Re: [sl4] normative language is rational

From: Petter Wingren-Rasmussen (
Date: Sun Feb 15 2009 - 06:32:13 MST

On Fri, Feb 13, 2009 at 3:29 PM, Johnicholas Hines <> wrote:

> My example was "We should donate to the Methuselah Foundation's M
> prize." I don't understand how you could call this descriptive
> language. It is grammatically and semantically advocating an action to
> the group.

Sorry for being unclear. I was referring to the discussion you bring up
later on.
"(Donating to Friendly AGI research) has a better (cost/benefit ratio)." is
a descriptive sentence imo.

> > Imho normative language(according to my defintion) doesnt have much use
> > outside of oppression and wartime propaganda.
> I think you underestimate the frequency of commonsense language like
> "Should I pick up some milk at the store?".

With your given example I cant see a big difference, since its not a very
charged message. It doesnt really matter if you use your normative question
or one of these which are more descriptive "Do you want me to buy some
milk?" or "Are we out of milk?" will both bring the bring a similar respone
both emotionally and contentwise.

> You make three claims about this "descriptivization" transformation:
> 1. It will be somewhat longer -- Your example argues that we should be
> brief.

That was on purpose. In situations where it doesnt matter much its offcourse
better to go for the shortest answer.

> 2. It will be less provocative -- Is this good? We're talking about
> persuasion here.

Imo, yes definitely. Provocation makes people defensive. To change something
permanently its better to give insight.

> 3. It will have a higher chance of invoking change in the one you're
> talking to.
> The third point is the crucial one. Is the transformed normative
> message, now grammatically descriptive, more persuasive than the
> original? I disagree, but I can respect your opinion.

Thanks :) Maybe i was too dogmatic and provocative in my first post.
There are situations where normative is better, for instance talking to
someone without the capability or wish to understand (for example to
children) or in situations where there isnt time for discussions (for
example at an emergency ward or during a military operation).

> I think if the group tends to avoid grammatically normative speech,
> then it will drift towards more speculation and prediction and less
> thinking about concrete actions that we might take now.

Definitely, but when/if action starts it will be with a higher motivation
and last much longer.

On this list I think we have the time to discuss and there isnt a need for
immediate action afaik, so I think descriptive will be better in this

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