This is really just a step beyond http://www.wendycarlos.com/... - colour is so much of a fiction generated by our heads anyway, why couldn't greyscale be seen as colour?

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We are not grateful for the Principia Mathematica, we are grateful for the ideas about calculus contained therein.

What ideas are contained within 'Reason and Persons' that I should care about and that cannot be found elsewhere?

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Me: "It certainly appears from your above comment that you're not actually familiar with the work of professional philosophers. Ever heard of Parfit's 'Reasons and Persons'?"

Caledonian: "People keep saying that I don't appreciate what they do, but they never offer an example of something I should be appreciative of."

I retract my recommendation; books are only helpful to those who can read.

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"Assuming that dreams themselves have not changed over this time period, it appears that one or the other (or both) groups of students must be profoundly mistaken about a basic feature of their dream experiences."

That assumption might be flawed. There wasn't any color TV in the 40s and it wasn't common in the 50s. Perhaps exposure to color TV changed the way people considered their dreams or actually dreamed. In which case maybe the contents of their dreams did change over that period of time.

I mention this because a few people I know say their dreams are more "vivid" and their appreciation for visual detail more refined after getting HD TVs. Could be the brain improving its ability to filter certain types of signals.


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That would be a biting criticism, HA, if you actually presented some accomplishments of academic philosophy.

People keep saying that I don't appreciate what they do, but they never offer an example of something I should be appreciative of. It sounds an awful like I'm not actually familiar with the elegant design and esoteric materials used to make the Emperor's flashy new wardrobe.

Because what I actually see, when I read philosophers' books and read people claiming philosophical expertise, is that they're dressing up nonsense with a new hat.

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"sociopaths have great opportunities to find new ideas". (channeling Garfield) Hey, I resemble that remark!


"I'd be better off querying those involuntarily committed to institutions - there would be a greater chance of finding sanity there." Caledonian, I think Richard had you pegged with this: "It certainly appears from your above comment that you're not actually familiar with the work of professional philosophers." Perhaps we can add the work of professional legal scholars to the list?

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Also possibly add legal scholars, judges, politicians, etc. Why in the world would I do that? Like the Bene Gesserit, those groups believe that the purpose of debate is to change or redefine the nature of truth.

I'd be better off querying those involuntarily committed to institutions - there would be a greater chance of finding sanity there.

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I made Zubon's point to Aubrey De Grey years ago at Transvision as a joke and discovered that it was terribly offensive. I actually agree with Stuart. This is like finding that evolutionary biologists know less about the origin of life because they don't even know that god was involved. Seconding Hal, on the evidence stealing books on ethics is ethically permissible or even obligatory. M-th only knows how overdue my copy of Reasons and Persons is.

Richard: Good posts! Thanks for reminding me that I wasn't an idiot to think that you were actually good at philosophical thinking! I certainly do think that physicists seem to be better than philosophers at doing philosophy and I have a reason, namely that the relatively impartial nature of judgment in their domain both inculcates practice in intellectual honesty and better selects for talent in doing physics, which is more strongly correlated with philosophical ability than is the ability to gain recognition in academic philosophy. I'm pretty confident that academic philosophy does actually attract people with talent and inclination for doing philosophy well, but also that it selects poorly among them and that it actively teaches bad habits of thought as well as good ones so that the optimum exposure to it is only high if one gives little credence to the whole enterprise. Economics, as a field that inculcates practice in denying credence to respectable enterprises, is thus a necessary complement for any serious student of philosophy. Alternatively, substitute continental philosophy for economics.

Caledonian: Good response to Richard. Maybe add game theorists to your list, though they haven't made much interesting progress lately. Also possibly add legal scholars, judges, politicians, etc.

Robin: I second Douglas Knight's request that we establish the existence of the effect before the sign.

