Most Important New Ideas in Philosophy

by Luke Muehlhauser on July 22, 2011 in General Atheism

Here are some important ideas from the last 20 years of philosophy, along with some work that reviews the idea in a usefully introductory way. In no particular order:

 

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    { 23 comments… read them below or add one }

    soupsayer July 22, 2011 at 5:21 am

    Wow, that Yud guy gets 3 out of 10! He must be a pretty important philosopher. Even if he says he’s not, he’s wrong – not less wrong, but completely wrong. Or maybe just really modest.

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    Povilas July 22, 2011 at 7:36 am
    Mark July 22, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    This post definitely raises some alarm bells for me – they’re primarily just things Yudkowsky wrote, or things Yudkowsky touts as important. It’s fine that you believe those things are important, of course. But you label them the most important developments in philosophy in the last 20 years, probably without having grappled seriously with most of them and while not being very knowledgeable about philosophy in general. I’m worried about your capacity for independent thought at this point.

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    soupsayer July 22, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    probably without having grappled seriously with most of them and while not being very knowledgeable about philosophy in general.

    Mark, your point is well taken. However, if Luke does anything at all, it is making an effort to grapple seriously. And he has a remarkable grasp of philosophy – especially considering it has mostly been on his own, with limited formal academic training.

    So, the alarm bells raise for me as well, but his list is especially surprising because of the extent of his background knowledge. Perhaps reading 67 or so Yud posts and writing respective summaries (all within a month) can put one in some sort of “Yud trance”.

    The Yudders seem to wrap themselves in the cacoon of the Yud website, so Yud=reality before too long. The idolization and man-crush is so intense at this point that it can’t possibly go on at this level for too much longer, something has to give way sooner or later. Until he uploads himself, the Yud is still a human.

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    Luke Muehlhauser July 22, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    Povilas,

    I don’t even have the file anymore, that was so long ago.

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    MarkD July 22, 2011 at 5:12 pm

    I like the Hutter and Bostrom. I would also add in David Campbell’s (1990-91) continued development of evolutionary epistemology (OK, borderline on the “20 years” criterion), the implications of automata theory and non-computability as per Wolfram et. al., and David Sloan Wilson’s continued efforts on “multi-level selection” because someone has to beat their head against Dawkin’s certitude on such matters. I might add in some transhumanist stuff like Mark Alan Walker’s work on the ethics of human enhancement.

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    Dan July 22, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    the implications of automata theory and non-computability as per Wolfram et. al.,

    I think the work of Chaitin is more interesting for non-computability because of the much better ratio of theorems to vague speculations about what can and cannot be computed. Though it is not apparent from Wolfram’s book, many of his discoveries about cellular automata were actually rediscoveries of things many people already knew.

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    MarkD July 22, 2011 at 6:37 pm

    @Dan

    Agreed. The critique of Wolfram for not sufficiently acknowledging his peers stands.

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    Guy Srinivasan July 22, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    What do other people think are the most important recent philosophical advances? I did a bit of searching on Google and didn’t find anything. It felt like I was using the wrong search terms or something.

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    Jacopo July 23, 2011 at 6:41 am

    How do you go about getting the groundwork for understanding this sort of thing, as efficiently and quickly as possible? Speaking as someone who has a full-time job and little mathematical background.

    I’m willing to bet this barrier is preventing a lot of people paying attention to this stuff – it’s so much easier to chat about Plato. That’s not a criticism of the content, just an observation on why it’ll be difficult to get more people interested.

    I mean, this is really daunting. Even difficult non-mathematical philosophers are comparatively easy in so far as, they’re usually dealing in a language that’s not too many steps removed from everyday words, and not lots of mathematics and physics …

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    jISTOd July 23, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    Luke,

    Any chance that you can convince Yudkowsky to get his philosophical works peer reviewed by professional philosophers and scholars?

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    antiplastic July 23, 2011 at 7:01 pm

    Luke,

    Any chance that you can convince Yudkowsky to get his philosophical works peer reviewed by professional philosophers and scholars?

    You’re a funny, funny person. I loled so hard at this I think I lost a tooth.

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    MarkD July 23, 2011 at 8:33 pm

    @Jacopo

    The Bostrom, Friendly AI, and even the Computational Epistemology paper are largely mathematics free. For backgrounders relevant to the Hutter, you might try some of Chaitin’s contributions to Scientific American and related materials.

    The baton-passing from philosophy into mathematics (and Natural Philosophy) is arguably very old, but began its modern (Anglo-American) journey with Whitehead and Russell, and had critical developments in Turing, Solomonoff, Kolmogorov, Chaitin, and others. I don’t think you can completely escape committing to some formalization of concepts in order to understand recent philosophy.

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    Joel July 23, 2011 at 9:48 pm

    I can’t speak for any of the other ideas, but Pearlian causality is (for epistemology and philosophy of science), I believe, one of the most important new ideas.

