Re: The foundation of reason

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Fri, 05 Mar 1999 09:14:42 -0600

Dan Fabulich wrote:
> This sounds to me like you're going to do more than provide AN argument for
> reason, but a FOUNDATIONAL argument for reason. Did I misunderstand your
> project?

I wouldn't call it a project, since it's just something I discovered while doing something else, but anyway... No, you didn't. But a foundation does not mean proof. Nor will my foundation (or any other) let you bootstrap from a total incomprehension of logic; if so, it could be taught to a rock. But, if you are capable of understanding arguments but as yet have no positive beliefs about anything, including the validity of argument; if you accept arguments as valid but do not accept "arguments are valid" as valid - an anti-Tortoise problem - then my foundation will let you bootstrap.

Note that it will NOT let you accept "arguments are valid" as certain, which would violate the Godelian rules; and which also demonstrates that this is not a trivial argument, since a tautology would be certain.

> >The argument in favor of logic and reason is by no means certain, but it
> >is better than anything else. If you try to deny all arguments as
> >invalid, you wind up with a theory that provides no useful advice, and
> >thus - however probable - cancels out of decision making. That's all
> >anyone has to argue.
> Anyway, this isn't even true. Why can't I accept some non-rational or even
> irrational claim about how I should live my life? Why not live by instinct
> alone, adopt a Zen philosophy, and reject logic altogether?

Because it won't work. If it does work, let me know and I'll join you.

Yes, I know that's not what you were asking. If you start out with a mistaken positive belief about the validity of instincts and therefore discount all argument, my foundation won't get you out of it.

--         Eliezer S. Yudkowsky

Disclaimer:  Unless otherwise specified, I'm not telling you
everything I think I know.