utility is contextual



I first saw Zach Tellman use this term. Not sure if he invented it, or found it somewhere else.

Premise / my interpretation: it’s useless to judge utility abstracted from context.

Instead, let’s split “statements” into definitions and experience reports. A definition defines a concept as crisply as possible. An experience report applies a set of definitions to a problem, shares the effects, and judges their desirability. A definition is objective (a priori), an experience report is subjective. Utility can be judged as part of an experience.

Don’t push an abstraction on your friends without qualification. You can only do that if you’re a tyrant. Don’t be a tyrant.

Rather, when you want to introduce an abstraction, consider why it’s useful. Build up a nexus of examples. Then ask your friends to judge for themselves. To try your tool or abstraction—to see if it’s useful to them in context.