One of the most important, yet obvious-seeming points ever made.
Corollaries of this principle:
- To argue against an idea honestly, you should argue against the best arguments of the strongest advocates. Arguing against weaker advocates proves nothing, because even the strongest idea will attract weak advocates. If you want to argue against transhumanism or the intelligence explosion, you have to directly challenge the arguments of Nick Bostrom or Eliezer Yudkowsky post-2003. The least convenient path is the only valid one.
- Exhibiting sad, pathetic lunatics, driven to madness by their apprehension of an Idea, is no evidence against that Idea. Many New Agers have been made crazier by their personal apprehension of quantum mechanics.
- Someone once said, “Not all conservatives are stupid, but most stupid people are conservatives.” If you cannot place yourself in a state of mind where this statement, true or false, seems completely irrelevant as a critique of conservatism, you are not ready to think rationally about politics.
Ad hominem argument is not valid.
- You need to be able to argue against genocide without saying “Hitler wanted to exterminate the Jews.” If Hitler hadn’t advocated genocide, would it thereby become okay?
- In Hansonian terms: Your instinctive willingness to believe something will change along with your willingness to affiliate with people who are known for believing it—quite apart from whether the belief is actually true. Some people may be reluctant to believe that God does not exist, not because there is evidence that God does exist, but rather because they are reluctant to affiliate with Richard Dawkins or those darned “strident” atheists who go around publicly saying “God does not exist”.
- If your current computer stops working, you can’t conclude that everything about the current system is wrong and that you need a new system without an AMD processor, an ATI video card, a Maxtor hard drive, or case fans—even though your current system has all these things and it doesn’t work. Maybe you just need a new power cord.
- If a hundred inventors fail to build flying machines using metal and wood and canvas, it doesn’t imply that what you really need is a flying machine of bone and flesh. If a thousand projects fail to build Artificial Intelligence using electricity-based computing, this doesn’t mean that electricity is the source of the problem. Until you understand the problem, hopeful reversals are exceedingly unlikely to hit the solution.