Comments on “Reasonableness is meaningful activity”

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The meaning of meaning

James 2020-11-29

This fits what I’ve been thinking about in terms of the meaning of “meaning.” Meaning is a connection between things: between words and what they refer to, between actions and intentions, etc. Reasonableness preserves these connections, even if it doesn’t always attend to all of them (e.g. butterfly effects).

Rationality severs most of these connections through abstraction. That has the paradoxical effect of making a rational models applicable to a larger number of situations at the cost of being less applicable to any particular one of them. And it’s more than just not attending to connections that don’t matter in the context — some of them may be supremely important in the actual context, but the model can’t capture them and would break down if it tried.

A classic example is that utilitarianism has trouble incorporating “innocence” into its calculations of whether to kill one person to save others, but most people would consider that an extremely important consideration!

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