Friday, May 30, 2008

Results of the Quick Poll

Well it looks like the Zombie war is over.
The final word seems to be the Quick Poll

Despite the biased methodology there was no support at all for Richard Chappell's position. Frankly, I almost felt sympathetic enough to go on and support it myself.

At first Richard C implies that they were refraining from answering because they were trying to be polite to Richard Brown...

so if anyone's actually been following all the arguments, I hope they will offer their informed judgments (and not just refrain out of some misguided sense of politeness, say).

Finally (after rejecting anyone who agreed with Richard Brown as uninformed) he gives up on that and takes the position

we were interested in the conditional question how others would respond if they were to carefully read all those exchanges. Since nobody bothered to do so (understandably enough), we're simply left with our own judgments.*

It is fairly hard to indisputably win an argument on the internet. People can always find some convoluted reason why the evidence is corrupted.
When did you last see a political debate on dailykos or a warblog end with "damn, looks like I was wrong about Iraq"?. Once the incorrect side "has their back up" the best you can hope for is probably to leave everyone watching to be able to say, "that guys argument didn't make me any more likely at all to believe any of his positions." That leaves it ambiguous as to whether the issue is the person's argument that is weak or whether they are arguing well and their position is wrong.

Both of which leave the "defeated" side with something to work on.

* It is good that he finally realized there was no "third party" to whom he could pretend he was aiming his arguments

Friday, May 23, 2008

Opinion on the RC vs RB Zombie debate

Interesting, regarding the origins of the zombie debate on Richard Brown's blog - I originally thought Richard C was probably right and that Richard B's anti-zombie argument would be rejected (although the arrogance of Ricard C's rejection was already bothering me).

“Does anyone think that this is a good argument?”

and so some way into the debate
I stated
I think this is a interesting line of debate - so its a pity the two of you can’t engage minds on it. I have opinions on the wider debate but reading this I swung from one side to the other (and back) on who’s position was more ‘on the mark’.

One of my reasons for concern regarding Richard B's position was

the materialists is (generally? always?) making a statement about physicalism being necessary (across worlds) then he is making a stronger claim than a dualist who (I presume) claim that ‘dualism’ is not “necessary” for each world (e.g. zombie world).

but after all of the debating

I honestly am curious if anyone else besides Richard C could actually read all exchanges between the two of you and leave with the impression that Richard C seems to have of what happened.

I suppose that is a credit to Richard Brown.

Ideal debating and censoring of screaming

Richard posts in defense of screaming at people.

he quotes
When one appears to be acting reasonable you tend to side with them just a touch (even if on the merits they aren't as grounded).
and comments
I'm sure this is true (as a general tendency), but it seems kind of unfortunate.
he makes the somewhat valid point
But it would seem rather unjust to think badly of someone who was actually clearly in the right*

He continues
Should our attitudes towards others be governed by the principle of 'innocent until proven guilty'? Better a thousand fools be free of your inner censure, than one good person wrongly maligned? Or should we maximize the likelihood of true belief by engaging in statistical discrimination (generalizations) and using whatever evidence we've got?

given those options and the following value judgment

Even so, better to have one's thoughts be accurate...

I suggest the best answer is to use later principle "engaging in statistical discrimination (generalizations) and using whatever evidence we've got" and implementing the best strategies to process that evidence.

that leaves open the question of which strategies work but philosophers don't need to answer that question, while there are situational factors, if the objective is "accurate thoughts", it is mostly an empirical question for psychologists and sociologists.

Next step? Make use of the literature. Open up that journal search engine and type in some terms.

* My position would be that you could both think badly of their methodology and well of their argument and not have any issue with them as a 'person'.

The communication game

Imagine for a moment that you are trying to communicate with someone - maybe it is in an article in a journal or maybe it is in a conversation.

You have a certain amount of time or a certain amount of words in which to make your point. Lets say you are extremely bright and so you compose an argument that is the very best logical argument that could be created in that length of space.
But now you, being very bright, wonder - I know people are not 100% logical - will this actually convince the other party?

Let’s say you decide convincing them of the core point (or winning) is your most important objective and you are willing to (within the bounds of what is tolerated) do whatever you can to achieve that aim.

Now depending on the context you start to think about the basic theories of writing essays that most people know, principles like: say what you are going to prove, prove it and then tell them what you have proven. Also you need to make sure you don’t make the article too demanding to read, and that you referencing experts where appropriate. Also choosing those topics which you think are more relevant and arguing for positions you think are most acceptable. There is a cost to your essay here (because you must remove better ideas in order to obey each rule).

