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Jack comments on Conversation Halters - Less Wrong

38 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 20 February 2010 03:00PM

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Comment author: Jack 20 February 2010 11:16:20PM *  0 points [-]

I'm all about visiting initial assumptions. But declaring your assumptions "self-evident" isn't a justifying move. All this means is "I don't have any reasons for believing it, but I do." Now if there were no ways around that it wouldn't be a silly thing to say. But look! There are ways to talk about propositions even when we have to stop talking about whether those propositions correspond to reality! So now we don't have to stop talking. More than that, it doesn't make sense to stop talking because "My assumptions are useful, fruitful, and parsimonious and yours are not." is close to a knock out response to "I have no reason to believe this, but I do."

Comment author: byrnema 20 February 2010 11:21:28PM 1 point [-]

A few comments above I wrote,

My impression is that the conversation ends because at least one side isn't willing to argue about initial assumptions. (Indeed, if there was an argument for it, it wouldn't be an assumption.) People will just say things like, 'it is self-evident that ....' or, 'oh, if you don't even believe that then there's nothing to talk about!'.

I was presenting this as an example of a discussion failure mode. I don't suppose that it is necessary. But I also hadn't known about those other ways of arguing about initial assumptions -- utility, parsimony, etc. Those sound like very productive places to begin.

So we agree it's not a conversation halter unless one person won't proceed past, 'my assumptions are self-evident!'.

Comment author: orthonormal 21 February 2010 05:05:01AM 0 points [-]

So we agree it's not a conversation halter unless one person won't proceed past, 'my assumptions are self-evident!'.

I think you're missing the other kind of conversation halter here: the person might not even claim their assumptions are self-evident, but simply say that they're axioms and not subject to further analysis. This is the conversation halter RobinZ has been describing.

Comment author: Jack 20 February 2010 11:28:33PM 0 points [-]

Agreement! Good for us. So then a question for the rest of the thread: is "appeal to inescapable assumptions" the same things as "appeal to self-evidence"? If so then it looks like we all agree but perhaps Eliezer didn't phrase the example well.