Tuesday, November 04, 2003


Dear reader,

I've decided not to post again. Farewell.

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.

Saturday, August 30, 2003

Schools Use Force

Dear reader,

I've read the comments on my last entry, and I wanted to make a suggestion. I think we can all agree schools are not set up to deal with, say, a child who disagrees with the numbers in his multiplication tables. They simply cannot cope with their facts being challenged on a number of issues. But maybe this is rare and not entirely damning. What else is there?

Disagreeing with a school goes beyond the truth of the material. What if a child disagrees about which things he should learn today? About whether learning his multiplication tables is important? About whether he ought to sit in class, bored, or go read in the park? Schools have answers to questions along these lines, but they are often not the ideal ones. And schools do real harm by using force over this sort of issue. (And, by the way, schools must use this force or they would rarely teach the material in their lessons plans, true or not, to anyone.)

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Dear Anonymous,

I'm glad you commented, and appreciate the opportunity to clarify my views. Please feel free to continue the discussion if anything I say seems at all lacking.
any suggested behavior or system of behaviors that, if taken sufficiently seriously (enacted by enough people with enough precision), would lead to disaster, is wrong

Here's where you start to lose me. At least, it needs refinement. For example: "Noticing her affinity and talent, I suggest that my sister study music. If a sufficient number of people studied music, there'd be nobody to [grow the food / collect the garbage / etc] which would lead to disaster. Therefore it's Wrong of me to suggest that my sister study music."

A refinement could be to say that I'm not suggesting that my sister study music per se (even though I am, but whatever), so much as I'm suggesting, abstractly, that she pursue Something She's Good At And Enjoys (and if everyone did this, disaster indeed wouldn't follow). Well, fine. But (1) such a refinement is a necessary part of the rule, then, and (2) it doesn't really answer any questions (because how do I know whether a suggested behavior or system of behaviors is sufficiently abstract and "admissible" so that the rule can be meaningfully applied to it? Have to check on case by case basis.)

I'm happy to concede that my introduction has numerous hidden premises. All philosophical writing does. The one you point out is notable because it is, perhaps, high enough level (see a future post for explanation) to be worth mentioning. In fact, I do think it is interesting. But an introduction cannot explain everything, so I am still not convinced it has a place there.

The main reason I think it does not is because I feel common sense supports my interpretation. To most people, the suggestion that your sister should study music does not mean you think your neighbor should. Instead it means you think there is something about your sister in particular that makes music and her a good match. There are people who think everyone should study music, but they generally specify that's what they mean, and are seen as having a different view. And I think similar logic will work with other objections too, hence the full explanation can go in a separate essay.
imagine a theory that it is good to force children to learn our best theories of math (put another way: teach them math, whether they like it or agree, or not, rather than suggesting to and advising children). If taken seriously (by future generations too), this suggestion will lead to the same math theories being passed on for eternity.

I don't agree. Unless you qualify this setup with more information than you've given, why can't the children of generation N (at least, the portion of them who become mathematicians), who were forced to learn their parents' generation's best theories of math, develop and extend those theories? Thus generation N+1's best theory of math is different from that of generation N.

Improving theories involves being open to criticism and change. But if the children are taught that certain math is the truth, unquestionable and objective, they will not be able to do that (assuming the teaching is sufficiently effective). It is only when children see theories as tentative conjectures and suggestions, rather than the way it is, period that they can correct and expand on our current knowledge.
We cannot insist that any specific theory should be taught to children, because we should hope that our theory might, in time, be improved.

A good way to create people who might be capable of improving our best current theories is to tell them what they are. I am not saying that this is necessarily the best or only way, but your position seems to be that it's a bad way. I don't see why.

Telling our children our best theories, and trying to persuade our children of them, is great. But deciding that our best theories are certain truth, therefore they must be taught to our children, and dissent/questioning/criticism must be prevented or punished because they are a deviation from the truth, is bad. The first attitude, using persuasion, is fallibilist and TCS. The second, using teaching, is infallibilist and wrong.

