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Intuitions Aren't Shared That Way

30 Post author: lukeprog 29 November 2012 06:19AM

Part of the sequence: Rationality and Philosophy

Consider these two versions of the famous trolley problem:

Stranger: A train, its brakes failed, is rushing toward five people. The only way to save the five people is to throw the switch sitting next to you, which will turn the train onto a side track, thereby preventing it from killing the five people. However, there is a stranger standing on the side track with his back turned, and if you proceed to thrown the switch, the five people will be saved, but the person on the side track will be killed.

Child: A train, its brakes failed, is rushing toward five people. The only way to save the five people is to throw the switch sitting next to you, which will turn the train onto a side track, thereby preventing it from killing the five people. However, there is a 12-year-old boy standing on the side track with his back turned, and if you proceed to throw the switch, the five people will be saved, but the boy on the side track will be killed.

Here it is: a standard-form philosophical thought experiment. In standard analytic philosophy, the next step is to engage in conceptual analysis — a process in which we use our intuitions as evidence for one theory over another. For example, if your intuitions say that it is "morally right" to throw the switch in both cases above, then these intuitions may be counted as evidence for consequentialism, for moral realism, for agent neutrality, and so on.

Alexander (2012) explains:

Philosophical intuitions play an important role in contemporary philosophy. Philosophical intuitions provide data to be explained by our philosophical theories [and] evidence that may be adduced in arguments for their truth... In this way, the role... of intuitional evidence in philosophy is similar to the role... of perceptual evidence in science...

Is knowledge simply justified true belief? Is a belief justified just in case it is caused by a reliable cognitive mechanism? Does a name refer to whatever object uniquely or best satisfies the description associated with it? Is a person morally responsible for an action only if she could have acted otherwise? Is an action morally right just in case it provides the greatest benefit for the greatest number of people all else being equal? When confronted with these kinds of questions, philosophers often appeal to philosophical intuitions about real or imagined cases...

...there is widespread agreement about the role that [intuitions] play in contemporary philosophical practice... We advance philosophical theories on the basis of their ability to explain our philosophical intuitions, and appeal to them as evidence that those theories are true...

In particular, notice that philosophers do not appeal to their intuitions as merely an exercise in autobiography. Philosophers are not merely trying to map the contours of their own idiosyncratic concepts. That could be interesting, but it wouldn't be worth decades of publicly-funded philosophical research. Instead, philosophers appeal to their intuitions as evidence for what is true in general about a concept, or true about the world.

In this sense,

We [philosophers] tend to believe that our philosophical intuitions are more or less universally shared... We... appeal to philosophical intuitions, when we do, because we anticipate that others share our intuitive judgments.

But anyone with more than a passing familiarity with cognitive science might have bet in advance that this basic underlying assumption of a core philosophical method is... incorrect.

For one thing, philosophical intuitions show gender diversity. Consider again the Stranger and Child versions of the Trolley problem. It turns out that men are less likely than women to think it is morally acceptable to throw the switch in the Stranger case, while women are less likely than men to think it is morally acceptable to throw the switch in the Child case (Zamzow & Nichols 2009).

Or, consider a thought experiment meant to illuminate the much-discussed concept of knowledge:

Peter is in his locked apartment and is reading. He decides to have a shower. He puts his book down on the coffee table. Then he takes off his watch, and also puts it on the coffee table. Then he goes into the bathroom. As Peter's shower begins, a burglar silently breaks into Peter's apartment. The burglar takes Peter's watch, puts a cheap plastic watch in its place, and then leaves. Peter has only been in the shower for two minutes, and he did not hear anything.

When presented with this vignette, only 41% of men say that Peter "knows" there is a watch on the table, while 71% of women say that Peter "knows" there is a watch on the table (Starman & Friedman 2012). According to Buckwalter & Stich (2010), Starmans & Friedman ran another study using a slightly different vignette with a female protagonist, and that time only 36% of men said the protagonist "knows," while 75% of women said she "knows."

The story remains the same for intuitions about free will. In another study reported in Buckwalter & Stich (2010), Geoffrey Holtman presented subjects with this vignette:

Suppose scientists figure out the exact state of the universe during the Big Bang, and figure out all the laws of physics as well. They put this information into a computer, and the computer perfectly predicts everything that has ever happened. In other words, they prove that everything that happens has to happen exactly that way because of the laws of physics and everything that's come before. In this case, is a person free to choose whether or not to murder someone?

In this study, only 35% of men, but 63% of women, said a person in this world could be free to choose whether or not to murder someone.

Intuitions show not only gender diversity but also cultural diversity. Consider another thought experiment about knowledge (you can punch me in the face, later):

Bob has a friend Jill, who has driven a Buick for many years. Bob therefore thinks that Jill drives an American car. He is not aware, however, that her Buick has recently been stolen, and he is also not aware that Jill has replaced it with a Pontiac, which is a different kind of American car. Does Bob really know that Jill drives an American car, or does he only believe it?

Only 26% of Westerners say that Bob "knows" that Jill drives an American car, while 56% of East Asian subjects, and 61% of South Asian subjects, say that Bob "knows."

Now, consider a thought experiment meant to elicit semantic intuitions:

Suppose that John has learned in college that Gödel is the man who proved... the incompleteness of arithmetic. John is quite good at mathematics and he can give an accurate statement of the incompleteness theorem, which he attributes to Gödel as the discoverer. But this is the only thing that he has heard about Gödel. Now suppose that Gödel was not the author of this theorem. A man called "Schmidt"… actually did the work in question. His friend Gödel somehow got a hold of the manuscript and claimed credit for the work, which was thereafter attributed to Gödel... Most people who have heard the name "Gödel" are like John; the claim that Gödel discovered the incompleteness theorem is the only thing that they have ever heard about Gödel.

When presented with this vignette, East Asians are more likely to take the "descriptivist" view of reference, believing that John "is referring to" Schmidt — while Westerners are more likely to take the "causal-historical" view, believing that John "is referring to" Gödel (Machery et al. 2004).

Previously, I asked:

What would happen if we dropped all philosophical methods that were developed when we had a Cartesian view of the mind and of reason, and instead invented philosophy anew given what we now know about the physical processes that produce human reasoning?

For one thing, we would never assume that people of all kinds would share our intuitions.

 

Next post: Philosophy Needs to Trust Your Rationality Even Though It Shouldn't

Previous post: Living Metaphorically

 

 

 

Comments (237)

Comment author: Suryc11 29 November 2012 06:43:27PM 11 points [-]

Harvard Prof. Richard Moran touches on this in a humorous manner:

"As to ‘experimental philosophy, I can’t claim to be very well versed in it, but it seems to be a research program in its early days. I think that by now, even its practitioners are beginning to realise that simply asking people, outside of any particular context, about their “intuitions” about some concept of philosophical interest is not really going to be informative since without any philosophical background to the question, the respondents themselves can’t really know just what question they are being asked to answer, what their responses are responses to. There are just too many different things that can be meant by a question like, “‘Was such-and-such an action intentional or not?”, for example. And without further discussion or further analysis, the experimenters themselves can’t know what answers they are being given by the respondents. It’s not good data. So I can imagine experimental philosophy evolving in a way to account for this, and starting to include some philosophical background to the investigation, perhaps even some philosophical history, to provide the needed context to the particular intuitions that they are trying to expose and test for. At that point, the experimental situation might also become less one-sided, with a researcher examining a respondent, and could allow for the experimental subjects themselves to ask questions of the experimenters, including questions of clarification and disambiguation, and perhaps even challenges to the way the experimenter has framed the questions.

Later it might be found useful to conduct such experiments in small groups rather than individually, with one experimenter and one subject, and instead the respondents could be encouraged to discuss the questions among themselves as well as with the experimenter. People could meet in these groups two or three times a week and perhaps some relevant reading could be assigned, to clarify and expand upon the question, and the respondents would be given time to do the reading, and asked to write something later on about the question in connection with the reading and the discussions they have had. Then the experimenter could provide “comments” on this writing for the experimental subjects themselves. I think grading the results would be optional on such an arrangement, and probably of no experimental interest, but other than that I think something like this could be the future of experimental philosophy. It’s worth trying anyway."

http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/keeping-sartre-and-other-passions/2/

Comment author: fubarobfusco 29 November 2012 09:18:12PM -1 points [-]

This seems to be implying that moral philosophy has little or nothing to do with how untrained people make moral decisions; epistemology has little or nothing to do with how untrained people gain confidence in their beliefs as knowledge, etc.

Comment author: DanArmak 30 November 2012 06:28:20PM 7 points [-]

epistemology has little or nothing to do with how untrained people gain confidence in their beliefs as knowledge, etc.

Epistemology is about how to acquire beliefs correctly. How untrained people actually acquire beliefs is some kind of social science. Just like rocketry is distinct from investigating how untrained people imagine rockets work.

Comment author: JaySwartz 30 November 2012 06:43:16PM 5 points [-]

More specifically, epistemology is a formal field of philosophy. Epistemologists study the interaction of knowledge with truth and belief. Basically, what we know and how we know it. They work to identify the source and scope of knowledge. An epistemological statement example goes something like this; I know I know how to program because professors who teach programming, authoritative figures, told me so by giving me passing grades in their classes.