    In particular, it solves the problem of induction, and in a formal way too. The old problem with inductive inference is that, just because (If A, then B), and B exists, it does not imply that A exists (since something other than A could have caused B). This is a problem of validity, not even of certainty. With Pearlian causality, where A’s being a cause of B means being the only cause of B in that situation, B will imply A. A one-to-one correspondence; a linear equation where everything x on the X-axis has its corresponding y on the Y-axis, and x1 implies y1 as much as y1 implies x1.

    Nonetheless, like the other posters, I do think that the LW/Yudvowsky mindset isn’t completely correct/healthy.

    In particular, the dismissal of first philosophy is to ignore the problem, not to dissolve it. Quine was right in that science (in particular, neuroscience and maths) can tell us a lot about the nature and construction of knowledge – thus, naturalized epistemology, but this is an extention of normal first philosophy epistemology. Replacing the latter with the former only begs the question of the validity of our mathematical/scientific techniques.

    And I’m worried, Luke, that you aren’t taking this question-begging seriously enough.

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    Jacopo July 24, 2011 at 4:16 am

    Thanks for that MarkD, I’ll give it a read. I completely agree that there’s no way around learning some mathematics and logic in order to do modern philosophy. It’s approaching the same necessity as learning some statistics in order to do any modern science (whereas even the first half of the 20th century, statistics was still pretty crude).

    I’m just looking for the most optimal way of learning the specific mathematics and logic necessary to understand philosophical ideas, owing to the limited time I have available to me.

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    Luke Muehlhauser July 24, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    jISTOd,

    None at all.

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    Luke Muehlhauser July 24, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    > I’m worried about your capacity for independent thought at this point.

    Since I now work with Yudkowsky once a week or more, it has become clear on just how many things we disagree!

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    Ryan M July 24, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    I think if people were to visit lesswrong they might find that Luke does disagree with Yudkowsky on many issues (At least this is my impression). For example I found Luke and Yudkowsky to have a great disagreement regarding the usefulness of philosophy and philosophers (Yudkowsky admitted that persons such as Bostrom and Dennett have made progress and are useful, but seemed to disagree with Luke for the most part in my opinion).

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    soupsayer July 24, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    >Since I now work with Yudkowsky once a week or more, it has become clear on just how many things we disagree!

    Clear to you, the Yud, and any flies on the wall. Disagreements are often interesting, so you could write about them here.

    Sorry for all my ragging on the Yud. Re-reading these comments I realize now that I’ve been ragging on the Yud himself rather than his work. Sorry about that.

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    Michael July 25, 2011 at 3:53 pm

    Luke,
    Any chance that you can convince Yudkowsky to get his philosophical works peer reviewed by professional philosophers and scholars?

    Lol :)

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    hf July 26, 2011 at 12:01 am

    Actually, why does the simulation argument deserve to appear alongside the mathematical universe?

    Bostrom argues here that one of three possible conclusions must hold. Two of them do not say that we live in a simulation. Now people on LW down-voted my comment when I said this — but when I look at those two alternate conclusions, I can’t think of any plausible factor that would decrease the probability of one of them without increasing that of the other. They seem awfully close to logically exhaustive.*

    The simulation argument doesn’t seem literally equivalent to saying, ‘Either humanity will not long survive the development of nanotechnology, or civilizations that so survive do not tend to let members turn their planets into cheesecake, or the future will be full of giant cheesecake.’ But exactly what difference between these two makes Bostrom’s version one of the most important new ideas in philosophy?

    *Well, I can vaguely imagine a system of government that focuses almost exclusively on preserving civilization and does so very well. But I have more trouble seeing this happening on our world.

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    Wayne Morris July 26, 2011 at 10:14 am

    Luke,Any chance that you can convince Yudkowsky to get his philosophical works peer reviewed by professional philosophers and scholars?

    jISTOd,None at all.

    Sweet. Yudkowsky can keep on living in Dream Land where he won’t ever have to encounter those pesky voices from Reality. ;)

    Joke aside – there are professional philosophers and scholars that would be willing to engage Yudkowsky’s work (and at the pace and in the language he would prefer they use).

    But, hey. That would mean ol’ Yud’ would actually have to risk his reputation as an untouchable genius. Sounds too risky. ;)

    It’s a lot easier to proclaim yourself the next Muhammad Ali – especially when you never actually get in the ring with other top talents. Yudkowsky’s exchanges with Luke show him to have a pretty weak chin and not much for throwing effective counters.

    Keep on shadow boxing, Eliezer. ;)

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    hf July 26, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    Eliezer’s definitely expressed interest in getting professional scholars to treat his Timeless Decision Theory (or an expanded book on the subject) as a PhD thesis. I think in academic terms this means agreeing to given him an honorary doctorate iff his “thesis” passes muster in the usual way.

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