Thinking a little more you decide to there is using words with the right connotations, appeals to intuition, attempts to build the right sort of social bonds and obeying all the social niceties, referencing specific 'experts', and predicting their likely objections (even if irrational) and countering them. There is a cost to the logic of the essay here.

Beyond that there is the realm of complex psychology which I presume the best politicians use, there is what I call the "perspective switch" baiting potential opposition away from the areas you know are weak and a whole range of other strategies too complex to describe here although their applicability is almost independent of what you are arguing.

Now you present your position in the appropriate forum in competition with other ideas and yours emerges on top, a success from your perspective since you believe your idea is right although you regret not being able to present more of the position. Others who did not make those changes watch on envious or frustrated because their expertise (which may be more ‘valuable’ in a purely logical sense) is trumped by your psychology and literary training.

This is very much like politics where(I know it is hard to believe) a lot of people who honestly want the best for their people/country end up engaging in all sorts of destructive behavior.

Where I agree with RC

A commenter on Richards blogs suggests I never seem to agree. Well here are some things I agree with.

We also agree that utilitarianism that considers wider issues seems to be the best model , that bad means have concequences determinism enables freedom and a wide range of implications thereof. This is why we generally agree on politics, for example tax and basic income and on biology and culture .

In terms of debating I also have issues with moral intuitions , and HCH (hands clean hypocrisy) or the overuse of Hypocrisy in general, I believe strongly in reducing offense and I like the idea of love the sinner hate the sin. I value my agency - and we are both bite bullets quite easily, and I have some admiration for someone who can also do that.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Invincible arguments

I think I may have encountered another of Richard C's invincible ideas.

I found a post on Colin's blog which referred to debates like the RB/RC debate as being of concern, (although the main focus was probably more formal issues like difficulty of publishing fringe ideas).

RB agreed and RC turned up and both parties began to engaging in a bit of "thread jacking" . Somewhat more so in the case of Richard C who justified it by saying that it was important to correct the record in order to promote truth seeking.

I pointed out in a post script that I found it a bit ironic considering the post topic.

Richard C proceeds to argue the point apparently directing his argument at me (he misunderstands but that is beside the point here). Now in normal conversation I'm probably obliged to give him some sort of response. But here I'm effectively defending the position that the resulting debate would be a bad thing.

Curiously, the position I was taking cannot be defended in that thread because to defend it is to breach the rules that I am arguing for. In general a cynic like myself could conclude that, like with politics, the person with arbitrary standards will always be at the disadvantage. I suposed I am prone to try to beg the question and think that we should have standards to correct that imbalance.

Anyway, nevermind - I guess Richard won that one.

Richard's Quick Poll

Richard has followed though on the intent of my post on Richard Brown's blog and asked for a quick poll on whether people agree with Richard C or with Richard B in the sort of zombie related dispute *.

In case anyone thought that was just a veiled insult it wasn't at all. Although I have to admit I did have a dual purpose besides the 'truth seeing" ideal. Clearly this has become an unproductive debate as argued by both Richard B and Ricard C. Richard B expresses his desire to stop debating it but admits his inability while Richard C 'threatens' to disengage and keeps failing presumably due to his desire to correct the record because there is something wrong on the internet.

It seems like both are caught in a psychological trap. I was hoping Richard B would take that as an excuse to disengage - as it is Richard C may disengage instead - in which case all the better.

regarding the survey - I have to say I expect someone to SAY they agree with Richard even if they don't really understand the debate, but I doubt we will get a chance to drill them regarding their understanding of the debate (or that doing so would do anything other than start another unproductive debate) so I'll take it as some evidence.

* Sorry about the vague naming but what the dispute is about is in dispute!


Richard notes
Now that I think of it, a better way to make my point may be to replace talk of 'all or nothing' belief with credences or degrees of belief.
Maybe he has been paying attention .

So what would this mean for question begging?

Well intuitively it could mean that the door is opened to many more arguments without them being question begging. Or we could just go back to saying it is question begging even though it theoretically might add a small amount of value (or subtract value).

Others might argue that purpose matters. The purpose of the term "question begging" is to maintain standards in debate. I expect most would agree that the standard we aim for should not be a causal result of the definition of the words we use. So we probably still want to prohibit an argument that in non-probabilistic language would be considered a rule breach.