Comment author: BerryPick6 30 November 2012 06:30:39PM 2 points [-]

This seems to be implying that moral philosophy has little or nothing to do with how untrained people make moral decisions

If the aim of moral philosophy is to answer questions like "What ought one to do" or "What ought to exist," then how untrained people make moral decisions has little to nothing to do with moral philosophy.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 29 November 2012 12:24:30PM *  12 points [-]

Going from the cited examples alone, it seems that most of the diversity in answers may be caused not so much by "different intuitions", but vagueness of questions, as they can be interpreted in many different ways, effectively forcing the respondents to give answers to different questions selected more or less arbitrarily, starting from the vague statements of the questions. That is, the differing intuitions are not intuitions about properties of complicated situations being discussed, but intuitions about how vague words such as "knows" or "refers to" are to be interpreted in the given context.

A lot more tabooing might need to be done before such questionnaires can start indicating differences in intuition about substantive questions. Alternatively, thought experiments phrased as decision problems (such as the trolley problem) mostly avoid this issue, if they don't ask about characterizations of the situation other than the decision that is to be made (such as whether by throwing or not throwing the switch one becomes "responsible" for the deaths).

Comment author: lukeprog 29 November 2012 04:21:23PM 6 points [-]

Right; the point of these thought experiments is to elicit intuitions about non-substantive questions, like what "know" means. Welcome to philosophy.

Comment author: Peterdjones 29 November 2012 04:29:31PM *  -3 points [-]

Right; the point of these thought experiments is to elicit intuitions about non-substantive questions, like what "know" means.

Ahem! Those questions are highly substantive. They are just not very empirical. Confusing verifiability and meaningfullness is a Very Bad Habit of Thought picked up from LW, IMNSHO.

Welcome to philosophy.

I thought that was my catchphrase.

Comment author: DaFranker 29 November 2012 04:42:11PM 5 points [-]

You'll have to explain your claim that "What does 'know' mean?" is a substantive rather than confused question (rational-tabooing "know" does appear to solve all the problems), because I'm quite sure I'm not the only one for whom this is not obvious or who has evidence saying otherwise.

Confusing verifiability and meaningfullness is a Very Bad Habit of Thought picked up from LW, IMNSHO.

Errh, non-sequitur much? I don't see where there's a relevant example of a confusion between verifiability and meaningfulness in this conversation.

I do agree that LWers are more likely to pick up this bad habit, and that it is not beneficial compared to many other, much healthier possible habits of thought. It just doesn't seem directly relevant to mention that here.

Comment author: RobbBB 29 November 2012 06:20:23PM *  7 points [-]

Here's an idea: Let's taboo 'substantive'. I suspect that by 'substantive' some of you mean 'important,' while others of you mean 'concerning the extra-mental world' or 'carving Nature at its joints.'

So: Are we arguing about whether our criteria for saying people know or fail to know things matter? Or are we aguing about whether there's a completely human-independent 'fact of the matter' about what the word 'know' does, or ought, mean?

Obviously purely conceptual questions can nevertheless be very humanly important; they can be conceptually deep. (Even completely arbitrary issues of rule-picking and definition-choosing can be extremely important. For instance, it matters a lot that we all agree on whether to drive on the right or left side of a given road, even though it's fundamentally arbitrary which side we all agree on.) And, equally obviously, most joint-carving questions are not humanly important at all.

Comment author: Peterdjones 29 November 2012 05:07:15PM *  0 points [-]

most of the diversity in answers may be caused not so much by "different intuitions", but vagueness of questions,

Which is a problem, because these kinds of quesions are asked to resolve "what does X mean" questions. It may be true that Meaning is Truth Conditions, but it isnt useful., because where meaning is vague, so are truth conditions, and so TC's cannot be used to pin down meaning.

whether by throwing or not throwing the switch one becomes "responsible" for the deaths).

"Responsible" is a characterisaion, isn't it?

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 29 November 2012 05:51:42PM *  8 points [-]

these kinds of quesions are asked to resolve "what does X mean" questions

Resolving the meaning of vague terms is a pointless activity/bad methodology. One should focus of seeking and answering better questions motivated by the same considerations that motivate the original vague questions instead. This involves asking "What motivates/causes the vague question?" rather than "What does the vague question mean?" as the first step, where the "vague question" is a real-world phenomenon occurring in a scholar's mind.

Sometimes, the cause of a question turns out to be uninteresting, a bug in perception of the world, which dissolves the question. Sometimes, the causes of a question turn out to have interesting and complicated structure and you need a whole lot of new ideas to characterize them. This way, "What is motion?" points towards ideas such as time, velocity, acceleration, inertia, mass, force, momentum, energy, impulse, torque, simultaneity, continuity, differential and integral calculus, etc., which were not there in the heads of the philosophers who first wondered about motion.

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 29 November 2012 08:59:30PM *  2 points [-]

Sometimes, the causes of a question turn out to have interesting and complicated structure and you need a whole lot of new ideas to characterize them. This way, "What is motion?" points towards ideas such as time, velocity, acceleration, inertia, mass, force, momentum, energy, impulse, torque, simultaneity, continuity, differential and integral calculus, etc., which were not there in the heads of the philosophers who first wondered about motion.

Isn't this kind of a counterexample to your point?

If, instead of "What is motion?", philosophers had turned to the question "What motivates/causes us to ask 'what is motion'?", the answer have been some variation on "moving stuff", which wouldn't have been much of an advance.

In this case the solution really did follow from a first-order process of trying to think very clearly about what the vague term "motion" seemed to be referring to, didn't it?

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 29 November 2012 09:24:34PM *  3 points [-]

The distinction I'm making with that example is between asking "What do I mean by 'motion'?", which looks at the person's understanding of the word in detail (and there isn't much useful understanding to be found in their mind if they don't already understand mechanics); and asking "What causes me to wonder about motion?", which points to the stuff that is moving, and motivates studying this moving stuff in detail, asking more specific questions about the way in which it moves.

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 30 November 2012 01:12:11AM 0 points [-]

I see. Thank you for the clarification.

Comment author: Peterdjones 29 November 2012 10:43:55PM 0 points [-]

And the empirical version of asking what a word means--examiining instances of usage, rather than introspecting -- can give3 us a useful start on that, eg. by showing that there a usages fall intio distinct clusters, so that there is not in fact one meaning.

Comment author: RobbBB 29 November 2012 10:43:23PM *  0 points [-]

"What causes me to wonder about motion?" is the better question if "motion" is a relatively natural kind. If it isn't — if it's plausible that I've made some error in how I group together phenomena — then it may be much more valuable to explain and make explicit what I mean by "motion." See where to draw the boundary.

Philosophy is only important because our intuitions are often unreliable. We can't trust common sense or pragmatism not to import unjustified assumptions, and unjustified assumptions can blow up in our face if left unexamined for too long. Philosophy has never been about asserting 'that's intuitive' and stopping there. (If it were, philosophical theories wouldn't be so ridiculously counter-intuitive!) It's about testing the relationship between intuitions, and the worldly naturalness of our intuitive kinds. If we could do without assumptions and categorization and methodological decisions and intuitive thought altogether in our scientific and everyday activities, then sure, maybe philosophy would be dispensable. But as it happens, errors in our conceptual schemes can bleed into serious errors in our decision-making and in our territory-mapping.

Refusing to think about philosophy doesn't immunize you to philosophical error; if anything, it increases your susceptibility to implicit philosophical biases.

Comment author: Peterdjones 29 November 2012 10:37:05PM *  1 point [-]

Resolving the meaning of vague terms is a pointless activity/bad methodology.

i wasn't aware that levels of vagueness are intrinsic and fixed. There is a sense in which "water" is now less vague (and a sense in which "matter" is now more vague).

ETA: It seems that when Science makes a term less vague, it does so by stipulation rather than resolution. When philosphers do that, it's a Bad Thing called the True Scotsman Fallacy.

In any case, I was only making the point that none of the quoted examples involved philsophers trying to deduce the nature of the external world from lingusitic behavuour.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 29 November 2012 10:51:22PM *  1 point [-]

Not every change is an improvement, but every improvement is a change. "True Scotsman Fallacy" is about changing the question under discussion in an unhelpful manner, often in order to avoid the evaluation of the original question. If we agree that different questions have different degrees of usefulness (given some state of understanding), different ability to elicit further understanding, and are motivated by various purposes (as opposed to somehow being important in themselves), then serving the purpose of a question naturally employs developing different, more useful questions, and shifting the focus of investigation to them.

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 29 November 2012 07:31:18AM *  7 points [-]

The examples involving killing people seem like good examples, but the others seem like they could be predicated on disagreements about semantics rather than, say, disagreements about anticipated experiences (or utility functions, I guess). Words would need to be tabooed before I would trust those examples.

Comment author: lukeprog 29 November 2012 04:19:19PM 9 points [-]

All of these examples are, in fact, explicitly about semantics. They are thought experiments mean to elicit our intuitions about the concepts of knowledge, moral rightness, etc.

Comment author: Bugmaster 29 November 2012 08:55:23AM 0 points [-]

Agreed. And the example about the watch sounds more like a "gotcha" question than anything else.

