Parenting

TCS is the true parenting theory. The primary ideas are:

- Fallibility (certain knowledge is impossible; people can be wrong)

- No Authorities (ideas must be judged on their merit, the source is irrelevant to truth content -- therefore children can be right and can't be dismissed)

- A state of coercion is one in which a person has two active theories that conflict, and is being forced to enact one prior to resolving the conflict.

- Coercion is bad for knowledge growth (I will write an entry giving the epistemic reasons for this in the future)

- Common Preferences, coercion-free solutions to problems, are always possible

- This means children don't do anything they don't want to

- What people want is subject to morality, and thus children won't want horrible things, as long as parents offer good moral theories

- Good ideas beat out bad ones in argument (and thus if parent's moral theories really are better than some alternative, parent won't lose argument)

- If your ideas are so great, have some faith in them to stand up to criticism

- Criticism Good

- Abandonment Parenting is morally wrong (parents have an obligation to help their children)

- Advice Advice Advice (parents should give children lots of advice, but children should be free to disagree)

- Don't Hurt Children (I can't say this enough)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Have faith in your values. Don't expect people to disagree. True ideas win arguments. True ideas win converts. True ideas get popular. Good values reward you. Bad values "reward" their holders (no need to do anything to them).

And as to "rewarding" holders of bad values -- it's a form of imposing one's values, and thus needs a non-arbitrary, non-reversible justification.

To explain "Don't expect people to disagree" this comes up a lot with parenting. Like people will ask "What if my child wants to commit murder?" Well, why the fuck would he want to do that? You're right that murder is wrong, aren't you? Yes, you are, so why expect child to disagree..? Comes up with the pro-death people too, who think it'd be wrong to waste extra life watching TV, but expect people to do it...

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Here's an example of a moral theory that fails by it's own standards:

I'm going to spank my children, to help them develop good character.

Note this does not fail by pure logic. But it does fail by explanation. Our best explanations tell us, the basic effect of spanking, is fucking children up badly.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Parenting strategies that rely on parents being larger, cannot be right.

Parenting strategies that rely on children having bad memory, cannot be right.

Parenting strategies that rely on children always agreeing with the first idea a parent has, cannot be right.

In different situations, the answers to various questions that depend on the circumstances, can be different.

People who do not understand a proposition, can't know if it's horribly false or exceptionally true.

To live morally, requires creativity.

A mechanical parenting strategy, cannot be right.

People do not do things for no reason.

It cannot be right to ask someone to sacrifice infinately before retalliating.

It cannot be right to come kill me, for the purpose of going to the dentist.

To fully maximise the realisation of one's intentions, one must be willing to change one's intentions to ones that are better realisiable.

Statements like this are interesting due to their truth, and also can provide a framework for solving various problems. But what should we call them? I've been considering them epistemic. This is perhaps not ideal. I don't have a better idea. Normally, I don't care about categorisations such as this, but it seems valuable to me to be able to communicate the idea that I'm referring to statements like this.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comment (1)

TCS

My AIM screen name is curi42. Yesterday I spoke with sylvry79 and fr0ggetoad about TCS, and this chat contains useful explanations on myriad topics. Enjoy. (All smileys that iChat turned into graphical pictures have been lost.)

