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Comment author: Matt_Simpson 02 April 2009 06:21:59PM 2 points [-]

Why there is so much resistance to delving into Kant in the Less Wrong community is beyond me.

For one, Kant wasn't relevant to the original topic of discussion - no one was arguing from Kant's position. Also, I think most people on here agree that Kant was wrong. In more ways than one. Thus debating Kant is pretty much a dead end.

Comment author: Demosthenes 02 April 2009 08:35:58PM 5 points [-]

There's a proverb I failed to Google, which runs something like, "Once someone is known to be a liar, you might as well listen to the whistling of the wind." You wouldn't want others to expect you to lie, if you have something important to say to them; and this issue cannot be wholly decoupled from the issue of whether you actually tell the truth. If you'll lie when the fate of the world is at stake, and others can guess that fact about you, then, at the moment when the fate of the world is at stake, that's the moment when your words become the whistling of the wind.

-from Eliezer's quoted article Here

I don't know if you read the entire body of my comment bringing up Kant, but it rests on asking if there was a similarity in Eliezer's argument and Kants with a question mark at the end.

Both Eliezer and Kant seem to think that this abstract thing called "trust" suffers when individuals choose to lie for their own purposes. Both of them suggest that individuals who believe this would benefit from adopting a maxim that they should not lie.

Eliezer states in the comments that you can lie to people who aren't part of your community of rational or potentially rational individuals.

Kant says that you can't lie to people, even if they aren't part of your club.

You don't need the CI to reach either of these conclusions; the comment points out that you could do this on Utilitarian grounds. Utilitarian reasoning might even support Kants "don't like to anyone ever" over Eliezer's conceptions.

As for arguing Kant leading to a dead end, there is plenty of contemporary philosophy that still uses a lot of Kant and even NPOV Wikipedia has a section detailing Kant in contemporary philosophy.

Also, I think most people on here agree that Kant was wrong. In more ways than one. Thus debating Kant is pretty much a dead end.

I am always of the mind that saying that someone's assumptions are wrong doesn't lead to their argument having no value ever for any future discussion. In this particular case we got to use a Kantian thought experiment to talk about what looks like a variation on Kantian logic. I'm sorry I used the K word.

The idea of everyone on LW believing that Kant was almost totally wrong and that we should completely discard him is a little unsettling to me. There is a much larger community out there that accepts elements of Kant's arguments and methods and still applies them; I would again push a Robin Hanson line by suggesting that most rationalists are elsewhere and we should work harder to find them.

Comment author: Matt_Simpson 02 April 2009 03:41:53AM *  4 points [-]

The problem isn't Kant's Categorical Imperative, the problem is that he was sometimes incorrect about what it implies.

The problem with the Categorical Imperative is that it is sufficiently vague that it implies anything you want it to. You can (almost?) always make the "maxim" of your action specific enough to make your action permissible, for example:

I want to kill my professor for giving me a bad grade, so here's my maxim: If you were born on November 1, 1985, are white, have short brown hair, are wearing a black Tool t-shirt and Simpson's pajama pants, and got a D in your world lit class due to attendance despite acing the tests, papers, and finals, you can kill your professor.

Can this be willed as a universal law without contradiction? I certainly can't find a contradiction.

I remember in my advanced logic class, taught by the philosophy department, a latter section of the book formalized the golden rule into a logical system, i.e., do unto others as you would have them do unto you in the same situation. In other words, be consistent. I never worked through that chapter, but I read through the setup and the whole system suffered from a vagueness similar to Kant's: when does a situation count as "the same?" As far as I could tell, everything was moral because no two real life situations could be the same - surely something in the universe moved somewhere. Maybe just an atom.

Btw, yes I really did get a D in world lit because of attendance, and no, I'm not really that upset about it. It was a couple of years ago, after all.

Comment author: Demosthenes 02 April 2009 04:52:21PM 5 points [-]

In the Robin Hanson tradition, whenever I think that I have figured out a flaw in Kant's reasoning, I halt, recognize that he lived until he was 79 and spent everyday of his life thinking about these sorts of things and taking long walks. It is good to question him, but also to be humble and research any extant rebuttals to one's own argument.

There is a good overview of Kant here: http://www.trinity.edu/cbrown/intro/Kant_ethics.html

and more at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Kant had a peculiar obsession with what rational and reasoning actors would choose to do and what would happen if all people say rationality and reason as definitive tools. Why there is so much resistance to delving into Kant in the Less Wrong community is beyond me.

Comment author: Andrew 02 April 2009 02:38:46AM *  2 points [-]

I didn't intend to imply that you yourself believe in Kant. Sorry.

