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Rationality Quotes 7

5 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 25 January 2008 06:00PM

"People don't buy three-eighths-inch drill bits. People buy three-eighths-inch holes."
        -- Michael Porter

"I feel more like I do now than I did a while ago."
        -- Arifel

"Know thyself, because in the end there's no one else."
        -- Living Colour, Solace of You

"Student motivation? I'm gonna start hooking you all up to electrodes."
        -- Kevin Giffhorn

"A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral."
        -- Antoine de Saint-Exupery

"I found one day in school a boy of medium size ill-treating a smaller boy. I expostulated, but he replied: 'The bigs hit me, so I hit the babies; that's fair.' In these words he epitomized the history of the human race."
        -- Bertrand Russell

"Open Source Software: There are days when I can't figure out whether I'm living in a Socialist utopia or a Libertarian one."
        -- Alex Future Bokov

"Supposing you got a crate of oranges that you opened, and you found all the top layer of oranges bad, you would not argue, `The underneath ones must be good, so as to redress the balance.' You would say, `Probably the whole lot is a bad consignment'; and that is really what a scientific person would say about the universe."
        -- Bertrand Russell

"This thing not only has all the earmarks of a hoax, it has "HOAX" branded into its flank and it's regulated by the U.S. Department of Hoaxes, Pranks and Shenanigans."
        -- Brunching Shuttlecocks

"Natural selection gave a big advantage to those who were good at spotting the pattern of a saber toothed tiger hiding in the bushes, but no advantage to those who were good at solving partial differential equations. It is not mere rhetoric to say that in an absolute sense a janitor has a more intellectually challenging job than a professor of mathematics."
        -- John K. Clark

"The simple fact is that non-violent means do not work against Evil. Gandhi's non-violent resistance against the British occupiers had some effect because Britain was wrong, but not Evil. The same is true of the success of non-violent civil rights resistance against de jure racism. Most people, including those in power, knew that what was being done was wrong. But Evil is an entirely different beast. Gandhi would have gone to the ovens had he attempted non-violent resistance against the Nazis. When one encounters Evil, the only solution is violence, actual or threatened. That's all Evil understands."
        -- Robert Bruce Thompson

Comments (17)

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Comment author: Peter_Turney 25 January 2008 06:34:24PM -2 points [-]

"The simple fact is that non-violent means do not work against Evil."

I believe that this quote is not rational, because thinking of human relations in terms of "good" and "evil" is not rational. I prefer to think in terms of the iterated prisoners' dilemma; in terms of cooperation and defection. If you frame a conflict in terms of "good" and "evil", you quickly reach violence. If you frame it in terms of "cooperation" and "defection", you may be able to negotiate a cooperative agreement. Violence may be necessary in certain situations, but it represents a suboptimal solution to conflict.

In a blog that is dedicated to overcoming bias, the term "evil" should only be used to point out the bias and irrationality that is encouraged by the concept of "evil".

Comment author: Nominull3 25 January 2008 06:44:45PM -1 points [-]

I guess the lesson we are supposed to take here is that there is a pacifism bias that we need to overcome, or else we will not be able to kill the people who need killin'?

Comment author: Ben3 25 January 2008 06:54:11PM -1 points [-]

I agree with Peter. Although I love most of these quotes, that one seems way too eager to throw around terms like "Evil." I think it's very rare that things are as simple as "good" and "evil."

Comment author: Cyan2 25 January 2008 08:34:06PM 0 points [-]

Kevin Giffhorn is Evil. Or possibly Drunk. Follow the link and and you'll see what I mean.

Comment author: DSG 25 January 2008 11:20:28PM 2 points [-]

Peter Turney: "thinking of human relations in terms of "good" and "evil" is not rational"

What?

Except for the fact that most humans do think of human relations in such a manner (and so they are useful in communicating with fellow humans) and those terms do (generally) usefully differentiate between different sorts of actions. Even if Manicheanism, in its various formulations, is a bias, those words serve, very well I might add, to show which actions humans general abhor versus those they generally approve of.

There is also usually a distinction between wrong vs evil, wherein evil is simply more wrong than simple wrong. It is perhaps an expression of my distaste for onions vs my distaste for Rocky Mountain Oysters.

Also, none of these terms require appeals to a higher authority as, as words, they simply reveal individuals' subjective impression of actual facts of the world. Rather than always list a litany of facts (torture causes such a specific threshold of pain and that threshold being reached creeps most humans out), we might simply use those normative terms (torture is evil). Those terms carry meaning, because they carry meaning they can be used rationally, the bias/fallacy seems to be in connoting the use of these terms as irrational simply because people often use them irrationally.