All: Let's try to distinguish between quality of ethical judgments, where I expect ethical philosophers to far exceed the general population and to modestly but impactfully exceed a socio-economically similar population a-priori, and effort exerted in conforming to some ethical standard, where I wouldn't expect that a-priori. Ideally, lets also distinguish between effort dedicated to conforming to ethical standards that are supported by social pressure and effort dedicated to conforming to ethical standards opposed to social pressure. Arguably, only the latter is relevant to examination of this question.

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Of course my anecdotal evidence shouldn't shift your belief much either. I was just offering it because I was asked for it.

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To be clear, I certainly wasn't claiming that the book figures are fiddled. I am saying that out of all possible ways in which a group of people might be more or less ethical and in which this might be observed, there must be on the order of 1,000,000 which are as sensible as this one. Thus, when one of these million are found to have a controversial and fun result (people would not have been as interested had the reverse been found), and when there are myriad other reasonable hypotheses as to why the result was positive, there is perhaps enough evidence to start doing more experiments, but not enough that moral philosophers are expected to defend themselves, which is what appears to be happening here.

I could also point out the following. Why isn't the title of the paper 'Do Ethicists Lose More Books?'. There is equal evidence for both hypotheses and presumably they are not both bizarrely correlated with being an ethicist, so there is no reason (apart from pre-existing beliefs/prejudices about ethicists) to assume the books are being stolen rather than being lost. There are many other hypotheses like these which would explain the one odd result. These studies just aren't enough to tip our pre-existing beliefs on this matter more than 1%.

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I don't think it matters whether we agree about the moral content of eating meat for the example to be relevant, just that ethicists behave systematically differently in this situation and they describe it as an ethical decision.

I don't think Robin's comment avoids the problem of dismissing evidence simply because he disagrees with them (of course I'm not 100% sure that they are more likely to be vegetarian, but I'm pretty confident that'll hold up).

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Toby, it wasn't 'cherry picked'.I understand that Eric just had easy access to library data so he figured he would look at that in order to answer the question. I highly doubt he fiddled his figures and think its a bit unfair to jump to that conclusion.

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I predict that vegetarianism correlates with hypocrisy as a trait

Julian, I bet you $500 at equal odds that vegetarianism doesn't correlate (positively) with hypocrisy, on a mutually agreed-upon operationalization of that concept.

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I suppose it is possible that enlightened moral reflection leads to the conclusion that stealing library books may be OK. If the unexamined life is not worth living, then perhaps the unexamined book is not worth sitting on the library shelf. Putting it into the philosopher's hands may allow it to make a bigger contribution to human knowledge than leaving it in the library, especially for the more technical and esoteric books, which we are told are even more likely to be stolen.

On the dreams, I'm not sure what is cause and effect, but I seem to recall back then that it was commonly quoted "expert" knowledge that dreams were only in black and white. (It was also commonly stated that experts had learned that dreams lasted only a few moments, even when they seemed to go on for an hour or more.) It is possible that the population was merely reflecting what they had been told about dreams. Since our memories of dreams are vague, and in my experience our dream sensory perceptions tend to be confused and muddled, it is possible that the question of color could go either way depending on what assumptions we bring to it. People today, who have never been told anything about whether they dream in color, may just assume that they do, without having strong evidence.

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I predict that vegetarianism correlates with hypocrisy as a trait, and that book-returning correlates with kindness, but neither correlates with the other.

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Robin Hanson,Let us first rule out the claim that moral reflection is behaviorally inert and only later worry about the sign of the effect.

Katja,Can you produce an example more relevant to behavior than incest? (If moral philosophers had more incest it would be an impressive example; even if they had much in the way of opportunities to demonstrate their lack of condemnation, it would be something.)

Toby Ord,Vegetarianism is a good example, but you seemed to claim both to confirm that and to provide additional evidence.

The library books study is minor, but I really doubt it is cherry-picked. I imagine it is the only relevant study. If you want to claim it is cherry picked from a literature showing a different general trend, prove it by showing that other articles exist.

I'm not terribly impressed by the charity claims, either. I'm neither convinced that the moral philosophers are giving more than similar others nor am I convinced that their choice of charity reflects moral reflection and not just what's in fashion among moral philosophers.

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