Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Twelve rational virtues

I'm no devotee of the cult of reason, and one could easily blow a hole through the philosophical underpinnings for these "virtues", but they are genuinely good advice if you're willing to turn a blind eye to the base assumptions involved.
The first virtue is curiosity. A burning itch to know is higher than a solemn vow to pursue truth. To feel the burning itch of curiosity requires both that you be ignorant, and that you desire to relinquish your ignorance. If in your heart you believe you already know, or if in your heart you do not wish to know, then your questioning will be purposeless and your skills without direction. Curiosity seeks to annihilate itself; there is no curiosity that does not want an answer. The glory of glorious mystery is to be solved, after which it ceases to be mystery. Be wary of those who speak of being open-minded and modestly confess their ignorance. There is a time to confess your ignorance and a time to relinquish your ignorance.

The second virtue is relinquishment. P. C. Hodgell said: “That which can be destroyed by the truth should be.” Do not flinch from experiences that might destroy your beliefs. The thought you cannot think controls you more than thoughts you speak aloud. Submit yourself to ordeals and test yourself in fire. Relinquish the emotion which rests upon a mistaken belief, and seek to feel fully that emotion which fits the facts. If the iron approaches your face, and you believe it is hot, and it is cool, the Way opposes your fear. If the iron approaches your face, and you believe it is cool, and it is hot, the Way opposes your calm. Evaluate your beliefs first and then arrive at your emotions. Let yourself say: “If the iron is hot, I desire to believe it is hot, and if it is cool, I desire to believe it is cool.” Beware lest you become attached to beliefs you may not want.

The third virtue is lightness. Let the winds of evidence blow you about as though you are a leaf, with no direction of your own. Beware lest you fight a rearguard retreat against the evidence, grudgingly conceding each foot of ground only when forced, feeling cheated. Surrender to the truth as quickly as you can. Do this the instant you realize what you are resisting; the instant you can see from which quarter the winds of evidence are blowing against you. Be faithless to your cause and betray it to a stronger enemy. If you regard evidence as a constraint and seek to free yourself, you sell yourself into the chains of your whims. For you cannot make a true map of a city by sitting in your bedroom with your eyes shut and drawing lines upon paper according to impulse. You must walk through the city and draw lines on paper that correspond to what you see. If, seeing the city unclearly, you think that you can shift a line just a little to the right, just a little to the left, according to your caprice, this is just the same mistake.
Virtue isn't really the correct term here, but that's merely a rhetorical flourish for improving one's rational performance. As with historical pagan sentiments, the higher paganism is often more admirable than the corrupt and imperfect realization of Christian ideals. But while those sentiments are worthy of respect and even implementation, they should never be mistaken for the genuine article of true godly virtue.



Blogger Ron January 07, 2015 3:06 AM  

The main flaw being that "a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise."

Even the most intelligent and objective man will deceive himself when it comes to something in his self interest.

This is why it is important to have good friends, good advice and good elders to turn to who have "been there and done that.

Anonymous kh123 January 07, 2015 3:57 AM  

"..."a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise... This is why it is important to have good friends, good advice and good elders to turn to who have "been there and done that."

Can think of a noted speaker who had both apply to them.

Blogger James Dixon January 07, 2015 4:00 AM  

I can't really agree with the third. You can find "evidence" to support any position you wish to take if you look hard enough, and evidence in the casual way he uses the term is often fleeting, irreproducible, and contradictory, . Basic truths carefully arrived at should never be discarded on that basis. Only a sustained conflict with observed reality should be enough to cause you to re-examine them.

I think it's better to simply sum up the last two as "reality trumps preconceptions".

Anonymous Giuseppe January 07, 2015 4:06 AM  

It is also why, within the right range a certain level of Asperger's Syndrome is, in my (admittedly ironically and self-defeating) opinion, a good thing, and the next step in human evolution. It allows one to look at the evidence with less fetterment of emotions, which work far faster, and usually much deeper than our consciousness can be aware of. Of course I am somewhat Aspie myself, so this point can also be seen as merely being self-serving.

Blogger Thordaddy January 07, 2015 5:41 AM  

I guess this author never heard of "curiosity killed the cat?" Or that modern "western man" only relinquishes his soul? Or that "lightness" doesn't exist in a strictly material world?

Blogger James Higham January 07, 2015 5:57 AM  

The second virtue is basic decency towards others.

Blogger Bogey January 07, 2015 6:37 AM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

Anonymous Fnord P January 07, 2015 7:06 AM  

[OT] Parisians reaping the benefits of French government's multiculturalism

Anonymous Difster January 07, 2015 7:08 AM  

The third virtue is lightness. Let the winds of evidence blow you about as though you are a leaf, with no direction of your own.

