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Fallible Ideas Newsletter

Philosophy and rational analysis. By Elliot Temple.

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Paths Forward

Here’s a sample of the kind of emails you’ll receive if you sign up for Critical Fallibilism emails. This article about Paths Forward was emailed out a few days ago. You can also read it on the website.

Paths Forward is about approaching discussion and ideas rationally. That way, if you’re mistaken, and another person knows the mistake and is willing to tell you, there is a good way (path) for your error to be corrected (which moves your ideas forward to be better). It also helps others learn from you.

If I’m wrong, and you know it, how can I find out? If you’re wrong, and I know it, how can you find out? Answering these questions well is crucial to intellectual progress.

The primary motivation for Paths Forward is fallibility. No matter how confident we are, we might be mistaken. Mistakes are common and everyone has a lot to learn. No one is anywhere near having perfect, final, complete knowledge (if that’s even possible). We all could improve and make a lot more progress. Accepting your fallibility, and trying to find and fix your mistakes – actually wanting to find your own errors on purpose – is one of the main parts of rationality.

So we need good ways to find and correct our mistakes. Paths Forward talks about sharing ideas and organizing ideas. These both help enable mistakes be found and corrected. Sharing ideas lets other people offer suggestions and criticism. Organizing ideas is necessary for other people to understand what you’re saying, and it also helps you understand and critically consider your own ideas.

Paths Forward focuses on being open to critical discussion from other people (so that you can learn from them and/or they can learn from you). Everyone can benefit from rational communication with others, and public intellectuals need it the most because their goal is to use rationality to improve humanity’s ideas. I claim that most people, including most public intellectuals, are currently pretty bad at this, and Paths Forward offers significant improvements. (By the way, your own personal integrity and rationality is even more important than how you deal with other people.)

We can’t correct all our errors. We can’t know everything. But we can at least correct errors that other people already understand and are willing to explain to us. That’s a relatively easy, accessible opportunity. There’s no need to stay wrong about issues that people have already figured out and are willing to share information about. And, when we’re actually right, engaging with critics lets them correct their errors. If we wouldn’t communicate, then sometimes other people would stay wrong when that could have been avoided.

But “Discuss with all critics as much as they want.” would take way too long. Many people mistakenly think they have important corrections to share. Paths Forward talks a lot about how to be open to corrections in a time-efficient way. How can you filter out bad criticism without blocking good criticism? How can you be objective about that? You’re fallible, so when you think someone is dumb, is an amateur, is confused, is a crank, etc., you might be wrong. If your policy is to listen to the reasoning that seems high quality to you, and ignore the rest, that means you’ll stay wrong about anything you’re biased about. Due to bias, you’ll incorrectly evaluate good reasoning as bad reasoning.

Fallibilists should want a better approach than trusting their own judgment because they know they may be mistaken (including mistaken about their methodology, biases or integrity, not just the topical issue). Paths Forward offers ways to be more objective instead of trusting yourself.

Another common error is trusting other people’s judgment instead of your own. The most common forms of this error are “trust the experts” or “trust the majority”. A popularity contest (either among experts or among everyone) is not truth-seeking. (Sometimes people defer to experts, like a doctor, lawyer, plumber or mechanic, instead of trying to understand something themselves. That can be a rational decision but is different than truth-seeking.)

People say “If that idea were good, other people would explore and promote it. I’ll consider if it catches on more and I hear about it from several people I respect.” When most people think that way, it’s hard for ideas to get started. It makes the spread of ideas more about social status hierarchies than truth. It also suppresses outlier ideas, but some of the most important ideas begin as outliers that seem weird, implausible or unreasonable to most people.

Unfortunately, most public intellectuals today rely heavily on trusting their own judgment and/or trusting the judgment of others. This is a major blocker of progress for our civilization. Plus, most debates are either disorganized informal debates or formally organized in the wrong way (with boundaries on the debate and limited interaction between the debaters). Paths Forward tries to help with these problems to enable unbounded progress and reach more conclusions.

Briefly, here are a couple of the solutions Paths Forward talks about. Public intellectuals should have written policies for how they deal with critics and have transparency so people can see the policies are followed. Thinkers should write reusable answers to arguments, which anyone can learn from, and which save time (write once, use as an answer hundreds of times). People can reuse answers that others wrote as long as they take personal responsibility for that answer. In general, either an issue has been answered before or else it’s worth the time for someone to answer it. And identify patterns in questions and criticism, then give answers that address a whole pattern or category instead of answering everything individually.

I’ve created resources for learning about Paths Forward:

There are also resources made by my fans:

Harassment Update

I wrote more to explain what’s going on with the harassment campaign against me.


By Elliot Temple. I write philosophical essays and a blog.

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