Monday, September 29, 2003

Dear Nicholas Babb,

You asked:
[A]ny thoughts on the implications of the following Popper quote: "No rational argument will have a rational effect on a man who does not want to adopt a rational attitude."
I believe this quote embodies an Essentialist and a Foundationalist mistake. It is not true that, in essence, people do or do not want to adopt a rational attitude. They are mixed about it.

In an debate, characterising your opponent in such a manner would be specious meta. Outside one, there is value in making note of which people seem better than others, to decide who to interact with and how. But such theories should be left behind for actual interactions, where what matters is the content of the interaction and not meta categorising.

As to the Foundationalist error, it is the mistaken theory that if one lacks the proper foundation (in this case, a rational attitude) then one will not have any views logically consistent with that foundation. But people are not perfectly consistent, and the Foundationalist could be wrong about what is logically consistent with what. And these two effects are compounded the further distant the so-called foundation and the thing in question are.

In this case, Popper seems to think that what someone wants (explicitly?) with regard to rationality will dictate whether they act rationally. But it seems to me the structure of one's worldview, and the deep, inexplicit mechanisms for changing it and generating conjectures and criticism, have little to do with what one wants. How one reacts to external criticism has something to do with one's wants, but certainly is not dictated by them.

For the sake of precision, I'd like to harp on one thing I wrote. I phrased the Foundationalist claim as a person not having views consistent with a foundation he lacks, instead of implied by.

I wanted to avoid taking a stance on which way the implications go (or if they even go a direction at all). If we view a set of theories as a one-way chain anchored to the ground, in makes twofold sense to expect to lose the chain when we lose an early link. First, because the chain above the link is no longer anchored to the ground, it would fall away. And second, because the implications only go up the chain, losing a link leaves the next link stranded (it is no longer implied by anything). But if we then remove that link on those grounds, the next suffers the same fate, and so on along the entire chain.

A better view is chain-links that attach on two (or more) sides, and need no anchor. We get theories by bold conjecture, and keep them if they beat their rivals. No where in that process must we justify (anchor) the theories. So it does not matter if they seem to float in the middle of nowhere, as long as they contain good explanations.

Roleplaying Is Primitive Virtual Reality

I believe my title says it all. I wanted to suggest that games like Dungeons & Dragons are a form of virtual reality (VR). I concede they are nothing like a holodeck, but they are about as close as we can get to experiencing a medieval fantasy world today (the other main approaches today are novels and computer games). Roleplaying games have distinct advantages over novels and computer games, because they are far more open ended and can parse a wider variety of inputs.

I believe this is a useful point to people who would question their value, or call them boring. I hope you liked it.

Saturday, September 27, 2003

Dear Tom,

You asked:
Do you agree with the propositions below? If so, do you foresee any difficulties for TCS parents in reconciling them?

(1) Where conflicts arise, parents should work with their children to find common preferences

(2) Morality tells us when we are free to ignore the preferences of others

(3) Some moral knowledge is inexplicit

(4) Godwin: "If a thing be really good, it can be shown to be such. If you cannot demonstrate its excellence, it may well be suspected that you are no proper judge of it"
I agree with 1, 3, and 4. 2 seems very callous to me. To do the right thing, we need to take other people into account, including their worldviews and preferences. Acting morally includes interacting with other people, and treating them well. (I concede if one were entirely isolated, 2 would be meaningless instead of false.)

I want to point out that I don't much like 1 and wouldn't say it. I would much rather say that when parents see potential coercion they should work to avoid it.

I don't see any conflict between 1 and 3. I admit 3 makes 1 harder, because solving problems with other people involves explicit communication. Sometimes important moral points will be hard to convey because of their inexplicit nature.

I think 4 helps 1. It's very important that people have confidence in the value of their theories when they attempt to persuade others. And it's very important that parents be good at persuading children of their better theories, so that children can pick up some good theories to use. It is a fairly common approach to simply declare that things are true, and this is a very poor way to facilitate learning.

There is an apparent conflict between 3 and 4. It is that we may have valuable inexplicit moral knowledge but be unable to show that it is valuable, because of its inexplicit nature. This does not mean we are no proper judge of the matter. It only means that we will not be explicitly persuasive. Fortunately, there are ways for knowledge to get from parent to child besides persuasion. If parent acts on his moral theories, child will see them and be able to pick some up (subject to agreeing). Some may be scared of such a process because they do not trust their intuitions. But I think people with good worldviews need not fear.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

I'm Not Dead

Dear reader,

My apologies for the break in posting. I believe I needed a break (still need, perhaps). The cost of posting had become higher, and I still am not sure what to post about.