fr0ggetoad: sylvyr79: whatcha disagree with? [Talking about this article]
sylvyr79: ok, well first of all, there's something he said that i do agree with
sylvyr79: the fact that humans are complex, and one simple influence does not dictate how we behave
sylvyr79: u with me so far?
curi42: yeah
fr0ggetoad: sylvyr79: yes
sylvyr79: ok, but then he goes on to say that it's good to do what you want, including video games if that happens to be what you want
fr0ggetoad: indeed
sylvyr79: what you want is a simple influence, but it is by no means the only one acting on a person
curi42: haven't read the article recently. that's not quite true though.
curi42: you can do what you want............as long as you want the right things. morality first.
sylvyr79: well, he says it's right for a kid to do what they want, not for them to decide what they want first
sylvyr79: kids want to play video games regardless of whether it's a good idea, but he's saying it's good in any case
fr0ggetoad: why would it be bad to play video games?
curi42: well, it's pretty much always right
sylvyr79: there is a value to doing things you don't want to do
curi42: you mean to being coerced?
fr0ggetoad: if there is something that you want to do which has good value, and something you don't want to do
fr0ggetoad: which do you think you should choose?
sylvyr79: you can't generalize that question
curi42: you can ask the general question "Is it *ever* a good idea to coerce children for the sake of learning?"
sylvyr79: i'd say yes, sometimes
curi42: why/when?
sylvyr79: there are skills that people will not learn if they are left to their own devices
curi42: if the skill is important, why will the person not want to learn it?
fr0ggetoad: if something is valuable and has merit, then its likely a person will become more interested in it on their own terms than on someone else's
sylvyr79: what's important to one person is not the same as what's important in their environment
curi42: so we should do things we don't want to "for the sake of the environment" ?
sylvyr79: no, it's for the sake of being happier with yourself overall
sylvyr79: let me explain
curi42: if it will make ya happier, won't you want to do it? ...... ok
sylvyr79: in your immediate situation, you may not realize how your choices could affect your life in the future
sylvyr79: you can miss out on opportunities, and then have much less ability to be happy later on
curi42: yes, sometimes people are wrong.
curi42: but if someone does not know better, how can they take the theoretically better path? they cannot.
fr0ggetoad: your parents could also be mistaken in how they think doing or not doing something will effect your future life
sylvyr79: if a parent has experience and the child doesn't, the parent can help direct them on a good path
sylvyr79: there is no absolute right way to be a parent, so the sensible thing is just to do what you think is best
curi42: well, in general children listen to their parent's advice.
curi42: but when there is a disagreement, what right does the parent have to claim some sort of authority and make the child live out the parent's theories?
sylvyr79: the child is not necessarily acting on theories
curi42: on the stars then? ;-p
fr0ggetoad: lol
fr0ggetoad: people don't do things for no reason
sylvyr79: that's not entirely true
sylvyr79: what i mean to say is, not every action is the result of a reasoning thought process
fr0ggetoad: sure
fr0ggetoad: but we're talking about decisions here right?
curi42: heart beats aren't. and many are not explicit (in a language with symbols and grammar). but inexplicit theories do have a rhyme and reason to them.*
sylvyr79: i think an inexplicit theory is a case where someone doesn't finish the reasoning process, and just goes with what they have so far
curi42: "the reasoning process" ?
sylvyr79: of making a decision
curi42: no, i mean please tell me what this process entails
sylvyr79: considering the costs and benefits of your actions
curi42: that's how we make all decisions?
sylvyr79: yes
curi42: I propose that this theory is not a coherent explanation of all human behavior.
curi42: For example, it is lacking in explaining how we decide what is good and bad (a cost or a benefit).
fr0ggetoad: oh, good point curi
sylvyr79: sure, nothing is definite
sylvyr79: but if we have strong ideas of what's good and bad, we can use them for making decisions
fr0ggetoad: where do we *get* those ideas though?
fr0ggetoad: under your model of how we reason
sylvyr79: some of it is genetic, some is from learning from your surroundings
curi42: learning from surroundings how?
sylvyr79: what values your parents teach you, for instance
fr0ggetoad: how do they get them?
curi42: teach how?
sylvyr79: there are infinite ways to teach values
fr0ggetoad: sylvyr79, what is a mechanism for genes teaching you values?
sylvyr79: in primitive organisms, it's very simple
curi42: genes are expressed in body structure including brain structure
sylvyr79: basically, they give you tendencies to survive and reproduce
curi42: however, human brains are universal computers -- capable of doing any calculation that can be done (with enough time and memory storage)
sylvyr79: ok...
curi42: all running Intelligence software
sylvyr79: yes
curi42: structural differences may effect the speed, but not the function of our brains
curi42: and may effect the initial version of the intelligence software, but not it's subsequent form
sylvyr79: ok, there's a problem with that point
