enough trust in to be honest with themselves. Alternatively you could have an impartial judge. (I'd rather defer to "someone reasonable making judgements" than try to define exactly what a mistake is, because the latter would cover a lot of ground and I don't think I'd do a good job of it; also my claims don't feel super sensitive to how mistakes are defined.)

I would certainly update in the direction of "this is wrong" if I heard a bunch of people had tried to apply this style of thinking over an extended period, I got to audit it a bit by chatting to them and it seemed like they were doing a fair job, and the outcome was they made just as many/serious mistakes as before (or worse!).

(That's not super practically testable, but it's something. In fact I'll probably end up updating some from smaller anecdata than that.)

I definitely agree that this fails as a complete formula for assessing what's good or bad. My feeling is that it offers an orientation that can be helpful for people aggregating stuff they think into all-things-considered judgements (and e.g. I would in retrospect have preferred to have had more of this orientation in the past).

If someone were using this framework to stop thinking about things that I thought they ought to consider, I couldn't be confident that they weren't making a good faith effort to act wholesomely, but I at least would think that their actions weren't wholesome by my lights.

Good question, my answer on this is nuanced (and I'm kind of thinking it through in response to your question).

I think that what feels to you to be wholesome will depend on your values. And I'm generally in favour of people acting according to their own feeling of what is wholesome.

On the other hand I also think there would be some choices of values that I would describe as "not wholesome". These are the ones which ignore something of what's important about some dimension (perhaps justifying ignoring it by saying "I just don't value this"), at least as felt-to-be-important by a good number of other people in society.

But although "avoiding unwholesomeness" provides some constraints on values, it's not specifying exactly what values or tradeoffs are good to have. And then for any among the range of possible wholesome values, when you come to make decisions acting wholesomely will depend on your personal values. (Or, depending on the situation, perhaps not; in the case of the business plan, if it's supposed to be for the sake of the local community then what is wholesome could depend a lot more on the community's values than on your own.)

So there is an element of "paying at least some attention to traditional values" (at least while fair numbers of people care about them), but it's definitely not trying to say "optimize for them".

I doubt this is very helpful for our carefully-considered ethical notions of what's good.

I think it may be helpful as a heuristic for helping people to more consistently track what's good, and avoid making what they'd later regard as mistakes.

I agree that "paying attention to the whole system" isn't literally a thing that can be done, and I should have been clearer about what I actually meant. It's more like "making an earnest attempt to pay attention to the whole system (while truncating attention at a reasonable point)". It's not that you literally get to attend to everything, it's that you haven't excluded some important domain from things you care about. I think habryka (quoting and expanding on Ben Pace's thoughts) has a reasonable description of this in a comment

I definitely don't think this is just making an arbitrary choice of what things to value, or that it's especially anchored in traditional values (though I do think it's correlated with traditional values).

I discuss a bit about making the tradeoffs of when to stop giving things attention in the section "wholesomeness vs expedience" in the second essay.

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