Comment author: RobbBB 29 November 2012 07:24:10AM *  5 points [-]

The point is very well-made. But it's not a philosophy-specific one. Mathematicians with a preferred ontology or axiomatization, theoretical physicists with a preferred nonstandard model or QM interpretation, also have to face up to the fact that neither intuitiveness nor counter-intuitiveness is a credible guide to truth — even in cases where there is no positive argument contesting the intuition. Some account is needed for why we should expect intuitions in the case in question to pick out truths.

Comment author: Peterdjones 29 November 2012 01:55:09PM *  2 points [-]

What else have we got (one)? We might accept QM's counterintuitive ideas about locality and causality on the basis of trust in empiricism. But where is the nonintutive basis for empiricism? Epistemology grounds out in intuitions as much as anything else. So when we accpet the counterintuitive content of QM, we are sacrificing one intuition to another.

What else have we got (two)? In mathematics, a theorem is considerred true if it is an axiom or derivable from an axiom. What third thing is there that would make an axiom true? It is not that intutitve axioms have some guarantee to fulfil some external criterion of truth (to correspond to affairs in Plato's Heaven perhaps) it is that there is no external criterion.

Comment author: RobbBB 29 November 2012 05:49:01PM *  0 points [-]

Epistemology and ethics, construed as systems or normative rules, must certainly hit rock bottom at some point -- in values, in concerns, in interests. But that's a foundational point, and I'm not sure we should retain the logic of criterionless foundational decisions once we're done with the founding.

I'm not sure 'assuming empiricism' is the foundation in question, though. Depending on what you mean by 'empiricism,' it might go at least a level or two deeper.

a theorem is considerred true if it is an axiom or derivable from an axiom. What third thing is there that would make an axiom true?

My point was that if you're going to criticize most philosophers for abusing intuitiveness, you should criticize most mathematicians for abusing it to an even greater degree. Mathematical realists, and mathematical platonists in particular -- a majority of mathematicians, as far as I'm aware -- are of the view that some mathematical structures we could build are right and others are just wrong, for one reason or another. What worries me isn't that the arguments for realism and platonism are weak; what worries me is that most mathematicians don't seem to even feel that they need to provide an argument to take this view seriously, as though the very act of noticing the intuition gave them reason to update in favor of realism.

Comment author: Peterdjones 29 November 2012 10:47:35PM 0 points [-]

But that's a foundational point, and I'm not sure we should retain the logic of criterionless foundational decisions once we're done with the founding.

I don't see what you're gettig at all. If there are ciiteria for being "foundational", how could they not be even more foundational? If there aren;t, how could foundations not be criterionless?

Depending on what you mean by 'empiricism,' it might go at least a level or two deeper.

Then what would it be? Are you sayign empricisim has intutivie or apriori sub-foundations?

My point was that if you're going to criticize most philosophers for abusing intuitiveness, you should criticize most mathematicians for abusing it to an even greater degree

Personally, I wasn;t criticising phis. for abusing intutiveness.

Comment author: RobbBB 29 November 2012 10:54:17PM 0 points [-]

I don't see what you're gettig at all. If there are ciiteria for being "foundational", how could they not be even more foundational?

I'm not saying there are criteria for making foundational decisions. (Though there may be causes. A cause differs from a criterion in that not all causes give me reasons to decide as I do.) I'm saying that we should be very wary about letting the arbitrariness of criterionless choices infect criterionful ones.

Then what would it be? Are you sayign empricisim has intutivie or apriori sub-foundations?

As I said, it depends on what you mean by 'empiricism.' So, what do you mean by it?

Comment author: Peterdjones 30 November 2012 02:34:21PM *  0 points [-]

I'm saying that we should be very wary about letting the arbitrariness of criterionless choices infect criterionful ones.

Do we have a choice? How to we protect any choice when it ultimately has an aribtrary foundation?

As I said, it depends on what you mean by 'empiricism.'

I don't see why: the problem seems to affect eveything.

So, what do you mean by it?

"Empiricism is a theory of knowledge that asserts that knowledge comes only or primarily from sensory experience."

Comment author: RobbBB 30 November 2012 07:31:16PM 2 points [-]

How to we protect any choice when it ultimately has an aribtrary foundation?

By choosing to treat non-foundational issues in a single unified way that is distinct from how we treat foundational issues, we keep our thought more ordered and localize whatever problems there might be to our axioms.

"Empiricism is a theory of knowledge that asserts that knowledge comes only or primarily from sensory experience."

I see no need to assume such a doctrine. If it turned out to be false (say, if we were programmed from birth with many innate truths), we could still do science. It's also worth noting that the logically knowable truths are far greater in number than the empirically knowable ones.

Comment author: Peterdjones 30 November 2012 11:19:07PM *  0 points [-]

By choosing to treat non-foundational issues in a single unified way that is distinct from how we treat foundational issues, we keep our thought more ordered and localize whatever problems there might be to our axioms.

That just says they are different. They have to be, because we can pin non-foundational issues to foundationail issues, but we can't pin foundational issues to foundational issues. However a difference is not the difference* -- the differnce tha would show that any arbitrariness of foundations affects what is founded on them

If [empiricism] turned out to be false (say, if we were programmed from birth with many innate truths), we could still do science

I suppose there could be a weak empiricism that just fills out the gaps in apriopri reasoning. However, it is doubtful that apriori reasoning can supply truth at all. See below.

It's also worth noting that the logically knowable truths are far greater in number than the empirically knowable ones.

So long as you are willing to accept valid derivations from arbitrary premises as actually true. One can derive all sorts of things from the cheesiness of the Moon..

Comment author: JoshuaZ 30 November 2012 07:37:35PM 0 points [-]

It's also worth noting that the logically knowable truths are far greater in number than the empirically knowable ones.

Can you explain what makes you conclude this inequality? It isn't obvious to me.

Comment author: RobbBB 30 November 2012 07:43:38PM *  2 points [-]

Sure. p → p is a logical truth. p → (p → p) is also a logical truth. So too p → (p → (p → p)). You can iterate this procedure to build arbitrarily long assertions. Likewise for mathematical equations. I don't think that what we ordinarily mean by 'empirical facts' can be generated so easily. The empirical facts are a vanishingly small subset of the things we can know.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 30 November 2012 07:50:37PM *  2 points [-]

If that sort of thing is acceptable, can't I also generate new empirical truths by for example just concatenating existing truths together? Say "The moon orbits the Earth, and George Washington was the first President"? That seems to be very close to what you are doing. Worse, I can use counterfactuals in a similar fashion, so "If homeopathy works then the moon is made out of green cheese" becomes an empirical truth?

There's an argument here that these statements I'm using are mixes of empirical and logical truth, and if one buys into that then it seems like you are correct.

Comment author: Peterdjones 30 November 2012 11:22:14PM *  0 points [-]

They're all just valid. You haven't got to sound yet.

The empirical facts are a vanishingly small subset of the things we can know

OK, I see what you mean better now. For one single empirical fact (sound premise) on can generate an infinite number of sound logical sentences, which basically say the same thing in ever more complicated ways. If p is true, (p & T) is true as are (p & T &T..). Many people have the instict that these are trivial "cambridge" truths and don;t add up to konwing an extra countable infinity of facts every time you learn one empirical fact.

It would be intersting to think about how that pans out in terns of the JTB theory.

Comment author: JaySwartz 30 November 2012 07:47:06PM *  1 point [-]

I think a semantic check is in order. Intuition can be defined as an immediate cognition of a thought that is not inferred by a previous cognition of the same thought. This definition allows for prior learning to impact intuition. Trained mathematicians will make intuitive inferences based on their training, these can be called breakthroughs when they are correct. It would be highly improbable for an untrained person to have the same intuition or accurate intuitive thoughts about advanced math.

Intuition can also be defined as untaught, non-inferential, pure knowledge. This would seem to invalidate the example above since the mathematician had a cognition that relied on inferences from prior teachings. Arriving at an agreement on which definition this thread is using will help clarify comments.

Comment author: RobbBB 30 November 2012 07:57:51PM 1 point [-]

The former definition sounds more promising. "Untaught" and "pure" are scary qualifiers to ask philosophers to be committed to when they probe themselves (or others) with thought experiments. Philosophical intuitions might be less rigorous or systematic than mathematical ones, but it's not as though they come free of cultural trappings or environmental influences.

Comment author: Bugmaster 29 November 2012 07:14:25AM 4 points [-]

For one thing, we would never assume that people of all kinds would share our intuitions.

Isn't this kind of an obvious conclusion ? The entire science of sociology was developed to address it, as far as I understand.

Is there really any kind of a serious debate in modern philosophy circles regarding whether or not our personal intuitions can be generally trusted ?

Comment author: lukeprog 29 November 2012 07:22:49AM 10 points [-]

Is there really any kind of a serious debate in modern philosophy circles regarding whether or not our personal intuitions can be generally trusted?

Yes! The Experimental Philosophy: An Introduction book I linked to is a very brief, up-to-date summary of that debate. The debate over intuitions is one of the hottest in philosophy today, and has been since about 1998.

Comment author: RichardChappell 03 December 2012 09:53:45PM 4 points [-]

The debate over intuitions is one of the hottest in philosophy today

But it -- at least the "debate over intuitions" that I'm most familiar with -- isn't about whether intuitions are reliable, but rather over whether the critics have accurately specified the role they play in traditional philosophical methodology. That is, the standard response to experimentalist critics (at least, in my corner of philosophy) is not to argue that intuitions are "reliable evidence", but rather to deny that we are using them as evidence at all. On this view, what we appeal to as evidence is not the psychological fact of my having an intuition, but rather the propositional content being judged.