Overall I'm a bit undecided as to the "ideal" answer however I am still inclined to say that standard definition is the one one should use in a debate unless one explicitly states they are taking an alternate view.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Richard recaps the zombie "debate"

Richard asserts his position again regarding Assessing Arguments and Begging Questions. Please follow the link for context. But he seems to still be misunderstanding Richard Brown even though RB has been reasonably clear in his position.

as per Richard B
To beg the question in this sense is to beg it against someone
So we need to ask who is Richard talking to?
the obvious answer is Richard B (surely I don't need to justify that assumption) in which case it is straightforwardly question begging.

Further as Richard states in the comments to RC's post
It is that I do not accept one of the premises which is itself unargued for; in fact I even presented an argument against said premise using premises which you do in fact accept. When I ask for an argument for the unsupported premise no one gives one and when I ask for a response to said counter argument again no one gives one. So what makes the argument 'crappy' is not simply that I reject one of the premises. It is that no one can support the rejected premise and no one can show that the counter-argument against it is itself no good (or at least no one has bothered to do so).

The more complicated possibility is that even in the mist of directly answering RB's questions he is still talking to physicalists in general, asking them to change their position.

Richard C seems to confirm this position in his belief that the following provides justification for his position

there are at least a fair number of materialists-by-default, like my past self, who are disposed to find both premises very plausible

This may seem plausible to a non-physicalist but remember we are not involved in a debate about how one should understand words and how one should debate so it is analogous to say to Richard C something like :

"Qualia are not consistent with the theory of the soul - therefore qualia don't exist."

That argument might be convincing to some people, but to me it is a breach of standards to use it even if my intent was to speak to a general audience.

Further, the hypothetical materialist would appear to be a much easier to attack sort of materialist. As Richard C highlighted before
most prominent opposition is from anti-intellectual rubes and intellectually bankrupt religious apologists ... From a purely sociological perspective, it's no surprise that intelligent people might initially be drawn to [the opposite opinion]... But that's no substitute for assessing the strongest arguments.

How should one comment on Philosophy Blogs

When one makes a comment on a blog one can write as if one was in a number of situations. Ignore my examples if you cant immediately recognize the debate i refer to)

1) The first is the 'harsh reviewer' of an academic paper. this is the one I tend to use. In this case you look over the article and try to find any sort of error you can. What matters most to this view is that you expose the logical error or the argument that is not properly supported not that you prove it is wrong. The Author of the article can then take your critique into consideration in the next round of reviewing. It seems to me that this is the sort of review that an academic should appreciate. Generally these require quite a bit of mental work from the other side.

2) Next is the friendly approach. In this model you are trying to be supportive and to build relationships. you compliment the good things and tend to take as given the more dubious things for the sake of argument.

3) there is the entertainment approach - in this one you are trying to be interesting, it becomes valuable to be eloquent and use what one might term political speech. You repeat ideas for emphasis and tie them back to what you think a general audience would find intuitive. (most of RC's posts I think)

4) there is the head to head debate where you look to find the key issue that the article raises and tackle it head on. (RB in the zombie debate RC vs RB)

5) the student to teacher - here you assume the other side knows the answer and just needs to explain it to you

6) the teacher to student - here you switch the above - you really need the other side to buy into being a student or it will degenerate.

7) the academic response - here you assume no one trusts your opinion and so you effectively refer people to famous people's opinions. If they then disagree you can reasonably say they have a credibility issue.

8) the seller of ideas - in this case your trying to win the debate but without allowing it to become a head to head (i.e. you don't want to 'get their back up')

I'm sure there are others. I don't think it is entirely clear which is the best because each works on different assumptions of what is valuable however it is possible that a certain approach will be useless in a certain context with certain people.

The meaning of "Should"

When someone argues that you "really should" do something what are they saying?

One way to interpret should arguments is to consider them incomplete -

they may be seen as implicitly asserting conditional propositions: being of the form

"I think you think X is desirable, that being the case - facts A,B,C imply that you would logically intend to implement C, D and E"

Or "I think X is desirable, therefore facts A,B,C imply that you would logically intend to implement strategies C,D and E"*

Or more cynically one can interpret it as a direct attempt to control.

Is it legitimate to use the speakers degree of knowledge of

1) the person desire for X
2) whether X is already true
3) situational facts about that person (A,B and C)

How legitimate is it to use that to infer what they mean by "should"?
Or should we charitably accept that the first definition holds?

* where C+D+E given A,B and C cause X

Sunday, May 18, 2008

RC responds... or not.

I note Richard wrote a post to say that he can't be bothered responding to my post .
I suppose that is the something is wrong on the internet effect?

In response (such that it deserves).

Note the way the subject think is something that by its very nature that is hard for them to see, and its no surprise if a person cannot understand a comment of the nature of that post particularly if they are not interested in engaging with the detail. This is of course the Raison d'être of psychology.