As for why one shouldn't bring him up, it's because it might prime others in the argument to treat the original variants as similar or equivalent to Kant's position. I think this could be a common problem, and I felt others should be more aware of it.

I don't discount Kant completely. The Kant-Laplace hypothesis is probably correct.

In response to comment by Andrew on You don't need Kant
Comment author: Demosthenes 02 April 2009 03:10:31AM 3 points [-]

I was just a little put off that you used me as an example of pulling Kant in when he doesn't apply: I took some care to keep Kant within Kant's domain and ask for specifics about how EY's OB position differed.

Most of your post is dedicated to refuting Kant's assumptions... that would have answer part of my questions in the other post ... but does it necessarily follow that he is pulled in to make one's opponents into straw men?

The discussion could have used some Kant and I am really do not agree that he does not apply.

In regard to why one shouldn't bring him up, you seem to suggest that Plato really was right after all:

“Shall we, then, thus lightly suffer our children to listen to any chance stories fashioned by any chance teachers and so to take into their minds opinions for the most part contrary to those that we shall think it desirable for them to hold when they are grown up?” “By no manner of means will we allow it.” “We must begin, then, it seems, by a censorship [377c] over our storymakers, and what they do well we must pass and what not, reject. And the stories on the accepted list we will induce nurses and mothers to tell to the children and so shape their souls by these stories far rather than their bodies by their hands. But most of the stories they now tell we must reject.”

Who are we protecting at LW? I think everyone here can tell the difference between EY, The Black Belt Bayesian and Kant on most issues, but from time to time I like a little clarification.

In response to You don't need Kant
Comment author: Demosthenes 01 April 2009 11:49:23PM *  2 points [-]

Did anyone say that they believed in Kant?

Actual comment thread (with context intact!): (http://lesswrong.com/lw/6w/degrees_of_radical_honesty/4jn?context=1#4jn)

We were talking about never lying; I copied a quotation from Constant's critique of Kant (they were explicitly discussing a version of the "Tell-the-Murderer" thought experiment) and then summarized Kant's negative response to Constant.

I'm not really sure why one wouldn't bring it up? We had two different conceptions of why you shouldn't lie in the main post. Eliezer's sounded a lot like Kant's, but then he said that you don't have to include everyone in the group of people you would never lie to. Kant specifically addresses this argument.

Next step....

Bring up Kant.

I would probably just add a comment that you disagree with Kant's assumptions to the chain and go on to state that this makes his argument of no use to us in the modern day and age.

I threw in the point that you could reconstruct his arguments as utilitarian critiques in the hope that someone might not just discount Kant and be done with it...c'est la vie.

For interested partires, there's plenty more out there (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/lying-definition/), but Kant is still relevant.

Comment author: AlexU 01 April 2009 02:02:43AM *  1 point [-]

"Rationalism" as compared to what? Mysticism? Random decision-making? Of course rational behavior is going to be by far the best choice for achieving one's particular ends. I wasn't questioning the entire concept of rationalism, which clearly has been the driving force behind human progress for all of history. I was questioning how much making "tweaks" -- the kind discussed here and on OCB -- can do for us. Or have done for us. Put differently, is perseverating on rationality per se worth my time? Can anyone show that paying special attention to rationality has measurable results, controlling for IQ?

Comment author: Demosthenes 01 April 2009 11:28:09PM 4 points [-]

Mysticism and random decision making are both acceptable and highly successful methods of making decisions; most of human history has relied on those two... we still rely on them. If you are a consequentialist, you can ignore the process and just rate the outcome; who cares why nice hair is correlated with success -it just is! Why does democracy work?

What makes rationalism worth the time is probably your regard for the process itself or for its outcomes. If its the outcomes then you might want to consider other options; following your biases and desires almost blindly works out pretty well for most people.

Comment author: Demosthenes 31 March 2009 10:38:14PM 1 point [-]

And you must enjoy the signal value you a little bit! You aren't keeping your Less Wrong postings in your diary under lock and key!

Comment author: Demosthenes 01 April 2009 01:19:12PM 1 point [-]

logi:

That's possible and probably partially accurate; if there were more posts taking the form "I believe X because..." on Less Wrong, I might be more open to the idea that people are doing that.

Ciphergoth:

Also, this would be a terrible community to signal truth-seeking in, considering how entrenched the "rationality as win" metaphor is. As I mentioned in the hair example, I think a lot more people here are signaling a burning interest in real-world application than really have one.

I just wanted to get Yvain's opinion about how much value from posting on Less Wrong was coming from signaling. Yvain suggested that this was not his or her main goal and that LW would be a uniquely poor place to attempt it. I personally doubt both of those points, but I was hoping to get some clarification since the comments about signaling and the nature of truth-seeking don't seem to be part of a system of beliefs.