The purpose of thought experiments, on this view, is to enable one to grasp new evidence (namely, the proposition in question) that they hadn't considered before. Of course, this isn't a "neutral" methodology because only those who intuit the true proposition thereby gain genuine evidence. But the foolishness of such a "neutrality" constraint (and the associated "psychological" view of evidence) is one of the major lessons of contemporary epistemology (see, esp., Williamson).

Comment author: lukeprog 19 December 2012 03:30:41AM 1 point [-]

A quick review (for the benefit of others): Bugmaster asked: "Is there really any kind of a serious debate in modern philosophy circles regarding whether or not our personal intuitions can be generally trusted?" I replied: "Yes... the debate over intuitions is one of the hottest in philosophy today." But Richard is right to say that most of the philosophical debate about intuitions "isn't about whether intuitions are reliable, but rather over whether the critics have accurately specified the role they play in traditional philosophical methodology." So, I apologize for my sloppy wording.

Now, a few words on intuitionist methodology. When I read the defenders of intuitionist methodology, I'm reminded of something John Doris said in my interview with him (slight paraphrase for clarity and succinctness; see the exact quote at the bottom of the transcript):

If experimentalists say that something is a mistake, then no one will admit they said it. And I'm no different: "Oh, is that false? Then I disagree. That's not what I really meant."

When experimentalists pointed out that our brains don't store concepts as necessary and sufficient conditions, many philosophers rushed to say that philosophers had never been assuming this in the first place. But clearly, many philosophers were making such false assumptions about how concepts worked, since the "classical" view of concepts — concepts as mental representations captured by necessary and sufficient conditions — held sway for quite some time, even after Wittgenstein (1953). (For a review, see Murphy 2004.)

Or, given that experimentalists have raised worries about using intuitions as evidence in general, Ichikawa (forthcoming) now rushes to say that philosophers generally don't rely on intuitions in a "central" way. (To narrow our discussion, I'll focus on this, the first article you sent me.) What does Ichikawa mean by this? He distinguishes three metaphilosophical claims:

  1. Intuited contents are (often) taken as important evidence/reasons/data/input in armchair philosophy.
  2. Intuited contents are (often) taken as important evidence/reasons/data/input in armchair philosophy because they are intuited.
  3. Intuition states, or facts about intuition states, are (often) taken as important evidence/reasons/data/input in armchair philosophy.

As far as I can tell, Ichikawa wants to argue that (1) represents philosophical practice better than (2) or (3), and that (1) is not particularly undermined by experimentalist critiques. Have I got that right? (I'll hold my reply until I hear whether you agree with my interpretation. I found Ichikawa to be unclear on this, though not as unclear as Yudkowsky or Muehlhauser often are in their philosophical writings.)

Comment author: RichardChappell 19 December 2012 05:04:04AM 1 point [-]

Yes, that's the idea. I mean, (2) is plausibly true if the "because" is meant in a purely causal, rather than rationalizing, sense. But we don't take the fact that we stand in a certain psychological relation to this content (i.e., intuiting it) to play any essential justifying role.

Thanks for following up on this issue! I'm looking forward to hearing the rest of your thoughts.

Comment author: lukeprog 19 December 2012 05:59:56AM 1 point [-]

Yes, that's the idea.

In that case, I struggle to see why the "defeater critique" wouldn't seriously undermine practice (1) in most cases. Philosophers can't simply assume intuited contents p and then move from p to q. We want to know how likely p is to be true, and if our primary reason for thinking p is true is some unreliable cognitive algorithm (rather than, say, hard scientific data or a mathematical proof), then we are left without much reason to be confident that p is true.

Suppose a theist says he knows by Holy Spirit Communication (HSC) that Jesus is magic. An atheist replies, "HSC is not a reliable method. See all this experimental data on people making judgments based on the deliverances of (what they claim is) HSC." The theist then says, "No, I'm not arguing from the HSC mental state to the conclusion that Jesus is magic. I'm arguing from the HSC contents (that is, from proposition p) to the conclusion that Jesus is magic."

The atheist would be unimpressed, and correctly so.

Comment author: RichardChappell 19 December 2012 07:34:29PM *  0 points [-]

In the case you describe, the "HSC content" is just that Jesus is magic. So there's no argument being offered at all. Now, if they offer an actual argument, from some other p to the conclusion that Jesus is magic, then we can assess this argument like any other. How the arguer came to believe the original premise p is not particularly relevant. What you call the "defeater critique", I call the genetic fallacy.

It's true that an interlocutor is never going to be particularly moved by an argument that starts from premises he doesn't accept. Such is life.

The more interesting question is whether the arguer herself should be led to abandon her intuited judgments. But unless you offer some positive evidence for an alternative rational credence to place in p, it's not clear that a "debunking" explanation of her current level of credence should, by itself, make any difference.

Think of intuitied judgments as priors. Someone might say, "There's no special reason to think that your priors are well-calibrated." And that may be true, but it doesn't change what our priors are. We can't start from anywhere but where we start.

Comment author: lukeprog 19 December 2012 09:26:46PM *  1 point [-]

What you call the "defeater critique", I call the genetic fallacy.

Thinking of things in terms of informal fallacies like the genetic fallacy throws away information. From a Bayesian viewpoint, the source of one's belief is relevant to its likelihood of being true.

(Edit 9/2/13: A good example of this is here.)

The more interesting question is whether the arguer herself should be led to abandon her intuited judgments. But unless you offer some positive evidence for an alternative rational credence to place in p, it's not clear that a "debunking" explanation of her current level of credence should, by itself, make any difference.

Right; I mostly complain about arguments made solely from intuited contents when the claims are given with far more confidence than can be justified by the demonstrated reliability of human intuitions in that domain.

Comment author: lukeprog 04 December 2012 12:37:17AM 0 points [-]

Can you cite a specific paper on book chapter which makes the kind of argument you're suggesting here?

Comment author: RichardChappell 04 December 2012 06:48:15PM 3 points [-]

Jonathan Ichikawa, 'Who Needs Intuitions'

Elizabeth Harman, 'Is it Reasonable to “Rely on Intuitions” in Ethics?

Timothy Williamson, 'Evidence in Philosophy', chp 7 of The Philosophy of Philosophy.

Comment author: lukeprog 04 December 2012 07:52:28PM 1 point [-]

Thanks. I'm going to be extremely busy for the next few weeks but I will make sure to get back to you on this (and reply to your comment, so you get a notification) at a later time.

Comment author: Bugmaster 29 November 2012 07:36:08AM -1 points [-]

My mind kind of boggled after reading your comment. First of all "Experimental Philosophy" sounds almost like an oxymoron. If it was really "experimental", it would be science, not philosophy. But secondly... debate about the reliability of intuitions, really ? Isn't this basically a very strong sign that modern philosophy can safely be ignored, just like modern astrology ?

Comment author: Emile 29 November 2012 03:07:10PM 6 points [-]

"Experimental Philosophy" sounds almost like an oxymoron. If it was really "experimental", it would be science, not philosophy.

Neither Philosophy nor Science are clearly delimited concepts that can be defined by a short sentence; like a lot of categories they are fuzzy and may overlap. Some activities called "doing science" are not experimental (abstract Math), and some experimental activities are not usually called "science" (testing a video game).

Comment author: myron_tho 29 November 2012 07:44:25AM -1 points [-]

But secondly... debate about the reliability of intuitions, really ? Isn't this basically a very strong sign that modern philosophy can safely be ignored, just like modern astrology ?

No.

Comment author: Bugmaster 29 November 2012 07:55:39AM 1 point [-]

Why not ?

Comment author: myron_tho 29 November 2012 09:01:41AM 3 points [-]

Because in a general sense, ignoring a large and useful body of knowledge out of hand and on the grounds that it triggers intuitive dislikes (esp. when said intuitions are based on a weak strawman interpretation of said discipline) is usually not a good move.

More specific to the argument at hand, why should a debate about reliability of intuitions disqualify philosophy? Do you believe this is a settled debate? And if so, on what grounds is it settled?

The center of the issue is that you can't answer these questions empirically. What observation(s) could you ever make that would settle the matter? We've got to invoke some form of philosophical justification even if it is vague and implicit. I'd prefer a more rigorous framework, as I imagine would most here, and that is what philosophy does and why it is still taken seriously, Eliezer's exasperation and misunderstanding notwithstanding.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 29 November 2012 01:07:33PM 3 points [-]

More specific to the argument at hand, why should a debate about reliability of intuitions disqualify philosophy? Do you believe this is a settled debate? And if so, on what grounds is it settled?

The center of the issue is that you can't answer these questions empirically.

I'm not sure what you mean there. Didn't Luke just present empirical evidence that our intuitions do vary? That answers the question. Our intuitions vary, therefore any way of conducting philosophy based on assuming they don't is wrong.

Comment author: RobbBB 29 November 2012 06:35:53PM *  4 points [-]

Richard: myron isn't disputing that it's wrong to presuppose the uniformity of all intuitions. (Though 'intuitions vary' is too crude a way of putting it; do all intuitions vary?) He's claiming that it's a straw-man to treat more than a handful of modern philosophers as committed to the uniformity of all intuitions. (It would be helpful at this stage for people on both sides to start quoting prominent philosophers weighing in on this very issue. The argument will get nowhere without shared data.)

