Monthly Archives: March 2014

First Principles

I was struck by this line in Debt: The First 5000 Years, “His conclusion, which he set forth at the very beginning of his Treatise on Money … was more or less the only conclusion one could come to if one started not from first principles but from a careful examination of the historical record…”

It reminded me of Descartes, sitting in a hot room, trying to establish a system of philosophy based on first principles. The man was nutso and completely wrong, so very, very wrong. I had to read and re-read Descartes for many philosophy classes and the more I learned, the more I hated it.

The line also reminded me of Machiavelli, who classified governments based on what he had seen, rather than on Plato’s abstract tyrannies, democracies, and republics.

I hate Plato’s Forms almost as much as stuffy Descartes.

I have a strong distaste for anyone working from first principles. First principles are ahistorical and without context, so I find them useless. (Except in mathematics, which is all abstraction. But mathematicians should keep their ahistorical asses away from government.) Then there’s also all the harm they’ve caused, which I shall get into another time.

As a side note, programming is a weird interaction between the abstract and the world. We build these amazing things with programming. But programming itself is shuffling around abstractions, and creating abstractions on top of abstractions with frameworks that abstract a language that is an abstraction of an abstraction of an abstraction of binary.

My Intellectual Tradition

“It’s also not a coincidence that my critique of solutionism bears some resemblance to several critiques of the numerous earlier efforts to put humanity into too tight a straitjacket. Today’s straitjacket might be of the digital variety, but it’s hardly the first or the tightest. While the word “solutionism” may not have been used, many important thinkers have addressed its shortcomings, even if using different terms and contexts. I’m thinking, in particular, of Ivan Illich’s protestations against the highly efficient dehumanizing systems of professional schooling and medicine, Jane Jacobs’s attacks on the arrogance of urban planners, Michael Oakeshott’s rebellion against rationalists in all walks of human existence, Hans Jonas’s impatience with the cold comfort of cybernetics; and, more recently, James Scott’s concern with how states have forced what he calls “legibility” on their subjects. Some might add Friedrich Hayek’s opposition to central planners, with their inherent knowledge deficiency, to this list.” – Evgeny Morozov, To Save Everything, Click Here