[extropy-chat] Rational thinking

Jef Allbright jef at jefallbright.net
Fri Dec 1 04:49:19 UTC 2006

Chris Hibbert wrote:
> I hope I don't have to quote everything relevant in your 
> message in order to be understood to be taking that as context.

No you don't have to include all the relevant text, but the funny thing
is that twice now you've deleted my sentence stating that both classes
of actors, (the founding fathers and the kamikaze pilots) were acting
rationally, acting effectively within their contextual environment. But
it's clear that that relevant line hasn't been making an impression on
you, because earlier you said you thought I was calling the kamikaze
pilots irrational, and now (below) you're referring to the "difference
in apparent rationality".

To summarize:

First I said something about rationality: That rationality can be
assessed only within context.

**** I keep saying I think they were each acting rationally, acting as
effectively as they could within their respective contextual
environments. ****

I then went on to say something about morality: That increasing morality
corresponds with increasingly rational actions applied to promoting
increasingly shared values over increasing scope.
**** I keep saying that I think the founding fathers' actions were more
moral than the kamikaze pilots' actions, because, despite effectively
equal degree of rationality,  the founding fathers were acting on behalf
of a larger shared identity, to promote values that would have
consequences over larger scope. ****

> Your main point seems to be these
>> (1) The rationality of any act can be assessed only 
>> according to its effectiveness toward achieving specified
>> goals (creating the desired future) within context and
>> has no direct correspondence with good or bad, right or wrong.
>> (2) However, actions that are seen to work over increasing 
>> scope are seen as increasingly good -- as they increasingly
>> promote the values of the assessing agent.
>> (3) And actions that are seen to work over increasing scope 
>> are seen as increasingly moral -- as they increasingly promote
>> the values of the assessing population.
> I think I agree with you that we attribute more moral weight 
> to more carefully considered decisions of increasing scope.

Okay so far...

> I don't agree that rationality equates to effectiveness in 
> achieving desired outcomes.  I prefer to use the term when 
> decisions take into consideration the likelihoods of desired 
> and unwanted consequences.  Sometimes rational choices 
> produce the wrong outcomes, but that doesn't mean a lucky 
> gamble is rational in hindsight.

I fully agree with this and can only blame my less than rigorous
writing.  Of course there are several similar loopholes in the vicinity.

> The point I was trying to make in my earlier post was that it 
> is hard to tease out what the relevant distinctions are 
> between your two examples. 
>   In one, you chose a group we hold in high regard, sitting 
> calmly in a large gathering, explicitly considering matters 
> of deep philosophy and distant impact, and who seem to have 
> made choices that turned out well for us, and have made them 
> into heroes.  In the other, you choose old enemies, caught up 
> in the moment, under heavy pressure to go along with the 
> group, and making decisions which seemed to have been bad for 
> them and not to have helped their society.

Actually I've never thought of the Japanese as enemies, being much too
young to have developed such feelings during the way, and having several
close friends in Japan.  I also haven't considered their decisions to
become kamikaze pilots as bad for them.  As I've said repeatedly, I
think they did the best they could have in that situation.  The
consequences of refusing to become kamikaze pilots would have been much

> Is the difference in apparent rationality

I keep saying that I think both the kamikaze pilots and the founding
fathers were acting relatively rationally within their respective
contexts.  In other words, I don't agree and have never asserted that
their was a difference in apparent rationality. 

> due to the social pressures of the situation, or the cause
> for which they fought?  Do we have preconceptions based on
> who they were, how the battle turned out, or the results
> they achieved for themselves or their posterity?

No, but maybe this is clearer now based on clarifications above.

> It's all a tangle.
> If you had replaced either party in the original comparison 
> with WW II troops on suicide missions, we'd learn very 
> different things from what we conclude from your contrast,  
> and the emotional weights wouldn't prejudice the conclusions so much.

I'm pretty sure I haven't been including any emotional weights...

> The country's founders had time to make more considered 
> decisions than combat soldiers entrusted with a suicide 
> mission.  We respect them more highly, but the soldiers' 
> decisions in context are set up by earlier choices.  The 
> founders were making context-setting choices.  I think this 
> is the point you were trying to make.  The point seems much 
> clearer without the emotional weight of hero vs. enemy, 
> winner vs. loser, and so on.

Please recall that I have been comparing moral scope, not rationality.

> I'm not sure what to conclude from a comparison of allied 
> troops, who also sometimes were sent on suicide missions, 
> with the kamikazes. 

Huh?  I'm quite sure there was only a Japanese pilot in those kamikaze

Maybe you meant to say that Allied troops were also sent on suicide

> The social pressure is seen to be less 
> (few would say of them "the shame would be much worse than an 
> honorable death"), but is present.  They had more access to 
> news about the context of the battle.  We believe that they 
> were fighting on the right side, but I don't know whether, in 
> the context of a conversation on extropy-chat, it makes sense 
> to give one side credit for knowing they are on the right 
> side.  But both groups made similar decisions--to give up 
> their lives for something larger. 
> Was one group more rational than the other because they were 
> on the winning side?  Are members of a suicide team more 
> rational when their raid succeeds in its goals than when it fails?

No, I think we have established that success is not a direct measure of
<snipped a bunch more stuff after reading it and reckoning we've gone as
far as practical for now.>

- Jef 

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