And, it bears emphasizing: The question of whether certain sorts of intuitions are reliable is partly independent of the question of whether intuitions vary anthropologically. Some mathematical logicians disagree about whether ¬∀x(Fx) intuitively implies ∃x(¬Fx), but very few mathematicians conclude from this disagreement that our mathematical intuitions never give us insight into the truth.

Comment author: Emile 29 November 2012 03:02:00PM 1 point [-]

1) Sometimes you can still get useful work done with wrong assumptions (e.g. Newtonian Physics)

2) Bugmeister was talking about rejecting modern philosophy, which isn't the same as only rejecting "any way of conducting philosophy based on assuming they don't [vary]".

Comment author: DanArmak 30 November 2012 06:25:06PM 0 points [-]

The center of the issue is that you can't answer these questions empirically. What observation(s) could you ever make that would settle the matter? We've got to invoke some form of philosophical justification even if it is vague and implicit.

Or we can just toss out the questions as meaningless.

Comment author: Bugmaster 29 November 2012 07:45:45PM -1 points [-]

According to Luke, this is not a strawman, but in fact a correct representation of the current state of affairs. I myself am not sure whether that's the case.

What observation(s) could you ever make that would settle the matter?

I don't know what you mean by "settle", but Luke does present several pieces of strong evidence against the proposition that our intuitions can be trusted.

Comment author: myron_tho 29 November 2012 08:11:47PM 1 point [-]

According to Luke, this is not a strawman, but in fact a correct representation of the current state of affairs.

It is correct if you go by a select set of quotes that, from what I can tell, have been chosen specifically to support a presupposed position, i.e., philosophers don't think about obvious problems which have been intimately entwined with moral and ethical philosophy for hundreds of years.

Obviously I don't feel that this is correct, or that the quotes given are representative of what they're being made to represent.

I don't know what you mean by "settle", but Luke does present several pieces of strong evidence against the proposition that our intuitions can be trusted.

Sure. And presenting "strong evidence" in a reasoned back-and-forth is the point of philosophy, since every position has evidence which (it considers to be) strong support. This is why the debate is necessary, unless, as I wrote elsewhere, you presuppose there is only one privileged interpretation of the existing data.

If you believe that then I'd refer you to the debate around underdetermination and IBE in philosophy of science for a healthy re-orientation of your worldview.

Comment author: Jabberslythe 05 December 2012 02:16:58AM 1 point [-]

My mind kind of boggled after reading your comment. First of all "Experimental Philosophy" sounds almost like an oxymoron. If it was really "experimental", it would be science, not philosophy.

Well it doesn't matter that much what you call it. Since it is addressing questions are the mainly of interest to philosophers and that philosophers are trying to answer, I think it's useful to call it "experimental philosophy".

But secondly... debate about the reliability of intuitions, really ? Isn't this basically a very strong sign that modern philosophy can safely be ignored, just like modern astrology ?

Most of the reliance on intuitions in philosophy is for doing conceptual analysis, so figuring out what people mean by terms like knowledge, which there may be problems with, but philosophers aren't relying on intuitions to resolve questions such as what's going to happen to me me in the future, like astrologists are.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 05 December 2012 02:20:05AM 0 points [-]

Among other issues, there clearly are productive philosophers out there who are producing good work. Bostrom is a popular example here at LW.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 29 November 2012 08:22:55AM 0 points [-]

If it was really "experimental", it would be science, not philosophy.

There was a fellow in the early 20th century who labeled his religious writings with the catch-phrase, "The Method of Science, the Aim of Religion."

Comment author: Nornagest 29 November 2012 08:34:42AM 4 points [-]

Crowley was surprisingly lucid in methods for someone with a habit of calling himself "The Great Beast 666"; much of his work might be described as what you'd get if you took an empiricist epistemology and applied it to a profoundly anti-reductionist ontology. I've gotten some mileage out of his quotes on religious practice elsewhere.

Comment author: Bugmaster 29 November 2012 08:34:30AM 0 points [-]

So did L. Ron Hubbard, doesn't mean that either of them was right. But at least your guy didn't extort money from his followers, AFAIK...

Comment author: myron_tho 29 November 2012 06:37:37AM *  4 points [-]

For one thing, we would never assume that people of all kinds would share our intuitions.

You write this like it's an original insight and not a problem that has been taken seriously by every philosopher who ever wrote seriously about ethics or meta-ethics.

Comment author: lukeprog 29 November 2012 06:44:43AM *  2 points [-]

You would be surprised to learn how often I talk to Less Wrongers who have been corrupted by a few philosophy classes and therefore engage in the kind of philosophical analysis which assumes that their intuitions are generally shared.

Despite being downvoted in this comment, I think Eliezer is generally right that reading too much mainstream philosophy — even "naturalistic" analytic philosophy — is somewhat likely to "teach very bad habits of thought that will lead people to be unable to do real work."

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 29 November 2012 11:15:26AM 8 points [-]

Is believing in shared intuitions a result of reading philosophy, or is it just that intuitions feel like truths?

Comment author: myron_tho 29 November 2012 07:14:33AM 3 points [-]

I think Eliezer is generally right that reading too much mainstream philosophy — even "naturalistic" analytic philosophy — is somewhat likely to "teach very bad habits of thought that will lead people to be unable to do real work."

Also could you expand on this as I didn't catch it before the edit?

It's not obvious what the "bad habits" might be, and what they are bad relative to. This reads as a claim that would be very hard to defend at face value, and without clarification it reads like a throwaway attack not to be taken seriously.

Comment author: lukeprog 29 November 2012 07:29:14AM 7 points [-]

It's not obvious what the "bad habits" might be, and what they are bad relative to.

Examples of bad habits often picked up from reading too much philosophy: arguing endlessly about definitions, or using one's own intuitions as strong evidence about how the external world works. These are bad habits relative to, you know, not arguing endlessly about definitions, and using science to figure out how the world works.

Comment author: myron_tho 29 November 2012 07:32:31AM *  -1 points [-]

arguing endlessly about definitions, or using one's own intuitions as strong evidence about how the external world works.

So this comes down to what you said previously about not liking people who came out of Philosophy 101, e.g., it's an argument against a philosophical tradition that does not actually exist.

These are bad habits relative to, you know, not arguing endlessly about definitions, and using science to figure out how the world works.

You mention naturalism as a "bad habit" for using science to understand the world?

Do you actually understand what naturalism is and what relationship it has with science?

Comment author: PaulWright 29 November 2012 11:03:41AM 7 points [-]

You mention naturalism as a "bad habit" for using science to understand the world?

No, he doesn't (which is why I downvoted this comment, BTW). Luke says that even naturalistic philosophers exhibit these bad habits. He does not say that naturalism is a bad habit, or that it's a bad habit because it uses science to understand the world.

Comment author: myron_tho 29 November 2012 07:24:48PM -2 points [-]

Luke says that even naturalistic philosophers exhibit these bad habits. He does not say that naturalism is a bad habit, or that it's a bad habit because it uses science to understand the world.

Not quite:

reading too much mainstream philosophy ... is somewhat likely to "teach very bad habits of thought that will lead people to be unable to do real work."

"Teach" implies that engaging one's self with "too much" mainstream philosophy will cause bad habits to arise (and make one unable to do 'real work', whatever that might be).

Unexamined presuppositions make a wonderful basis for discourse.

Comment author: RobbBB 29 November 2012 07:44:42AM *  5 points [-]

I don't think that's what lukeprog meant. That said, thinking 'naturalism' is a unitary concept that the members of some relevant linguistic community or intellectual elite share is itself a startlingly good example of the sort of practice lukeprog's 'intuitions aren't shared' meme is warning about.

The Stanford Encyclopedia article on naturalism itself begins, amusingly enough:

"The term ‘naturalism’ has no very precise meaning in contemporary philosophy. [...'N]aturalism’ is not a particularly informative term as applied to contemporary philosophers. The great majority of contemporary philosophers would happily accept naturalism[...]—that is, they would both reject ‘supernatural’ entities, and allow that science is a possible route (if not necessarily the only one) to important truths about the ‘human spirit’.

Even so, this entry will not aim to pin down any more informative definition of ‘naturalism’. It would be fruitless to try to adjudicate some official way of understanding the term. Different contemporary philosophers interpret ‘naturalism’ differently. This disagreement about usage is no accident. For better or worse, ‘naturalism’ is widely viewed as a positive term in philosophical circles—few active philosophers nowadays are happy to announce themselves as ‘non-naturalists’. This inevitably leads to a divergence in understanding the requirements of ‘naturalism’. Those philosophers with relatively weak naturalist commitments are inclined to understand ‘naturalism’ in a unrestrictive way, in order not to disqualify themselves as ‘naturalists’, while those who uphold stronger naturalist doctrines are happy to set the bar for ‘naturalism’ higher."

Comment author: myron_tho 29 November 2012 07:54:30AM 0 points [-]

Thinking 'naturalism' is a unitary concept that the members of some relevant linguistic community or intellectual elite share is itself a startlingly good example of the 'intuitions aren't shared' corrective lukeprog was making.