sylvyr79: true, with infinite time, brains could do any calculation
sylvyr79: but there is not infinite time, and different brains function differently in the time provided
fr0ggetoad: we're not saying anyone *will* complete a certain really long computation
fr0ggetoad: merely that if there was infinite time, it could
curi42: I hold brain speed is not a major factor in our lives. we know the speed is very fast, and it seems reasonable that our software is the bottleneck.
sylvyr79: are you saying all our software is essentially the same?
curi42: Here is a theory of human theories: The short of it is that we evolve our theories. By creating vast numbers of theories, most very similar with just slight differences, and then criticising them to eliminate the unreasonable ones, we are able to learn about any sphere. The survivors of criticism are held tentatively true, but may be criticised again in light of a new idea. It is notable that we need not start from any sort of true foundations, or good theories, but rather can start from any crap at all, hold it tentatively true, then criticise it and improve. One reason this is notable, is it means that it doesn't matter very much what initial state our brain software comes in, as long as it allows conjecture and criticism -- evolution -- because the initial state will be improved drastically and be unrecognisable in a short amount of time.
curi42: so, yes, our brain software has the same basic effect for everyone. that's what intelligence *is* -- the ability to learn, ala evolution.
sylvyr79: that makes sense
sylvyr79: but what is at the base of it?
sylvyr79: there has to be something to tell you which theories are good or bad
sylvyr79: whatever that is, it's different in different people
fr0ggetoad: criticism
curi42: well, you will have some sort of initial criticism.
curi42: theory of what it is
sylvyr79: ?
fr0ggetoad: curi, under your model do babies have theories when they are born?
curi42: and you can improve it. and either it will work, or it will not.
curi42: fr0ggetoad ..... probably, dunno. question for science.
sylvyr79: i think they have the tools to construct theories
fr0ggetoad: for sure ya
sylvyr79: and they have some basis for judging them
fr0ggetoad: well, babies left to themselves like won't get very far in that right
curi42: i think babies start with only very simple theories
sylvyr79: theories like "satisfying cravings is good"
curi42: and these are easy to criticise. like a baby might see something, and theorise that it will feel some way, and then touch it
curi42: and in touching, criticise (or not, if the theory was right) the sight-theory.
sylvyr79: that's all you need
curi42: yep
curi42: so, given all this, we can say that "children act on theories"
sylvyr79: ok
curi42: (note that we are not paying any attention that whether the theories are in English now. some will be, some won't. the distinction is useful for some conversations, but misleading in others)
sylvyr79: point taken
curi42: if a child has a theory that he should do X, and an adult has a theory that the child would be better off doing Y, what should happen?
curi42: well, first the adult will offer criticism of X, and the child will criticise the criticism and also perhaps criticise Y. suppose they can't figure out how to agree. then what?
curi42: well, i hold, it's the child's life, and it should be his own choice. the parent has no right to declare himself correct.
sylvyr79: the parent made an investment in this child....they have some right to protect it
curi42: how is trying to rule someone else's life, against his will, protection?
sylvyr79: the parent can consider more things, and has a better understanding of the way things work
fr0ggetoad: ok, so give the extra knowledge to the child
curi42: in general, yes. and thus we except children to usually agree with their parent's advice.
fr0ggetoad: by discussing it
curi42: but in this case, the parent has used all that extra experience to criticise the child's theory, and has been unpersuasive.
curi42: William Godwin: If a thing be really good, it can be shown to be such. If you cannot demonstrate its excellence, it may well be suspected that you are no proper judge of it. Why should not I be admitted to decide, upon that which is to be acquired by my labour?? ? The Enquirer (1797)
sylvyr79: you may not be able to explain it to the child if he doesn't have the background to grasp it
curi42: if it's a major choice, as you seem to be mostly concerned with, explain the background
sylvyr79: whatever experiences the child would need to see that what the parent is saying is actually true
curi42: experience just helps us form theories. communications can do the same thing.
curi42: the problem with this view, that the child does not understand the background, is that it is simply another way to say parent considers child wrong.
curi42: the child could try the same approach. he could say:
curi42: "mommy, i know you know a lot about most things, but about this particular thing, you don't know a lot.
sylvyr79: this is like the idea that you can't learn to ride a bicycle without actually getting on
curi42: in fact, you don't have the background required to understand why i am right about this"
curi42: you could, but that is infeasible
sylvyr79: you need to actually have the experience to be able to understand it
curi42: b/c physical theories about moving muscles are hard to talk about. you'd need some special machine.

