Thursday, July 30, 2009

Apparently Honesty is Grace, not Will

From here referencing this.

Practising lying makes it harder to not lie when it's in your interest, while practising honesty, especially if you truly believe lying is evil, makes it harder and harder to lie even when it is in your material interest.

It's true that if you were not tempted you don't exercise virtue. However, this is meaningless to outside observers, who can only tell that some people they can trust, and some people they can't. To us outside your mind, your virtue is in the results, not in what you went through to obtain them. Just as if I have a sandwich, the taste is not affected by whether you traipsed across the Himalayas to deliver it to me or whether it was tossed together in the back room. The language, and thus the definition of 'virtue' records what is measurable, rather than trying for epistemic purity.

Don't forget to factor in the effects of culture and genetics, predisposition, brain plasticity, and so on. A single snapshot does not a philosophy make. Again, scientists are very good at gathering data - ontology. Their epistemology is worse than no epistemology at all, however.

Also, it's almost certain that Jesus is based off a real person who, in retelling, accreted various traits from various endemic myths. Basically, given that some people don't have to resist temptation, and given infinite versions of our world, most of them will contain an almost totally 'pure' person at some point in history. We have two on record - Jesus and Buddha. Aside from this one fact, the rest of what we know about them is probably about as accurate as the other stuff we know about individuals from two millennia ago. There's actually a whole essay here, so I'm going onto the next section.

There is a bridge between the first two links, which says basically what I would say about the technical aspects of the study. Then it goes onto the following.

"In any case, for thousands of years philosophers have speculated whether humans are innately good or bad, from Rosseau and Hobbes to Xun Zi and Mencius. The time for speculation is over, as experimental philosophers are looking into the empirical distribution of human moral intuition, as opposed to surveying the reflections of their philosophically oriented colleagues."

Note this interesting trick; without coming right out and saying so, and thus losing plausible deniability, Razib dismisses all reflective philosophy as 'speculation.' Strictly speaking, Razib is just calling out philosophers for their distain of evidence, noting the dearth of such. But, to any fluent English So, I'm going to take it apart and blow up the pieces.

The philosophers who were wrong made two mistakes; insufficient evidence, or errors in reasoning resulting from a lack of an objective test to weed out these errors. As expected, someone with worse-than-zero epistemological skill cannot see the value in epistemology.

Like good math, good philosophy states if-then. If certain assumptions are true, then a certain result is true. This provides four benefits; first, you don't have to wait for the evidence, but can go to work immediately; second, it makes it easy to check for errors, as you don't have to worry immediately about matching the model to reality, only to its own rules; third, it makes it easy to check to see if it does match reality, as the assumptions are all right there; and finally, when contradictory evidence comes in, you don't have to work from scratch, but can modify the existing structure. Here, let me demonstrate: if and when Razib can produce this paragraph or an equivalent by himself, then he may be able to rationally evaluate contributions by Hobbes and Mencius. My main nontrivial assumption is that if you can produce the paragraph you understand it, and that if you understand the principles you can apply them.

The upshot is that evidence is entirely post-hoc to philosophy. The truth of the if-then structures is completely independent of which particular if is actually true. Philosophy is just the art of discovering new structures of if-then, though admittedly most human philosophers prefer to cleave to ones that stand a chance of having applications.

There's also a final source of error: the definition of 'innately good.' As above, it may mean, for instance, 'likely to be trustworthy, all things equal' or it may mean 'not likely to be tempted in the first place, all things equal.' If this discussion is anything like every other discussion I've looked into, this point is a source of massive confusion in communication.

Perhaps, for instance, there is some non-lying moral situation where all people are tempted, and practise makes no difference. How do you reconcile this with an overarching 'innately good,' knowing that the lying situation is so complicated? And there are four situations, two for 'most people are trustworthy' being true or false, and the same binary pair for this second situation. Only one situation, where both are false, is clearly 'innately bad.'

If you take thousands of years of thought by some of the smartest people ever, and reduce it to a single poorly defined umbrella idea, it seems kind of useless. All I can say is that I'm glad ignorance is fond of flaunting itself.

Also amusing is that he goes on to mention the exact thing I mentioned earlier; brain plasticity. The off-the-cuff dismissal of philosophy has no place in the article from a flow standpoint, from a factual standpoint, or from a competence standpoint. It's just insulting for the sake of being insulting, althought it may also be some inner circle cheerleading.

So, with this in mind, let's see if a further example hold up.
"Intelligent people will also perhaps fine-tune their model of how "free will" works, though much of this research will be irrelevant to the majority."
Intelligent people will realize that they can't define free will and thus can't possibly have any idea how it works. Also note that Razib has put himself into an 'intelligent' inner circle. (You're epistemologically allowed to guess about free will, but only if you realize all you have are guesses.)

I do have one question; what would a "one moral sense" be when it is at home?

So, congratulations, everyone is wrong. Accept your Ignorance.

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