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Tetronian comments on Taboo Your Words - Less Wrong

71 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 15 February 2008 10:53PM

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Comment author: [deleted] 11 January 2012 09:50:10PM 4 points [-]

Anyone want to assign a probability to Chalmers having been inspired by this post?

Also: Yudkowsky's informal writing style is a significant improvement over formal academic writing when it comes to teaching rationality. Had I read only this essay by Chalmers, I doubt the lesson would have clicked as well as it did from reading this post.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 12 January 2012 11:23:20AM 0 points [-]

Anyone want to assign a probability to Chalmers having been inspired by this post?

5%. The "term₁ ≠ term₂" line of thinking can be found in Korzybski. For that matter, it appears in hip, popular form in Robert Anton Wilson.

Comment author: Stefan_Schubert 04 February 2014 05:38:35PM 0 points [-]

Do you have the Wilson and Korybski references? There are lots of ideas that are a bit reminiscent of Chalmers' and Yudkowsky's idea, but I haven't seen precisely this method before even though I have read quite a bit on definitions and related topics.

Btw, the Chalmers text was published in 2011 in Philosophical Review as far as I can tell.

Comment author: Protagoras 04 February 2014 06:30:36PM 1 point [-]

This is Korzybski's big work: http://www.amazon.com/Science-Sanity-Introduction-Non-Aristotelian-Semantics/dp/0937298018

I read it a long time ago because I met someone online who was convinced it contained the truths of the universe. It had a couple of insights, but overall my impression was that Korzybski was a crackpot. He had some vaguely sensible ideas about logic which he pushed much further than they could stand being pushed, and some crazy biological theories, and I don't remember what all else.

Comment author: Stefan_Schubert 04 February 2014 09:18:44PM 0 points [-]

Thanks! I'll look into it...although it is apparently huge.

What's original in this proposal is that you aren't allowed to use the term that creates the verbal dispute at all. That's a more radical proposal than just creating say two concepts of knowledge, or truth, or whatever it is that you're interested in.

I think that philosophers have sometimes avoided certain concepts because they have been so contested so that they have realized they'd be better off not using them, but I don't recall having seen this method explicitly advocated as a general method to resolve verbal disputes.

One similar method is the method of precization, advocated by Arne Naess in "Emprical Semantics", but if I remember rightly there, too, you don't abandon the original concept; you just make it "more precise" (possibly in several incompatible way, so you get knowledge1, knowledge2, knowledge3, etc).

Chalmers article is very good and can be recommended. It draws far-reaching metaphilosophical conclusions from the "method of elimination". There is one additional interesting part of his theory, namely that there are "bedrock concepts" (cf primitive concepts) that generate "bedrock disputes". These bedrock concepts cannot be redescribed in simpler terms (as "sound" can). One candidate could be "ought" as it is used in "we ought to give to the poor", another "consciousness", a third "existence".

I'm not sure whether this is compatible with Yudkowsky's ideas. He writes:

"And be careful not to let yourself invent a new word to use instead. Describe outward observables and interior mechanisms; don't use a single handle, whatever that handle may be."

"Ought", "consciousness" and "existence" seem to be "single handles". According to Yudkowsky's theory, if two people disagree on whether there are (i.e. exist) any composite objects, and we suspect that this is a merely verbal dispute, we will require them to redescribe their theories in terms of "outward observables" (just like Albert and Barry were). They will of course agree on the sentences that result from these redescriptions in terms of outward observables (just like Albert and Barry did), which shows that their dispute was merely verbal.

According to Chalmers, however, the existence concept might be a "bedrock concept" (he admits it's not easy to tell them apart from non-bedrock concepts) and if so the disagreement is substantive rather than verbal.

So there seems to be a difference here. It would be interesting if Yudkowsky could develop his theory and perhaps react to Chalmers.

Chalmers theory is pretty "deflationist", saying that many philosophical disputes are to a large degree merely verbal. If I understand Yudkowsky right, his theory is even more radical, though (which brings him even closer to Carnap's, whose views Chalmers are quite sympathetic towards in the last section).