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Comment author: RobinZ 19 April 2011 10:41:18PM 0 points [-]

For purposes of this post, I choose a single definition for each word and use it in both sections.

Intensional Definitions

  1. Shoe: A piece of clothing enclosing and protecting the foot, designed to be worn while walking.

  2. Hope: Confidence that a favorable outcome may be reached in circumstances when good rational reasons exist to expect an unfavorable one.

  3. Wire: A long, thin piece of drawn metal.

  4. Green: Light that tends to activate gamma cones in human eyes more strongly than beta or rho cones, where gamma cones have a peak wavelength of 534-555 nm, beta 420-440 nm, and rho 564-580 nm.

  5. Politician: An individual who negotiates policy decisions in a decision-making body by making promises and agreements with those who have influence over that group.

  6. Apple: An approximately fist-sized fruit with a thin peel, whose flesh has a crisp mouthfeel and tart flavor, and whose flesh tends to turn brown when exposed to air.

Order of subjective difficulty (least to most): wire, green, hope, shoe, apple, politician.

Extensional/Ostensive Definitions

  1. Shoe: The most common type of object pictured in a Google search on the term 'shoe'.

  2. Hope: The emotion opposing that of despair in people who find themselves in dire straits.

  3. Wire: The stuff used to make coathangers, and the conductive part of electrical cables.

  4. Green: The reflective color of chlorophyll, Granny Smith apples, and unripe oranges; the emissive color of the flame when doing flame tests of molybdenum oxides and sulfides, barium carbonates and sulfates, thallium, and antimony.

  5. Politician: Most people who run for public office in the United States.

  6. Apple: The fruit traditionally used to represent the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the Biblical story of the Garden of Eden.

Order of subjective difficulty (least to most): wire, green, apple, politician, shoe, hope.

Comment author: RobinZ 21 March 2015 02:45:56PM *  0 points [-]

Belatedly: some more vivid examples of "hope":

Comment author: wedrifid 18 November 2014 07:47:12AM -1 points [-]

I retract my previous statement based on new evidence acquired.

Comment author: RobinZ 18 November 2014 02:46:07PM 0 points [-]

I continue to endorse being selective in whom one spends time arguing with.

Comment author: wedrifid 18 November 2014 03:48:43AM -1 points [-]

I may have addressed the bulk of what you're getting at in another comment; the short form of my reply is, "In the cases which 'heroic responsibility' is supposed to address, inaction rarely comes because an individual does not feel responsible, but because they don't know when the system may fail and don't know what to do when it might."

Short form reply: That seems false. Perhaps you have a different notion of precisely what heroic responsibility is supposed to address?

Comment author: RobinZ 18 November 2014 05:48:17AM 0 points [-]

Is the long form also unclear? If so, could you elaborate on why it doesn't make sense?

Comment author: wedrifid 18 November 2014 03:34:11AM *  -3 points [-]

I meant that silent downvoting for the kind of confusion you diagnosed in me is counterproductive generally

I fundamentally disagree. It is better for misleading comments to have lower votes than insightful ones. This helps limit the epistemic damage caused to third parties. Replying to every incorrect claim with detailed arguments in not viable and not my responsibility either heroic or conventional - even though my comment history suggests that for a few years I made a valiant effort.

Silent downvoting is often the most time efficient form positive influence available and I endorse it as appropriate, productive and typically wiser than trying to argue all the time.

Comment author: RobinZ 18 November 2014 05:46:35AM 0 points [-]

I didn't propose that you should engage in detailed arguments with anyone - not even me. I proposed that you should accompany some downvotes with an explanation akin to the three-sentence example I gave.

Another example of a sufficiently-elaborate downvote explanation: "I downvoted your reply because it mischaracterized my position more egregiously than any responsible person should." One sentence, long enough, no further argument required.

Comment author: dxu 17 November 2014 09:03:20PM 2 points [-]

All right, cool. I think that dissolves most of our disagreement.