To address the cost of posting, I mean to cut down on the formality. I overshot, using many stylistic tools because I was not sure which were important. I think I know now, and I won't be doing the rest. I'm sorry to say I cannot explain this topic further, for privacy reasons.

To address what to post, I would ask that readers place questions in the comments on this post. I find it's generally far easier to answer actual questions than to first imagine questions people might have, than answer those.

Friday, September 19, 2003

Against Foundationalism

Dear reader,

In my words, the strong form of Foundationalism is the theory that epistemology needs foundations. The weak form is the theory that epistemology should like and can have foundations. Wikipedia states:
Foundationalists generally tend to argue that there must be some set of epistemologically basic propositions or else the process of justification will always lead to an infinite regress, like a four-year old constantly asking "Why?"
The truth is that we do not need foundations for our theories. Knowledge grows through bold conjectures, and refutations. We tentatively accept theories that survive criticism, and are better than the rivals anyone has thought of. No where in this process do foundations or justification come in. We can make any conjecture we like. And as long as it's not refuted, and it seems to solve some problem, we can tentatively accept it as the solution to that problem without going through some sort of justification process.

Thursday, September 18, 2003


Dear reader,

If you're interested in an academic philosophy take on induction, you might visit this. I've written a criticism in the comments.

Post Tomorrow

Dear reader,

Sorry for not having a post today. I needed a bit of a break. I mean to post about Foundationalism tomorrow. If you're not sure what Foundationalism is, check out this.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Unify For Non-coercion

Dear reader,

Coercion comes from conflicting theories (with regard to some choice). Non-coercion, then, comes from having a single, unified theory (with regard to that choice). Thus, the way to be non-coercive, is to help the subject unify his theories around one option. To do that, determine which option is right (for the subject), and try to help them see why it is right and why its rivals are wrong.

However, the idea is not the slash and burn through the rival viewpoints so that the subject has but one option left, whether he likes it or not. True ideas need not fear their rivals in debate; quite the opposite. True ideas look even better for being compared with their false rivals. The contrast shows that they explain more and better, and are less complicated than their rivals. So, often, we should try to give arguments in favour of the theories we disagree with that actual proponents would endorse (or even find actual proponents) so that the subject can compare.

And also, usually many of another person's options will appear viable to us, because we do not have perfect knowledge of that person, and can only look with low precision. In cases like that, we should not pick one theory and tell the subject to unify around it, and that he cannot choose the others. Rather, we should look to see what is preventing unification, and help with that, while giving tentative reasons to reject only the choices we believe (after careful consideration) really do need to be rejected.

Another point is that trying to unify one's theories around the right option is easier than around the wrong one. There are many roads to truth, and truth makes more sense. True arguments are more persuasive, too. Even if the subject is very unsure, or even leaning to the wrong option, advocating the true one is liable to be the non-coercive option even in the short term, because of its advantages over unifying around a false option. (And in the long term, good worldviews are less susceptible to coercion, so advocating true theories is conducive to non-coercion.)

To address the swimming scenario that Anonymous brought up in the comments here, I would say the most likely clash in theories from the swimmer is between one along the lines of "I do not want to drown" and one along the lines of "I want to struggle". (That could be more precise, but I hope this will illustrate my point anyhow.) If that is the conflict, the non-coercive thing for the rescuer to do is to decide which theory is right, namely "I do not want to drown", and to do his best to help the swimmer unify his worldview around that option. This is the morally right option, involves saving the swimmer, and is also the most non-coercion option.

Dear Anonymous,

In comments, speaking to Elliot, you wrote:
I knew there'd be an explanation.

Anyway, my answer (which you'll have a slick rebuttal to, involving semantics, no doubt)
I find myself somewhat at a loss. I do not know why you feel this way. I would like to help, but my powers are limited. I can tell you two things. They do not address how you feel about TCS, though. I do not know enough about you to help with that.

Firstly, if someone responds to all your criticism with further explanation, this does not prove that he is closed to your criticism. There is another possibility, namely that he knows things, and is trying to tell you; it could be that he has already incorporated your criticism into his views, because he is already familiar with it, and that is why you do not seem to reach him with it.

I cannot tell you, for certain, which explanation is true in this case. I can stick up for Elliot, though. I find him very receptive to new ideas, and very knowledgeable. That's my personal experience.

My second point is that I do not believe Elliot was arguing about semantics. I believe he was giving the meaning of coercion because he felt you misunderstood the content of his views. Precision and semantics are not the same thing. I think Elliot is right that saying something seems coercive, without detailing the coercion, is not sufficient to refute TCS. On the other hand, if you would like help seeing how a situation could be dealt with sans intentional coercion, you're in luck. Well, at least, you will be, presently. I'm working on a piece that should help elucidate this topic. In the meantime, I wish you the best of luck in your interactions with TCS.

