Comments on “Meta-rationality: An introduction”


The meta-rationalist sneer and objectivity

fot's picture

I’m really baffled by your opening, and while maybe it is a matter of rhetoric that I just don’t like, I think there is some actual disagreement. I think, in response to the meta-rationalist’s sneer, the rationalist should sneer back at the meta-rationalist for wanting to not believe in the truth sometimes. As you say later, the rationalist’s conception of truth is mistaken. So it’s not about believing in truth - one should want to believe only true things - it’s about believing in a certain conception of truth.

“In what sense?” is a characteristically meta-rational question. “Yes, there is water: in the cells of the eggplant” is true in some sense—probably not a useful one. It’s false in another, more relevant sense.

I think this is the part where I disagree with you on a point you might be implicitly making here. Not only is the question of there being water false in some more relevant sense, that more relevant sense is the one and only sense belonging to the context of the question, and that context can be objectively determined. At least in actual real world examples, or once you sufficiently add detail to the hypothetical world.

If you have a friend over, and you’ve been talking about some irrelevant non-scientific subject, and your friend asks if you have water in your fridge, and you answer “yes, in the cells of the eggplant,” you are artificially attempting to move from the context of a visitor in your home asking about the contents of your device that stores food and drink to an unmotivated in a vacuum faux-scientific one. The context can be objectively determined through our general social skills and shared habits and shared enculturation. The fact that any reader sees that there is some problem with the cells in the eggplant answer is a demonstration of this.

What do “truth” and “belief” mean? These do sound like classic ivory-tower philosophical questions. Those are mostly nonsense and should be ignored. They are generally unanswerable; and having the “right” answers, if they existed, wouldn’t make any practical difference.

This again I think is mistaken, depending on how you interpret the question. If you interpret this question as asking for a definition or complete theory of truth and belief, this is a general intelligence complete problem which means it is essentially unanswerable. But we can do more that define, we can point and model and give case studies and gain practical skills and find general properties. As an example, there is my statement above: you should want to believe only things that are true. Classical “”“ivory-tower”“” philosophy is an important aspect of this sort of investigation, and you make certain arguments here about the nature of truth and belief and their meaning that certainly falls within the scope of classical philosophy. It also seems like it is in danger of a traditional STEM failure of dismissing the literature.

All in all, I think you are making numerous statements in the article that contradicts your closing point: “Recovering accurate, effective senses of “truth,” “belief,” and “rationality” requires a major re-thinking.”

Holding on to rationalism

Le Frog's picture

An interesting first comment. Thank you - but it seems typical of the rationalists I meet in business who prefer defending their position to exploring blind spots or thinking-outside-the-box, even though they repeat this mantra, ad nauseum. Not a criticism, just an observation on how context encourages a rethink only to find the box taped shut with fixed thinkers inside.

Am I ready?

Alexander Davis's picture

Because meta-rationality operates on rational systems, mastery of at least one such system is a prerequisite.

Hmm… what constitutes mastery? I am but a lowly undergrad (going into senior year) in computer science with a particular interest in philosophy. I have found your website fascinating and a great jumping off point for further reading (it prompted me to start reading the later Wittgenstein, and I encounter similar ideas there). But while I can think about algorithms and program decently, I do not feel worthy of the title of master. I very much want to read The Eggplant, but I wonder if I am ready to understand and make use of it. What do you think?


Glad you find this interesting!

The Parts for which a solid grasp of technical rationality is (probably?) a prerequisite are Four and Five. (Those are actually about meta-rationality.) Parts One through Three are about rationality and reasonableness. From your description of your background, I don’t think you’ll have any trouble with them.

I’ll be curious to hear what you make of them—please do let me know!

Minor UI note; several other

Minor UI note; several other pages include explicit “next page” and “previous page” links in the navigation box, but this one doesn’t, which felt slightly confusing. I did manage to guess that the first item under “This page introduces a section containing the following” would be the next page, but I felt unsure enough about this that I checked back to the table of contents to verify that I’m not going to miss anything. (Especially since the first page of the next section also does not include a “previous page” link that would take back here.)

Now that I’ve figured it out it’s probably not going to cause me further trouble, but it would have saved me a bit of effort if the navigation box on each page had consistently included “next page” and “previous page” links.

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This page introduces a section containing the following:

This page is in the section In the Cells of the Eggplant.

General explanation: Meaningness is a hypertext book. Start with an appetizer, or the table of contents. Its “metablog” includes additional essays, not part the book.

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