For those who read it in more detail, I note while I use some vivid language in the post, that is just to make the point clear. One doesn't (usually) sit down and say something like "hey I want to redefine word in the English language such that I win the argument" and I don't imagine Richard is actually 'thinking' even if that is effectively what is happening.*

* Of course some of the confusion is due to parts of my posting style I am trying to change (like posting before reviewing).

Friday, May 16, 2008

Reading Philosophy etc

A series of fairly aggressive posts from Richard Chappell regarding bloggers he has disagreed with and how he thinks we should debate on the internet have been quite interesting and have inspired a look at how Richard writes.

Those who know Richard probably know his approach is one of confidence in the fact that he (and his intuitions) is correct and that disagreement with him is probably due to an error on the other side. a number of people have recently found themselves in heated arguments with Richard as a result. For those interested in debating I thought highlighting these in what Richard Brown terms

a must read for anyone who has had the “pleasure” of encountering RC’s “arguments”.

I'll look at these in the following sections


“Here's hoping I do a better job of avoiding online interactions with idiots in future.”

the confidence issue comes in three parts the first is confidence in those beliefs that you have chosen to believe. Richard explains here that he has a philosophy of bold beliefs weakly held (13). This appears to result in Richard boldly proclaiming that others positions are obviously wrong when even he doesn’t really believe it. In such a situation others often feel they are engaging with either a dishonest or a foolish person.

Besides the impressions of others, there are definitely the Situations where from a pragmatic perspective one would obviously want to Suspend Judgment. His inability to see these highlights how he tends to conflate idealized situations with reality via failing to value issues related to the baysianism and psychology of non idealized humans as well as not fully considering theProbability of truth of his position.

The second position that he holds strongly is confidence in the progress of philosophy and in fact that philosophical truth is just what an ideal philosopher would believe. And that such a truth exists in, most if not all areas.

Many people will reject that armchair philosophy always results in the right answer. It is known that the average person is not very rational on key issues, that the way the brain works can lead to acceptance of false information and that even academics are often very poor at detecting rubbish. Where the chain of logic is obscured by it's armchair (12) nature where we face dangers of Post hoc rationalization.

this seems at it's weakest in the ethical area. Richard writes

If they're false at all, it must be because of some deep incoherence. The true moral theory is true a priori, and so its verdicts will follow from any 'state description' that includes a full specification of the non-moral facts.

The suggestion being that Kantism and all other ethical positions bar one - are somehow inheritly incoherent. Somehow that seems terribly optimistic. Particularly when in the zombie debate he suggested that a person could simply deny his assumptions and that he would then have no recourse.

Eric Schwitzgebel represents the opposite position with

When you tilt back in your armchair and reflect, there's only one kind of thing you can discover, it seems to me: Facts about your own psychology.

This however is not an error in itself. The key issue in this area arises from how Richard makes claims about the status of philosophy and the definition of words as will be covered later.

The third is outright arrogance regarding ones superiority to others by presenting as a teacher and loosing composure and being agressive when that is challenged. He explicitly defends this (6) possibly an example of self justification since when pushed he admitted that this was not a admirable practice.

An example of arrogance is his challenge to Eric Schwitzgebel. Eric writes

I suspect that if, indeed, ethicists don't tend to consider voting a duty that may be post-hoc rationalization rather than genuine moral insight.

As I note here and here he made the error of assuming the question of psychology below, is a philosophy question. (ie the question of it IS a duty). This results in him saying

you would think the reasonable prior assumption would be to favour the experts over folk opinion
... Surely if anyone has reasons worth considering on a controversial moral question, it's going to be moral philosophers!

i.e. Richard? But while it is vaguely related to the moral question, the point at issue here obviously ISN'T. Instead it is an empirically researchable question for psychologists or possibly philosophers of mind like, for example Eric (10).

However as usual Richard C takes the fighting perspective wherein argue his premises premises are not open to debate.

Whether a stubborn opponent might reject one of my premises, on the other hand, is not something I see any reason to care about.”

I suggest this strategy is flawed from both an individual (e.g. individual truth seeking) and a collective (e.g. utilitarian) basis.

To learn you should try to elicit from those you encounter the best arguments. Surely from an individual perspective, truth seeking is best achieved by listening rather than forcing your opinion on another. After all - you already KNOW your own position. Optimal strategy would be to help the other side to develop the best possible argument against your position and if you consider yourself a rational agent with agency you can choose rationally whether retaining your beliefs is the best strategy.