Monday, September 15, 2003

Sweet Victory

Dear reader,

I won the New Blog Showcase contest. I'd like to thank The Truth Laid Bear for hosting the contest, and Elliot for campaigning to get me votes, and, of course, I'd like to thank everyone who voted for me! The results of the contest can be found here.

Elliot tells me that some blogs voted for me twice, and that this was allowed. I wanted to apologise to the runner up if he felt this was unfair. Please visit Pardon My English as well as my own blog.

In no particular order, here is a linked list of everyone who voted for me. I hope I didn't leave anyone out. Thanks everyone!

On Intentions

Dear reader,

I ended my last post by mentioning that TCS parents help their children towards their children's ends. I believe there is a greater theme here. Tools also help people towards their own ends (not the tool's ends). One controversial example is guns, because they can help people to kill. But even opponents of guns do not deny that guns help people do what they intend to. In other words, guns and other tools, and TCS parents, help people to realise their own intentions.

Now, is this a good or a bad thing? In general, it is a very good one. No one wants anything more than to get what they want! We should want people to be successful and happy. Lives that are more chosen, are better lives, and lives where people do what they intend, are better lives. Richer and fuller lives. Progress only comes when people try to progress, and succeed at it. Moral lives are only the product of intending such a life, and realising that intention.

Some may object that not everyone has good intentions, so we cannot just let everyone do what they like. What if someone tries to destroy the world? If he succeeds at that intention, we all lose! Well, it's true that not everyone has good intentions. But identifying who is who, aside from extreme cases, is far more trouble than it's worth, and our attempt would be riddled with errors. We can see the man trying to destroy the world has the wrong intentions and we should stop him. And so too with other criminals. But what about the man who has just chosen one career path over another? Maybe he's chosen the wrong one! But the best way to find out is to let him test it out. It's his choice to make, not ours. Even if we do know better, well we could tell him so. And if he thinks we are wrong -- if we are not persuasive -- why should we be so sure we are right about his life?.

More generally, as people do what they want, they get to test out their theories of what to want. If they wanted bad things, this is an effective way for them to refute their theories. When they discover that their goals make them unhappy and unfulfilled, or discover that their goals are unattainable, perhaps they will choose to change their intentions to better ones.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

TCS Even In Emergencies?

Dear reader,

Some people think TCS and non-coercion sound nice, most of the time. If the only thing at stake is whether we go to the pool today, even if the child chooses wrongly, nothing horrific happens. But when the stakes are higher, some people feel TCS can't always work. For example, what if there is a medical emergency? Then, can't we coerce children for their own good?

Well, it seems to me, the more that is at stake, the more hesitant children will be to disagree with their parents. If mother says, "You can't have a soda because the sugar will rot your teeth," child may not listen at all. But when mother can doom speak and be telling the plain truth, that's very persuasive. "That wrist that hurts really really bad, you know the one covered in blood, it's broken and it needs professional medical help to get better!" Who would ignore advice like that? Even if it turns out that the wrist wasn't broken, but just cut badly and needs stitches, the advice is still going to be taken. What fool child would ignore their parent's advice in a true emergency without a really powerful reason (such as the advice being utterly terrible)? Well, maybe a few children would, but not ones who trust their parents even a little. And we should expect TCS children to trust their parents fairly well. Because TCS parents truly want to help their children towards their children's ends.

Friday, September 12, 2003

On Insurance

Dear reader,

Some people may object to the idea of buying insurance on the grounds that it is a form of gambling with the odds stacked against the buyer. In other words, it loses money.

While it's true that insurance does cost money, it has more effect than just gambling. Buying insurance causes wealth redistribution from the fortunate to the unfortunate, with a guarantee that if you are unfortunate wealth will be redistributed to you. (Insurance prices also include a fee to the insurance company to pay for organising the whole thing, but that is only natural.)

A simple example of insurance would be if twenty house owners each contributed $2,000 to a fund with a promise that if any house should burn down, the owner gets the entire fund. This approach combines charity with capitalism. The unfortunate soul who loses his house receives charity. But it's done through a capitalist method instead of through begging or force.

The problem with socialism is not that wealth redistribution is a bad idea. It's that wealth redistribution by force and central planning are bad ideas. When individuals choose to redistribute their wealth in ways they see fit, it is a great thing.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

I Am American

Dear reader,

I noticed the date, and I wanted to say that I am American.

