[extropy-chat] examples of rational irrationalism

Jef Allbright jef at jefallbright.net
Thu Dec 7 16:59:04 UTC 2006

Samantha Atkins wrote:
> Lee Corbin wrote:
> Is rationality a free-floating abstraction disconnected
> from values, what does the valuing and what is considered 
> valuable?  How would that itself be "rational"?

No, the concept of rationality is not free-floating and it is not
disconnected from values but it is certainly an abstract concept. 

The concept of rational decision-making is directly connected to the
concept of agency (who makes the decisions) and values (what is
important to the agent.)

Of course the power of abstract concepts is that they facilitate clear
thinking about classes of situations including particular instances we
have not (yet) experienced.

>> Don't you concur with the (generally accepted here)
>> version of what it means to be rational?  Namely, as 
>> Rafal put it, "rationality (to use the dictionary
>> meaning)is optimizing behavior to achieve goals".   So
>> if your goal is a pristine Earth free of unnatural
>> (i.e. human) effects, then what's irrational about trying
>> to get rid of everyone, including yourself?
> Arbitrary goals that include one's on destruction and 
> destruction of one's species are not themselves subject to
> a meta-judgement as to their rationality?   Where is the
> grounding for these abstractions being tossed about?

To address the moral outrage implicit in this post: YES, most persons
would agree that such thinking is obviously WRONG (leads to very
undesirable consequences relative to our shared values.)

Your use of the term "meta-judgment" highlights the essential difference
between rational and moral. Rationality refers to actions promoting
values within a specified (limited) context--what is considered
effective.  Morality refers to actions promoting increasingly shared
values within an increasing context--what is considered "right".

> How can it be rational to claim a naturally evolved species 
> is "unnatural"?  How can it be rational to destroy the only 
> thing on this rock vaguely capable of rationality?  Are we
> so sickened by our dizzy abstractions?

I think we are MORE "sickened" by our attachments to poorly founded
biases due to our relatively weak ability to intentionally abstract
principles of "truth" from our environment. Of course, recent scientific
studies have shown beyond a doubt that half the population is below
average intelligence, so it *seems* pragmatically necessary to distill
higher level understanding into more applicable heuristics, but doing so
risks over-simplification and attendant poorer outcomes.

Talking about sick thinking:

* How many of us were taught that it is good to be selfless, and that
highly moral people care more about others than themselves? "The
evidence is all around us, with greedy mean people stomping all over
nice people in their hugely self-interested way."

* How many of use were taught that what is natural is good? "The
evidence is all around us, with the pollution of our natural resources
and the perversion and abandonment of values that served our fathers and
mothers and their families before them so well."

* How many of were taught that every person is absolutely equal, and
that inequality means unfairness and is simply wrong?  "The evidence is
all around us, with powerful politicians and wealthy businesspeople
using their powers to keep the common people down in their proper

* How many of us will be taught that humans can have "rights", but
artificial agents can not? "The evidence is all around us, none of their
components provides the capability for true feelings like ours."

Of course, we on this list can easily see the same abstract principle
violated with each of these childishly over-simplified truisms, right?
Or can we?

- Jef

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