Comment author: RobinZ 18 November 2014 12:06:04AM 2 points [-]

Glad to hear it. :)

Comment author: wedrifid 16 November 2014 04:18:24AM *  0 points [-]

I'm realizing that my attitude towards heroic responsibility is heavily driven by the anxiety-disorder perspective,

Surprisingly, so is mine, yet we've arrived at entirely different philosophical conclusions. Perfectionistic, intelligent idealist with visceral aversions to injustice walk a fine line when it comes to managing anxiety and the potential for either burn out or helpless existential dispair. To remain sane and effectively harness my passion and energy I had to learn a few critical lessons:

  • Over-responsibility is not 'responsible'. It is right there next to 'completely negligent' inside the class 'irresponsible'.
  • Trusting that if you do what the proximate social institution suggests you 'should' do then it will take care of problems is absurd. Those cursed with either weaker than normal hypocrisy skills or otherwise lacking the privelidge to maintain a sheltered existence will quickly become distressed from constant disappointment.
  • For all that the local social institutions fall drastically short of ideals - and even fall short of what we are supposed to pretend to believe of them - they are still what happens to be present in the universe that is and so are a relevant source of power. Finding ways to get what you want (for yourself or others) by using the system is a highly useful skill.
  • You do not (necessarily) need to fix the system in order to fix a problem that is important to you. You also don't (necessarily) need to subvert it.

'Hermione' style 'responsibility' would be a recipe for insanity if I chose to keep it. I had to abandon it at about the same age she is in the story. It is based on premises that just don't hold in this universe.

but telling me that I am responsible for x doesn't tell me that I am allowed to delegate x to someone else

'Responsibility' of the kind you can tell others they have is almost always fundamentally different in kind to the 'responsibility' word as used in 'heroic responsibility'. It's a difference that results in frequent accidental equivocation and accidental miscommunicaiton across inferential distances. This is one rather large problem with 'heroic responsibility' as a jargon term. Those who have something to learn about the concept are unlikely to because 'responsibility' comes riddled with normative social power connotations.

, and - especially in contexts like Harry's decision (and Swimmer's decision in the OP) - doesn't tell me whether "those nominally responsible can't do x" or "those nominally responsible don't know that they should do x".

That's technically true. Heroic responsibility is completely orthogonal to either of those concerns.

I asked myself this because subsidiarity includes something that heroic responsibility does not: the idea that some people are more responsible - better placed, better trained, better equipped, etc. - than others for any given problem, and that, unless the primary responsibility-holder cannot do the job, those farther away should give support instead of acting on their own.

Expected value maximisation isn't for everyone. Without supplementing it with an awfully well developed epistemology people will sometimes be worse off than with just following whichever list of 'shoulds' they have been prescribed.

Comment author: RobinZ 17 November 2014 07:31:33PM 0 points [-]

I may have addressed the bulk of what you're getting at in another comment; the short form of my reply is, "In the cases which 'heroic responsibility' is supposed to address, inaction rarely comes because an individual does not feel responsible, but because they don't know when the system may fail and don't know what to do when it might."

Comment author: dxu 15 November 2014 03:34:56AM *  3 points [-]

Why do you believe this to be true?

That's an interesting question. I'll try to answer it here.

"You could call it heroic responsibility, maybe," Harry Potter said. "Not like the usual sort. It means that whatever happens, no matter what, it's always your fault. Even if you tell Professor McGonagall, she's not responsible for what happens, you are. Following the school rules isn't an excuse, someone else being in charge isn't an excuse, even trying your best isn't an excuse. There just aren't any excuses, you've got to get the job done no matter what."

This seems to imply that no matter whatever happens, you should hold yourself responsible in the end. If you take a randomly selected person, which of the following two cases do you think will be more likely to cause that person to think really hard about how to solve a problem?

  1. They are told to solve the problem.
  2. They are told that they must solve the problem, and if they fail for any reason, it's their fault.

Personally, I would find the second case far more pressing and far more likely to cause me to actually think, rather than just take the minimum number of steps required of me in order to fulfill the "role" of a problem-solver, and I suspect that this would be true of many other people here as well. Certainly I would imagine it's true of many effective altruists, for instance. It's possible I'm committing a typical mind fallacy here, but I don't think so.

On the other hand, you yourself have said that your attitude toward this whole thing is heavily driven by the fact that you have anxiety disorder, and if that's the case, then I agree that blaming yourself is entirely the wrong way to go about doing things. That being said, the whole point of having something called "heroic responsibility" is to get people to actually put in some effort as opposed to just playing the role of someone who's perceived as putting in effort. If you are able to do that without resorting to holding yourself responsible for the outcomes of situations, then by all means continue to do so. However, I would be hesitant to label advice intended to motivate and galvanize as "useless", especially when using evidence taken from a subset of all people (those with anxiety disorders) to make a general claim (the notion of "heroic responsibility" is useless).