[At this point, the chatroom died.]

sylvyr79: where were we?
curi42: i was saying that, the parent thinking child to "lack the right background to understand" is just another way to say the parent thinks he is right.
curi42: and the child could say the same thing. after all, if the decision is about the child's life.....
curi42: well, child has been living it for years, and knows details of own personality parent does not. details of what will work for him and make him happy.
sylvyr79: wait, i'm not sure about that first point
sylvyr79: the parent is not just saying "i think i'm right"
curi42: "you don't understand" == "you are wrong" as far as arguments go
sylvyr79: but the parent does have justification for what they're saying
curi42: your opponent will just say the same of you
curi42: the parent considers himself justified. the child considers parent wrong about that.
curi42: note: that the child also thinks he has justification, and the parent disagrees with that.
curi42: parent's aren't epistemically privileged
sylvyr79: there is a difference between a parent and a child
fr0ggetoad: yes there is
curi42: fr0ggetoad: he means a relevant one
curi42: so let's let him explain
sylvyr79: the parent has experience that he may be able to impart to the child only through coercion
sylvyr79: it's a substitute for actually giving the child that experience
curi42: well, the parent might be wrong. and then he will have wrongly hurt child, won't he?
sylvyr79: yes, but you don't avoid making decisions for fear that you might be wrong
sylvyr79: you act on your best theories
curi42: we generally do avoid making decisions *for other people when they disagree and want to live their own life*
curi42: you certainly wouldn't, say, prevent me from [censored for privacy].
sylvyr79: that's not in my power....
curi42: and if it was?
sylvyr79: it can't be...you're the only one who can make that decision
fr0ggetoad: but but
fr0ggetoad: um
fr0ggetoad: sylvyr79
sylvyr79: yes
curi42: but i have parents, sylvyr79
fr0ggetoad: like you're contradicting yourself
sylvyr79: no i'm not
fr0ggetoad: Elliot's parents have more life experience than he does, right?
sylvyr79: yes
fr0ggetoad: should they be able to make him [censored for privacy]?
fr0ggetoad: if they think that's best?
curi42: [question censored, I said ?nevermind? two seconds later anyway]
sylvyr79: there's too many unknowns, it's impossible to answer that question
fr0ggetoad: replace elliot with child
fr0ggetoad: and elliot's parents with the child's parents
curi42: yeah nevermind
curi42: when a parent thinks his child is making a mistake, he doesn't intervene *every single time* right?
sylvyr79: right
curi42: so, how does parent decide in which cases he should intervene?
sylvyr79: they decide with whatever tools they have to decide
curi42: well, surely it's not about how sure parent feels
curi42: what i mean is what parents *should* do, not what they really do.
sylvyr79: well, parents should use whatever theories they have come up with in their lifetime to try to shape things in such a way that a good result is likely to occur
curi42: good by child's standards, right?
sylvyr79: if we're talking about what the adult should do, then good by the adult's standards
curi42: "a good result is likely to occur"
curi42: parent should aim for child to grow up to be happy and successful *by own lights*, not by parent's. right?
curi42: no matter how much daddy values being a lawyer, if child is all into art instead, child should become an artist.
sylvyr79: yeah....
curi42: we can apply this to various other things
sylvyr79: this is assuming that the parent has declared happiness and success as ultimate values
curi42: when parent and child disagree about whether child should do A or B next, no matter how much parent values A, if child is into B instead, etc
curi42: oh, i didn't mean to say they were. you can fill in something else there. it's not important to the logic of the argument.
sylvyr79: a parent can recognize that other things are important to a child, and guide them to achieve what is important to the child
curi42: it's not clear if this "guiding" includes forcing or not.
sylvyr79: it does include forcing if the parent decides it's useful
curi42: and what criterion should parent use for when he should force?
sylvyr79: if they think there is something the child must do, that he will not do on his own
