Learning Paths Forward Project

Project Summary: Taking notes on articles in the resources section of the Paths Forward summary here:

Goal: Learn about paths forward.

Success criteria: Write a summary of paths forward after reading all of the relevant articles and taking notes. Also, if I find a conflict between Paths Forward and my own ideas, I have to explain how the Paths Forward idea succeeds at the goal my original idea failed at.

Failure criteria: I’m unable to resolve a conflict between my own ideas and a Paths Forward idea.

Big picture goal, why you want to do this, or CF relevance: I think learning more about Paths Forward will help in writing my debate policy. I also think it could help me get better at resolving conflicts or disputes in a rational way.

Plan: Take notes on the relevant articles and post them here. I would appreciate if anyone pointed out errors they saw in my understanding of the content. Questions I have will be posted here as well.

Context: I want to learn to be an advocate for rational debate policy. For reference:

This comment will contain notes on this article:

Every smart person knows you should be “open to discussion”. If there are better ideas than yours, you should learn them and change your mind. If you won’t reconsider your ideas, you’re irrational.

How can you tell which ideas are better in an objective way? I hope I’ll find that out by going through this mini-project.

It’s important to be open to discussion so that your ideas can be questioned and refined, and so you can learn new things. You shouldn’t avoid criticism or innovative new ideas. It’s worth considering if your idea is mistaken or there’s a better idea.

I like the tone of this section. I think it’s hard to replicate this kind of tone in a discussion.

A limit on discussion is irrational if it blocks a path forward.

I think this means that limits on discussion are rational as long as they don’t block paths forward. I like how this gives an objective criteria to whether or not a limit is irrational.

It seems like paths forward helps to solve the problem of keeping your ideas open to criticism in a rational way.

A path forward is a good way that a problem, issue or disagreement can be solved, allowing the discussion to move forward. (The concept even works with self-discussions in your own mind.) They’re ways mistakes can be fixed. They’re ways progress happens and you learn, rather than getting stuck.

How can we tell whether a way forward is good or not? Is it whether it fixes a mistake? What if one person thinks a particular way forward is good, while the other thinks it’s bad?

Paths forward depend not just on your ideas about an issue, but also your methods of thinking. How do you handle discussions? How do you handle disagreements? Are you blocking any ways for mistakes to be found or corrected?

This is an interesting aspect of Paths Forward that I hadn’t thought enough about before. I can definitely think of times when I’ve gotten frustrated or defensive during a discussion. I think having a debate policy could help me remain objective when I’m dealing with an idea that I find frustrating or threatening.

Paths forward are individual. You should personally have paths forward for all of your ideas, and take responsibility for their quality.

I’d like to keep a list of ideas that I endorse. Ideally, with reference links which explain the ideas in more detail. I think the list of ideas that I would endorse is a lot smaller than it used to be. Listing them all with references shouldn’t be too impractical. I wouldn’t list every idea that I believe in, just the ideas that I thought needed to be spread. For example, I believe that humans can do math, but I wouldn’t list and endorse that idea because it doesn’t need any help spreading.

There are also bad paths forward. For example, if you try to think of everything yourself, that could theoretically succeed. You might figure everything out yourself. But that isn’t realistic, and would be unnecessarily difficult. The technical possibility that it could work doesn’t make it rational.

I find the idea of a bad path forward confusing. Earlier, it said:

A path forward is a good way that a problem, issue or disagreement can be solved, allowing the discussion to move forward.

If a path forward is a good way to solve a problem, does it make sense to say we could have a bad path forward? How can it be both good and bad? I think that the example of trying to think of everything yourself is not a path forward. I don’t think it’s a bad path forward.

Also, earlier the article said:

A limit on discussion is irrational if it blocks a path forward.

It doesn’t say the limit is irrational only if it blocks a good path forward. Blocking a bad path forward would still be blocking a path forward. So is blocking a bad path forward irrational?

It’s important to always keep a good path forward.

I feel like this is redundant? The word good was already used in the path forward definition:

A path forward is a good way that a problem, issue or disagreement can be solved, allowing the discussion to move forward.

If we replace the phrase path forward with good way that a problem, issue, or disagreement can be solved, then good path forward becomes good good way that a problem, issue or disagreement can be solved.

If someone has a point which you haven’t answered, and you refuse to listen for any reason, then you’re irrational.