Comment author: RobinZ 17 November 2014 07:19:42PM *  3 points [-]

I think I see what you're getting at. If I understand you rightly, what "heroic responsibility" is intended to affect is the behavior of people such as [trigger warning: child abuse, rape] Mike McQueary during the Penn State child sex abuse scandal, who stumbled upon Sandusky in the act, reported it to his superiors (and, possibly, the police), and failed to take further action when nothing significant came of it. [/trigger warning] McQueary followed the 'proper' procedure, but he should not have relied upon it being sufficient to do the job. He had sufficient firsthand evidence to justify much more dramatic action than what he did.

Given that, I can see why you object to my "useless". But when I consider the case above, I think what McQueary was lacking was the same thing that Hermione was lacking in HPMoR: a sense of when the system might fail.

Most of the time, it's better to trust the system than it is to trust your ability to outthink the system. The system usually has access to much, much more information than you do; the system usually has people with much, much better training than you have; the system usually has resources that are much, much more abundant than you can draw on. In the vast majority of situations I would expect McQueary or Hermione to encounter - defective equipment, scheduling conflicts, truancy, etc. - I think they would do far worse by taking matters into their own hands than by calling upon the system to handle it. In all likelihood, prior to the events in question, their experiences all supported the idea that the system is sound. So what they needed to know was not that they were somehow more responsible to those in the line of fire than they previously realized, but that in these particular cases they should not trust the system. Both of them had access to enough data to draw that conclusion*, but they did not.

If they had, you would not need to tell them that they had a responsibility. Any decent human being would feel that immediately. What they needed was the sense that the circumstances were extraordinary and awareness of the extraordinary actions that they could take. And if you want to do better than chance at sensing extraordinary circumstances when they really are extraordinary and better than chance at planning extraordinary action that is effective, determination is nice, but preparation and education are a whole lot better.

* The reasons differ: McQueary shouldn't have trusted it because:

  • One cannot rely on any organization to act against any of its members unless that member is either low-status or has acted against the preferences of its leadership.
  • In some situations, one's perceptions - even speculative, gut-feeling, this-feels-not-right perceptions - produce sufficiently reliable Bayesian evidence to overwhelm the combined force of a strong negative prior on whether an event could happen and the absence of supporting evidence from others in the group that said event could happen.

...while Hermione shouldn't have trusted it because:

  • Past students like James Potter got away with much because they were well-regarded.
  • Present employees like Snape got away with much because they were an established part of the system.
Comment author: Kenny 16 November 2014 04:00:06AM 2 points [-]

I think you might be over-analyzing the story; which is fine actually, as I'm enjoying doing the same.

I have no evidence that Eliezer considered it so, but I just think Harry was explaining consequentialism to Hermione, without introducing it as a term.

I'm unsure if it's connected in any obvious way, but to me the quoted conversation between Harry and Hermione is reminiscent of other conversations between the two characters about heroism generally. In that context, it's obviously a poor 'ideological mantra' as it was targeted towards Hermione. Given what I remember of the story, it worked pretty well for her.

Comment author: RobinZ 17 November 2014 05:14:22PM -1 points [-]

I confess, it would make sense to me if Harry was unfamiliar with metaethics and his speech about "heroic responsibility" was an example of him reinventing the idea. If that is the case, it would explain why his presentation is as sloppy as it is.

Comment author: Kenny 16 November 2014 03:55:08AM 0 points [-]

It seems like you've already answered your own question!

Comment author: RobinZ 17 November 2014 05:07:38PM 0 points [-]

No, I haven't answered my own question. In what way was Harry's monologue about consequentialist ethics superior to telling Hermione why McGonagall couldn't be counted upon?

Comment author: wedrifid 16 November 2014 03:21:02AM 0 points [-]

I would rather you tell me that I am misunderstanding something than downvote silently.

Thankyou for your feedback. I usually ration my explicit disagreement with people on the internet but your replies prompt me to add "RobinZ" to the list of people worth actively engaging with.

Comment author: RobinZ 17 November 2014 05:02:23PM 0 points [-]

...huh. I'm glad to have been of service, but that's not really what I was going for. I meant that silent downvoting for the kind of confusion you diagnosed in me is counterproductive generally - "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means" is not a hypothesis that springs naturally to mind. The same downvote paired with a comment saying:

This is a waste of time. You keep claiming that "heroic responsibility" says this or "heroic responsibility" demands that, but you're fundamentally mistaken about what heroic responsibility is and you can't seem to understand anything we say to correct you. I'm downvoting the rest of this conversation.

...would have been more like what I wanted to encourage.

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