curi42: why must he?
sylvyr79: in order to keep opportunities open, perhaps
curi42: are these opportunities important to child?
curi42: (yes) then why doesn't he want to keep them open himself?
sylvyr79: he may not have the discipline to do it himself
curi42: "discipline" consists of?
sylvyr79: pushing yourself
curi42: so imagine a child who wants something, but is unable to push himself enough. how is parent going to use force to help matters?
sylvyr79: i'll give you an example
sylvyr79: i want to be a good runner, but i don't have the discipline to do it myself. Someone else pushes me to do it, and that gives me enough incentive to push myself harder
curi42: ok, but this "pushing you" won't involve force.
curi42: (consensual "force" does not count)
sylvyr79: it involves force in a sense
fr0ggetoad: i think what would actually be happening in that situation is that the person gets convinced that its worth it
sylvyr79: parts of my mind do rebel, it's not unanimous consent
curi42: that's bad
sylvyr79: how so?
curi42: because you are torn, and part of you is hurt.
fr0ggetoad: being in conflict with yourself
fr0ggetoad: is not a good thing
fr0ggetoad: right curi
sylvyr79: that's not a bad thing, that's how it always is
curi42: wouldn't it be better to act with the unanimous consent of your own personality?
fr0ggetoad: if you have the option of stopping when you want
fr0ggetoad: then its possible to run with unanimous consent within yourself
sylvyr79: it's never unanimous
fr0ggetoad: well if you have a theory that you should stop when you feel physical pain
sylvyr79: then you don't improve
fr0ggetoad: then you will become torn
fr0ggetoad: when you start to feel pain
fr0ggetoad: but pain is just a state of mind
fr0ggetoad: its input
sylvyr79: yes...
fr0ggetoad: do you agree that its possible to ignore pain then?
fr0ggetoad: by changing your state of mind?
sylvyr79: yes
fr0ggetoad: ok
fr0ggetoad: so then the conflict is being caused
fr0ggetoad: by the theory that pain is bad
fr0ggetoad: if you had a better theory that conflict wouldn't happen
fr0ggetoad: if someone could totally convince themselves of this then they wouldn't be coercing themselves (in respect to pain) when running
sylvyr79: if you could totally convince yourself, you would not be open to new ideas
curi42: no!
curi42: "true and mutable" -- our best ideas should be held true, and also open to criticism and thus change.
curi42: it's not a contradiction to, say, "be totally committed to being open to changing one's ideas"
curi42: even though being open may cause one to change this idea that one was (formerly) totally committed to
sylvyr79: you're saying "being totally committed" is a temporary state of mind
curi42: all theories are at a point in time.
curi42: at some other point in time, you will have different ones.
sylvyr79: yes, so you're never totally committed
curi42: sure you are
fr0ggetoad: sure you are
curi42: there is not a part of me (in this time) that is not committed to living morally, say
fr0ggetoad: you can be completely convinced of something
fr0ggetoad: and then see evidence to the contrary
fr0ggetoad: and get a better explanation
fr0ggetoad: and be totally convinced of that
sylvyr79: why call it completely convinced, if you can change it?
fr0ggetoad: because we know that we are fallible
curi42: because fallibility is not an obstacle to holding up things as true.
fr0ggetoad: knowing that people are fallible does not imply not trying to understand things
sylvyr79: i'm saying that your "completely convinced" is no different from any other idea you might have
curi42: not different from "tentatively held true" in any fundamental way
curi42: it is different from some i claim not to be very sure about.
sylvyr79: ok
curi42: the point is
curi42: fallibility says that we cannot know anything with certainty -- we can be wrong about anything
sylvyr79: yes
curi42: but it does not imply that we should be wrong about any particular proposition.
curi42: if i say some particular proposition is true, fallibility doesn't argue otherwise.
sylvyr79: granted
curi42: therefore, there is no contradiction between the possibility of being wrong (and thus having to change one's view) and saying that one is right (ie that one's view is true)
sylvyr79: this is not a contradiction...it's just, you act on your best theories until you have better ones
curi42: k