How do you define "evidence?" Evidence must be thoroughly weighed and examined, that's not exactly being blown around by it.

I suppose it's just a poorly thought out poetical way of saying you should be willing to put aside your pre-conceived notions and examine the truth. But even that's nonsense because our senses are very easily manipulated.

Anonymous Sensei January 07, 2015 7:09 AM  

"I am a leaf on the wind... watch how I soar"

Blogger Mr.MantraMan January 07, 2015 7:16 AM  

Anyone seen Tommy lately? Islam practicing its virtues in Paris. I wonder how the left will bow and scrape now?

Anonymous Stilicho January 07, 2015 7:27 AM  

Interesting advice dressed in strange rhetoric. Useful but the danger lies in becoming a well sharpened tool with no purpose.

Anonymous Bz January 07, 2015 7:28 AM  

One of the problems with scientific theories is that they are oversold (for social reasons, e.g., tenure or grants or plain ego).

Some have even manage to come up with the approach of acting as if the best known theory is true, then discarding it when something putatively better comes along. The drawback of this is of course that it may be better to say "we don't know" when the best guess is weak. It also leads to a very strange mental proposition: act as if whatever we say is true, even if we contradict what we've said before. Convenient to some, I'm sure.

Blogger jimmy-jimbo January 07, 2015 7:36 AM  

The virtues call for destroying your basic understanding of the world based on the truth, which is likely to be difficult to arrive. Thus this is propaganda to advance progressive politics.

Blogger Bogey January 07, 2015 8:17 AM  

I should know by now that the rest of the ilk will put it better than me.

Anonymous Crude January 07, 2015 9:10 AM  

Yudkowsky? No thanks. What he does is pay lip service to reason, and tries to become an internet celebrity thereby. Little value to be had in what amounts to a man who spends most of his time smelling his own farts and marveling at the scent.

The underlying advice may be good, but I'll take it without the fruity exposition, thanks.

Anonymous Bz January 07, 2015 9:24 AM  

Yudkowsky and his cult is a fine example that history repeats itself, first as tragedy (Objectivism) then farce (polyamorous rabbits in hysterical fear of "basilisks").

Islamic terrorist attack in Paris just a couple of hours ago, by the way. 12 dead so far.

Anonymous Porky January 07, 2015 10:06 AM  

This sounds like an advertisement for a gay bathhouse.

Blogger JaimeInTexas January 07, 2015 10:09 AM  

"The third virtue is lightness. Let the winds of evidence blow you about as though you are a leaf, with no direction of your own."

I will also add my disagreement on this, third item.

The lightness should be the measure of your knowledge and understanding on a subject. Truth is to be contended with, wrestle against, in a struggle as if the world was the prize. Only yielded when the stronger combatant is made manifest, "relinquishment". But, the contest need not be as enemies, but as adversaries on a sports field but amicable outside, if possible.

Blogger LP 999/Eliza January 07, 2015 10:16 AM  

Good friends depart in difficult times.

OpenID luagha January 07, 2015 10:16 AM  

As others have said upwards, 'lightness' is bullpucky.

One has to understand what the evidence was for the previous model and examine it with the new evidence carefully before making a change. Studies lie, scientists lie, peer-reviewed papers lie, organizations get it wrong all the time, and that's not even counting honest mistakes. If you tried to follow diet advice from the latest 'studies' and 'evidence' you'd kill yourself whiplashing.

In my martial art we say 'Old way, new way, the way we're doing it now." We have video of how we were doing our techniques a generation ago, and we can see the changes that we made with how we're doing the techniques now. But we always have to remember that we had a reason for doing those techniques that way then, and we might lose that in our new change.

Blogger Aquila Aquilonis January 07, 2015 10:16 AM  

Isn't this coming from the guy that's trying to make his computer powered idol or is that another guy?

Blogger swiftfoxmark2 January 07, 2015 10:21 AM  

My take on the "cult of reason" is that they can some of the most irrational people you'll ever meet.

So I take these "virtues" with a grain of salt.

Anonymous Dawkins January 07, 2015 10:26 AM  

"Atheists are a race. Anyone who mounts an argument against atheism is a racist, atheophobic bigot."

Blogger pyrrhus January 07, 2015 10:55 AM  

The toughest "virtue" for science fiction writers is #2--especially with respect to human biodiversity, and specifically intelligence. Most flunk (apparently including Heinlein), and frequently fling invective at those pointing out such simple truths....