To help see the problem with teaching, think of lesson plans. The idea is the teacher will teach the material in the lesson plan to the students. If at the end of the day, the students do not agree with the material, the teacher is considered to have failed. In other words, the teacher is supposed to make the students agree instead of seek the truth.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Introduction to Taking Children Seriously

Dear reader,

Although I am a fan of TCS, I have not been entirely satisfied with the TCS material currently available. To that end, I've decided to write some of my own. I've begun with an introduction. Although the primary aim of my introduction is to interest new readers, and give them a taste for TCS (and even explain some things to them), I think seasoned veterans, too, can find value in it. Please do tell me what you think.

If you come to learn about Taking Children Seriously (TCS), and its proponents, one thing that may stand out is the strong emphasis some prolific TCSers place on philosophy. This is not par for the course in parenting discourse. Some of our concerns are things like:

- We want TCS to be true
- We want TCS to include only good explanations, selected with a very high standard for what is considered to make sense
- We do not want accepting TCS to introduce unexplained complications into our worldview
- We want TCS to be rationally defensible and do not want to ignore any known criticism of TCS
- We want TCS to be consistent with our best theories in other fields, such as morality, epistemology, and physics

And so we come to the question of why philosophically oriented people might be highly interested in parenting, and create a parenting philosophy (make no mistake, TCS is about parenting). One quick answer goes as follows:

If a person parents in such a manner that his children have no choice but to enact the same parenting method, then barring outside interference, this family tree's parenting practices will never change (and thus never improve). (Yes, we are aware that people marry outside their family tree, but we do not consider the possibility that a spouse might step in and stop bad parenting a saving grace -- the parenting is still wrong.) This may be an extreme case, but it still deserves some attention to see both how it could come about, and how it could be avoided, which is one issue TCS addresses.

You may object that no child will parent exactly the same way as he was parented, and thus things will change. While its true that there are fluctuations, we suggest that we should not rely on this sort of variance as our method for change. We cannot count on randomness to improve the world.

Now that I've mentioned the extreme case, I would like to share a more practical insight. It begins with this point: any suggested behavior or system of behaviors that, if taken sufficiently seriously (enacted by enough people with enough precision), would lead to disaster, is wrong. Now, imagine a theory that it is good to force children to learn our best theories of math (put another way: teach them math, whether they like it or agree, or not, rather than suggesting to and advising children). If taken seriously (by future generations too), this suggestion will lead to the same math theories being passed on for eternity. On the simple premise that some of our current math theories are imperfect, this is an entirely disastrous course of events.

This insight applies to more than just math. It applies to teaching any theories at all (as opposed to suggesting). We cannot insist that any specific theory should be taught to children, because we should hope that our theory might, in time, be improved. So what TCS advocates is a parenting philosophy designed around error correction which recognises that no matter how sure we feel, we may be wrong, recognises that children are people and may be right, and recognises the grave dangers involved in propagating ideas through force instead of persuasion.

Friday, June 27, 2003

On Roleplaying

Dear reader,

I've recorded here a few thoughts about roleplaying. I think it's an interesting and under appreciated subject. I hope you will soon come to agree with me.

The essence of roleplaying is to create an interactive model of another person. This makes it much closer, as an activity, to things like conversation and philosophy than it is to other types of game such as chess or video games. This is commonly obscured because explicit roleplaying is generally coupled with another game.

For example, Dungeons and Dragons is a roleplaying game. It combines creating and roleplaying a character with a set of rules about character statistics, attacks, treasure, and magic. In combat, most players make decisions with almost no roleplaying; they simply try to play the game well by killing the monsters without being hurt much. In contrast, when their characters must talk, players cannot rely on the rules and must roleplay.

If we separate the roleplaying from the game rules, what's left is creating a personality for our character, and then during play, making decisions as if we were the character in question. How can we do this? How can we choose like someone we are not? Well, we must have a model of that person's mind. Of course, we cannot fit two entire people in our one mind, but a partial model is entirely possible.

There are a number of approaches to creating a partial model of a mind. One is to take most of one's self, or a stereotype, and use that, perhaps slightly altered. Another is to make a list of a few definitive statements, and use those as a guideline. Although both stereotypes and a list of statements cannot resolve every situation imaginable, they can cover many. Better roleplayers are able to stray further from stereotypes and further from themselves, while still acting on a fairly consistent model. A sufficiently well roleplayed character would be indistinguishable from a person in its own right.