Are you worried that signaling truth-seeking is legitimate enough?

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 01 April 2009 02:33:00AM 11 points [-]

In this case? Yes. Even if the Nazis had Omega-like powers, you'd still want to fool them - they're not any sort of game-theoretic counterpart who you wish would trust your honesty. I'm not entirely sure I'm describing all the factors here, but this scenario doesn't even feel to me like it's about the quantity ordinarily known as honesty, there is no bond you are breaking.

The proper form of this scenario is if a Nazi soldier who's feeling conflicted comes to you and says he wants to talk to you, but only if you vow silence. You do, and he tells you that he suspects there's a Jewish family next door. He gives you a chance to talk him out of turning them in. You fail. Do you warn the family next door? Now that's a dilemma of honesty with someone else's life at stake.

And of course it can get even worse. E.g. Knut Haukelid.

Comment author: Demosthenes 01 April 2009 03:58:40AM 3 points [-]

"To tell the truth is a duty, but is a duty only with regard to the man who has a right to the truth."

Kant disagrees and seems to warn that the principle of truth telling is universal; you can't go around deciding who has a right to truth and who does not. Furthermore, he suggests that your lie could have terrible unforeseen consequences.

Lie to the Nazis who you feel "don't deserve the truth" and then they end up treating everyone on the rest of the block like liars and sending all sorts of people to the concentration camps or outright killing them because its not worth trying to ferret out truth etc..etc..etc...

Eliezer:

When I was reading through your other article I thought the "fate of the world" part suggested that not lying should be the basis for a universalizable duty like Kant's. The existence of a future "Fate of the world" event makes it seem like you are getting at the same unforeseen consequences point as The Big K -is this accurate?

I am concerned that deciding on who is rational enough to treat honestly is a slippery slope.

Personally, this seems like a point where you take a metaphysical stand, rationally work your way through the options within your axiomatic system and then apply your rational program to the choice at hand. I am more utilitarian than Kant, but it is not hard to ignore "proximity" and come up with a cost/benefit calculation that agrees with him.

Comment author: Demosthenes 01 April 2009 12:24:29AM 1 point [-]

If you'll lie when the fate of the world is at stake, and others can guess that fact about you, then, at the moment when the fate of the world is at stake, that's the moment when your words become the whistling of the wind.

Is it correct to interpret this as similar to Pascal's Wager? The possibility of a fate-of-the-world moment is very low but the payout for being an honest fellow in this case is huge?

Comment author: conchis 31 March 2009 12:10:55PM 4 points [-]

I wonder whether this means that we're missing out on a lot of potential expertise though. (I'm thinking particularly of academics here, so discipline, interest etc. are assured.)

On the other hand, there's a chance that the youth skew is partially a function of the facebook side of the facebook/LW intersection...

Comment author: Demosthenes 31 March 2009 10:45:08PM *  3 points [-]

I would like to see more people who practice rationality and assumption questioning in other disciplices: women's studies, public policy, art and literature. I took a lot of literary philosophy classes back in the day and read quite a few post-modern critiques that mirror what I see on Less Wrong.

Almost every post-modern analysis depends on questioning how someone framed their subject and proceeds to recommend different assumptions; surely people with these backgrounds have examples to offer outside of game theory and psychology.

It would also be good to see some legal types. Lawyers competing in front of Judges who then make decisions that affect people's lives must certainly have put a little thought toward the roles of rationality and persuasion in truth seeking. Even if you don't care for lawyers, you have to wonder how judges proceed.

Maybe we should invade other forums and lead the discussions back here?

EDIT ( In regard to that OB post on female perspectives, its interesting that Robin Hanson of all people wasn't more humble about his potential lack of knowledge in a new field when his post got a poor response! Goes to show how important other perspectives are to this project)

Comment author: Demosthenes 31 March 2009 10:35:00PM 2 points [-]

Yvain:

Do you really believe that you engage in Truth-Seeking for utilitarian reasons? I get the impression that you don't really believe that.

Would you be willing to to enter a computer simulation where you got to investigate higher math puzzles (or metaphysics) with no applications? Spend your days in a fantastic and never-ending Truth-Seeking project (we'll throw great sex, food and housing into the holodeck for you as well)?

I liked this better at the beginning when you were prodding people who say that they see rationalism as a means to an end! You seem to be going back to consequentialism!

I don't believe that rationalists WIN because I don't believe that winning WINS

Comment author: Demosthenes 31 March 2009 10:38:14PM 1 point [-]

And you must enjoy the signal value you a little bit! You aren't keeping your Less Wrong postings in your diary under lock and key!

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