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thomblake comments on Beyond the Reach of God - Less Wrong

68 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 04 October 2008 03:42PM

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Comment author: thomblake 16 November 2011 05:04:05PM 1 point [-]

The idea that they "will only cause harm" is incredibly nebulous, and sounds more like an excuse to accept the status quo than a valid argument.

That they will only cause harm is a particular proposition, which may well be true (though taken strictly its probability is about 0).

Comment author: Torgamous 16 November 2011 05:31:22PM 0 points [-]

How so? "No good will come of this" is an incredibly old argument that's been applied to all kinds of things, and as far as I know rarely has a specific basis. What aspect of his argument am I missing?

Comment author: thomblake 16 November 2011 05:36:14PM 1 point [-]

I fail to see how the age of the argument is relevant. And it was not an argument, it was a proposition.

Caledonian was asserting that "trying to make reality a safe and cozy haven will only cause harm". This is a fairly well-specified prediction (to the extent that one can observe whether or not X is "trying to" Y in general) and may be true or false. It is not an excuse, nor an argument, nor particularly nebulous.

Though as I mentioned, in general (if taken strictly) assertions that a real-world action will have precisely one sort of effect are false.

Comment author: Torgamous 16 November 2011 06:50:36PM 1 point [-]

The age of the proposition and the ease with which it can be applied to a variety of situations is an indication that, when such a proposition is made, it should be examined and justified in more detail before being declared a valid argument. Causing harm, given the subject matter, could mean a variety of things from wasted funds to the death of the firstborn children of every family in Egypt. Lacking anything else in the post to help determine what kind and degree of harm was meant or even where the idea that failed attempts will be harmful came from, the original assertion comes across, to me, as a vague claim meant to inspire a negative reaction. It may be true or false, but the boundaries of "true" are not very clearly defined.

I understand that it is probably wrong, and I understand that you know that too. I'm discussing this because I want to know if I'm doing something wrong when determining the validity of an argument. We also seem to be using different definitions of "argument"; I merely see it as a better-sounding synonym of proposition. No negative connotations were meant to be invoked.

Comment author: thomblake 16 November 2011 06:59:00PM 0 points [-]

An argument is a series of statements ("propositions") that are intended to support a particular conclusion. For example, "Socrates is a man. All men are mortal. Therefore, Socrates is mortal." Just as one sentence is not a paragraph, one proposition is not an argument.

There is no question of whether "trying to make reality a safe and cozy haven will only cause harm" is a valid argument because it's not an argument at all. This is an argument:

  • If we try to make reality a safe and cozy haven, then we will only cause harm.
  • We are trying to make reality a safe and cozy haven
  • Therefore, we will only cause harm.

Note that this is a valid argument; the truth of the conclusion follows necessarily from the truth of its premises. If you have any problems with it, it is with its soundness, the extent to which the propositions presented are true. It sounds like you think the first proposition is false, but you are claiming Caledonian made an invalid argument instead. If that is the case, you're making a category mistake.

Comment author: Torgamous 16 November 2011 07:45:33PM 0 points [-]

And now we're disputing definitions. I was using argument to mean what you've defined as propositions; it was a mistake in labeling, but the category is the same. Regardless, the falseness of his proposition is not an issue. The issue I have is that his initial proposition, though it may possibly be true, has a wide range of possible truenesses, no indication which trueness the poster was aiming for, and may very possibly have been made without a particular value of potential truth in mind. If that's soundness, then yeah, I took issue with the soundness of his proposition.

Comment author: thomblake 16 November 2011 08:11:24PM 0 points [-]

The issue I have is that his initial proposition, though it may possibly be true, has a wide range of possible truenesses, no indication which trueness the poster was aiming for, and may very possibly have been made without a particular value of potential truth in mind.

I don't see how that's the case. It seems very specific to me. In the statement "X will only cause Y" are you confused about the meaning of X, Y, "will only cause", or something else I'm missing? (X="trying to make ... reality a safe and cozy haven", Y="harm")

Comment author: Torgamous 16 November 2011 08:32:07PM 0 points [-]

I take issue with Y. "Harm", though it does have a definition, is a very, very broad term, encompassing every negative eventuality imaginable. Saying "X will cause stuff" only doubles the number of applicable outcomes. That does not meet my definition of "specific".

Comment author: thomblake 16 November 2011 08:35:00PM 0 points [-]

Aha. Again, a definitional problem. I would indeed regard the claim "dropping this rock will cause something to happen" as specific, and trivially true; it is not vague - there is no question of its truth value or meaning.

I think this is resolved.

Comment author: Torgamous 21 November 2011 04:10:38PM 0 points [-]

I'm sorry, I want this conversation to be over too, and I don't mean to be rude, but this has been bugging me all week: where did you get that definition from, and where do you live? Literally everyone I have interacted with or read stuff from before you, including published authors, used the same definitions of "specific" and "vague" that I do, and in ways obvious enough that your confusion confuses me.