And from a collective perspective it also seems flawed. This would be "naive utilitarianism" (Richard’s word for bad act utilitarianism), because this communication game has universibility issues. Simply, academia will descend into bad politics as debates would become full of invincible arguments, unproductive correcting of the record/reputation and disputes about what the dispute is about between strident opponents with limited respect. Advancing the dialect requires global rationality. Ask yourself - how easy is it to know you have really advanced the dialect? On a day to day basis do you achieve it by obeying rules that have been worked out over many centuries such as ‘don’t engage in question begging’?

We should realize that we can be wrong and that others also think they are correct and disagree - so we should give them the chance to make their point and even in a desire to address the strongest positions - devil’s advocate. So no cheap shots or cheap tactics or recklessly using tools at ones disposal.

Where did all the epistemic peers go?

When asked why he uses such a strategy given his objectives, Richard's move here is often to insist that there is nothing for him to learn since he is not in a debate with epistemic / intellectual peers and that they don’t even conceivably have any input of value. So why is Richard often frustrated by the perceived lack of ‘peers’?

For there to be a meeting of minds (and thus the productive debate that signifies meeting an epistemic peer) both sides need to understand the other side’s argument. Richard in a number of cases has found himself arguing belligerently that the other person meant what he thought they meant, even though they disagree as in this thread and this one. This creates a vicious cycle that disguises his after the fact rationalization.

To show this is not just a matter of my opinion I’ll give an example.

In the thread involving Richard Brown, his position is that the zombie debate is one of reduction not one regarding qualia being non physical (i.e. an argument against ‘physicalism’ per se). Unfortunately as with the other post his position is incoherent - in almost every debate he starts with the classic argument for zombieism (i.e. describing a world with zombies and one with non physical qualia) or for dualism the latter is as follows

1. (P & ~Q) is ideally conceivable [can't be ruled out a priori]
2. If (P & ~Q) is ideally conceivable then (P & ~Q) is possible.
3. If (P & ~Q) is possible then physicalism is false.
Therefore, physicalism is false.

It is the last line that is the central conclusion and which is taken to be the topic by most people. So it is unreasonable to complain if people defend physicalism (the claim being attacked) as opposed to attacking Richard's belief (non reductionism). It would seem there is a ‘bait and switch’ going on here.

Worse yet this contrasts with Richard's often stated opinion that we should attack only the strongest positions, because when the leader in the pro-zombie debate, David Chalmers, turned up he stated

It seems to me that although you present your arguments as arguments against the thesis (Z) that zombies are logically possible, they're really arguments against the thesis (E) that consciousness plays no causal role. Of course thesis E, epiphenomenalism, is a much easier target. This would be a legitimate strategy if thesis Z entails thesis E, as you appear to assume, but this is incorrect. I endorse Z, but I don't endorse E: see my discussion in "Consciousness and its Place in Nature", especially the discussion of interactionism (type-D dualism) and Russellian monism (type-F monism). I think that the correct conclusion of zombie-style arguments is the disjunction of the type-D, type-E, and type-F views, and I certainly don't favor the type-E view (epiphenomenalism) over the others.

It is reasonable to assume (in giving David Chalmers more credibility than RC) that attacking Richards position is actually attacking a weaker position even though he seems to suggest that an error is being made in addressing any other position.(5)

So how credible is Richard's confidence from a third person perspective? Richard Chappell has some knowledge of philosophy, particularly in the area of ethics he also has a blog. The blog forms a considerable library of his thoughts (allowing most of his references to be to his own thoughts). But in academia the gold standard is publications (and prestige of those publications) - but he does not appear to have any, unlike most of the other people mentioned (we are a fairly well published group it would seem). So as Richard Brown writes

If I hear ‘epistemic peer’ one more time I might…well, I don’t know what I might do…"

and the uncharitable Adam Rawlings writes

[due to his educational attainment] maybe it's not totally fair to pick on the flaws in his argument.

Burden of Proof

Richard Take argues that the burden of proof regarding whether something is possible should fall upon the person who is proposing it is necessarily impossible (or undefined in this case). This causes confusion for many science oriented people because normal scientific practice seems to be to assume that they don't exist until they are proven as long as they are relevant and complicate the model (c.f. Eliezer on Ockhams razor and for that matter Richard on openmindedness and Ockhams razor). In fact it is hard to see how one could have a coherent world view if one took the opposite position of believing in every thing that has not been disproven.

For example Richard argues

My fundamental premise is not, "I think the zombie world is coherently conceivable." … my basic premise is that the zombie world is coherently conceivable... you've said is that ignorance might lead one to believe it... But that is no reason to think that it is false.

