Vote for ‘The Goal of Philosophy Should Be To Kill Itself’

by Luke Muehlhauser on September 6, 2011 in News

3 Quarks Daily has nominated my essay The Goal of Philosophy Should Be to Kill Itself for the 3QD 2011 prize in philosophy. Go vote!

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{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

thepowerofmeow September 6, 2011 at 9:37 pm

The goal of medicine should be to kill itself.

The goal of hope should be to kill itself.

The goal of government should be to kill itself.

The goal of ………….

But good luck, seriously!

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Nik K. September 6, 2011 at 10:36 pm

@thepowerofmeow,
I think there’s a difference between what Luke was saying in his essay and those statements. Of course in all fields which aim to improve quality of life among humans, reaching utopia would mean both their success and their death, but in philosophy the issue is different. The point of the essay, it seemed to me, was that as ideas in philosophy are concretized and explored, they move from the domain of philosophy to the domain of testable sciences. This is both the evolution of philosophy and its slow suicide. We work toward a time when the questions now dealt with by philosophy are dealt with by science. In the same way that disease used to be the province of exorcists, but with germ theory it became the province of medicine. I think that morality will eventually move from the domain of priests, rabbis, imams and ethicists to that of a new moral science. The difference between this and the sarcastic examples you give is that they invoke some utopian endpoint where government, medicine, etc. won’t be needed anymore, while the philosophical issues will simply be passed to the empirical sciences as we get a better grasp on them.

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Heuristics September 7, 2011 at 4:37 am

” In the same way that disease used to be the province of exorcists, but with germ theory it became the province of medicine.”

I find it hard to fathom what kind of weird idea of history, theology, medicine and philosophy in which this could be deemed a likely historical account.

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thepowerofmeow September 7, 2011 at 7:00 am

Nik.K,

I’m mostly just stirring the pot a bit here, and I appreciate your points, but why not say “the goal of science should be to kill itself”? You mention the implied utopian endpoint – I think that is implied by the statement about philosophy as well.

I’m not saying Luke’s statement is incorrect, but I think that focusing on philosophy in particular tend to imply a disrespect for thought, intuition and introspection as a whole simply because some people abuse it by disregarding empirical evidence.

Another point is that science may open up new vistas of reality which human thought will have to make some kind of sense of, despite our limitations.

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Zeb September 7, 2011 at 7:05 am

The goal of friendly AI should be to kill itself?

But seriously, philosophical research might be killable, but only in the same way science is. Humanity would still need to study and teach philosophy for as long as people are born with baby brains, just as they would to study and teach science even after all scientific questions had been answered.

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Nik K. September 7, 2011 at 7:35 am

Heuristics,
I agree the statement quoted is inexact, but basically if you lived before the common era and you had tuberculosis most likely you would be treated by someone who tried to drive the demons out of your chest. Today you’d probably go with killing the microbes in your lungs, no?

thepowerofmeow,
I think I see your point, that we should already be answering philosophical questions empirically?
I still think the difference between philosophy and your examples is that the issues that philosophy speaks to do not go away when philosophy kills itself, they are simply taken over by empirical science. The only way for medicine to reach its goal of killing itself would be if we no longer suffered from disease or disorder.

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Heuristics September 7, 2011 at 12:06 pm

“basically if you lived before the common era and you had tuberculosis most likely you would be treated by someone who tried to drive the demons out of your chest.”

I find it hard to fathom what kind of weird idea of history, theology, medicine and philosophy in which this could be deemed a likely historical account.

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Justfinethanks September 7, 2011 at 5:08 pm

I find it hard to fathom that people still try to dispute the fact that people used to ascribe supernatural causes to perfectly natural disease.

If you want to stick with the tuberculosis example, here a section from an article in The American Journal of Physical Anthropology about how people ascribed supernatural causes to the disease just a couple hundred years ago.

The New England vampire belief in based on a folk interpretation of the physical appearance of the tuberculosis victim and the transmission of tuberculosis. As the name consumption implies, the disease caused sufferers to “waste away” and “lose flesh,” despite the fact that they remained active, desirous of sustenance, and maintained a fierce will to live (Brown, 1941).

This dichotomy of desire and “wasting away” is reflected in the vampire folk belief: The vampire’s desire for “food” forces it to feed off living relatives, who suffer a similar “wasting away.”