I like this.

(note that I haven’t gone through the whole article. I will reply with another comment as I continue to read through it)

Please note that the article text has been changed since I last commented. Unfortunately, it now looks like I’m misquoting the article in multiple places.

This was one of the article quotes I used in my comment:

Which appears to have been replaced with:

There are also bad paths for making progress.

Another example that was in the text when I wrote my comment:

Which has been replaced with:

If someone has a (relevant) critical argument which you haven’t answered (including not knowing of any argument by anyone else to cite as a rebuttal), and you refuse to listen or respond for any reason, while not changing your mind, then you’re irrational.

I checked this at the following archive link:


I’m documenting this because I don’t want people to think I’m misquoting the article. The only date on the article is June 2014 which could give the impression that the text hasn’t changed since then.

Note that none of these quotes were written by me. The formatting could make it look like I wrote two of the quotes. I highlighted the quote from my original comment and clicked the Quote button.

Fix your misquotes.

I checked the Forum Features Guide and here is the advice I saw for a quote within a quote:

Blockquotes can be nested. “>>” indicates a quote within a quote.

However, when you use the quote button it doesn’t use “>”. To make a quote within a quote I added a single “>” in front of the quoted text. My initial idea was that it was wrong to edit the text that Discourse selected after hitting the quote button. I think it’s more clear this way though.

I know I’ve been warned on misquoting in the past. Sorry for making additional work for you.

Edit: This is a continuation of my earlier comment quoting from Elliot’s article on Paths Forward here.

Often, discussions are more complicated than back-and-forth. There might be a group of people. Someone might answer their own question. But the basic structure of a discussion is that issues are brought up and people try to answer them.

If any issues with your ideas don’t get answers, that’s blocking paths forward you could have had. Every issue is an opportunity to potentially learn something. Trying to answer issues is how you can improve your mind. There might be an important point there. Ignoring it is irrational.

Paths forward are important because they allow for issues with your ideas to be pointed out and met with discussion. If you have no paths forward for your ideas, then you have no opportunities to improve your mind.

Being right and being rational are different things. Try to be right, but don’t expect to always be right. But being rational is something you should always do. Rationality is about changing your mind if you’re wrong, being open to discussion, and keeping a good path forward.

My guess would be that many people think being rational means having a lot of arguments supporting your idea. This definition would let you consider certain beliefs rational while keeping your mind closed to potential issues. It reminds me of the claim that lies have to be conscious and intentional. That definition of lying allows you to misrepresent information to others while claiming to be honest.

The context and history of the issue should be available. The limits or known flaws of the answer should be explained. Other answers to the issue should be considered and their flaws pointed out. (Any of this can be done by a reference if it’s explained somewhere else. Repetition isn’t needed.)

All of this keeps discussions clear and organized. This becomes especially important on difficult topics where progress is achieved using hundreds of steps.

I haven’t made any discussion trees before. That being said, I think using a tree sounds like a great way to keep a discussion clear and organized.

For you to have a path forward, you need your own answers. You don’t have to write them yourself, but you have to treat them as your own answers which you’re fully responsible for. If a mistake is found, you were mistaken. If someone has a question about an answer, he’s questioning you, and it’s your responsibility to see that the question is answered.

If you didn’t write an answer and want to use it, you need to endorse it. You need to answer any issues with it. If you aren’t taking responsibility for an answer, then it isn’t actually a path forward for you.

I have run into an issue with this before. Specifically with Elliot’s essay “Liberalism: Reason, Peace and Property”.

I would consider this an essay that I would endorse. I would be prepared to answer any issues that someone brought up about the ideas in the essay. Except that if I had written the article myself, then I wouldn’t have used the Ayn Rand style (not sure if that’s the right term) of using he/him and man/men. I would have used people instead of men, person instead of man, etc. Not that it really bothers me, but it’s been brought up by people who I’ve shared the essay with in the past. I don’t think the Ayn Rand style (again, not sure if that’s the best term) adds much value and is potentially an unnecessary distraction.