But calling it a "bad habit" with no justification or qualification is exempt from being an equally good (better, in fact, given that I'd not at all expanded on naturalism and certainly not with a dismissive one-liner) example of the "corrective"?

PS -- the Stanford Encyclopedia is as good a "proof" as posting a link from Wikipedia. There is (of course) debate in philosophy, but to claim that "naturalism" encourages "bad habits" is just plain sloppy thinking and a strawman built against equally sloppy philosophy undergrads.

If intuitions aren't reliable, then this entire line of thought is unreliable :-)

Comment author: RobbBB 29 November 2012 08:03:18AM *  1 point [-]

To be frank, although I speak for myself and not lukeprog, framing the scientific method or world-view in terms of 'naturalism,' or in terms of a nature/'supernature' dichotomy, is a bad habit. I can't say much more than that until you explain what you personally mean by 'naturalism.'

the Stanford Encyclopedia is as good a "proof" as posting a link from Wikipedia.

I don't follow. A Stanford Encyclopedia is much better evidence for the professional consensus of philosophers than is a Wikipedia article.

If intuitions aren't reliable, then this entire line of thought is unreliable :-)

Are you alluding to the fact that we all rely on intuitions in our everyday reason? If so, this is an important point. The take-away message from philosophy's excesses is not 'Avoid all intuitions.' It's 'Scrutinize intuitions to determine which ones we have reason to expect to match the contours of the territory.' The successes of philosophy -- successes like 'science' and 'mathematics' and 'logic' -- are formalized and heavily scrutinized networks of intuitions, intuitions that we have good empirical reason to think happen to be of a rare sort that correspond to the large-scale structure of reality. Most of our intuitions aren't like that, though they may still be useful and interesting in other respects.

Comment author: myron_tho 29 November 2012 08:50:24AM *  1 point [-]

To be frank, although I speak for myself and not lukeprog, framing the scientific method or world-view in terms of 'naturalism,' or in terms of a nature/'supernature' dichotomy, is a bad habit. I can't say much more than that until you explain what you personally mean by 'naturalism.'

I'm thinking of naturalism as broadly accepted by modern analytic philosophy, in Quine's terms and in more modern constructions which emphasize i) that the natural world is the "only" world (this is not to be confused with a dualistic opposition to anything "supernatural"; the supernatural is simply ruled out as an option) and ii) that science is a preferred means of obtaining knowledge about said world.

I realize that's less clear than you may want, but the vagueness of the term is part of why I found it objectionable to treat is as instilling "bad habits".

Are you alluding to the fact that we all rely on intuitions in our everyday reason?

Well, indirectly, but the specific point was that the argument presented here is an intuition about what goes on in philosophy, what constitutes the current trends and debates within the discipline, and so on, and it appears to me that it is more strawman than a rigorous reply to those activities.

Given that it's an intuition underpinning an article about the unreliability of intuitions, well...you can appreciate the meta-humor I found there.

It's 'Scrutinize intuitions to determine which ones we have reason to expect to match the contours of the territory.'

Of course, and as I've relayed in other comments, this is no insight to philosophers -- philosophers already do this. We could of course point out instances where the philosopher's argument is predicated on validating intutions, but even there you are guaranteed to see a more nuanced position than the uncritical acceptance of common-sense intuitions, and as such even those positions mandate more than a sweeping dismissal.

The successes of philosophy -- successes like 'science' and 'mathematics' and 'logic' -- are formalized and heavily scrutinized networks of intuitions, intuitions that we have good empirical reason to think happen to be of a rare sort that correspond to the large-scale structure of reality.

And ethics/meta-ethics, moral theory, social theory, aesthetics...all of these are, at least in part, beyond the realm of the empirical, and it is a philosophical stance you have taken which puts them in the realm of the physical and empirical or else excludes their reality (if you go the eliminativist route).

These domains are arguably as successful at what they do as math and logic have been in their respective domains, and frankly they don't operate anything like what you've described (re: empirically-discovered relations to the large scale of reality). This is part of why we need naturalistic philosophy, because without it you wind up with unabashed scientism like this, which sits right on the precipice of "ethical" choices which can be monstrous.

Personally I think even other forms of philosophy are not only useful, but what have been called "bad habits" by Eliezer et al. are actually central components of a lived human life. I wouldn't be so hasty to get rid of them, and certainly not with such a sweeping set of dismissals about the primacy of science.

Comment author: RobbBB 29 November 2012 06:04:59PM 1 point [-]

i) that the natural world is the "only" world

Define "natural world" so that it's clearer how the above is non-tautological.

(this is not to be confused with a dualistic opposition to anything "supernatural";

If you aren't denying or opposing anything, then what work is "only" doing in the sense "the natural world is the only world"?

the supernatural is simply ruled out as an option)

What does it mean in this context to 'rule out as an option' something? How does this differ from 'opposing' an option?

and ii) that science is a preferred means of obtaining knowledge about said world.

Define 'science,' while you're at it. Is looking out the window science? Is logical deduction science? Is logical deduction science when your premises are 'about the world'? Same question for mathematical reasoning. I'd think most scientists in their daily lives would actually consider logical or mathematical reasoning stronger than, 'preferred' over, any scientific observation or theory.

I realize that's less clear than you may want, but the vagueness of the term is part of why I found it objectionable to treat is as instilling "bad habits".

The vagueness of the term 'naturalism' is the primary reason it's a bad habit to define your methods or world-view in terms of it.

And ethics/meta-ethics, moral theory, social theory, aesthetics...all of these are, at least in part, beyond the realm of the empirical

I don't know what you mean by 'beyond the realm of the empirical.' Plenty of logic and mathematics also transcends the observable. I think we'd get a lot further in this discussion if we started defining or tabooing 'science,' 'philosophy,' 'empirical,' 'natural,' etc.

This is part of why we need naturalistic philosophy, because without it you wind up with unabashed scientism like this, which sits right on the precipice of "ethical" choices which can be monstrous.

To be honest, this sentence here pretty much sums up what I think is wrong with modern philosophy. There is virtually no content to 'naturalism' or 'scientism,' beyond the fact that both are associated with science and the former has a positive connotation, while the latter has a negative connotation. Thus we see much of the modern philosophical (and pop-philosophical) discourse consumed in hand-wringing over whether something is 'naturalistic' (goodscience! happy face!) or whether something is 'scientistic' (badscience! frowny face!), and the whole framing does nothing but obscure what's actually under debate. Any non-trivial definition of 'naturalism' and 'scientism' will allow that a reasonable scientist might be forced to forsake naturalism, or adopt scientism, in at least some circumstances; and any circular or otherwise trivial one is not worth discussing.

Comment author: lukeprog 29 November 2012 05:48:27PM 3 points [-]

So this comes down to what you said previously about not liking people who came out of Philosophy 101, e.g., it's an argument against a philosophical tradition that does not actually exist.

No. It's an argument against a philosophical tradition that does exist.

In this "Philosophy by Humans" sub-sequence, it seems like the most common response I get is, "No, philosophers can't actually be that stupid," even though my post went to the trouble of quoting philosophers saying "Yes, this thing here is our standard practice."

Comment author: myron_tho 29 November 2012 08:01:28PM 0 points [-]

In this "Philosophy by Humans" sub-sequence, it seems like the most common response I get is, "No, philosophers can't actually be that stupid," even though my post went to the trouble of quoting philosophers saying "Yes, this thing here is our standard practice."

So? I can quote scientists saying all manner of stupid, bizarre, unintuitive things...but my selection of course sets up the terms of the discussion. If I choose a sampling that only confirms my existing bias against scientists, then my "quotes" are going to lead to the foregone conclusion. I don't see why "quoting" a few names is considered evidence of anything besides a pre-existing bias against philosophy.

On a second and more important point, you've yet to elaborate on why having a debate about ethics is problematic in the first place. Your appeal to Eliezer and his vague handwaving about "bad habits" and "real work" (which range from "too vague" to "nonsensical" depending on how charitable you want to be) is not persuasive, so I'd ask again: what is wrong with philosophy doing what it is supposed to do, i.e., examine ideas?

I realize that declaring it "wrong" by fiat seems to be the rule around here, if the comments are any indication, but from the philosophical standpoint that's a laughable argument to make, and it's not persuasive to anyone who doesn't already share your presuppositions.

Comment author: lukeprog 29 November 2012 08:23:05PM *  5 points [-]

If I choose a sampling that only confirms my existing bias against scientists, then my "quotes" are going to lead to the foregone conclusion. I don't see why "quoting" a few names is considered evidence of anything besides a pre-existing bias against philosophy.

So you're worried about the problem of filtered evidence. Throughout this sequence, I've given lots of citations and direct quotes of philosophers doing things — and saying that they're doing things — which don't make sense given certain pieces of scientific evidence. Can you, then, provide citations or quotes of philosophers saying "No, we aren't really appealing to intuitions in this way?" I'll bet you can find a few, but I don't think they'll say that their own approach is the standard one.

You're asking me to do all the work, here. I've provided examples and evidence, and you've just flatly denied my examples and evidence without providing any counterexamples or counterevidence. That's logically rude.

you've yet to elaborate on why having a debate about ethics is problematic in the first place... what is wrong with philosophy doing what it is supposed to do, i.e., examine ideas?