Here’s a fun example of what this silly supernatural belief lead to.

An adult male (J.B.) died of either tuberculosis or a pulmonary infection interpreted as tuberculosis (consumption) by his family. Several years after the burial, one or more of his family members contracted tuberculosis.
They attributed their disease to the fact that J.B. had returned from the dead to “feed” upon them. To stop the progress of their disease, the body of the consumptive J.B. was exhumed so that the heart could be burned.

http://www.ceev.net/biocultural.pdf

Now, I’m not going to blame this misguided behavior on the fact that these people though their God magically healed people and told his disciples to drive out demons, but it sure hell didn’t help foster an accurate understanding of how disease actually works.

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Heuristics September 7, 2011 at 11:51 pm

I find it hard to fathom what kind of weird idea of history, theology, medicine and philosophy in which folk mythology of vampires have a relation to practices of excorcism as a cure for tubercolusis in the west from year 0-present.

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Justfinethanks September 8, 2011 at 6:31 am

I’ve debated theists a lot, so I find it easy to fathom how someone could be so obtuse.

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Racquelle September 8, 2011 at 9:42 am

I hope your post wins. It should go in an anthology of the best philosophy papers of the decade.

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Nik K. September 8, 2011 at 12:27 pm

I find it hard to fathom how someone continually posting the same argument from personal incredulity thinks they are adding anything to the conversation.

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Heuristics September 8, 2011 at 3:36 pm

Nik K:

Does the concept of burden of proof have any meaning to you?

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Thomas September 9, 2011 at 2:09 pm

“I hope your post wins. It should go in an anthology of the best philosophy papers of the decade.”

Yeah, sure. A random blogger cheering for naive scientism will probably make it.

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Lorkas September 9, 2011 at 3:52 pm

Nik K:
Does the concept of burden of proof have any meaning to you?

Seriously, dude: he’s right, and you’re coming off as an idiot. Someone presented historical evidence against your position, and you just gave a non-response. Maybe you’re not an idiot, but if not, you should recognize that you’re coming off as one. No offense meant whatsoever: I’m merely trying to point out that if you’re going to argue with someone, you sometimes have to do a little bit of work.

A poster made an attempt to meet the “burden of proof”, and you just said that it was a weird interpretation of history. He linked an academic article. If you think it’s a weird interpretation of history, fucking say why. Otherwise, you’re the one not meeting the standard expectations of reasonable discourse.

Perhaps your strategy isn’t meant to teach, but to mock. In that case, you’re just an asshole. You’re not an asshole, are you? Then perhaps you should put more work and thoughtfulness into your critiques of someone else’s view of history than one sentence that you repeat over and over again.

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Lorkas September 9, 2011 at 3:55 pm

Clarification: the last post is addressed to heuristics. It has “Nik K.” at the top because I quoted what heuristics said, and failed to take out the part showing that he was speaking to Nik K.

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Heuristics September 10, 2011 at 1:32 am

I saw no paper referencing exorcisms as a means of curing disease. Which one are you referring too? Why are you coming off as an idiot by stating things that are not there?

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Lorkas September 10, 2011 at 6:47 am

Scroll up and re-read Justfinethanks’s comment. It’s the only link in this whole comment thread, so it shouldn’t be too much work for you.

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Heuristics September 10, 2011 at 12:46 pm

I did read it, it makes no mention of exorcism (this would be a vampire/ghost killing, not an exorcism). Nor does it claim that disease was the province of exorcists (or ghost killers for that matter). The people that dug up the dead to kill the vampire appears to have been doctors, not priests, furthermore this appears to have been such a rare thing to happen that today it takes scientists poking at bones to figure out what happened (and this in the 1700′s).

Do you suffer from some kind of mental disability? The kind of idiocy you are displaying is quite extraordinary. The statement was quite simple:

” In the same way that disease used to be the province of exorcists, but with germ theory it became the province of medicine.”

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PhilosophyFTW September 10, 2011 at 7:04 pm

Luke didn’t present any historical evidence in defense of anything. He made a bunch of baseless assertions. He asserted that simplicity is identical with low Kolmogorov complexity. He asserted that Baye’s rule explains how one should proportion one’s belief to the evidence. He asserted that causation should be given a particular kind of counterfactual analysis. He didn’t, nor can he, defend these claims competently. And they are insanely controversial claims.

