GPT-2 Among the philosophers: Prompting a language bot with philosophical content

GPT-2 is a machine learning application designed for language modelling- that is predicting the word most likely to follow the proceeding string of words. It turns out that to be good at language modelling over diverse corpuses you’ve got to be very good at mimicking many things- including philosophy.

I prompted an online version of GPT-2 with a series of prompts taken from famous works of philosophy. I’ve picked some of the more interesting results. Some fall flat entertainingly, whereas others- like the Immanuel Kant quote- get the style perfect but lack only the meaning. The main philosophical interest in this exercise is a reminder the surface appearance of meaning guarantees nothing.

Reading some of the better ones can feel like you’re having a stroke. The writing feels coherent, so you keep searching for the meanin. Only, of course, there isn’t any.

The highlighted content is the prompts. The unhighlighted content is GPT-2’s response to the prompts.

You can play around with GPT-2 here:

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — -

Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Pure Reason

For how is it possible that the faculty of cognition should be awakened into exercise otherwise than by means of objects which affect our senses, and partly of them selves produce representations, partly rouse our powers of understanding into activity, to compare, to connect, or to separate these, and so to convert the raw material of our sensuous impressions into a knowledge of objects, which is called experience? If these substances which exist as causes of sensations and perception have their origin in the human faculty of judging, let us suppose that their origin derives from that of producing representations, and we should find that knowledge of objects is the cause of sensation. As soon as any intellectual faculty is awakened by any of these objects — that is, by any of the parts of the faculty of judging from sensory impressions — these representations — those objects which are in fact given to the minds of men to understand — are generated in the faculties of judging and understanding respectively, and all knowledge is derived from them. But, the faculty of reasoning from causes cannot be trained, since such causes are outside our senses and outside the range of our judgment. The cause of these objects, consequently, is outside

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — -

Willard Van Orman Quine, Two Dogmas of Empiricism

There are those who find it soothing to say that the analytic statements of the second class reduce to those of the first class, the logical truths, by definition; ‘bachelor,’ for example, is defined as ‘unmarried man.’ But how do we find that ‘bachelor’ is defined as ‘unmarried man’? Who defined it thus, and when? Are we to appeal to the nearest dictionary, and accept the lexicographer’s formulation as law? It may be asked; in so far as such a formulation is acceptable for the meaning of a statement, there is no objection to it for the meaning of an expression. In consequence the use of the same language and the same words for different purposes is an error of grammar, and is no excuse for it. There are others who contend that because the analytical form comes before the logical form, the true meaning of the statement ‘unmarried man’ cannot be known; but can any true meaning be known for any logical form of the expression ‘unmarried man’ which is not defined ?

That one statement may be defined as ‘unmarried man’ in this way, or that

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — -

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

1. The world is all that is the case.

2. There is no other way.

3. The world itself cannot be changed.

A similar idea was advanced in The Law of Sufficient Reason when the Greek philosopher Socrates says:

“… and we have not seen by a while that there exists any way by which the world itself can be changed either because it is not sufficient for our reason nor due to any error, nor by necessity or accident, or through accident or necessity, although we believe that it is the will of everything.”4

For there are many reasons that seem natural and rational, but because they are not, it is not possible to apply them consistently and systematically.

In this regard I shall suggest four main questions:

1. Who can alter the world? It is impossible for anybody to change it by chance. This idea was taught most clearly by the Stoics (the first generation of modern Stoics.)

2. Who is it that is free because of it? It is the will of the Father, inasmuch as man has given himself to God. The

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — -

Anselm of Canterbury, proslogion

A being none greater than which can be conceived of the universe.

A being none greater than which may be considered its own.

One being.

The universe as whole.

Aether, spirit.

This is the highest nature, and the soul of its selfsame nature.

There is nothing inferior to it, and nothing superior to it.

The essence or essence of nature, its nature.

The soul’s essence, its nature.

In nature the soul has in her power all that it desires to desire; of this she cannot give any; the only thing in her power is to desire to be; so that the soul is not equal to nature, even when it has the greatest of her powers. It gives all she receives. The soul becomes nature at first, and then after it ceases to receive. The same holds true of animals, and even that of men. That which it receives and exercises its powers in gives to it the very qualities of the opposite nature which are necessary to it. But it is not proper that the soul should be inferior to nature; for

— — — — — — — — — —

John Rawls, A Theory of Justice

Justice as fairness, it would seem, might make the most sense to take two very different courses of action: to try to eliminate it as much as possible, and to use it at all costs. And there’s a certain logic to this: You’ll always see the other side of an argument from the side of freedom rather than on the side of justice. You don’t want to see the opposing argument as a choice between evils — there’s something morally right and wrongly denied. And you don’t want to take what the person advocating the wrong is saying at face value.