Although many people are unaware, roleplaying is used for things besides roleplaying games. For example, if we wish to explain something to a friend, we must create a partial model of our friend's problem situation, and then examine what answer will help that problem situation progress. Rather than trying explanations on our friend blindly, we should first test them on our model and see how it reacts. If we do not do this, the only way we can possibly be helpful is by pure luck or by giving an answer guided by our general knowledge of what problem situations are common in our culture (which amounts to using a general model instead of a personal one, and is still roleplaying).

In arguing too, roleplaying is a necessary skill. To convince our partner, we must understand him sufficiently to see what explanation he needs to hear to change his view. In other words, we must form a model of him, and then try various explanations on the model to see how it reacts. Only when we have some model and an explanation that works with it, can we possibly expect a statement to make progress in the argument in advance of trying it out.

Next time you have a discussion, try to keep this in mind and you may be more persuasive, or next time you are called upon to give advice, you may be more helpful. Although we all do this inexplicitly every time we talk to anyone, we could all be better at it, and an explicit focus on these points will help towards that end. I wish you the utmost success in this endeavor.

Monday, June 23, 2003

Commentary On Curiosity, Part II

Dear reader,

I now return to my commentary on Curiosity.

Today's first post is the point that acting and being trustworthy are different, and Elliot rightly disapproves of the first as a strategy for winning people's confidence and getting them to do things they otherwise would not. One thing you may not have noticed is the link goes to a google cache page from a search for "cruel intentions" analysis, which Elliot could have hidden had he bothered. Additionally, the link no longer works, but that's not Elliot's fault.

The second post is a good one. Elliot often harps on the point that we can change what we want, and he is right to. Sadly, it is a very difficult thing to do intentionally, and people who try often find themselves coerced. For this reason, many people are skeptical that changing one's wants works at all. One piece of advice that may help is: a significant part of being moral involves aligning one's inexplicit theories, especially emotions, with one's intellectual worldview. People who have success at minimising the conflicts between the two, at unifying their own personality, (which is a worthy goal in its own right) will find changing their wants much easier.

The third post is a political link with a descriptive description of what it links to.

The fourth post is a quote of Rachel Lucas, who thinks that dogs smile. I agree with Elliot that smiling has human connotations, like pleasure, rather than simply meaning a mouth curved down like a 'u'. I don't agree that scientism (as Elliot labels this) is an accurate criticism. Rachel may think that dogs smile for scientistic reasons, or she may not, we don't know.

The fifth post complains about the qualification requirement (a Bachelor's degree) to be a tutor for Tutor America. My take is that few people without a degree, and without skills, would want to apply for a tutoring job, but some with no degree and the appropriate skills might. On the other hand, having a degree is absolutely no guarantee of expertise. I share with Elliot a very low opinion of colleges, and would like to see less pressure on young people to get a degree.

The sixth post is a link to a story with a moral. An explanation accompanies the story itself, so it's fine Elliot didn't put one. However, his description of the link, "Goat Story," is poor. While the story has a goat in it, and Elliot does seem to find animals amusing, it's really a morality story.

The seventh post is some jokes on the same theme as a Setting The World To Rights post (link). I wonder if anyone else noticed that the initials for Gender Redistribution Program are GRP, not GDP as Elliot claimed.

The eighth post highlights the French asking Hamas to come out against terrorism, as if Hamas is not itself a terrorist organisation. The French statement is notable for being amazingly out of touch with reality.

The ninth post is a Dungeons & Dragons link. For Dungeons & Dragons players who've never seen it, it's great. For everyone else, it's useless. I doubt many Dungeons & Dragons players who've never seen it read Elliot's blog.

The tenth post is an IMAO quote saying that school is awful. Well spotted! Most references to children on IMAO are, in typical right-wing fashion, negative.

The next post is that last one that had been written when I began my commentary, so I will close with it. In it, Elliot dispels an urban myth that both The Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler and Samizdata had fallen for. His choice to publicly laugh at them for their error is inelegant.