Kinda abrupt end, hope ya learned something, *waves*

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

I tried to post this to the TCS list, but it was rejected. -sigh- Anyway, enjoy:

The better you know someone, and the better they know you, the more intimate things it is safe to tell them. Which meshes amazingly well with a gradual approach to relationships, and extremely poorly with any sort of discontinuous jump.

By the way, this is important to parents who've messed up in the past, and now have an older child but little relationship. "Come tell me all about you, so we can catch up," would be just the wrong thing to say.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comment (1)

i'm reading my old TCS posts. one esp cool feature, is rediscovering good ideas *of my own* that i'd forgotten. here's one:

Sometimes there are arguments about what things should be offered to kids. Some people acknowledge they should let their kids try things the kids might like, but then deny that kids might like ice cream, or chocolate, or whatever. And then people debate this. But doesn't the very fact that the item is worth debating, mean the kid *might* like it? By the very act of arguing about it, the anti-ice cream people lose the argument.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

looking at more old TCS posts. here's an important idea, though not one I'd forgotten about:

Fallibillity, does not imply any particular mistake. No real-life failure can ever be blamed on fallibility. which may sound kinda "duh". but ppl ignore this quite often.

for example, sum1 might mention hitting his kid once, and say he was taken over by passion (a diff error) and that mistakes happen (bingo). the fact that mistakes happen, in no way excuses this particular one, whihc was avoidable.

the problem with the passion excuse is all the passion means is that he was in the right environment to act on a facet of his personality that he usually doesn't.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Imagine you are a child, interacting with your mother. Your mother is doing things to hurt you. And you say, "Mommy, stop hurting me! You can be my mommy without hurting me." And just imagine if your mother said "no".

Your claim, notably, is the same claim as TCS makes -- that it is possible and desirable to parent without hurting our children. And the mother's "no" is any position that contradicts the TCS claim.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sarah Fitz-Claridge has taken to deleting comments i post on takingchildrenseriously.com, including this one (see end of post for Henry's comment and my now-deleted reply). why? she says "no meta" and won't give any more details, like pointing out what bit of the comment is allegedly meta. also she says this rule applies to everyone. so maybe i'll point out various other posts with meta to her and see if she deletes them...

I was also put on moderation so comments I write on that site have to be approved to be posted. However, anonymous posts are not moderated. So, like, what the fuck? I logged out, have to type my sig myself now, and will have a harder time finding new comments to read without using the feature that tags new ones for me. Umm, great, she's wasted some of my time, for no reason. *sigh*

UPDATE: all anonymous posts now get moderated too. lovely. if you make a new account you can post with that unmoderated, though.

anyway, henry's comment and my now-deleted reply (judge for yourself how worthy of deletion my reply is, i suppose):

Common Preference is a flawed idea

I certainly like what TCS stands for. Quite literally, actually. I think Taking Children Seriously is a great name, and it really sums up nicely how I think we should treat children: simply take them seriously, just as we take adults seriously. I agree with TCS's most important themes, which I consider to be: don't coerce your kids (well, I think there are rare exceptions where it's good to coerce kids or adults), be creative at solving problems (generally work from the assumption that there is a solution), be skeptical about traditional education, use argument and advice rather than force, look for common decisions which make all involved happy. I attended a lecture once by Sarah Fitz-Claridge about TCS, and she has really good and, I believe, true things to say about how to deal with children. So I much appreciate her insights and analysis of the mistakes so many people make in dealing with children. Mostly boiling down to not taking them seriously and using coercion instead of reason.

