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MarsColony_in10years comments on Taboo Your Words - Less Wrong

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

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Comment author: MarsColony_in10years 26 February 2015 04:57:41PM 3 points [-]

This method of elimination can be useful to both verbal disagreements (where the real debate is only over terminology) non-verbal disagreements (where parties fundamentally disagree about things themselves, and not just labels). Besides separating the two to clarify the real disagreement, it can also be usefully applied to one’s own internal dialogue.

However, how do we know when to apply this technique? With external debates, it is easy enough to suspect when a disagreement is only verbal, or when the terms argued over have constituent parts. These might be of limited help if one’s internal logic differs notably from a similar line of reasoning in a book or other non-verbal source of information. However, when one is considering completely new ideas, what cues might cause us to use this method? As Yudkowsky points out, this method is much more cognitively intensive than simply defining terms, so it is necessary to use it sparingly rather than all the time.

One cue might be that a large portion of one’s argument hinges around one particular word or term. Another might simply be noticing that one is using a term in slightly different contexts, such as using the word “rational” with regard to both economics and morality. A morally rational being might be a philanthropist economically rather than an investor trying to make money. Similarly, an economically rational being might never tip waiters, or might favor Enron-style economics.

A key term or concept such as these should be examined with all available tools in one’s toolbox. These include defining the term formally, explaining things without using the term and its synonyms, identifying the constituent components of the term, and asking if there are measureable differences between various definitions. The goal is to find any inconsistencies in the way one is using the term.