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It means things like not giving preferential treatment to one sex or gender over another when there isn't an actual reason for doing so, and finding ways to reduce disadvantages faced by one sex or gender even if they are (incidental) consequences of real differences.

gjm already stated what he meant by gender equality quite clearly. I see no justification for putting words in his mouth.

To stick my oar in for a minute, as I am wont to do, I didn't find your comment offensive. That which is true should never be offensive, and those are some real metrics by which gender inequality can be measured.

However I didn't get "humorous". I thought it was intended to be serious, though I could interpret the intended message in several different ways - interpretations to which my responses could range anywhere from "total agreement" to "not even worth engaging", so I decided to see where the discussion went before joining in anywhere.

I think if the humour was intended to arise from "this is not the type of list you expected", you might be underestimating how frequently points about "gender inequalities which disadvantage males" are made in public discussions of anything related to gender equality.

I'm not criticizing your tone - I think tone-policing is rarely useful unless someone's being an egregious dickhead - so I guess I'm just criticizing your comedy.

The problem with your moral theory, as I see it, is that it also fails to meet (c), because there could be many plausible, but horrific in my view, arguments you could make [...]

I was expecting this response either from you or someone else, but didn't want to make my previous comment too long (a habit of mine) by preempting it. It's a totally valid next question, and I've considered it before.

Criterion (c) is that the principles of my moral system must not lead when taken to their logical extent to a society that I, the proponent of the system, would consider dystopian. The crux of my counter-argument is that most of what you'd consider horrific, I would also probably consider horrific, as would most people - and humans don't do well in societies that horrify them. Taking any path that leads to a "dystopia" is inconsistent with the goal.

(I'm trying to prevent this comment from turning into a prohibitively massive essay so I'll try to restrain myself and keep this broad - please feel free to request further detail about anything I say.)

Eugenics, first of all, doesn't work. (I take you to mean "negative eugenics" - killing or sterilizing those you consider undesirable, rather than "positive eugenics" - tinkering with DNA to produce kids with traits you find desirable, which hasn't really been tried and only very recently became a real possibility to consider.) We suck at guessing whether a given individual's progeny will be "good humans" or not. Too many factors, too many ways a human can be valuable, and even then all you have is a baby with a good genetic start in life - there's still all the "nurture" to come. It's like herding cats with a blindfold on. I could go on for pages about all the ways negative eugenics doesn't work - but say we were capable of making useful judgments about which humans would produce "bad" offspring. You'd then have to make the case that the principle "negative eugenics is fine to do" furthers the goal (helping humanity to survive) to such an extent that it outweighs the necessary hits taken by other goal-furthering principles like "don't murder people", "don't maim people", "don't give too much power to too few people" and, on an even more basic level, "don't suppress empathy".

Do you and I consider negative eugenics "horrific" because we think we (or at least our genitals) would be on the chopping block? Probably not, though we might fear it a bit. It horrifies us because we feel empathy for those who would suffer it. Empathy is hard-wired in most people. Measure your brain activity while you watch me getting hit with a hammer and your pain centers will show activity. You can feel for me (though measurably less if we're not the same race - these brains evolved in little tribes and are playing catch-up with the very recent states of national and global inter-dependence). Giving weight - a lot of weight - to principles protective or supportive of empathy is consistent with the goal because empathy helps us survive as a species. Numb or suppress it too much and we're screwed. Run counter to it too much without successfully suppressing it and you've got a society full of horrified, outraged people. Not great for social co-operation.

Which brings me to your other example, assigning jobs based on ability without regard to choice. Again, won't work. Gives you a society full of miserable resentful people who don't give their forced-jobs the full passion or creativity of which they are capable, or actively direct their energies towards trying to get re-assigned to the job they want. Would go further into this but this is already too long!

I know those two were only examples on your part but my point is that the question "does this help humanity to survive" is always a case of trying to balance "does it help in this way to an extent that outweighs how it harms in these other ways". That has to be taken into account when considering a "horrible scenario". People having empathy - caring for and helping each other - helps us to survive. People being physically and mentally healthy ("happy" is a big part of both, by the way) helps. People having personal freedom to create and invent and try things helps. People being ambitious and competing and seeking to become better helps. We need principles that take all that value into account - and sometimes those principles are going to be up against each other and we have to look for the least-worst answer. It's never simple, we get it wrong all the time, but we must deal with it. If morality was easy we wouldn't have spent the last ten thousand years arguing about it.

Now, I noticed that elsewhere you said it was bothering you that people were going off on tangents to your main issues, so I'll try to circle back to your original point. You're trying to devise a framework for evaluating a moral system, and I do think your criteria raise some useful lines of inquiry, but I don't see how it's possible to "evaluate" something without expressing or defining what it is you want it to do. My evaluation of my hairdryer depends totally on whether I want it to dry my hair or tell me amusing anecdotes. Evaluation comes up "pretty good" on the former and "totally crap" on the latter. Now "figuring out a way to evaluate a moral system" is something I'm all for and the best help I have to give with that is to suggest that you define what it is you want a moral system to do first - a base on which build your evaluation framework.

[Edited to add: I got through two paragraphs on eugenics without bringing up the you-know-whozis! Where should I pick up my medal?]

Hey, I appreciate your ability to engage constructively with a critique of your views! Rare gift, that.

if your theory rests on arbitrary principles, then you admit that it's nothing more than a subjective guide

As other people have pointed out, maybe we should consider here what we mean by "arbitrary". In your initial statement you said that non-arbitrary was that which was derived logically from facts on which everyone agrees. So to avoid ambiguity maybe we should just say that criterion (b) is "the principle(s) of the moral system must be derived logically from facts on which everyone agrees".