Eliezer notes

I'm not sure how I'm supposed to react to this paragraph, frankly.

Richard responds

You're supposed to show that my premise is false.

can't we all sympathize with Eliezer here?

and this comment

We can play "maybe’s all day long, but it doesn't seem very helpful unless you can actually show that a mistake has been made.

What Richard seems to be saying is the argument spelled out here which suggests it is impermissible (or at least 'bad') to present a position as disproving another position without assuming in your proof all of the other sides basic assumptions (if you indeed know them). I.e. that Richard is trying to deny the legitimacy of others using his “bold ideas weakly held philosophy.

So why does Richard favor Dualism over physicalism? Well Richard give an answer here

It assumes an indefensible scientism from the start.

Scientism is indefensible?

Many followers of scientism are surprised by that. So on what does he base this bold claim? As is often the case Richard kindly proves a self reference where he elaborates

Many otherwise-intelligent people have an unfortunate tendency to dismiss entire realms of inquiry…

and references his previous post that argues that this is self defeating. Or put more formally here

(Scientism): A claim is coherent only if it has scientific implications.
What are the scientific implications of this principle? [none] It is incoherent by its own lights.

Following the link to the next level we see

This self-referentiality is all very fun, but does it actually amount to much? Does the mere fact that a practice cannot be opposed (without thereby engaging in the practice and so implicitly condoning it) provide any positive justification for the practice?.(3)

What this argument seems to imply is that the fact that others can’t be bothered debating (or even having a coherent word to describe a debate that they consider irrelevant) is proof your position is correct and conversely that if people break their own rules to oppose you then the position they take must be wrong. Surely not? (4) In other words his references and therefore his argument leads nowhere.

Here is the standard political example

One (irrational) country attacks another country, the second country says 'attacking countries is wrong' but they can't stop the other side attacking them unless they counter attack. Does that mean 'war is right'?

Clearly not, apparently not all references contain supporting evidence.

Richard argues we should “conditionalize out” science. This creates two problems first as Chris Hallqest argues

The difficulty with this is we cannot do this. We lack the imaginative capacity to substitute our imaginings of how things might be for information on how they really are. Philosophical thought experiments often involve gross oversimplifications, yet are used to draw conclusions about how things actually are, which is of course what many philosophers actually care about.

The second is that we start answering a different and potentially useless question. For example imagine designing public policy if we assumed all people were completely rational and fully informed.

In direct response to Richard’s argument that philosophy doesn't need science Eliezer countered with a much more substantive argument saying, to paraphrase, where other fields (such as physics) are relevant those with only philosophy backgrounds should take a backseat to those that have a background in both fields. Richard C rejected this out of hand however this is clearly a flawed strategy in regard to Richard’s neglect of many insights from Cognitive science as mentioned in Richard Brown's thesis (7) (follow the footnote), physics in debates with Eliezer or maths which I tackle here and even more obviously (and frequently on Richard’s blog) social sciences, empirical studies and his rejection of possible insights such fields might bring to his conversation threads. In these fields, where some of us are indeed genuine experts, his layman’s arrogance is all the more surprising.

‘New Speak' (8)

There are a number of examples here including for example his odd redefinition of democracy where he argues an oligarchy with low intelligence subjects might actually be a democracy and an attempt to redefine act utilitarianism as the “repugnant” naive utilitarianism where imaginary utilitarians only consider a single decision and it’s immediate consequences. Which he then uses his usual hyperbole to damn.

Naive utilitarianism is just about the most dangerous and repugnant moral theory around(11)

This sort of redefinition gives the person doing it control of the debate since if one ends up in semantic debate they can always be accused of not understanding what the key term is. At it’s worst you get a situation such as the zombie debate where Richard, after the results of his own quiz were highlighted, insisted that no one besides himself understood the debate.

Meanwhile on the other front, the meaning of words became an explicit part of the conversation. Eliezer takes a one possible definition of the meaning of a word - "words refer to whatever generally causes us to utter them". Richard argues that this semantic position is obviously demonstrably false and Eliezer disagrees. However this is the sort of theory that Plato, St. Augustine, Wittgenstein and many others have put forward, so one could argue it is ‘demonstrably defendable’. Yet again Strong Position "weakly held" seems to result in a person making demonstrably untrue statement.