I think the bottom line about the Curiosity blog is: if you can manage to tune in to Elliot, it's well worth reading, but if not, he isn't likely to help you very much. Even so, he might amuse or creatively provoke you.

Sunday, June 22, 2003

Dear Woty,

Thank you for your comment, I appreciate the feedback. For reference, I am reproducing your comment here:
What's wrong with any of those things, if the primary purpose of a blog is to have fun? These comments could prove very useful to Elliot if he wanted to explain his ideas more clearly and generate better discussion. However, these cristicisms are not clearly helpful for the purpose of Elliot having more fun with his blog. They also do not give any reasons why he ought to change his mind about the purpose of his blog.

Do you plan to address this in part two?
I do think Elliot has fun with his blog, so my answer to your first question is: nothing is wrong with his approach given that purpose. One possible exception is that he might find having more readers fun, especially ones who feel comfortable enough to leave comments. I don't want to take a position on whether Elliot should write for fun or more carefully, because it is not my place to say. But I do hope that Elliot will find my criticism helpful even if he chooses not to follow my advice.

I will try to keep your points in mind as I write part two. Perhaps some further answer will come to me then.

Dear Virtual Purity,

I would like to thank you for commenting. I am most gratified that you like my blog. Although it is not my entire focus, I do aim to please. I hope you will find my future entries equally enjoyable.

I also noticed your new blog, Virtual Purity (link). You are truly too kind. For the record, I want to clarify that I do plan to write about other blogs in the not too distant future. I look forward to your next entry!

Friday, June 20, 2003

Commentary On Curiosity, Part I

Dear reader,

As I indicated in my last post, I will be doing a commentary on the blog Curiosity, by Elliot Temple. I'm going to start from the oldest post still on the front page, from June 8th, and work my way to the present. I mean to do this in just two posts, but we'll see. This one is very lengthy, so please bear with me. I do think this analysis is worthwhile, and by the end I hope you will agree.

The first post simply states "idiots" with a link to a news story about a man who fed lobsters at a supermarket. Elliot is correct that this man was acting badly: as the news story explains, the man's actions were no help to the lobsters, and risked damaging the lobster storage equipment (quite aside from question of whether lobsters can suffer). However, Elliot's post fails to explain this, and to a casual reader, especially one who did not follow the link and read the story, or one who does not agree with him about environmentalism, his post would seem crass.

The second post is math. Elliot's math is spot on, but he does declare some readers WRONG in capital letters.

The third post is an interesting observation about pacifism in US and Japanese culture. But what I want to bring up now, and this applies to the previous posts as well, is that Elliot does not capitalise the first word in each sentence, uses a multitude of abbreviations, some arcane, and seems to use dice to determine where to place commas. While such stylistic concerns do not make his ideas wrong, for most people they detract from the experience of reading his blog. My understanding is that Elliot wants more readers and more feedback, but if he is serious about this, why won't he bother to make his blog presentable?

The fourth post is an alliterative story: each word begins with a 't'. It draws on Elliot's knowledge of math, and is fairly entertaining. The message in the story is against math tests, and this is well supported by the very confusing description of what the protagonists have to do to solve the math problems. If even reading about their task gives us a headache, what must it be like for the characters?

The fifth post links to a video game site. While there is nothing wrong with Elliot's interest in video games, I can't help but wonder if his blog is an appropriate place for it. A blog on epistemology and politics is one thing, a blog on video games quite another. It has to be confusing for his readers that Elliot refuses to differentiate the two, because they rarely know what to expect from him.

The sixth post showcases one of Elliot's favorite motifs: the conversation. In a peculiar twist, most of the conversations Elliot posts seem to between himself and...himself. In this instance, Elliot and 'curi' (a nickname he uses for his blog and himself, and an abbreviation of 'curiosity') make a joke at Samizdata's expense, but a fair and funny one.

The seventh post is just a link labeled "*sweatdrop*", which goes to this Setting The World To Rights thread. Apparently Elliot was annoyed with some of the people he was talking to in that thread, but he doesn't bother to explain himself here. Perhaps he considers the link a sort of 'idiocy watch' service, but for that to be effective, he should spell out the idiocy and why it is idiocy.

