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PeterisP comments on Double Crux — A Strategy for Resolving Disagreement - Less Wrong

58 Post author: Duncan_Sabien 29 November 2016 09:23PM

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Comment author: PeterisP 29 November 2016 11:54:09PM *  5 points [-]

I'm going to go out and state that the chosen example of "middle school students should wear uniforms" fails the prerequisite of "Confidence in the existence of objective truth", as do many (most?) "should" statements.

I strongly believe that there is no objectively true answer to the question "middle school students should wear uniforms", as the truth of that statement depends mostly not on the understanding of the world or the opinion about student uniforms, but on the interpretation of what the "should" means.

For example, "A policy requiring middle school students to wear uniforms is beneficial to the students" is a valid topic of discussion that can uncover some truth, and "A policy requiring middle school students to wear uniforms is mostly beneficial to [my definition of] society" is a completely different topic of discussion that likely can result in a different or even opposite answer.

Talking about unqualified "should" statements are a common trap that prevents reaching a common understanding and exploring the truth. At the very least, you should clearly distinguish between "should" as good, informed advice from "should" as a categorical moral imperative. If you want to discuss if "X should to Y" in the sense of discussing what are the advantages of doing Y (or not), then you should (see what I'm doing here?) convert them to statements in the form "X should do Y because that's a dominant/better/optimal choice that benefits them", because otherwise you won't get what you want but just an argument between a camp arguing this question versus a camp arguing about why we should/shouldn't force X to do Y because everyone else wants it.

Comment author: Duncan_Sabien 30 November 2016 07:07:32AM *  11 points [-]

I think you're basically making correct points, but that your conclusion doesn't really follow from them.

Remember that double crux isn't meant to be a "laboratory technique" that only works under perfect conditions—it's meant to work in the wild, and has to accommodate the way real humans actually talk, think, and behave.

You're completely correct to point out that "middle school students should wear uniforms" isn't a well-defined question yet, and that someone wanting to look closely at it and double crux about it would need to boil down a lot of specifics. But it's absolutely the sort of phrase that someone who has a well-defined concept in mind might say, at the outset, as a rough paraphrase of their own beliefs.

You're also correct (in my opinion/experience) to point out that "should" statements are often a trap that obfuscates the point and hinders progress, but I think the correct response there isn't to rail against shoulds, but to do exactly the sort of conversion that you're recommending as a matter of habit and course.

People are going to say things like "we should do X," and I think letting that get under one's skin from the outset is unproductive, whereas going, ah, cool, I can think of like four things you might mean by that—is it one of these? ... is a simple step that any aspiring double cruxer or rationalist is going to want to get used to.