Worse, he thinks that philosophers need to turn their concepts over to folks like computer scientists, whatever that means. Plausibly, he thinks that computer science can tell us something about the concepts philosophers are interested in. It is far from obvious that this is possible. Consider our concept of a thought, however vague and ill-defined it is. Now, can computers have thoughts? That is, can our concept of having a thought be satisfied by a computer? That’s an open question. If you give it an affirmative answer, you’ve gone well beyond the evidence.

But that’s the realm in which Luke travels these days. He lives in a hopeful dreamworld of wishful thinking and then disparages everything that doesn’t agree with his dreams on the basis of assumptions that are true only if his dreamworld is reality.

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David Gerard September 11, 2011 at 2:07 am

After reading the quality of comments your stuff gets on LessWrong, the quality of comments on your own blog is horrifying.

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Luke Muehlhauser September 11, 2011 at 7:57 am

David Gerard,

Yup.

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Nik K. September 11, 2011 at 1:23 pm

Wow. That kinda stings. I’m the first to admit that I am only a few steps out the door on my truth journey, but I assumed that you put this site up for people who are on that journey. Maybe if you judge the quality of comments you get so harshly it would be beneficial to point out to the commenters where they have gone wrong or point them toward resources that could improve their knowledge of the subject and hence allow them to meet your comment quality standards. This seems like it would be a better response than ignoring them and then maliciously poking fun at them for their low quality.
Maybe I’m confused about your purpose here, I was under the impression that you were trying to provide resources for those who are seeking knowledge. Seems kinda strange, if this is the case, that you would mock those who seek your resources for not possessing enough knowledge.

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Wisdom Beacon September 11, 2011 at 4:02 pm

That kinda stings. I’m the first to admit that I am only a few steps out the door on my truth journey, but I assumed that you put this site up for people who are on that journey.

Assumption FAIL.

If it ain’t Less Wrong style rationality it is most certainly WRONG.

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Nik K September 11, 2011 at 4:44 pm

And how does one come to join in the glorious wonders of your exclusive in-group and its exclusive access to infallible truth? Do I need to be sprinkled with some magic water? Is there a colored string I can wear to display my in-group status? Where do I get my copy of the holy precepts?
Y’all have managed to turn unbiased rationality into an irrational bias!
You know something’s gone wrong when you start to feel proud of your humility.

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soupsayer September 11, 2011 at 11:31 pm

Wisdom Beacon wrote:
Assumption FAIL.

If it ain’t Less Wrong style rationality it is most certainly WRONG.

yeah, I think that there is some justice in saying that CSA was just part of the evolutionary process of its founder’s change of religion/church/savior.

It’s like the skunk spray victim, he is in so deep now he doesn’t even realize it.

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Taranu September 12, 2011 at 5:19 am

Congratulations for winning the voting round Luke!

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el ninio September 12, 2011 at 5:25 am

Yey Luke! Good luck with the remaining rounds.

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Zeb September 12, 2011 at 11:37 am

But Wisdom Beacon, Nik K, and soupsayer, those type of comments are exactly the problem! While I tend to agree with you (my experience of LW is not sufficient to render more than tentative skeptical distaste), comments written that way do nothing to help the writer or the reader improve. One thing I’ll say about LW commenters, when they aren’t knee-jerk downvoting dissent, they are earnestly and humbly trying to help with carefully and concisely written critiques and praise (my own hypocrisy here noted). CSA was great, but imagine how much greater if it had the diversity it did have (which LW lacks) plus the discipline LW excels in. I can’t blame Luke for preferring the atmosphere over there.

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David Gerard September 15, 2011 at 5:58 am

LW is stupid insofar as it’s on the Internet, and intelligence is no barrier whatsoever to stupidity. I certainly wouldn’t call it any sort of stupidity-free zone. But comments with logic-chopping, arguments over definitions and other such simple failures of clear thinking tend to get downvoted with a detailed explanation of the commenter’s fuzzy thinking in short order, so when I see them elsewhere I tend to feel life is too short to bother detailing the problems, less than morally ideal as that may be of me. In my personal experience, even quite strong criticisms of LW site tropes get me and others upvotes if we show we’ve done our homework and understand what we’re criticising. It’s an excellent place to pick up philosophical streetfighter skills.

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