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Constant comments on Less Wrong Rationality and Mainstream Philosophy - Less Wrong

106 Post author: lukeprog 20 March 2011 08:28PM

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Comment author: [deleted] 21 March 2011 04:20:27PM 11 points [-]

Seems to me less like that and more like, "this Euclid fellow was brilliant", followed by a list of things that Euclid proved before anybody else proved. Timing matters here. It's no coincidence that before Quine came along, the clever Eliezers were not taking Quinean naturalism for granted.

For another analogy, if someone came along and told you, "this Hugh Everett fellow was brilliant! Here, read this paper in which he argues that the wave function never collapses", would you say, "well, Eliezer already went through that a few years ago; there's still no evidence that Everett made any worthwhile contribution"?

Comment author: [deleted] 21 March 2011 09:46:57PM 1 point [-]

"before Quine came along, the clever Eliezers were not taking Quinean naturalism for granted."

Citation needed.

Comment author: [deleted] 21 March 2011 10:21:57PM 1 point [-]

I did not come to this conclusion on the basis of having read the claim somewhere. Rather, it's what I gather from having read philosophy from both before and after Quine. If clever men were coming up with Quinean insight left and right before Quine appeared, then we should see a large number of philosophers pre-Quine who make Quine redundant. I don't recall encountering any of these philosophers whose existence would virtually be assured if I were wrong. But suppose that I am simply ignorant. We still have Quine's reputation to content with, the wide acknowledgment by major philosophers that he was highly influential. If I were wrong, he should have been lost in a sea of bright young men who anticipated his key insights.

Comment author: [deleted] 21 March 2011 10:36:43PM 7 points [-]

"If clever men were coming up with Quinean insight left and right before Quine appeared, then we should see a large number of philosophers pre-Quine who make Quine redundant."

Assuming also that those 'clever men' were going into philosophy rather than dismissing it as Eliezer has.

Comment author: [deleted] 21 March 2011 10:49:42PM 3 points [-]

Eliezer may say that he dismisses philosophy, but he has nevertheless published a great deal which takes issue with some philosophy, agrees with other philosophy, and most importantly, he has provided a great deal of argumentation in favor of these conclusions which some philosophers agree with and other philosophers disagree with. Whether he believes it or not, Eliezer is doing philosophy, and a lot of it.

So, where are these clever men pre-Qune who dismissed philosophy and then proceeded, as Eliezer has done, to produce reams of it?

Comment author: Randaly 22 March 2011 12:04:35AM *  2 points [-]

There are a few, e.g. E.T. Jaynes, Alfred North Whitehead ("Philosophy begins in wonder. And, at the end, when philosophic thought has done its best, the wonder remains. "), and Richard Feynman (over and over and over again.)

More generally, though, those 'clever men' have tended to ignore philosophy and charge ahead with whatever they're doing; it's just that Eliezer's work has tended to impinge more on philosophy than, say, themodynamics experiments or calculus proofs.

ETA: This didn't actually address what Constant meant; my apologies.

Comment author: [deleted] 22 March 2011 01:34:59AM 0 points [-]

Well, you did answer the question I asked, so it's my fault that I didn't word the question right. It's practically a philosophical tradition to bury philosophy and then do philosophy on the grave of philosophy. For example the positivists sought to bury metaphysics. The king is dead, long live the king. So, sure, there are many examples of that.

The issue I was interested in was not this, but was whether it is probable that Eliezer independently reproduced Quine's philosophy. I did not think it was likely. Certain of our ideas really do arise spontaneously among the clever generation after generation, but other ideas do not but are discovered rarely, at which point the ideas may be widely disseminated. I don't number Quine's ideas as among those that arise spontaneously, but among those that are rarely discovered and then may be widely disseminated. My evidence for this was Quine's seeming originality. In response, it was argued that until Quine, the discoverers went on to do something else, which is why it wasn't until Quine that the ideas were brought to the attention of philosophers. I argued in response that at least some fraction should, like Eliezer, have written about it, and then I asked, so where are these pre-Quine Quines who wrote about it? Only, I worded the question badly, and instead asked, where are the philosophers who dismissed philosophy. Of which there are, of course, many.

Comment author: lukeprog 22 March 2011 01:42:12AM 3 points [-]

It's hard to trace those causal lines, but here's one data point: Dennett's ideas have spread rather widely, and Dennett is an enthusiastic Quinean naturalist, and indeed was a student of Quine. Here's Dennett:

...Quine’s book, 'From a Logical Point of View', which I read in despair in the math library late at night that freshman year, because I was taking a very difficult course in logic. And the next morning I’d read the whole book and I decided to transfer to Harvard to work with him.

Also: Stich, who might be called the 'founder' of experimental philosophy, was also an enthusiastic student of Quine's. And experimental philosophy is the kind of philosophy getting all the major press in the last 10 years, it seems to me.