Comment author: TGGP4 26 January 2008 04:21:28AM 1 point [-]

One of my favorite posts at Nonserviam is about "Stalin-Gandhi vs Hitler-Khan". Good stuff. Gandhi actually advised the jews not to flee but die willingly. Hitler advised the British to kill Gandhi.

Comment author: Peter_Turney 26 January 2008 04:39:35AM -2 points [-]

"When one encounters Evil, the only solution is violence, actual or threatened."

This whole quote is sophistry. The capitalized word "Evil" is a metaphorical personification of an abstract concept. A standard definition of "evil" is "morally objectionable behavior". Suppose we replace the personification "Evil" with "morally objectionable behavior":

"When one encounters morally objectionable behavior, the only solution is violence, actual or threatened."

The result is absurd. Suppose we agree that shoplifting is morally objectionable behavior. Is it true that the only solution to shoplifting is violence or the threat of violence? I don't think so. But "Evil" is an emotionally loaded term that triggers our biases and discourages careful, rational thought. So when we read, "When one encounters Evil, the only solution is violence, actual or threatened," it is not quite so obviously false as, "When one encounters morally objectionable behavior, the only solution is violence, actual or threatened."

One problem with the term "evil" is that it is typically applied to a person, rather than to a person's behavior. For example (see above), "Kevin Giffhorn is Evil." Compare this to, "Kevin Giffhorn has behaved in a way that is morally objectionable." The first statement leads to the conclusion that an evil person must be punished. The second statement leads to asking what caused Kevin Giffhorn to behave as he did, and how can we address the cause? To say that he acted evilly because he is evil gets us nowhere.

Comment author: Paul_Gowder 26 January 2008 05:52:36AM 2 points [-]

Peter: Slavery. Genocide.

(Cf. Moore: "here is a hand.")

Comment author: Ben_Jones 26 January 2008 11:29:04AM -1 points [-]

Paul, how are we supposed to react to 'Slavery. Genocide.'? Hitler was convinced that what he was doing was right. Does evil stem from conviction? Lack of guilt?

Had the Nazis conquered the entire world, and gassed everyone who thought Hitler was evil, would he still have been evil?

Comment author: DSG 26 January 2008 06:41:13PM 0 points [-]

Peter, people do use the world evil to distinguish acts from merely "morally objectionable behavior," or wrong. In this case intellectual charity and a little contextualism is in order in order to understand the meaning we might imagine Thompson was getting at.

There is a difference between these two acts: a mass murder and a five year old shoplifting. The difference lies in the severity of the consequences of the acts, the motivations of the individuals performing the act, and in the degree to which it is objectionable. Dictionary definitions have no de jure or de facto control over what meaning, or use, lies behind words. The argument ad absurdum you presented showed that quite well. We might imagine that it is a different meaning that Thompson is implying, since the acts of Britain were, to many, morally objectionable and yet he draws a distinction between that and evil.

"When one encounters Evil, the only solution is violence, actual or threatened...[distinction provided between evil and wrong]" -OR- "When one encounters behavior that is (morally) objectionable to a certain extreme degree both in regards to the act itself as well as, possibly, to the imputed or imagined motivation, and there is little hope for change the only solution is violence, actual or threatened...[distinction provided between such behavior and wrong]"

It is not irrational to not waste words, assuming some intellectual charity will be provided. Even though he used the sticky word evil, he used fewer words to say something essentially like this:

Non-violence against some people/groups simply will not work because they simply don't care, are perhaps sociopaths with no conscious, or are perhaps delusional/unknowledgeable (and undeserving of blame) but persist in this mentality and behavior that affords no likely solution except violence or the threat of violence and there is a distinction between between such behavior and merely wrong behavior, where pacifist responses may work].

When I first read the quote, I understood something akin to what is above.

My point, though, is that since genuine meaning is understood by many individuals when the word evil is used it is not irrational to use the word. The word evil has various meanings but we can allow that there is some concept conveyed by it that is useful in its distinctions between other words.

The fact that there is a lot of emotional/inept-philosophical baggage to the word does not mean it is irrational to use it.

Perhaps there is no objective morality and perhaps it is irrational to prop up personal subjective moralities, non the matter, the word evil, as it refers to concepts referring to things in the world, can be used to convey distinctions, and can be used rationally.

Comment author: John_Faben 26 January 2008 07:44:05PM 2 points [-]

"Suppose we agree that shoplifting is morally objectionable behavior. Is it true that the only solution to shoplifting is violence or the threat of violence? I don't think so"

Well then you disagree with most of the rest of the world - at least in the UK, we tend to forcibly place shoplifters in prisons - if that's not violence, I don't know what is.

