Modest Epistemology

TagLast edit: 8 Apr 2021 6:10 UTC by Yoav Ravid

Modest Epistemology is the claim that average opinions are more accurate that individual opinions, and individuals should take advantage of this by moving toward average opinions, even in cases where they have strong arguments for their own views and against more typical views. (Another name for this concept is “the wisdom of crowds”—that name is much more popular outside of LessWrong.) In terms of inside view vs outside view, we can describe modest epistemology as the belief that inside views are quite fallible and outside views much more robust; therefore, we should weigh outside-view considerations much more heavily.

In LessWrong parlance, “modesty” and “humility” should not be confused. While Eliezer lists “humility” as a virtue, he provides many arguments against modesty (most extensively, in the book Inadequate Equilibria; but also in many earlier sources.) Humility is the general idea that you should expect to be fallible. Modest Epistemology is specifically the view that, due to your own fallibility, you should rely heavily on outside-view. Modest epistemology says that you should trust average opinions more than your own opinion, even when you have strong arguments for your own views and against more typical views.

Historically, Robin Hanson has argued in favor of epistemic modesty and outside-view, while Eliezer has argued against epistemic modesty and for a strong inside views. For example, this disagreement played a role in The Foom Debate. Eliezer and Hanson both agree that Aumann’s Agreement Theorem implies that rational agents should converge to agreement; however, they have very different opinions about whether/​how this breaks down in the absence of perfect rationality. Eliezer sees little reason to move one’s opinion toward that of an irrational person’s. Hanson thinks irrational agents still benefit from moving their opinions toward each other. One of Hanson’s arguments involves pre-priors.

External Posts:

Immodest Caplan by Robin Hanson

Related Sequences: Inadequate Equilibria

Related Pages: modesty, Humility, Inside/​Outside View, Egalitarianism, Modesty argument, Disagreement

The Modesty Argument

Eliezer Yudkowsky10 Dec 2006 21:42 UTC
52 points
40 comments10 min readLW link

Against Modest Epistemology

Eliezer Yudkowsky14 Nov 2017 20:40 UTC
60 points
49 comments15 min readLW link

Inad­e­quacy and Modesty

Eliezer Yudkowsky28 Oct 2017 21:51 UTC
123 points
81 comments18 min readLW link

In defence of epistemic modesty

Thrasymachus29 Oct 2017 20:00 UTC
32 points
22 comments36 min readLW link

You can­not be mis­taken about (not) want­ing to wirehead

Kaj_Sotala26 Jan 2010 12:06 UTC
44 points
79 comments3 min readLW link

Time­less Modesty?

abramdemski24 Nov 2017 11:12 UTC
16 points
2 comments3 min readLW link

Against Shoot­ing Your­self in the Foot

Eliezer Yudkowsky16 Nov 2017 20:13 UTC
41 points
3 comments3 min readLW link

How to use “philo­soph­i­cal ma­jori­tar­i­anism”

jimmy5 May 2009 6:49 UTC
13 points
9 comments4 min readLW link

“I know I’m bi­ased, but...”

[deleted]10 May 2011 20:03 UTC
32 points
21 comments3 min readLW link

The Proper Use of Doubt

Eliezer Yudkowsky6 Aug 2007 20:29 UTC
73 points
33 comments3 min readLW link

Ngo and Yud­kowsky on AI ca­pa­bil­ity gains

18 Nov 2021 22:19 UTC
127 points
61 comments39 min readLW link

Com­mon sense as a prior

Nick_Beckstead11 Aug 2013 18:18 UTC
52 points
215 comments27 min readLW link

Christen­son’s “Episte­mol­ogy of Disagree­ment: The Good News”

Aidan_Kierans16 May 2021 3:58 UTC
1 point
0 comments5 min readLW link
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