In another example - the Pascal’s wager debate - Richard finds himself the one attacking as opposed to defending a hypothetical. He proposes

Pascal's Wager has got to be one of the worst philosophical arguments

But it soon becomes clear that what he is doing is attacking a particular (weak) form of Pascal’s wager – which he seems to have invented himself. He then showed a bewildering lack of concern regarding his straw man which was neither what Pascal meant, the strongest argument nor the commonly understood argument. If the purpose of the debate was truth seeking or development of understanding as stated, then his approach would seem counterproductive.

Richard defends against the accusations of question begging that arise form the above methodology, naturally enough, by using a question begging definition of question begging (a fallacy) that can be summarized as follows

[To not be question begging] merely calls for arguments that are dialectically effective.

I.e. if they convince they are valid even if they don't logically follow or if they are misleading? (1) Maybe question begging is only something people who are wrong can do? Imagine how confused a non-concequentialist would be with such a definition!

Ironically this seems to be different to the standard he uses in regard to others

Richard argues

Reductionists make [an] error because they assume that all that stands in need of explanation is the third-personal data of science… But this is clearly question-begging, or worse.

Richard Brown responds

According to you every argument that rationally persuades someone, even by degrees, is a good argument. So, the ontological argument, by your own lights is a good argument. Recall Russell’s famous anecdote that he was walking home one day and threw his pipe in the air and exclaimed ‘the ontological argument is sound!’ Even though he was an avowed agnostic (like myself) he adjusted his belief by a degree. But you have yourself denounced that argument on several occasions…

I’m not sure Richard C himself is convinced after-all if dialectic effectiveness is the aim of debate then surely if no one understands him, that would me something he would care more about.


Richard appears to rely quite heavily on intuitions as the majority of commeters seem to agree in this thread.

One of Richard’s favorite tools seems to be the intuition pump, for example the ‘zombie argument’ which he defends as being dialect enhancing even if not logically forceful (to drive a person on pain of irrationality to come to the desired conclusion).

In practice the intuition approach would appear likely to produce inconsistent results, particularly when you are tempted to switch to intuition in isolation of other beliefs and arrogantly resist more robust arguments and that you can gerrymander intuitions pumps to argue both sides or just to present a wrong position and that intuitions vary in relation to philosophically irrelevant factors (Nichols, Stich, Weinberg, 2001; Luper, 2003; etc). In general reliance on intuitions is suspect. And it is particularly suspect when used to answer questions with obvious empirically researchable answers, which may be a sign your no longer talking about philosophy!

The impression that is given is that, like many other people, he forms beliefs via intuition and ties them together via philosophy i.e. as follows

beliefs? I generally try to connect them on indirect consequentialist grounds

A more considered response would seem to be actually weighing up the likelyhood of the intuition being reliable given the various relevant factors, including cognitive factors raised by Eliezer (eg with epiphenomenalism) as opposed to refusing to consider such logic.

Richard himself provides support for this view of intuition pumps in a previous post:

If our intuitions are reliable at all, perhaps it's because they've been honed by our experiences, producing a kind of philosophical "know how". But while this might yield reliable judgments for familiar scenarios, it's (even) less clear whether we are competent at making correct intuitive judgments in unfamiliar - and sometimes downright bizarre - circumstances.

Is a zombie world a bizarre circumstance? Surely it is? Regardless, he continues

if other epistemically responsible agents call this into question, you ought to put aside your mere intuition and see whether there is any actual reason that can ground it.

Which is exactly what has happened, and yet

When.. ask[ed] for an argument for the unsupported premise no one gives one and when ask[ed] for a response to said counter argument again no one gives one.

1. For context here he is in the process of changing his mind . If this was a logical decision (as it should be) we would hope to see something of value in here. See how robust you think the argument is.

My intuitions commit me very strongly to the view that it's nomologically impossible for a physical duplicate of myself to lack consciousness. Given the natural laws as they actually are, there can be no zombies. There is no further 'soul', 'spirit', or special substance that needs to be "injected" into a brain and body before it becomes a conscious person. I find such views ludicrous, and want to avoid them like the plague. But if the view is simply that our natural laws are somewhat special, in giving rise to consciousness when different natural laws would fail to do so (given physically identical duplicates), then that seems a far less extravagant claim, and doesn't concern me nearly so much. Whether that means I'm not so committed to physicalism as I'd previously thought, I'm not quite sure.

I have in part as a result reexamined some of how I post. Usually/Previously I posted as I think - this means I write quickly and in a verbose manner almost as fast as I can type. In this methodology I see the internet as a library for my thoughts. This is obviously NOT how I write essays or articles. There is a good argument for raising the standard of blog posts to a point where I would write more concisely and with more references and to remain close to the original topic in as far as I want to take more responsibility for adding value.