And I do not mean my citizenship, that's private. But rather, my worldview and values are in the range that are American. And I am happy this is so. I chose it of my own free will.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

New Blog Showcase Votes

Dear reader,

For the New Blog Showcase contest, I am required to vote for three other entries. I found these fairly amusing:

Why oh why do I have to love women?

If Americans Ran the Afterlife

Cat's eyes (This link does not go to the entry, but is the link that will count for a vote. I failed to get a link to the entry itself, but did see the preview in the Showcase.)

On Arguments

Dear reader,

I believe all arguments boil down to one of two basic approaches:

1) X is a non sequitur (does not follow), so we should reject X.

2a) Under worldview W, which best explains reality, believing Y false would create unexplained complications, so we should accept Y.

2b) Under worldview W, which best explains reality, believing Z true would create unexplained complications, so we should reject Z.

Y and Z, properly, can be sets of theories not just individual theories. Arguments (2a) and (2b) are logically equivalent. Any argument that could be made using (2a), could also be made using (2b) by simply setting Z to the negation of whatever Y was (the negation of Y is all theories except Y from the relevant set of theories).

Also, I'm aware that (1) can be considered a form of (2), because saying something follows when it does not creates an unexplained complication in our worldview. However, I still believe (1) is important and useful enough to list.

Before I close I'd like to respond to two potential objections that a friend voiced. Arguments with false premises violate (1) because it does not follow that we should believe arguments when the premises don't hold. And incoherent arguments violate (2) because believing something incoherent to be true would complicate our worldview. (How can nonsense be true?)

Tuesday, September 09, 2003


Dear reader,

Sometimes disaster strikes. Things go wrong. And we are threatened with feeling bad about it. Despair looms on the horizon.

Sometimes we respond by saying "Enough! I made mistakes in the past; I know this. But in the future, I will do better; I will not make the same again, and in fact I mean to make none at all." And this is all well and good, when we can manage it. But for most people, this takes a truly momentous occasion (or perhaps a superstitious one, like New Year's resolutions).

But it doesn't have to. This attitude is the right one for all our mistakes. We can resolve not to repeat them, resolve to do better, and move on. Every moment we can start in the present.

I have a friend who, for a moment, felt silly because of how many resolutions he had made, only to make another days later. How can the resolutions be serious if they last so shortly? Well, I told him, denial will not help matters, and perpetual failure is the human condition. We are not perfect. But still, having the resolve to make each new resolution, is only grounds for praise. For we should ever strive for the better.

Monday, September 08, 2003

New Blog Showcase

Dear reader,

I have submitted my entry titled On Roleplaying to The Truth Laid Bear new blog showcase. In the competition, votes consist of links to the submitted posts (only to the specific post, not the blog). If you have a blog, I would most appreciate it if you would link to my post. Also, make sure your blog is registered with the ecosystem (worth doing even if you do not vote). To register, go here and enter your blog title and web address, simple as that. I do thank you for reading my blog, and I thank you again if you choose to vote for me.

While I am writing, I would like to assure you that there will be a post tomorrow, and another the next day. I am no oracle, and cannot tell you what lies beyond, but I hope future days will hold posts as well. I know my posting has been somewhat infrequent, and I pray this has not been a trouble for you.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

Logic, Views, and Disagreement

Dear reader,

I wanted to go through some of the logic of having views and disagreeing with people, because I feel this is often a misunderstood subject in our culture. I mean to do more of this in the future, and I know what I present here is not a complete view of the issue, just one piece.

If my view is X then I think X is true.

If your view is Y then you think Y is true.

If the views X and Y contradict each other then X and Y cannot both be true.

If X and Y cannot both be true then at least one of X and Y is false.

If at least one of X and Y is false and I think X is true then I think Y is false.

If at least one of X and Y is false and you think Y is true then you think X is false.

And here's the one I've been leading up to:

If my view is X and your view is Y and we both think X and Y contradict each other then we each think our view is true and the other's view is false.

Note: Some of the statements assume that we are logically consistent, which is not always the case. No one has a worldview that is entirely logically consistent. However, we can still strive to be more consistent.

Note: Another form of the final syllogism is: If I think I'm right, and I disagree with you, then I think you're wrong (and vice versa).

Kant and the Categorical Imperative

Dear reader,

I noticed this comment on my TCS introduction. I appreciate the feedback, but I believe the claim about Kant is in error.

For what it's worth, I'd like to deny any association with or appeal to Kant. I have read little of him, I did not much like what I have read, and as far as I am aware I do not draw any ideas from him.