Anonymous Quadko January 07, 2015 10:56 AM  

Nice link, VD! Might be worth a post with a quick TENS analysis via this lens and linking TIA. At least this is the opposite of the usual "Science is my b*tch and she'll say what I tell her to say."

Anonymous Jack Amok January 07, 2015 11:20 AM  

The third virtue is lightness.

I'm pretty sure I know what he was trying to get at with this one, but it's a difficult concept to get right. The way he expressed it comes across as "gullibility" and that's not a virtue. Also "Be faithless to your cause and betray it to a stronger enemy." is downright obscene.

What he's trying to say - with all three really - is "don't be rooted in ignorance or prejudice and don't have allegiance to falsehoods" which is great, but itself is rather ignorant of human nature and how easily we can bamboozled.

Blogger Mindstorm January 07, 2015 11:36 AM  

Not sure if senile or sarcastic? /Futurama Fry

Blogger Feather Blade January 07, 2015 12:09 PM  

To feel the burning itch of curiosity requires both that you be ignorant,

mm, yes, ignnorance can result in burning itches.

I hear they make a cream for that now though.

Anonymous JerryM January 07, 2015 12:27 PM  

Please, ilk, do not dismiss Eliezer Yudkowsky! Trust VD on this one. EY shares some traits with Eric S. Raymond, which is to say he's a brilliant and flagrantly weird atheist who thinks for himself and is not enslaved to the truly evil modern cult of cultural Marxism. You may not like the cult of reason, but there's a huge difference between Moloch worshipers and Greek Stoics.

Blogger Josh January 07, 2015 12:31 PM  

You may not like the cult of reason, but there's a huge difference between Moloch worshipers and Greek Stoics.

Not really.

The French revolution established the Temple of Reason and also beheaded thousands.

Blogger SirHamster January 07, 2015 12:33 PM  

Why aim for twelve virtues? Why not say, ten?

After all, ten is the best number, metric people tell me so. :)

Anonymous Porky January 07, 2015 12:36 PM  

This is why we had to ban Green Eggs and Ham.

Anonymous Bill January 07, 2015 12:48 PM  

Yeah, they say this crap in the abstract, but they don't believe it at all. Try convincing one of these doofi that perpetual motion machines are real or that generic drugs are inferior to their branded equivalents (or even that global warming is a fraud). The people making heretical claims like these typically have facially plausible arguments and evidence for their beliefs.

Now, I am very comfortable dismissing perpetual motion machines (but not the other claims) out of hand. But I'm not a "science: fuck yeah!" retard. The retards will produce arguments for their selective closed-mindedness. You can buy these or not. If you buy them, then they refute the original claim. If you don't buy them, then they still refute the original claim.

Yudkowsky? No thanks. What he does is pay lip service to reason, and tries to become an internet celebrity thereby. Not internet celebrity. He is aiming for messianic rabbi.

Anonymous JerryM January 07, 2015 12:48 PM  


This is true. I'd submit that there's a direct line of thought that leads through the French Revolution through Marx and can be found now in the stupid tumblrina culture, Harvard, and the White House. I don't blame you for being skeptical. However, I suggest that Eliezer Yudkowsky is in that environment (he's in Berkeley) but not necessarily of it. Ultimately, all that's needed for the walls of SJW to come tumbling down is for someone to insist that that 2+2=4, no matter what, and not budge.

Blogger John Wright January 07, 2015 12:54 PM  

As a man who has taken a solemn vow to pursue the truth, and kept this vow through temptation and turmoil since age seven, never varying, I feel for this contemptible lightweight the same contempt a hardened veteran has to a teen dilettante.

"Be wary of those who speak of being open-minded and modestly confess their ignorance."

Like Socrates, for example?

I suggest better virtues to follow are fortitude, prudence, moderation, and justice.

"Let the winds of evidence blow you about as though you are a leaf, with no direction of your own."

In other words, be so open minded that your brains fall out.

The so called virtue of lightness places the burden of proof always on oneself, never on the new idea that the winds of fancy and fashion have blown by. Allow me to compare and contrast this paragraph with one from the pen of a man who was truly light. Mr Chesterton was as light as a levitating angel, but never frivolous, ethereal, or unballasted, as the absurd Mr Yudkowsky:

"In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it."

Blogger LP 999/Eliza January 07, 2015 1:16 PM  

Maybe, its a coping skill that only men can demonstrate, men carry a strict, stern nearly stoic constitution. Yet men allow themselves a degree of frivolity and happiness.

I covet that, why are my coping skills lacking when theirs are better?