Ideally, there would be a more gender neutral version of the essay I could link to on Elliot’s site. A less desirable alternative could be rewriting the essay with more gender neutral language myself and hosting it online. This would include a disclaimer with a link to the original essay and the criteria I used to modify it. This option seems a lot like plagiarizing (even with the disclaimer) and I’m not sure how I feel about it. Also, the disclaimer might just add the same unnecessary distraction I’m trying to avoid in the first place. The final option is just referring people to the existing version of the essay. The downside here is that if I refer people to this essay a lot, then I could spend a lot of time discussing gender neutral language instead of liberalism.

You have a bunch of quotes in this post with no attribution. They are not from the post that you are replying to.

That is not an “Ayn Rand style”. Have you read any other philosophy books or even non-fiction books from before 2000? Have you read any other writing on liberalism? Using he/him and man/men as gender neutral language to refer to all people and to humankind was the standard correct usage until recently, and is still consistent with the dictionary definitions for those words. Using “man” and “men” when talking about things like the rights of humans was especially popular in liberalism writing, which Elliot is building on.

Schools, including universities, used to explicitly tell people not to use things like “he or she”, or singular “they” in their writing. That was not considered correct for formal writing. They were still telling people this in the 90s and early 2000s. I don’t know if/when they changed. It would have been distracting (and incorrect) to add what were seen as clumsy and non-standard, colloquial or casual word usages to a formal essay.

I don’t know how much people’s opinions on this have changed in the last 20 years. I think that a lot of people, especially those who are well read, would still consider usages like “he or she” or singular “they” to be distracting and clumsy in formal writing.

That wouldn’t be plagiarism if you were attributing the writing to Elliot, not pretending to have written it yourself. It would be copyright infringement though, which is actually illegal. You can’t just post other people’s writing or copyright material, unless it is fair use. Posting the entirety of someone else’s essay, with just some pronoun changes, would not be transformative enough to be considered fair use.

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I’m banning @S_Emiya for 3 days for posting quotes without a source after multiple warnings about quoting.

That post also has the wrong parent post and discusses potentially violating my rights (copyright). And this previous post still has bad quote formatting after @S_Emiya edited it. Also this topic itself violates the Mini Project category rules (“Mini projects should be finished within 3 days” and “don’t put projects here with much risk of quitting before you finish”) so I moved it to the Other category and added “Project” to the title.

This ban should serve as a strong warning. Next time will be a longer ban.

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I appreciate you bringing this to my attention. That was a careless error on my part. Sorry about that.

You’re right. I’m not sure why I used her name in particular. I checked and found a similar style in a book written in 1927 (Wikipedia says it wasn’t published in English until 1962 so I’m assuming this translation is faithful to the original):


I didn’t know that, thank you for sharing.

I can see why it would make sense to carry on a tradition which has been considered plenty of times by smart people. At the same time, those traditions could have been created and considered in a world which was very sexist.

Do you find using people instead of men distracting? Or is it more the pronouns written in an informal style which you find to be distracting?

I would be curious to hear more about why you find it distracting.

I found some interesting info on the Wikipedia page for singular they. They have a whole section about prescriptive guidance:

There are plenty of comments which line up with your view that singular they would be distracting or informal.

I also found this article which endorses using singular they:

From the article:

Use of the singular “they” is endorsed as part of APA Style because it is inclusive of all people and helps writers avoid making assumptions about gender.

That makes sense.

I didn’t know that public, freely available writing would be protected by copyright. I thought it was more for things like published books and that you had to go out of your way to copyright something before you published it. My current understanding is that writing is protected by copyright when it’s written. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

In hindsight, I should have clearly specified that I would ask for permission before copying/modifying Elliot’s article. If I have permission from the author, then I don’t think the modifications would be infringing on a copyright.

Thanks again for your feedback.

Are you suggesting that the world today is not “very sexist”? I disagree. (Example.)

No, I didn’t mean to suggest the world today was not very sexist. I just think that the world used to be even more sexist than it is today.

For example, in 1927 (when the book I mentioned was published) there were areas of my country where women weren’t allowed to vote (or get credit cards, reject sex from their husband, etc.).

Thank you for your feedback.

I think this was a very reasonable and fair response to my repeated misquotes.

Honestly, at first I was a little upset about the ban. I don’t think my misquoting behaviour was okay or that it should be allowed at this forum. But I felt like banning someone was kind of a counter-productive solution. Like I couldn’t really get better at posting without being allowed to post.