Here, you managed to straw man me twice in a single paragraph. I never said that debates about ethics are problematic, and I never said there's something wrong with philosophy examining ideas. I've only ever said that specific, particular ways of examining ideas or having philosophical debates are problematic, and I've explained in detail why those specific, particular methods are problematic. You're just ignoring what I've actually said, and what I have not said.

I realize that declaring it "wrong" by fiat seems to be the rule around here, if the comments are any indication, but from the philosophical standpoint that's a laughable argument to make, and it's not persuasive to anyone who doesn't already share your presuppositions.

Again, I'm the one who bothered to provide examples and evidence for my position. You're the one who keeps declaring things wrong without providing any examples and evidence to support your own view. Declaring something wrong without providing reason or evidence is against the cultural norm around here, and you are the one who is violating it.

Comment author: siodine 29 November 2012 08:20:40PM *  1 point [-]

So? I can quote scientists saying all manner of stupid, bizarre, unintuitive things...but my selection of course sets up the terms of the discussion. If I choose a sampling that only confirms my existing bias against scientists, then my "quotes" are going to lead to the foregone conclusion. I don't see why "quoting" a few names is considered evidence of anything besides a pre-existing bias against philosophy.

Improving upon this: why care about what the worst of a field has to say? It's the 10% (stergeon's law) that aren't crap that we should care about. The best material scientists give us incremental improvements in our materials technology, and the worst write papers that are never read or do research that is never used. But what do the best philosophers of meta-ethics give us? More well examined ideas? How would you measure such a thing? How can those best philosophers know they're making progress? How can they improve the tools they use? Why should we fund philosophy departments?

Comment author: RobbBB 29 November 2012 08:52:34PM *  1 point [-]

The best ethical philosophers give us the foundations of utility calculation, clarify when we can (and can't) derive facts and values from each other, generate heuristics and frameworks within which to do politics and resolve disputes over goals and priorities. The best metaphysicians give us scientific reasoning, novel interpretations of quantum mechanics, warnings of scientists becoming overreliant on some component of common sense, and new empirical research programs (Einstein's most important work consisted of metaphysical thought experiments). The best logicians and linguistic philosophers give us the propositional calculus, knowledge of valid and invalid forms, etc., etc. Even if you think the modalists and dialetheists are crazy, you can be very thankful to them for developing modal and paraconsistent logics that have valuable applications outside of traditional philosophical disputes.

And, of course, philosophy in general is useful for testing the tools of our trade. We can be more confident of and skilled in our reasoning in specific domains, like physics and electrical engineering and differential calculus, when those tools have been put to the test in foundational disputes. A bad Philosophy 101 class can lead to hyperskepticism or metaphysical dogmatism, but a good Philosophy 101 class can lead to a healthy skepticism mixed with intellectual curiosity and dynamism. Ultimately, the reason to fund 'philosophy' departments is that there is no such thing as 'philosophy;' what the departments in question are really teaching is how to think carefully about the most difficult questions. The actual questions have nothing especially in common, beyond their difficulty, their intractability before our ordinary methods.

Comment author: siodine 29 November 2012 09:00:27PM *  -1 points [-]

I'm a bit worried that your conception of philosophy is riding on the coat tails of long-past-philosophy where the distinction between philosophy, math, and science were much more blurred than they are now. Being generous, do you have any examples from the last few decades (that I can read about)?

I'll agree with you that having some philosophical training is better than none in that it can be useful in getting a solid footing in basic critical thinking skills, but then if that's a philosophy department's purpose then it doesn't need to be funded beyond that.

Comment author: Jahed 29 November 2012 08:02:39PM 0 points [-]

This seems reasonable.

Comment author: Peterdjones 29 November 2012 06:47:48PM 0 points [-]

I'll say it again: by "intuition" they might mean "shared intuition", in which case they are doing nothing wrong so long as there are some, and so long as they rejected purported intuitions which aren't shared.

Comment author: Peterdjones 29 November 2012 01:01:47PM *  0 points [-]

arguing endlessly about definitions,

Is the problem the arguing, or the arguing endlessly? In science, there is little need to argue about definitions because Someone Somewhere has settled the issue, often by stipulation. In philosophy, there is no Someone Somewhere who convenientyl does this for you. Philosophy deals with non-empirical questions (or it would be science), which means it deals with concepts, and since we access concepts with words, it deals with definitions. So the criticism that philosophers shouldn't argue definitions is tantamount to criticising philosophy for being philosophy. Uless the problem was the "endlessly".

using one's own intuitions as strong evidence about how the external world works.

Who does that? (ETA: at least for the past one hundred years) None of your examples work that way. Questions like "what is knowledge" and "what is the right thing to do" are not about the EW.

Comment author: DSimon 04 December 2012 08:30:26PM 1 point [-]

The problem is "arguing" as compared to "investigating".

If there's a disagreement about how human minds implement certain ideas, then it's more productive to do experimental psychology than to discuss it abstractly, for the usual scientific reasons: nailing it down to a prediction makes sure that the idea in question is actually coherent, and also there are a lot of potential pitfalls when humans try to use their own brains to examine their own brains.

Though on the other hand, coming up with good experiments for this stuff is really tricky. As Suryc mentions above, you can't just ask people what they mean by "intentional" or whatever, you'll get garbage results. Just like how if you ask somebody with no linguistics knowledge to explain English grammar to you you'll get nonsense back, even if that person is quite capable at actually writing in English.

Comment author: DSimon 04 December 2012 08:32:15PM 0 points [-]

Also: Who says that concepts are non-empirical? Doesn't it come down to something like a scientific investigation into the operations of the human brain?

Comment author: Peterdjones 05 December 2012 11:09:29AM 0 points [-]

Not with current technology.

Comment author: Peterdjones 29 November 2012 12:53:45PM 0 points [-]

Agreed. What is critical here is whether there are better habits.

Comment author: myron_tho 29 November 2012 06:53:09AM *  3 points [-]

Oh I doubt I'd be surprised, but that's more a problem of the people coming out of Philosophy 101 than the discipline itself. Frege and Bertrand Russell put most of the metaphysical extravagances to bed (in the Anglo-American tradition at least) with the turn towards formal logic and language, and the modern-day analytic tradition hasn't ever looked back.

As it stands the field has about as much to do with mind-body dualism or idealism (or their respective toolkits) as theoretical physics. This goes for ethics and meta-ethics, and no serious writer in that topic would entertain Cartesian dualism or Kantian deontology or any other such in a trivial form. The idea of contingent, historical, contextually-sensitive ethics is widely recognized and is indeed a topic of lively discussion.

Comment author: lukeprog 29 November 2012 06:58:36AM 3 points [-]

Oh I doubt I'd be surprised, but that's more a problem of the people coming out of Philosophy 101 than the discipline itself.

No, seriously: the assumption that others will share one's philosophical intuitions is rampant in contemporary philosophy. Go read all the angry papers written in response to the work of experimental philosophers, or the works of the staunch intuitionists like George Bealer and Ernest Sosa.

Comment author: myron_tho 29 November 2012 07:04:01AM *  -1 points [-]

The field as a whole (or rather, some within it, to be more accurate) takes these issues seriously as a matter of debate, yes, but arguing over controversial claims is the entire point of philosophy so that's no mark against it. It's also a radically different position from the strong claim you've advanced here that the field itself is broken, which is nonsense to anyone familiar with modern moral philosophy and ethics/meta-ethics and is dangerously close to a strawman argument.

To say the problem is "rampant" is to admit to a limited knowledge of the field and the debates within it.

Comment author: siodine 29 November 2012 03:40:02PM 2 points [-]

To say the problem is "rampant" is to admit to a limited knowledge of the field and the debates within it.

Well, Lukeprog certainly doesn't have a limited knowledge of philosophy. Maybe you can somehow show that the problem isn't rampant.

Comment author: myron_tho 29 November 2012 08:21:50PM -3 points [-]

Maybe you can somehow show that the problem isn't rampant.

Sure. Should I go about showing there are no unicorns and leprechauns while I'm at it?

ps when a restricted set of statements is used as the exemplar of a very wide and very deep field of which the entire point is to discuss ideas and their implications the proper response to criticism is not "oh yeah well prove it's not true"

Comment author: siodine 29 November 2012 08:34:00PM *  3 points [-]

You're both arguing over your impressions of philosophy. I'm more inclined to agree with Lukeprog's impression unless you have some way of showing that your impression is more accurate. Like, for example, show me three papers in meta-ethics from the last year that you think highlight what is representational of that area of philosophy.

From my reading of philosophy, the most well known philosophers (who I'd assume are representational of the top 10% of the field) do keep intuitions and conceptual analysis in their toolbox. But when they bring it out of the toolbox, they dress it up so that it's not prima facie stupid (and then you get a fractal mess of philosophers publishing how the intuition is wrong where their intuition isn't, or how they shouldn't be using intuitions, or how intuitions are useful, and so on with no resolution). If I were to take a step back and look at what philosophy accomplishes, I think I'd have to say "confusion."

You can say this is just the way things are in philosophy, but then why should we fund philosophy?

Comment author: Emile 29 November 2012 03:23:18PM 2 points [-]

arguing over controversial claims is the entire point of philosophy

How do you decide whether a claim is controversial?

