Vaughn Papenhausen

Former username Ikaxas


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Bryan Caplan meets Socrates

Idk, I've not read tons of Plato or anything, it's certainly possible that early translations would have used "pray tell". Probably just an artifact of the particular translations I've read that it sounded out of place to me.

Oh! I see, you were trying to imply that just because Socrates had done lots of philosophy didn't improve his moral views about women and slaves. I still kind of like the interpretation where, in this alternate timeline, Socrates gets his (for the time) progressive views about the education of women and slaves from a conversation with a time-traveller, even if it's not what you initially intended. (Although again, that means the dinner conversation Caplan went to can't be the conversation depicted in the Republic, not sure if you were intending it to be. The details that made me think you were implying that are: 1. The fact that Socrates says that at dinner he talked about his views on the tripartite soul, which come up in the Republic---I think they're introduced there, though it's possible they're first mentioned in an earlier dialogue I haven't read; and 2. The fact that Thrasymachus says everyone is familiar with his views on justice, which again come up in the Republic---though I suppose his views would probably be known before the conversation in the Republic.)

Bryan Caplan meets Socrates

I loved this! A nitpick and a question. First, "pray" and "pray tell" sound a bit out of place to me, they sound more like Shakespeare or something than Plato.


Socrates: Huh, I had not previously considered women and slaves...

This isn't true, at least of the version of Socrates depicted by Plato. Are you trying to imply that this conversation is the origin of Socrates' egalitarian views on women and slaves in the Republic and the Meno? There are a couple of places where I thought you were implying that the dinner conversation Caplan attends is the conversation depicted in the Republic. Is it just meant to be another similar conversation, with earlier incarnations of Socrates' views on the tripartite soul and Thrasymachus' views on justice?

Moral uncertainty and public justification (Barret and Schmidt, 2021)

Oops, one correction: "public justification" doesn't mean "justification to the people a policy will affect", it means "justification to all reasonable people"; "reasonable people" is roughly everyone except Nazis and others with similarly extreme views.

Moral uncertainty and public justification (Barret and Schmidt, 2021)

I know this doesn't solve the actual problem you're getting at, but here's a translation of that sentence from philosophese to English. "Pro tanto" essentially means "all else equal": a "pro tanto" consideration is a consideration, but not necessarily an overriding one. "Public justification" just means justifying policy choices with reasons that would/could be persuasive to the public/to the people they will affect. So the sentence as a whole means something like "While moral uncertainty doesn't mean that governments (and other institutions) should always justify their decisions to the people, it does mean they should do so when they can."

The Importance-Avoidance Effect

This is something I'm dealing with right now, so reading this was helpful. Thanks

You should write about your job

I'd be interested in this. Even though "generalist researcher" is well-known, I think it's easy from the outside to get a distorted picture of the "content" of the job. Aside from this recent post, I don't know of write ups about it off the top of my head (though there could be ones I don't know about), and of course multiple writeups are useful since different people's situations and experiences will be different.

How to make people appreciate asynchronous written communication more?

I had this reaction as well. Can't speak for OP, but one issue with this is that audio is harder to look back at than writing; harder to skim when you're just looking for that one thing you think was said but you want to be sure. One solution here would be transcription, which could probably be automated because it wouldn't have to be perfect, just good enough to be able to skim to the part of the audio you're looking for.

What are the effects of considering that (human) morality emerges from evolutionary and other functional pressures?

You might check out this SEP article: Haven't read it myself, but looking at the table of contents it seems like it might be helpful for you (SEP is generally pretty high-quality). People have made a lot of different arguments that start from the observation that human morality has likely been shaped by evolutionary pressures, and it's pretty complicated to try to figure out what conclusions to draw from this observation. It's not at all obvious that it implies we should try to "escape the shackles of evolution" as you put it. It may imply that, but it also may not. (In particular, "selective evolutionary debunking arguments" seem to have implications along these lines, but "general evolutionary debunking arguments" seem to lead to almost the opposite conclusion.)

You might also check out this post by Eliezer.

Should I transition from economics to AI research?

So I am a philosopher and thus fundamentally unqualified to answer this question. So take these thoughts with a grain of salt. However:

  1. From my outsider's perspective, it seems as though AI safety uses a lot of concepts from economics (especially expected utility theory). And if you're at the grad level in economics, then you probably have a decent math background. So at least many of your skills seem like they would transfer over.
  2. I don't know how much impact you can expect to have as an AI researcher compared to an economist. But that seems like the kind of question an economist would be well-equipped to work on answering! If you happen to not already be familiar with cause prioritization research, you might consider staying in economics and focusing on it, rather than switching to AI, as cause prioritization is pretty important in its own right.
  3. Similarly, you might focus on global priorities research: Last I knew the Global Priorities Institute was looking to hire more economists; don't know if that will still be true when you finish your grad program, but at the very least I expect they'll still be looking to collaborate with economists at that time.

In other words, it seems like you might have a shot at transitioning (though I am very, very unqualified to assess this), but also there seem to be good, longtermist-relevant research opportunities even within economics proper.

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