Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

savagehenry comments on Fake Justification - Less Wrong

40 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 01 November 2007 03:57AM

You are viewing a comment permalink. View the original post to see all comments and the full post content.

Comments (56)

Sort By: Old

You are viewing a single comment's thread.

Comment author: savagehenry 02 November 2007 07:07:35AM 0 points [-]

Daniel: Judging ancient works by modern standards is a Freshman Comp 101 mistake.

Only if you're trying to be fair. Isaac Newton was one of the great discoverers of the ages. He is no longer a good physicist. This is right and proper. All arts should move forward, and if they don't, something is wrong. If no one had ever done better than Shakespeare - as evaluated by a blinded judge who didn't know Shakespeare was supposed to be great - it would be cause for deep concern. Not all arts are like the art of science, but artists should still learn from each other.

Eliezer, I think you hit the nail square on the head here. I've argued with many an english teacher throughout my life about classic works and their merit but I've never succinctly stated what I wanted to say like you just did (the Newton example is perfect haha). If the pinnacle of human literary achievement is a loose collection of writings made by various authors over hundreds of years over several thousand years ago then you're right, something is horrendously wrong, and we all collectively fail at literature as a species.

I think the same of many older works of art and literature. Sure they are important in that they moved human achievement forward, but I'd like to think people have learned from them and improved. For his time Shakespeare was an absolute genius and moved the entire English language forward (admittedly my experience with Shakespeare's contemporaries is limited, but I've read works from earlier authors and found them to be nowhere near as good), but like Eliezer said I can, off the top of my head, think of a dozen things that I think are more beautifully constructed and more emotionally moving than any of Shakespeare's work. As awesome and totally enthralling as I find The Lord of the Rings to be I sincerely hope that 400 years from now someone will have written something that far surpasses it.

Influence is great and all (and should never be ignored), but I firmly believe art of all sorts needs to be constantly re-evaluated and examined based on what is currently being produced to determine its merit. Some things that are old maintain their value while others have been eclipsed by greater more recent works.