The Twelve Virtues of Rationality

January 2010

in Self-mastery

I hesitantly try to summarize what I find already amazingly condensed and succinct. But at the risk of breaking the virtue of simplicity, here are the Twelve Virtues of Rationality. But don’t stop at this summary, read the full article yourself (it isn’t long!) by Eliezer Yudkowsky. I highly recommend it. The Twelve Virtues are:

  1. Curiosity – the burning itch
  2. Relenquishment – “That which can be destroyed by the truth should be.” -P. C. Hodgell
  3. Lightness – follow the evidence wherever it leads
  4. Evenness – resist selective skepticism; use reason, not rationalization
  5. Argument – do not avoid arguing; strive for exact honesty; fairness does not mean balancing yourself evenly between propositions
  6. Empiricism – knowledge is rooted in empiricism and its fruit is prediction; argue what experiences to anticipate, not which beliefs to profess
  7. Simplicity – is virtuous in belief, design, planning, and justification; ideally: nothing left to take away, not nothing left to add
  8. Humility – take actions, anticipate errors; do not boast of modesty; no one achieves perfection
  9. Perfectionism – seek the answer that is *perfectly* right – do not settle for less
  10. Precision – the narrowest statements slice deepest; don’t walk but dance to the truth
  11. Scholarship – absorb the powers of science
  12. [The void] (the nameless virtue) – “More than anything, you must think of carrying your map through to reflecting the territory.”

From The Twelve Virtues of Rationality by Eliezer Yudkowsky.

The final one deserves the full quote that Eliezer gives from Miyamoto Musashi from The Book of Five Rings:

“The primary thing when you take a sword in your hands is your intention to cut the enemy, whatever the means. Whenever you parry, hit, spring, strike or touch the enemy’s cutting sword, you must cut the enemy in the same movement. It is essential to attain this. If you think only of hitting, springing, striking or touching the enemy, you will not be able actually to cut him. More than anything, you must be thinking of carrying your movement through to cutting him.”

Your sword is rationality, and your enemy is the ignorance you use your sword to strike, always cutting to the truth, always trying to make your map reflects the territory. This virtue is unnamed because if you overly think of it as the technique with which you use your sword you risk error — perhaps the technique is wrong and you’ll never find out because you’ll focus on using that particular technique, and not of cutting to the truth.