There is a kind of rhetoric that I've seen crop up a couple of times now which I find kind of concerning. I think it stems from a misunderstanding of axiomatic thinking. 1/x


The template goes roughly like this:
- Person A wants to argue that X is the reason for phenomenon P
- A assumes Y which is basically a proxy for X
- A then proceeds to explain how Y implies X and how that lines up with P and thus our current understanding of the world, sidestepping pretty much all of the hard/interesting bits of the discussion.
This is a textbook of poor axiomatic thinking. 2/x

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By assuming Y, you've just kicked the can down the road and conveniently sidestepped the whole debate. How did you arrive at Y? What evidence supports it? Sure this kind of reasoning can still be useful in many ways, especially mathematically, but for it to apply you still have to argue that Y holds, which in a lot of cases, easily defeats the argument. 3/x

A famous example is the Chinese Room argument by John Searle. I don't go too deep, but it is an argument about whether computers could ever "Think", and Searle's argument rests upon the fact that, according to him, Biological objects have "Intentionality" and machines do not. 4/x

In "Minds, Brains, and Programs" he writes: "Whatever else intentionality is, it is a biological phenomenon, and it is as likely to be as causally dependent on the specific biochemistry of its origins as lactation, photosynthesis, or any other biological phenomena." I don't have time or energy to dive into the whole argument here, but my point is that this assumption of his trivially implies his conclusion but is itself, unfounded. 5/x

I have yet to find a piece of writing where Searle explains why biological entities have intentionality but machines don't. It's easy to prove something when you get to assume all the necessary conditions. I guess this then turns into an argument about which axioms are reasonable assume, which is, in a way, the whole point of the game. 6/x

My point is not that "everybody is doing it wrong here's how to fix it" there will never be a one size fits all rule for choosing axioms. But it is a rhetorical slight of hand I've seen multiple times now and I think people should be weary of that. something being "self evident" without having a robust backing should be a red flag when someone is making an argument. end

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