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Hard and Soft Rationality Policies

I have two main rationality policies that are written down:

  1. Debate Policy
  2. Paths Forward Policy

I have many other smaller policies that are written down somewhere in some form, like about not misquoting or giving direct answers to direct questions (like say "yes" or "no" first when answering a yes or no question. then write extra stuff if you want. but don't skip the direct answer.)

A policy I thought of the other day, and recognized as worth writing down, is my debate policy sharing policy. I've had this policy for a long time. It's important but it isn't written in my debate policy.

If someone seems to want to debate me, but they don't invoke my debate policy, then I should link them to the debate policy so they have the option to use it. I shouldn't get out of the debate based on them not finding my debate policy.

In practice, I link the policy to a lot of people who I doubt want to debate me. I like sharing it. That's part of the point. It’s useful to me. It helps me deal with some situations in an easy way. I get in situations where I want to say/explain something, but writing it every time would be too much work, but some of the same things come up over and over, so I can write them once and then share links instead of rewriting the same points. My debate policy says some of the things I want frequently want to tell people, and linking it lets me repeat those things with very low effort.

One can imagine someone who put up a debate policy and then didn't mention it to critics who didn't ask for a debate in the right words. One can imagine someone who likes having the policy so they can claim they're rational, but they'd prefer to minimize actually using it. That would be problematic. I wrote my debate policy conditions so that if someone actually meets them, I'd like to debate. I don't dread that or want to avoid it. If you have a debate policy but hope people don't use it, then you have a problem to solve.

If I'm going to ignore a question or criticism from someone I don't know, then I want to link my policy so they have a way to fix things if I was wrong to ignore them. If I don't link it, and they have no idea it exists, then the results are similar to not having the policy. It doesn't function as a failsafe in that case.

Some policies offer hard guarantees and some are softer. What enforces the softer ones so they mean something instead of just being violated as much as one feels like? Generic, hard guarantees like a debate policy which can be used to address doing poorly at any softer guarantee.

For example, I don't have any specific written guarantee for linking people to my debate policy. There's an implicit (and now explicit in this post) soft guarantee that I should make a reasonable effort to share it with people who might want to use it. If I do poorly at that, someone could invoke my debate policy over my behavior. But I don't care much about making a specific, hard guarantee about debate policy link sharing because I have the debate policy itself as a failsafe to keep me honest. I think I do a good job of sharing my debate policy link, and I don't know how to write specific guarantees to make things better. It seems like something where a good faith effort is needed which is hard to define. Which is fine for some issues as long as you also have some clearer, more objective, generic guarantees in case you screw up on the fuzzier stuff.

Besides hard and soft policies, we could also distinguish policies from tools. Like I have a specific method of having a debate where people choose what key points they want to put in the debate tree. I have another debate method where people say two things at a time (it splits the conversation into two halves, one led by each person). I consider those tools. I don't have a policy of always using those things, or using those things in specific conditions. Instead, they're optional ways of debating that I can use when useful. There's a sort of soft policy there: use them when it looks like a good idea. Making a grammar tree is another tool, and I have a related soft policy of using that tool when it seems worthwhile. Having a big toolkit with great intellectual tools, along with actually recognizing situations for using them, is really useful.

Elliot Temple on December 6, 2022


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