But ironically, while I broadly agree with most of the TCS conclusions, it strikes me that the way it is typically philosophically defended is logically flawed on several issues. Some other time perhaps I will argue that TCS'ers are somewhat mistaken about the link between TCS and fallibilism. Here I wish to argue that the TCS notion of common preferences is thoroughly confused. This is evidenced by my analysis of two articles on this site showing that the following three different and incompatible definitions of "common preference" are used interchangeably:

1.A common policy that improves the position of everyone.
2.A common policy that everyone involved prefers to all alternatives considered.
3.A common policy that everyone is satisfied with.

Definitions 1 and 2 follow from the first sentence of the article above:

"Common preferences are policies that all parties after a successfully resolved disagreement prefer to their initial positions: everyone gets what they want."

It is clear that the first part of the sentence implies definition 1. The second part ("everyone gets what they want") seems to suggest definition 2, but this is less clear. However, the following sentences clearly does suggests definition 2:

"To put it simply, you keep making bold conjectures and subjecting them to criticism until you have a solution that everyone involved wholeheartedly prefers to any other candidate solutions any of you can think of at the time. (We call that a common preference, the preference you have in common.)".

This is from the article Introduction to Taking Children Seriously (TCS) . Another except from that article:

" 'Does it have to be a question of being right? Am I actually wrong for wanting to go to a Chinese restaurant, or is that just my taste?' countered Wendy. It is not the fact that you like Chinese food that is the problem, it is that you are not taking into account the fact that the smell of Chinese food makes me feel physically sick. Let me put it another way: if neither of us changes our mind and we don't resolve the disagreement, is it not the case that at least one of us is going to get hurt?"

Apparently the aim here is to find something that everyone can agree to without anybody feeling hurt. This implies definition 3. Now let's go through these definitions.

It's often easy to find a common policy in accordance with 1. Suppose we are all very hungry. I prefer to go to a Chinese restaurant, while my friend doesn't like Chinese food. But since she is very hungry, having a Chinese dinner still does improve her situation, since she'd rather eat something she doesn't like than stay hungry. So we eat Chinese. According to the definition this is a common preference. But of course this is a totally useless definition, because defined this way a common preference isn't a good result at all. Although both our positions have improved, going to a Greek restaurant, say, would have been a much better choice if my friend really loves Greek food and I like it only slightly less than Chinese food.

Definition 2 is obviously ludicrous in the context of how TCS'ers use the term. It's not ludicrous in the sense that such a common preference is impossible. Sometimes it does happen that, say, all in a group prefer to go to the same restaurant. That's a true common preference. But what makes this definition ludicrous is the fact that it is inconsistent with the TCS idea that one can find a common preference in general. This is obviously untrue, a case of wishful thinking. If I prefer Chinese food and my friend prefers Greek food we have different preferences not a common one. The fact that we may be mistaken about our own preferences is irrelevant, for it remains that there is no logical reason to assume people generally have the same preference.

