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Conversation Halters

38 Eliezer_Yudkowsky 20 February 2010 03:00PM

Related toLogical Rudeness, Semantic Stopsigns

While working on my book, I found in passing that I'd developed a list of what I started out calling "stonewalls", but have since decided to refer to as "conversation halters".  These tactics of argument are distinguished by their being attempts to cut off the flow of debate - which is rarely the wisest way to think, and should certainly rate an alarm bell.

Here's my assembled list, on which I shall expand shortly:

  • Appeal to permanent unknowability;
  • Appeal to humility;
  • Appeal to egalitarianism;
  • Appeal to common guilt;
  • Appeal to inner privacy;
  • Appeal to personal freedom;
  • Appeal to arbitrariness;
  • Appeal to inescapable assumptions.
  • Appeal to unquestionable authority;
  • Appeal to absolute certainty.

Now all of these might seem like dodgy moves, some dodgier than others.  But they become dodgier still when you take a step back, feel the flow of debate, observe the cognitive traffic signals, and view these as attempts to cut off the flow of further debate.

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The Bedrock of Fairness

26 Eliezer_Yudkowsky 03 July 2008 06:00AM

Followup toThe Moral Void

Three people, whom we'll call Xannon, Yancy and Zaire, are separately wandering through the forest; by chance, they happen upon a clearing, meeting each other.  Introductions are performed.  And then they discover, in the center of the clearing, a delicious blueberry pie.

Xannon:  "A pie!  What good fortune!  But which of us should get it?"

Yancy:  "Let us divide it fairly."

Zaire:  "I agree; let the pie be distributed fairly.  Who could argue against fairness?"

Xannon:  "So we are agreed, then.  But what is a fair division?"

Yancy:  "Eh?  Three equal parts, of course!"

Zaire:  "Nonsense!  A fair distribution is half for me, and a quarter apiece for the two of you."

Yancy:  "What?  How is that fair?"

Zaire:  "I'm hungry, therefore I should be fed; that is fair."

Xannon:  "Oh, dear.  It seems we have a dispute as to what is fair.  For myself, I want to divide the pie the same way as Yancy.  But let us resolve this dispute over the meaning of fairness, fairly: that is, giving equal weight to each of our desires.  Zaire desires the pie to be divided {1/4, 1/4, 1/2}, and Yancy and I desire the pie to be divided {1/3, 1/3, 1/3}.  So the fair compromise is {11/36, 11/36, 14/36}."

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Empty Labels

16 Eliezer_Yudkowsky 14 February 2008 11:50PM

Followup toThe Argument from Common Usage

Consider (yet again) the Aristotelian idea of categories.  Let's say that there's some object with properties A, B, C, D, and E, or at least it looks E-ish.

Fred:  "You mean that thing over there is blue, round, fuzzy, and—"
Me: "In Aristotelian logic, it's not supposed to make a difference what the properties are, or what I call them.  That's why I'm just using the letters."

Next, I invent the Aristotelian category "zawa", which describes those objects, all those objects, and only those objects, which have properties A, C, and D.

Me:  "Object 1 is zawa, B, and E."
Fred:  "And it's blue—I mean, A—too, right?"
Me:  "That's implied when I say it's zawa."
Fred:  "Still, I'd like you to say it explicitly."
Me:  "Okay.  Object 1 is A, B, zawa, and E."

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