3. I accept this could also just be poor use of references to create the appearance of evidence. But that would be an issue in itself.

4. I.e. this is not evidence in itself even though it would seem to be being used as evidence. I don't take a position on the merits of any of the definitions of scientism.

5. Although I note David is here refusing to take a position which is not very helpful - it is the equivalent to responding to a new theory - my theory is 'you are wrong and I'm probably right'. Even if true that’s a very cheap victory.

6. Richard says “People are put off by his abrasive tone and plain-spoken insults, and thereby conclude that he's committing "ad hominems", no matter the substance of his arguments. Of course, one may question whether it's the best way for him to persuade anyone who doesn't already agree with him -- but Leiter has explained that that is not his purpose anyway.)”

7. In the philosophy of mind, for instance, the cognitive turn leads first
to the mind-brain identity theory of Place, Smart and Feigl (and later Armstrong)(Feigl 1967; Armstrong 1968; Smart 1991; Place 2004). These philosophers saw that theoretical work in the brain sciences could be used to solve philosophical problems (Brown 2006).and inspired by the developing field of computer science and artificial intelligence, we saw the rise of the now dominant view in the philosophy of mind known as functionalism (Putnam 1967/1991).
(Johnston 1998) says,
Every moral tradition and every moral theory necessarily presupposes some
specific view of how the mind works and what a person is. The cognitive
sciences constitute our principle source of knowledge about human cognition
and psychology. Consequently, the cognitive sciences are absolutely crucial
to moral philosophy (p 691)

8. The language spoken in the society described in the book '1984'. Words are redefined in order to deny opponents the ability to say what they want to say and the proper words for positions implicitly contain value judgments that the government wants you to have. Leaders for example are called something like 'good people'.

9. For context - Previous to this the non reductionist side had claimed perceptions as evidence, Eliezer takes the facts of the debate elsewhere to be on his side so all he needs to do here is to explain why perceptions could be wrong (because they must before Eliezer to be right, it cant be illegitimate for him to explain).

10. For example an experiment that showed many philosophers maintain similar voting patterns from before they studied ethics that might be evidence Eric is correct without proving that voting is ‘morally right’ (the philosopher’s question).

11. based on the empirical claim that he has never even tried to justify "…attempting to reason in a utilitarian fashion tends to have disastrous consequences, and fails miserably to maximize utility." Completely unfounded armchair philosophy.

12. it's a funny clip including 1) make sure to say it transcends human comprehension 2) make up definitions that encompass exactly what you want to say 3) whatever is unknown proves your thoughts. RC used (2) mostly.

13. I think based on flawed assumptions for a Kantian or a utilitarian. The idea is to invite fierce discussion by making an aggressive statement, and it may be good for influencing people and for debate but only in as far as others don’t do that too. If they did do it then you would no longer have a relative boost in effectiveness and all you would have is a lot of people boldly arguing for dubious positions.

Logic Case study

Ricahrd : you think that both inductive arguments are equally reasonable, and that there's no sense in which X is objectively more similar to Y than Z, then you have no grounds for believing one conclusion rather than the other (e.g. that future emeralds will be green rather than grue). By the principle of metacoherence, you should be agnostic.

Lets say you believe
That if you think it is 'most likely they are equal' and possible they are not, and if not then X is similar to Y (maybe because it is more useful?).

So lets say X = Y = Z 70% probability
X = Y & Z not = Y 30% probability
So if asked if all arguments are equally reasonable then you should say “I think so” when asked ‘is it better to assume X=Y than Z=Y you say yes. Any distribution of probabilities achieves the same effect – so as long as you don’t have absolute certainty (which is impossible) then it is true.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Why do people disagree

Imagine a debate in philosophy between two people Lets say Dennett and Chalmers.
What is standing in the way of their agreeing?
well to go through the psychological list
1) they are 'supposed to' disagree
but that isn't very useful so we will skip over that
2) because they want different things
maybe for some reason Chalmers is more comfortable with qualia existing and Dennett is not - one strategy if debate would be to expose that and call it a bias
3) because they have a different set of assumptions
any belief that you might have is built on a series of assumptions - in thecase of dennet and chalmers a huge network of assumptions that describe different worlds in sense. But neither side initially knows exactly what those assumptions are. So I might wonder "if I disprove X (where X is a fact that seems to support your conclusion) will your world view come tumbling down or will you just say - I don't really care then y must be true"
So what strategies does each side have open to them? well they will probably run through each of the other person's assumptions and tackle them.
these assumptions will hide in the definitions of words and implicitly ignoring other words

[to be continued and refined]