After some time with Google, I see that one of my arguments may appear to be similar to Kant's categorical imperative. Specifically, Wikipedia has this:
The first (Universal Law formulation): "Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law."
This is a similar claim to my own claim that we should reject theories that we would not want to see taken seriously. However, I believe the difference between my view and Kant's is elucidated when I explain my position more fully. (I am not very familiar with the Kant's full view, so please correct me if it is more similar to mine than I had thought.)

The usual reason that we should reject a theory we would not take seriously, is because failing to take it seriously ruins its explanatory power. A common example is that changing 'everyone' to 'me' often ruins the explanatory power of the theory (sometimes the semantics are different). For example, if someone said, "Stealing is great because it makes you richer," this would have the explanation that all thieves become richer from the things they steal, and that this is a good reason to steal. Taken seriously, this theory implies that stealing is a great option for everyone, because everyone can become richer by taking things. If the proponent wished to be the only thief, he would be ruining the explanation is his defense of theft. He is not the only one who could become richer by stealing, so why should he be the only one to steal? And whatever reasons there are that other people should not steal (if he thinks only he should steal, it is implied he thinks other people should not steal), why do those reason not apply to the speaker?

Saturday, September 06, 2003

Prying Into Children's Lives

Dear reader,

It is common for parents to pry into their children's lives out of concern. This is often thought to be a necessary evil. Sure, privacy is good, and children will have some secrets, but it's also important that parents can keep them safe, and watch out for them. That's how much conventional wisdom goes. But there is another way.

First, let go. Pry not at all. Children are people, independent of their parents. Free individuals. They have their own lives and their own choices.

Then, consider a close friend. Notice that in close friendships people will choose to volunteer personal details even as prying is frowned upon. So too will, in the presence of a good relationship, children volunteer things to their parents when they want help.

In the case of volunteered information, the parent hears just what his child wants him to hear. (If this sounds like a recipe for children to manipulate their parents, try to consider why a child would want to trick his parent, if the parent's genuine intentions were to help the child.) In the case of parents learning information through prying, they will hear information on subjects they think is important. But do not people have better knowledge of their own problems than others?

Even in the case that a child asks his parent for help, and gives his best effort at communicating the problem, errors are common. Our personalities are intricate, and we cannot communicate even all the details we know of. Nor should we, and picking which things to communicate is another significant issue. In the contrasting case where information is forced from the child, the error rate for dual issues of which information is communicated and how well it is understood will be much higher.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Hidden Premises

Dear reader,

I previously mentioned that philosophical writing always has hidden premises, and that higher level ones tend to be more worthy of mention, but did not present a full explanation. Now I shall endeavor to do so.

To help illustrate, I will present a syllogism and then point out some hidden premises:

Premise: All roses are red
Premise: I'm holding a rose
Conclusion: I'm holding something red

Syllogisms like this are often claimed to be foolproof, or certain, and are said to use deductive logic. Supposedly, if the deductive logic is valid, and the premises are right, then the conclusion is certain. But I am off track. What I want to do is point out some hidden premises:

One premise has to do with time. There is an assumption that all three statements refer to the same moment in time. If they don't, the syllogism won't work.

Another premise has to do with physics. There is an assumption that things remain the same colour when held as they are otherwise.

Another hidden premise has to do with logic. Basically, syllogisms are premised on logic working the way we think it does. Many people think logic is self-evident. The truth is just that much of our grasp of logic is not in English, hence the confusion over its nature. But English or no, logical theories are still fallible, and still come from conjectures.

A hundred more hidden premises have to do with language. Every word in the syllogism has a meaning, and each of those meanings is a premise. And there are also premises about grammar, including sentence structure, punctuation, spelling, etc... And premises about how to draw each character used. And premises about readers knowing all this language stuff.

In philosophical writing in general, hidden premises about language and logic aren't the only ones. Basically, we don't argue from first principles all the time because they are often far-removed from what we wish to speak of. Instead, we find some points of agreement, and use those are premises. This may sound as folly because those points of agreement could be wrong, but to use them as premises in one conversation is not to hold them immune to being criticised in a new discussion. And to use possibly-wrong premises, given fallibility, is the nature of using any premises at all!

The reason this is not only possible but highly fruitful is because of emergence. Emergence is the phenomenon by which some stuff which appears complicated in low level descriptions emerges to some simple, high-level form. An example is: recording the positions of each atom in a statue would be quite a chore. But describing all the atoms at once as a statue is simple. There is plenty more to say about emergence, but now is not the time.

The point about higher level premises being more worthy of mention is just that higher level premises are closer to what is at issue than lower level ones. If you're worried about the premises going too high, and passing what's at issue, don't, because it is the nature of premises not to be higher level than the conclusions stemming from them.