Definition 3 is the most realistic definition. And in practice that indeed seems to be the TCS attitude. Try to find a policy that everyone is happy with, taking into account everybody's preferences. Though I slightly prefer Chinese food to Greek food, I will be quite happy if we go to the Greek restaurant, because I still like Greek food, and I want my dinner partner to be happy as well. So, the idea is good: if there is disagreement try to be rational, creative, loving, etc. and come up with a solution that everyone can live with. Normal people call this a compromise. TCS'ers call this a common preference. But that term is, of course, quite wrong. Agreeing to a solution other than your own preference, to make others happy, is not a preference, much less a common preference. This may sound horrible, but TCS'ers live in the same world as normal people, and therefore they too regularly make group decisions via compromise, voting or whatever. Their third way exists only in Alice in Wonderland. Unless you redefine the word preference to mean a preference for maximum utility for the group, in which case all would have the same preference if they can agree on all individual utilities for all alternatives. But that is not what the word preference normally means. But, again, the attitude is good. In their illogical search for a common preference I imagine TCS'ers will tend to find the best and wisest compromises, making everybody happy. And that's good.

A last comment. One thing I'm missing in TCS is the idea that everybody doesn't have to do the same thing. If you're in a group you don't always have to find a "common preference" (compromise). If the majority very much wants to do one thing and one person has a very different preference, that individual can simply choose not to join and let the rest of the group do what it wants. Or the group can split into two groups, or whatever. This may be much better in many cases than looking for a single "common preference" for the whole group.

by Henry Sturman on 2003/08/22 - 11:19 GMT | reply to this comment




Re: Common Preference is a flawed idea

Henry Sturman,

Definition 1 is, I agree, basically useless. Definition 3 is ambiguous, and hinges on what 'satisfied' means. I agree it could easily be interpreted to include compromises, which should not be deemed common preferences. so i'd throw definition 3 out too, and chastise any TCSers who write like it's true.

Before I continue, I want to caution you against paying attention to things like 'how most TCSers tend to use the term.' Most TCSers are usually fairly imprecise. And most of them don't get the all subtle or deep bits of TCS either. Even many of the articles on this site are not precise at all (I happen to think this policy is bad.) So anyway, I suggest instead of paying attention to the general attitude of TCSers towards a subject, you should look for the most precise and best couple things you can find, and analyse those.

Definition 2 is basically the TCS one. An alternative way to explain what a common preference is, is: a solution to a dispute in which no parties are coerced.

The point of a common preference is not that everyone orders lemon chicken (and thus has a preference for lemon chicken in common). Rather, it is more likely we will both prefer that you order lemon chicken while I order broccoli beef (or whatever it is we like). This is a common preference even though we order different things, because we each prefer that is how ordering should happen.

So in the case of one person splitting off from a group to do something else, that often is a common preference. the group may well prefer the person to split, while it continues. and the person may well prefer to split, while the group continues. (possible stumbling points would be if the group needed all its members for some reason, or the person didn't want to do his thing alone, in which case it'd take more creativity to solve).

or with Jack who wants greek food, and Jill who wants chinese, various common preferences could be:

- they each go eat alone (this is what people who aren't good friends might do)

-or-

- they each care about each other, and want to eat together, and also don't want the other to be happy, and thus agree to:
- get greek now (and maybe chinese next time). this could be a CP if Jill doesn't want to eat alone, and doesn't want to drag jack to chinese, and doesn't think ill of greek food, and basically prefers this to all rival plans.
- same as last, but with them getting chinese b/c they determine food choice is more important to jill than jack
- get takeout from one or both places
- stay home if they decide the food's not worth the hassle, and plan to each get the kind of food they like some time the other is busy.

BTW friends do this *all the time*. initially they want to go different places or otherwise do different things, and then they come to agree on one plan. it is this plan about what should happen (which includes what everyone involved should do, and takes into account everyone's preferences) that becomes common in a common preferences. (and before i sound like a socialist, i should emphasise that far and away the most prevalent kind of CP, that happens all the time, is for people to decide to both do their own thing, individually. like i'm working on my computer while someone else is downstairs, doing something else, and we're both fine with this state of affairs)

-- Elliot Temple
http://curi.blogspot.com/

by Elliot Temple on 2003/08/22 - 18:50 GMT | reply to this comment

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