The eighth post links to another Setting The World To Rights thread, with just the commentary that some of the posters in the conversation are "sociobiologists." What this means (Elliot does not tell us) is that they try to explain human behavior through biology, a practice Elliot is right to frown on.

The ninth post is an email Elliot sent to Glenn Reynolds. This is easily the best post yet, and plays to one of Elliot's strengths: recognising flaws in the present educational establishment that most people are blind to. The letter Elliot wrote is polite, and has nice form in addition to true content. He ought to write like this more often. If you are wondering what content I refer to, because Elliot phrased his point as a question, I will say that although Elliot's point is inexplicit, it is still there: through his question, his view on the matter is revealed. This view is that society in general does not try to reduce the suffering of those in school, and that this inaction reveals a great moral failing.

The tenth post is a somewhat amusing link to an eBay auction that sold literally nothing, but is a bit off-topic.

The eleventh post quotes from an article about the Israeli army having orders to "completely wipe out" Hamas. Elliot does not bother to explain what this means. However, it's difficult to fault him, because I am at present, not going to either. I will make a note, and possibly get back to it in the future.

The twelfth post is a link to a joke someone else wrote about Elliot. One notable feature of this post is that Elliot often uses symbols like ^^, which many of his readers may be unfamiliar with. It is an abbreviated, upright, happy face, with each ^ being an eye. It's from ^_^, in which _ is a mouth (a . can also be used as a mouth). The eyes are curved up to indicate happiness, as seen in n_n. Eyes curved down, like v_v and u_u, indicate sad faces. These smileys are popular with animé fans, and mimic expressions common in animé shows.

The thirteenth post is a joke at the European Union's expense, and a funny one. It does lack a source for the study it refers to. The face Elliot uses, -_-o, is another animé one, this time with each - a neutral eye, _ the mouth, and o a sweatdrop on its cheek. Sweatdrops have a myriad of meanings, usually along the lines of expressing discomfort. In this case, Elliot finds the study to prevent European Union money from going to Hamas to be too ridiculous for comment.

To recap, let me go over a few themes we've discovered:

- Few of the posts have much content, but some are very good.
- Elliot likes to post jokes, especially ones that contain arguments.
- Elliot extends posting jokes, to posting amusing, off-topic things.
- Elliot also posts other off-topic things he is interested in, even though his readers may not be.
- Elliot rarely bothers with the form of his blog. This is striking in his capitalisation and abbreviations, although, excepting words that are intentionally misspelled or abbreviated, his spelling is pretty good.
- Elliot often makes cryptic statements, or obscure references, with no explanation.
- Even Elliot's lucid views are sometimes found without explanation or argument.
- Almost all of Elliot's posts are short, and I get the impression he spends very little time on each.
- Elliot is sometimes offensive. Some of it is intentional; he likes to ridicule positions he deems worthy of such treatment. But some of it appears to be poor judgment.

I know this isn't a proper conclusion, and I promise to write one with a future installment of my analysis. I hope my comments thus far have been insightful and accurate, and perhaps they will help Elliot to become more virtuous.

Thursday, June 19, 2003


Dear reader,

I must admit to you that I am not entirely certain what purpose this blog shall have. I can, however, relate to you my intention to provide commentary on various blogs, starting with Curiosity, which is sometimes an interesting blog, but could be less esoteric.

I chose the title of this blog, Virtue Pure, because I want to be good. Some may think it simplisme, but I consider declaring my values important. I know good intentions are not enough, but how could I possibly act rightly without them?

As for me, this blog is anonymous partly because I value privacy, and partly for reasons that are private. I will still tell you a little though: I read Setting The World To Rights, I am familiar with Taking Children Seriously, and I do not believe in God. For now, that will have to suffice.

In closing, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that I have enabled a commenting system. I do not want this blog to be a lonely affair, so please take advantage of it. And should I ever be in error, I do hope you will be so kind as to correct me. You may also send email to me, virtuepure[at]yahoo[dot]com.