That being said, I recognized that my initial reaction (being upset) was fallible. I realized that it was possible the ban wasn’t a counter-productive solution. And since I trust Elliot’s judgement I decided that I should try to understand how getting banned for 3 days could actually be a good thing that helps me.

I think acting as a warning is one way that a ban could help me. For example, getting banned permanently would be bad for me. If I continue to misquote, then it makes sense I would eventually get permanently banned. Each time I write a comment I could be reminded of the risks of misquoting because of my experience being banned for 3 days.

I think another way that the ban helped me is that it made me realize how lucky I am to be able to participate in such an amazing forum. Of course Elliot’s articles are great, but I often find the comments from other members to be just as insightful and helpful. I don’t think there’s another forum like this anywhere on the internet. I shouldn’t take it for granted, but should instead strive to participate in a way that this forum deserves.

I’m no longer able to edit my comment to update the formatting.

I wasn’t 100% sure why the formatting was bad though. One problem I noticed was the start of the comment:

Which article am I talking about? It’s not linked directly in the original post. If you scrolled up and read the previous comment, it might be clear which article I’m talking about. But it might not be.

I think it would have been better to include a link to the article along with my comment. So it was clear exactly where the quotes were coming from.

I was surprised when I read this because I specifically remember reading the rules for the mini project category. When I went back and read the rules again I identified the problem. I stopped reading after the sentence about having 3 active mini projects at once. The last sentence (which I didn’t read) gave the 3 day time limit for mini projects.

My mini-project was basically doomed to fail from the start. There is no way I could have read and written notes on all of the material in only 3 days. If I had been aware of the 3 day limit, then I likely would have picked a smaller task for the mini-project.

Even without the 3 day limit I don’t think I did a good job of setting up this project.

I like learning new ideas. I’ve learned a lot of reasonably complex ideas in my life and I don’t think the subject of Paths Forward was too difficult for me (I could be wrong of course). However, I looked back at all the ideas I’ve learned and realized the number of times I’ve learned things by taking diligent notes is close to 0. I don’t find taking notes to be very fun. Trying to force myself to learn something in a way I don’t enjoy wasn’t a good plan. I could have set up the project so that it was similar to the way I’ve learned things in the past.

The reason I decided to learn by taking notes was because I thought it was important to expose my ideas to public criticism. I think I could find a different way to expose my ideas to public criticism without trying to force myself to learn in a way that isn’t fun for me. Not that having fun is my goal, but if you don’t enjoy something then it makes sense that you won’t do it very often.

I wrote a comment replying to Elliot’s article Treating Ideas Badly - #3 by S_Emiya. In this comment I tried to do some practice related to Paths Forward. Here are the attempts:

For example, I think Paths Forward is related to the concept of practice. I think that practicing things will expose your mistakes and errors more quickly. Like you’ll try to do things and fail and you’ll realize you’re making an error. If you don’t practice your ideas, then you could go for a long while without running into an error. So you could be stuck with bad ideas while ignoring other paths forward you could find by practicing.

I think it’s related to Paths Forward because Paths Forward aren’t always obvious (for me at least). If you dismiss paths based only on your initial impression then you’ll dismiss a lot of Paths forward and and end up on bad paths. You can’t trust that your judgement is good enough to dismiss ideas without refuting them. Not being able to refute an idea is like a warning sign that you shouldn’t dismiss it.

I was trying to follow the example suggested in Elliot’s article A Succession of Practice Activities. This is the example I was thinking of:

You can do something similar with other concepts. For example, you can use the concept of freedom, and look at various example scenarios and look for ways they involve freedom or lack of freedom.

I was trying to look at example scenarios and look for ways they involved Paths Forward.

The problem I ran into is that I don’t know how to judge if I was successful.

I would appreciate any advice on how to judge whether my practice attempts were successful. Right now, all I can say is that I haven’t heard any criticisms of the attempts I made.

Start from knowledge/actions where you’re already great at judging whether you’re successful and build from there in small steps.

See e.g. To Make Unbounded Progress, Do Similar Activities to Past Successes and Learning Many Small Skills Instead of Getting Stuck

Sorry for the delay in my response.

I have briefly skimmed over the articles you linked and I can see how they would apply to me and my situation. I think they will be very helpful. I’m going to reread them a few times over the next few days.

I think I’m going to close my current projects and try to start a new one where I can (hopefully) easily succeed.

Thank you for your valuable feedback.