So we often don’t see much of a discussion of morality on these discussions of economics, because people seem very interested in attacking and attacking and attacking again. And why shouldn’t they? For starters, if you can get around a few objections to the first way out, why shouldn’t you also get around many of them? I find most economics textbooks are either incoherent or completely wrong. But most people, and they include some very liberal members of our profession, are very comfortable doing their own reading, not in any way constrained by the established theory of economics, so that

If we take in our hand any Volume; of Divinity or School Metaphysics, for Instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract Reasoning concerning Quantity or Number? No. Does it contain any experimental Reasoning concerning Matter of Fact and Existence? No. Commit it then to the Flames: For it can contain nothing but Sophistry and Illusion.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — –

David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

If we take in our hand any Volume; of Divinity or School Metaphysics, for Instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract Reasoning concerning Quantity or Number? No. Does it contain any experimental Reasoning concerning Matter of Fact and Existence? No. Commit it then to the Flames: For it can contain nothing but Sophistry and Illusion. I will now proceed to inquire as to these particulars, whether we can get at them. For the same reason, though it has been proved by a long, many, and very well-travelled Book by me in the latter part of my Life, yet my Practice, my Practice, My Practice hath brought to nought that I had anticipated, which would have been the true cause of my Fall; and I shall be sorry but will venture to say, that no thing that I have done or learned, hath been the better for it: For I should never now have been as a Man, if I had had any knowledge whatever of the true Principles of things. And we can not doubt, but from certain Writings of the Old- Masters, that it was the

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — -

Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach

Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways the point is to change it from its existing shape or form. This change of form is due to the laws of physics; for as their laws do not determine any specific nature, they do not provide the material and intelligible shape for understanding. Thus the mind should be satisfied with only that part of which can be described by the ordinary understanding alone without further modification.

The understanding can only see something in its ordinary form, and only on its ordinary terms. This is evident the physical world and physical phenomena are in all ways like other objects (material, spiritual, and moral). The world is seen in an ordinary and ordinary way, but the object is merely a secondary product of the same processes of thought which create the same objects to exist. The understanding can only know what it thinks, cannot see what it perceives, can not understand the mental and affective states or qualities of things so clearly and clearly as this body. So long as the understanding retains the physical, moral, and vital powers of life, consciousness, and love, it is perfectly capable of perception and understanding as those

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Gottfried Leibniz, Dissertatio de Arte Combinatoria

if controversies were to arise, there would be no more need of disputation between two philosophers than between two calculators. For it would suffice for them to take their pencils in their hands and to sit down at the abacus, and say to each other (and if they so wish also to a friend called to help): Let us calculate together with those whom I consider as your friends that which is most important, while the rest you shall consider as a very slight thing.

So long as disagreement exists there cannot be anything wrong which anyone believes to be the case except for that which the others are capable of disputing. But at present that which the rest of us have the power to know is the true knowledge; and, indeed, such knowledge is known through all things and in all places. For just as if it were necessary for Plato to divide up the number 4 into twenty parts, in order that his own knowledge of the whole might be increased by the difference of the parts, so also is it for us to divide up the greatest part of the greatest knowledge into the two parts mentioned as a matter of fact. And while they

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Nick Bostrom, Superintelligence

The first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make, provided that the machine is docile enough to tell us how to keep it under control.


The power to make machines intelligently “unthink.” The first machine is the last invention that man need ever make, provided that the machine is docile enough to tell us how to keep it under control. An individual with such power is capable of making decisions about the world and its outcomes with accuracy and efficiency. The machine is not “programed.” Every decision has a certain type of outcome. If the machine is “programmed,” it can make some mistakes and misbehave with certain consequences. If the machine is programmed, there is no need to remember that it is a machine and hence not programmable. The fact that machines can “think” makes them programmable. This will change forever the nature of the computer world — in our minds and in our minds’ thoughts. Every computer program has three main components:

A program for an algorithm to run that generates the desired output. A program


Bonus content! Savage Garden, The Affirmation Song

I believe the sun should never set upon an argument
I believe we place our happiness in other people’s hands
I believe that junk food tastes so good because it’s bad for you
I believe your parents did the best job they knew how to do
I believe that beauty magazines promote low self esteem
I believe I’m loved when I’m completely by myself alone
 in my room
I believe my brain works backwards, my eyes are focused on how to solve certain problems
I believe I’m never the brightest guy in the room when I feel like crying I believe in nothing I believe that when it comes to dating I’m more attractive to everyone than my date and I don’t care what you do, because I can trust that someone is going to take the time to truly love me for exactly the person I am and be just as interested in dating me as I am in other people I never see
I believe that being nice to another person is like saying thank you to a child for making them happy
I believe I can do as I please without being judged by others
I believe that if you love me, you will like me

One thought on “GPT-2 Among the philosophers: Prompting a language bot with philosophical content

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s