Just see if people are arguing over it. Duh.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 29 November 2012 01:13:28PM 5 points [-]

arguing over controversial claims is the entire point of philosophy

You have precisely identified the fundamental problem with philosophy.

Comment author: Peterdjones 29 November 2012 03:28:40PM 1 point [-]

And your better alternative is...?

Comment author: RichardKennaway 29 November 2012 03:45:45PM 3 points [-]

DDTT. Don't study words as if they had meanings that you could discover by examining your intuitions about how to use them. Don't draw maps without looking out of the window.

Positively, they could always start here.

Comment author: TimS 29 November 2012 03:54:10PM 1 point [-]

BS. For example, Eliezer's take on logical positivism in the most recent Sequence is interesting. But logical positivism has substantial difficulties - identified by competing philosophical schools - that Eliezer has only partially resolved.

Aristotle tried to say insightful things merely by examining etymology, but the best of modern philosophy has learned better.

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 29 November 2012 04:05:56PM 0 points [-]

I only see objections to traditional strains of positivism. It doesn't seem they even apply to what EY's been doing. In particular, the problems in objections 1, 3C1, 3C2, and 3F2 have been avoided by being more careful about what is not said. Meanwhile, 2 and 3F1 seem incoherent to me.

Comment author: Peterdjones 29 November 2012 03:59:37PM *  0 points [-]

Don't...don't...

I need to knowpositively how to answer typical philosophhical questions such as the meaning of life.

Positively, they could always start here.

That's a re-invention of LP, which has problems well known to philosophers.

Comment author: lukeprog 29 November 2012 10:14:28PM *  2 points [-]

I need to know... how to answer typical philosophical questions such as the meaning of life.

Eliezer has written quite a bit about how to do philosophy well, and I intend to do so in the future.

If you'll pardon the pun, I leave you with "Why I Stopped Worrying About the Definition of Life, and Why You Should as Well".

Comment author: Sniffnoy 29 November 2012 05:32:31PM *  0 points [-]

I need to knowpositively how to answer typical philosophhical questions such as the meaning of life.

Only if the question is meaningful. Of course, just saying "Don't do that then" doesn't tell you how to resolve whether that's the case or not, but necessarily expecting an answer rather than a dissolution is not necessarily correct.

Comment author: siodine 29 November 2012 03:36:22PM -2 points [-]

Defund philosophy departments to the benefit of computer science departments?

Comment author: Peterdjones 29 November 2012 04:03:09PM *  -2 points [-]

And the CS departments are going to tell us what the meaning of life is?

If have to give up on even trying to answer the questions, you don't actually have a better alternative.

Comment author: siodine 29 November 2012 04:11:37PM *  0 points [-]

I absolutely loathe the way you phrased that question for a variety of reasons (and I suspect analytic philosophers would as well), so I'm going to replace "meaning of life" with something more sensible like "solve metaethics" or "solve the hard problem of consciousness." In which case, yes. I think computer science is more likely to solve metaethics and other philosophical problems because the field of philosophy isn't founded on a program and incentive structure of continual improvement through feedback from reality. Oh, and computer science works on those kinds of problems (so do other areas of science, though).

Comment author: RobbBB 29 November 2012 06:44:13PM 0 points [-]

Bertrand Russell put most of the metaphysical extravagances to bed (in the Anglo-American tradition at least) with the turn towards formal logic and language

Amusing in light of Russell's rather exotic metaphysical views.

Comment author: myron_tho 29 November 2012 07:50:57PM 0 points [-]

You can understand the difference between being a rough progenitor of a historical tradition in thought, on the one hand, and the views held by an individual, correct?

Honestly I'd expected a little better than the strategy of circling of the wagons and defending the group on the site of Pure Rationality where we correct biased thinking. Turns out LW is like every other internet forum and the focus on "rationality" makes no difference in the degree biases underpinning the arguments?

Comment author: siodine 29 November 2012 03:21:28PM *  0 points [-]

Show me three of your favorite papers from the last year in ethics or meta-ethics that highlight the kind of the philosophy you think is representational of the field. (And if you've been following Lukeprog's posts for any length of time, you'd see that he's probably read more philosophy than most philosophers. His gestalt impression of the field is probably accurate.)

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 29 November 2012 01:11:31PM 2 points [-]

Philosophy isn't the only discipline that uses intuition to adjudicate between theories. Even physicists rely on intuitive notions of "simplicity" when arguing for one model over another.

Comment author: Manfred 29 November 2012 11:47:02PM 0 points [-]

Though most of the time they use straightforward formal notions of simplicity.

Comment author: Kawoomba 29 November 2012 03:56:46PM *  1 point [-]

Bit of an implied false dichotomy, or at least an uncharitable reading.

You should get near universal agreement for stating that our intuitions are not strictly universally shared. Even the relevant quote you used qualified the "universally shared" with a "more or less".

Since we do share a cognitive architecture with many common elements, we should expect that - analogous to our various utility functions for which we surmise the existence of a CEV - there is a CEV-concept-analogon usable for philosophical intuitions, a sort of CEI. Whether a CEI still falls under the purview of "more or less" is up to debate. Just as gender-specific (culture-specific) CEVs would show differences, so would gender-specific (culture-specific) CEIs.

If you had to make a bet on whether human X shared a specific intuition with you, don't you think chances are that he/she does?

Comment author: thomblake 29 November 2012 06:13:33PM 1 point [-]

Indeed - like most philosophy, x-phi focuses on the controversial questions, so the conclusion that intuitions generally vary is not justified. However, for this reason it's a fairly effective attack on philosophy which attempts to use exactly those intuitions to solve exactly those questions.

Comment author: BobTheBob 02 December 2012 05:43:10PM 1 point [-]

Following the sequence link at the top, I found this similar post, which has an impressive list of references. You include there this paper by Timothy Williamson. It seems to me an oversight you don't mention the paper's argument at all, as it's a sustained critique of the position you're representing.

The basic idea is that the kind of doubts about intuitions you raise are relevantly similar to more familiar forms of philosophical scepticism (scepticism about the external world, etc). I understand Williamson sees a dilemma: either they are mistaken for the same reasons familiar scepticism is mistaken (Williamson's position, to which most of the paper is dedicated), or the doubts undermine way more than its proponents think they do.

It'd be great to hear your summary of the argument there, and what you consider to be its flaw(s).

If you like Williamson, check out also this excellent bit on naturalism.

Comment author: aaronsw 01 December 2012 02:02:56PM 1 point [-]
Comment author: DanielLC 30 November 2012 06:47:05AM 1 point [-]

Does it matter how much the diversity correlates with gender, society, etc.? If they're basing it on the fact that our intuitions are shared, and they aren't shared, what difference does it make if our gender is shared?

Comment author: chaosmosis 01 December 2012 03:39:48AM *  0 points [-]

In fairness there are potential issues here with signalling and culture. Although people might profess to believe X, in reality X just might be a more common type of cached knowledge, or X might be something that they say because they think it is socially useful, or as a permutation of those two they might have conditioned themselves to believe in X. Or, perhaps they interpret the meaning of "X" differently than others do, but they really mean the same thing underneath.

I think there should be a distinction between types of intuitions, or at least two different poles on a broad spectrum. I think we should consider the extreme of one pole to be truly internalized knowledge that's an extremely core part of that persons personality, and the other extreme to be an extremely shallow belief that's produced by lazy introspection or by no introspection at all, just the automatic repetition of cultural means.

I think that the first type of intuition would be extremely similar. I also think that the first type of intuition is what really matters and probably what controls our actions. I think the second type of intuition probably effects behavior to a limited degree, but I don't think that it would be all that significant. I think these things because humans cooperate with each other so easily, and because there are a great many concepts that translate easily across cultures. Even with some the strangest sounding foreign philosophies that I've encountered, I emphasize with a little, and I think that's because those philosophies have origins common to all people.

The fact that all humans are extremely biologically similar is also a big factor in my thought process.

Comment author: Peterdjones 29 November 2012 02:40:41PM 0 points [-]

For one thing, we would never assume that people of all kinds would share our intuitions.

Here are some circumstances where we should:-

First we define "intuition" as a basic idea or principle that we need , and which can't be derived from anything else.

Secondly, we further stipulate that intutions must be shared.

Thirdly, we use empirical philosophy to reject any purported intuitions that don't meet the last criterion.

Fourthly: If the result is a non-empty set, we should accept that there are shared intuitions.

Comment author: DaFranker 29 November 2012 03:49:40PM 2 points [-]

But then, if we do that, we haven't assumed it. We've carefully selected and tested and research which ones are actually shared.

Comment author: Peterdjones 29 November 2012 03:55:23PM 0 points [-]

The second stage means we have assumed there are no non-shared intuitions. The fourth stage just established that the set of stipulatively shared intutions isn't empty.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 29 November 2012 08:25:47PM *  0 points [-]

How exactly does this differ from the "No true Scotsman" fallacy?

First and second, we define "true Scottsman" as what we want him to be. Third, we reject everyone who does not meet our definition. Fourth, hopefully there remains at least one person compatible with our definition.

Comment author: Peterdjones 29 November 2012 10:30:02PM *  0 points [-]

How exactly does this differ from the "No true Scotsman" fallacy?

I'm well aware of the parallel. But a lot of LWer's seem to approve of the TSD when it takes the form redefining a term scientifically.

ETA: case in point