bad philosophy


There is a dangerous difference between incorrect philosophy and bad philosophy.

To illustrate, David Deutsch considers two imaginary legislative bodies:

One such body believes that thievery is good. They push forward some policy to encourage as much lawless theft as possible. Overtime, rampant stealing cripples the state. Production grinds to a halt because people don’t make things if those things aren’t protected. The state is on the path to poverty, madness, and revolution. However, a small faction of the legislator propose a new idea based on updated information (ie. widespread economic malaise and crime) and the state corrects course when the pro-theft idea is criticized and a new plan proposed.

The other copy of this legislator becomes convinced that debate and criticism should be abolished. Nothing happens at first. Later, the same legislator also decides that thievery should be encouraged. This state also descends into madness (go figure), but continues to spiral out of control long past the point of no return. No one is able to voice their dissent or poke holes at the status quo. The state falls to a grass roots coup as the populace storms the capitol building and executes the politicians. All it took was the adoption of one incorrect idea to destroy exhibit B.

The first body enacted incorrect philosophy and the second body suffered from bad philosophy. The difference is subtle but deadly.

Incorrect philosophy is the result of being wrong, which should be encouraged. It is both necessary and essential to creating true models of the world. Philosophy that is wrong, yet attempts a rigorous explanation about some natural phenomena that can be proven wrong by testable observation, has been the sole catalyst of progress since the Enlightenment.

Bad philosophy is different. Not only is it wrong, but it actively supresses the creation of new explanations by rendering itself immune to criticism. Bad philosophy is usually tagged with “you couldn’t understand because…” or “because I said so…”. Examples of places where bad philosophy flourished was Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, postmodernist philosophy, and most of Twitter.

The reason why this is important is because everyone is probably really wrong about most things. There really aren’t any so-called “justifiable truths”, that are true in and of themselves. So the only absolute truth is that there are no “justifiable truths”. Almost everything that we take for granted in mathematics, the sciences, philosophy, is some inductive chain of logical steps that don’t have a root node. Many would say that their are mathematical axioms that are certainly true that could act as root and justifiable truths in isolation. Consider “2 + 2 = 4” (a favorite of Eric Weinstein ). Is this statement not undoubtedly true independent of some subjective parameterization?

Well, as Deutsch puts it:

Why two plus two and not three plus four? Was it because you decided that the propositions you chose would best make your point because they were the most obviously, unambiguously true of all the propositions you considered using?

In other words, the fact that “2 + 2 = 4” rises to the top of a list of things that are absolutely true means that the reader necessarily needs to consider some things as “more true” than others. To do this, you need to poke and prod at the statements in your mind:

…“2 + 2 = 4” describes relationships between numerals that are unambiguous whereas If I consider Pythagorean theorem, it is easy to imagine instances of triangles where the rule does not apply because the necessary condition was ignored. Does this restriction make the truth less true or just as true with less reach…

This means that the things you were considering were never actually axiomatic.

What we’ve arrived at is a singular epistemological truth from which all else is derived - We are wrong about everything. We can be less wrong by criticizing our current explanations based on observation and coming up with better explanations. If and only if we adhere to this process, we will converge towards an objective understanding of the world.

Incorrect philosophy facilitates this process. Bad philosophy stops it.