Blogger LP 999/Eliza January 07, 2015 1:24 PM  

This reminds of Eco.

For the last 9 days I have promoted fluffiness or light heartedness, sure things are imperfect, I don't approve of things the way they are. I have failed but the next day is a clean sheet of paper in a brief life. No more livid blind rage, it ruins everything, all 12 even all 10 are done if anger runs me. I returned to old times of taking various emotions as a creative force.

Blogger Mindstorm January 07, 2015 1:38 PM  

"Like Socrates, for example?"

Why not? There were certain reasons that he was made to drink poison... perhaps because that he made fools of too many influential Athenians?

Anonymous daddynichol January 07, 2015 1:55 PM  

I do believe the Book of Proverbs and the Book of Psalms plowed this ground eons ago.

Blogger LP 999/Eliza January 07, 2015 2:27 PM  

From Truth for Life church in Ohio. I miss my church. I am enjoy a common meditation that it would be better to be still, listen, know that He is Lord;

The Aim and End of Life

Daily Devotional for January 7, 2015

For to me to live is Christ. Philippians 1:21
The believer did not always live to Christ. He began to do so when God the Holy Spirit convinced him of sin, and when by grace he was brought to see the dying Savior making a propitiation for his guilt. From the moment of the new and heavenly birth the man begins to live to Christ. Jesus is to believers the one pearl of great price, for whom we are willing to part with all that we have. He has so completely won our heart that it beats alone for Him; to His glory we would live, and in defense of His Gospel we would die. He is the pattern of our life, and the model after which we would sculpture our character.

Paul's words mean more than most men think; they imply that the aim and end of his life was Christ--nay, his life itself was Jesus. In the words of an ancient saint, he ate and drank and slept eternal life. Jesus was his very breath, the soul of his soul, the heart of his heart, the life of his life. Can you say, as a professing Christian, that you live up to this idea? Can you honestly say that for you to live is Christ? Your business--are you doing it for Christ? Is it not done for self-aggrandizement and for family advantage? Do you ask, "Is that a mean reason?" For the Christian it is. He professes to live for Christ; how can he live for another object without committing spiritual adultery?

There are many who carry out this principle in some measure; but who is there that dares say that he has lived wholly for Christ as the apostle did? Yet this alone is the true life of a Christian--its source, its sustenance, its fashion, its end, all gathered up in one word--Christ. Lord, accept me; I present myself, praying to live only in You and to You. Let me be as the creature that stands between the plow and the altar, to work or to be sacrificed; and let my motto be, "Ready for either."

Blogger LP 999/Eliza January 07, 2015 2:31 PM  

The churches are so compromised and unjust towards its own givers, I don't always turn to churchianity for everything. Simplicity is has a place, yet not all is ever simple/easy path. Ohwell, grain of salt.

Anonymous Earl January 07, 2015 3:09 PM  

12 virtues, awesome stuff, glad to see other people love fortune cookies as much as I do!

Blogger Bogey January 07, 2015 4:41 PM  

Lightness perfectly describes a true flake.

Blogger John Wright January 07, 2015 5:40 PM  

@ Mindstorm

Are you asking what is wrong with killing the wisest man in history? The only answer is that it is unwise.

It may be amusing to strike a cowardly pose on the internet, and to pretend to laugh at those who prefer death to dishonor, but when reality rears her ghastly head and shakes her snaky locks, the poses and pretenses of fools must fall away, and they cower behind the upright spines of heroes.

Anonymous Sensei January 07, 2015 6:42 PM  

Are you asking what is wrong with killing the wisest man in history?

They killed Solomon?

Blogger Mindstorm January 07, 2015 7:16 PM  

"Be wary of those who speak of being open-minded and modestly confess their ignorance."

Their unwariness, even if robbing Athens of his intellect, hast cost him his life. I guess that his loss was greater.

Anonymous SeekingOmniscience January 09, 2015 5:49 PM  


I think that's a rather unfair exegesis of EY. Re. lightness, for instance--as is exceedingly clear from EY's other writings, he doesn't think you should think whatever strikes you as cool at the moment. He thinks you should take new evidence in light of your past observations--that's pretty much his biggest thing. Lightness is about not trying to cherry-pick evidence in favor of your side--it's about trying to seek evidence that will help show whether what you think is true or false, rather than just digging up arguments to show that what you think is true--it's about seeing yourself as someone who wants truth, rather than someone in a battle of us versus them.

And it's a little ironic invoking Chesterton's fence, given that it seems the LW community has turned it into a standardized argument for respect for prior institutions.

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