Many statements which are accepted as truth because they have been passed down to us by tradition look like truth only because we have never tested them, never thought about them in a more precise way.

~ Leo Tolstoy


Two guides

Two ways exist to guide human activity. One is to force a person to act against his wishes; The other is to guide a person’s wishes, to persuade him with reasoning. One is the way of violence: It is used by ignorant people, and it leads to complete disappointment. The other is supported by experience, and is always successful.

~ Abraham Comb


Wise consumption

Wise consumption is much more complicated than wise production. What five people will produce, one person can very easily consume, and the question for each individual and for every nation is not how are we to produce, but how our products are to be consumed.

~ John Ruskin


Reasons and persons

You’ve probably heard this scenario before. It originally comes from Derek Parfit’s 1984 book Reasons and Persons, where he actually answers the question. (Though you may not like the answer.) To answer it, he has to go though a set of even weirder scenarios. Here’s most of them, edited aggressively.

~ “Dynomight” from,

This article turns a number of complicated thought experiments into a disorienting dash through a hall of mirrors. I’ve not read Parfit’s book, but I’ve encountered these sorts of thought experiments before. On one hand I’m drawn to thinking about them because I feel I should be able to have some foundational, (although not necessarily simple,) principles that I can use to answer them. Which is a working definition of, “I want to be rational.” Until I start really digging into the experiments and things get really complicated. Why, it’s as if being a limited-in-resources mind forced to interact with in an intractably complex world, may not be something with a clear, correct, let alone singular, solution.


Everything has two handles

Everything has two handles, by one of which it may be carried, and by the other not. If your brother wrongs you, do not take it by this handle, that he is wronging you (for this is the handle that it cannot be carried by), but by the other, that he is your brother, that he was brought up with you, and then you will be taking it by the handle by which it ought to be carried.

~ Epictetus from Handbook, #43


Doing discourse better

Do conversations have known best practices? How much do they improve the odds of landing on the truth?

~ “Dynomight” from,

I hate this terrific article. It’s completely stuffed with great ideas and great questions… and exactly zero answers. It starts talking about the particular type of conversation where two people acting benevolently are trying to find the truth about something under discussion. (Here I snicker at all of humanity, and myself, because we’ve been having conversations for like a gazillion years and we don’t yet know how to do it well.) It then narrows down to discussing just online conversations. Said narrowing feels like a great idea because there are a lot of online conversations and it feels like something we should be able to be good at. (Again here, snickering is warranted.) Anyway, at least some people are trying. Maybe, just maybe this is the epoch we get it sorted out?



You don’t know if your idea is any good the moment it’s created. Neither does anyone else. The most you can hope for is a strong gut feeling that it is. And trusting your feelings is not as easy as the optimists say it is. There’s a reason why feelings scare us—because what they tell us and what the rest of the world tells us are often two different things.

~ Hugh MacLeod


This quote, I think, also alludes to the problem of people “not getting” new ideas. It turns out that the same problem exists for old ideas to which people have grown unaccoustomed through lack of use.

Online discussion in forums is not a new idea. It’s a time-tested idea; They can be a space to focus interaction. There are ground rules. There’s a border defining what’s inside and what’s outside. Those inside have skin in the game. There is accountability.

The challenge is for each of us to resume engaging in reasoned discourse with others. That can be done in many places, not just in online forums. But in general, we’ve lost it in, (something like,) the last ten years when the current incarnation of the social networks rose and ate our attention.