Comment author: Shakespeare's_Fool 27 January 2008 04:50:35AM -1 points [-]

"Open Source Software: There are days when I can't figure out whether I'm living in a Socialist utopia or a Libertarian one." -- Alex Future Bokov

I suspect the answer is "neither."

Libertarianism and Socialism are about (electoral) politics and government. Open Source Software is about voluntary co-operation.

John

Comment author: Paul_Gowder 27 January 2008 09:03:07AM 0 points [-]

Ben: you're supposed to recoil. The point is that some things are pre-analytically evil. No matter how much we worry at the concept, slavery and genocide are still evil -- we know these things stronger than we know the preconditions for the reasoning process to the contrary -- I submit that there is simply no argument sufficiently strong to overturn that judgment.

Comment author: Peter_Turney 30 January 2008 06:59:32PM 0 points [-]

The point is that some things are pre-analytically evil. No matter how much we worry at the concept, slavery and genocide are still evil -- we know these things stronger than we know the preconditions for the reasoning process to the contrary -- I submit that there is simply no argument sufficiently strong to overturn that judgment.

In the American civil war, some people fought against slavery and others fought to continue slavery. If your statement above is correct, it would seem that everybody who fought to continue slavery was evil. Was their pre-analytical "sense of evil" somehow missing or damaged? If your statement above is correct, it would seem that there is no possible case in which a rational argument caused a person to change sides in the civil war. This seems highly unlikely to me.

Culture, including ethics, evolves over time. Actions that were once morally acceptable are no longer considered morally acceptable. I don't claim to understand all the forces that govern the evolution of ethics, but it is plain to see that our ethical systems have evolved. Slavery was once accepted and considered ethical by many; now it is not accepted. Women were once not allowed to vote; now they can vote.

To say that something is "pre-analytically evil" seems to be an excuse for avoiding rational, scientific analysis of the epistemology and ontology of our ethical judgments.

Comment author: Peter_Turney 30 January 2008 07:06:53PM 0 points [-]

The fact that there is a lot of emotional/inept-philosophical baggage to the word does not mean it is irrational to use it.

If your goal is to engage another person in clear, careful, rational discussion, then it is not rational to use terminology that you know to have "a lot of emotional/inept-philosophical baggage", because to do so would be counter-productive with respect to your goal. I assume that the purpose of a blog called "Overcoming Bias" is to engage in clear, careful, rational discussion.

Comment author: Alberto_Gómez 19 August 2008 01:57:27PM 0 points [-]

I traditionally suspect of opinions where what is supposedly rational coincides with what is fashionable. The conformity bias is too strong for not worth considering it.

Evil can have a precise meaning in evolutionary game theory. Even in the prisoner dilemma game; when considering groups instead of individuals, Evil groups are the ones that ever defect.

Good and evil has a precise meaning, just as cooperate and defect. Both depend on the game context. When doing communications, good means to "ever say the truth". Evil means "ever to lie". When respecting liberty, good is to ever respect freedom of others"; evil means not to respect at will. When life is concerned, good is to respect life ever. Evil is to kill at will.

As evolutionary game theorist Alex Axelrod demonstrated, against systematic defectors, that is, evil players, the only response is the "tit for that" strategy, that is, to retaliate.

So Robert Bruce Thompson is right, no matter if it is politically incorrect. You not only have the right but the absolute need to lie to systematic liars, private freedom of totalitarians and kill those that will kill you.

Against retaliators however, the best strategy is to cooperate. retaliators defect, but they are not evil, because they are not systematic defectors , in he game theory jargon. They cooperate whom may cooperate and defect to defectors. So cooperate with a retaliator is the way to obtain its future cooperation (Christianity recommend heavily this).

According with these precise definitions of good and evil, English were not evil. Gandhi cooperated by non-escalating from peaceful claim of independence to war (by using terrorism of whatever that give advantage by surprise). England response was a peaceful withdrawal. This was a good outcome of a Prisoner dilemma game.

Nazis were evil. They immediately escalate and kill any dissidence, even peaceful, so violence was the only option.

Comment author: retired_urologist 19 August 2008 02:26:28PM 1 point [-]

One should not go through an entire lifetime (soon to be infinite?) without reading something by Harry Crews, my ninth-grade English teacher. Regarding Robert Bruce Thompson's quote in the main post: "The simple fact is that non-violent means do not work against Evil." Mr. Crews position: "Contrary to popular belief, I'm not a violent person. But if you wrong me, I'll kill your fucking ass, and I'll spend the rest of my life in jail. I'll kill your fucking ass and you can count on it; depend on it."