Now, there are no facts, as fact relates to this discussion, on which everyone agrees, and there never will be. There are, of course, facts, but among the seven-odd billion human inhabitants of the planet you will always find people to disagree with any of them. There are literally still people who think the sun revolves around the earth. I swear that's not hyperbole - google "modern geocentrism".

(By the way, you also said "if a moral theory rests on an arbitrary and subjective principle, the theory's advocates will never be able to convince people who do not share that principle of their theory's validity" - but millions of religious converts give the lie to that. Subjectivity is demonstrably no barrier to persuasion - not saying that's a good thing but it's a real thing.)

So say we cut (b) down to "logically derived from facts". I think that's useful. Facts are truly, objectively real, total consensus isn't. But upon which facts, then, do we start to build our moral system? You state that your chosen basis is the fact that not everyone agrees about moral authority. As gjm pointed out, there seems to be a gap between "we humans can't agree on what constitutes moral authority" and "nobody should impose their morality on any other person in a way that limits their freedom". After all, despite our differing views on what is or is not moral, most people do believe in the basic idea that it's justifiable to constrain the freedom of others in at least some situations.

But I'll leave that bit aside for now to go back to the issue of fact as a basis for a moral system. Your fact isn't the only fact. It's also a fact that some people are physically stronger and smarter than others. Some people base their moral system on that fact, and say that might is right, the strong have an absolute right to rule the weak, will to power and so on and on. Douchetarians, basically. There are many facts upon which one could build a moral system. How do I pick one, with some defensible basis for my choice among many?

I take as my founding fact that fact which appears to be the most fundamental, the most basically applicable to humanity, the most basically applicable to life - that it wants to keep being alive. Find me a fact about humanity more bedrock-basic than that and I swear I'll rethink my moral system.

This brings me back to criterion (a), consistency.

how do you balance justice vs honesty vs liberty? If what you are saying is "it all comes down to the particular situation", then you are not describing a moral theory but personal judgement.

The principle - there is only one - is "what serves the species". That is, what allows us to keep living with each other and co-operating with each other, because that's necessary to our continued existence. Every other moral principle is a branch on that trunk. Honesty, justice, personal liberty, civic responsibility, mercy, compassion - we came up with those concepts, evolved them, because they can all be applied to meet the goal. So the non-subjective answer to "how do you balance principles in any given situation" is "what balance best serves the goal of keeping society ticking?". Now that's difficult to decide but there's a major difference between an objectively correct answer that's difficult to find and there being no objectively correct answer.

So do I reject criterion (a)? Not exactly. What I think is that by starting with the moral principles as a tool for moral choice-making you're skipping a step. Why worry about making moral choices at all unless there's some reason to do so? The first step is to define the goal to which making moral choices must tend. Once you define that, you can have multiple principles which may seem to be sometimes in conflict with each other - the consistency comes from the goal. The principles are to be applied in a way which is always consistent with meeting the goal. Now, some people say the goal is "maximize happiness". You might say your goal falls somewhere in that band - or you might go all out and say the goal is "maximize freedom", period. I say we can be neither happy nor free if we're not here and if we're not able to successfully live together we won't be here. I say start at the start - keep ourselves existing, and then work in as much happiness and freedom as we can manage.

And just to be totally clear, I am saying that sometimes "maintaining personal liberty inviolate" is not the way to meet the goal "keep humanity existing". "Disregard personal liberty and afford it no value" is also not the way to meet the goal. But "personal freedom entirely unrestricted" is simply not a survival strategy. Forget humans - chimps punish or prevent behaviors that endanger the group. Every social animal I'm aware of does. And for all our wonderful evolved brains and tools and self-awareness and power of language, that's still what we are - social animals.

Hi ArisC! Gratz on your first post. A few thoughts:

I can't agree with your b) criterion - non-arbitrary. The fundamental principle has to be arbitrary or you end up in a turtles-all-the-way-down situation where each principle rest upon another. "The fundamental principle is to not infringe on the liberty of others". Why not? "Because everyone agrees there's no way to prove moral authority". No they don't. Billions don't. "Well they should, because it's true." Well so what if it is? "That means you have no right to impose moral authority on anyone" What's this "no right" of which you speak, what does that mean?

This "no-one has the right" statement surely implies the existence of another principle - "it is right to be just/fair, it is wrong to be unjust/unfair". Having the right to something means having it fairly. If "don't infringe on personal liberty" is not based upon any other principle, then it is itself arbitrary. If it is based upon an ideal of "don't do unjust things, (such as assuming moral authority)" then you've got yourself another, even deeper principle. And that could cause some issues with your a) criterion, consistency, because it's possible to imagine scenarios where "injustice is wrong" and "interfering with personal liberty is wrong" are in conflict - in fact we deal with those scenarios every day in the real world. And speaking of the consistency criterion:

if a theory consists of a number of principles that contradict each other, there will be situations where the theory will suggest contradictory actions - hence failing its purpose as a tool to enable choice making.

Surely a moral system fails of its purpose as "a tool for choice-making" if its comprising principles - or principle, in the libertarianism case - won't actually cover a whole range of moral-choice scenarios? To pick an example at random, imagine an honesty-based payment system for an online product. The site says "please pay whatever you think this is worth". You happen to know that the site needs $5 per customer to make the business profitable. You actually believe the value of the product to be $10. How much do you pay? Or take the old Trolley Problem, where you have choice between allowing five kids to die by inaction vs. killing one through your own act. I don't see how "do not infringe on other people's liberty" is a useful tool for making either of those choices without really stretching the definitions of "infringe" and "liberty" to breaking point. "Don't infringe on people's liberty" can only inform choices where someone's liberty is at stake - to re-frame all moral decisions as centering on someone's "liberty" would, again, seem to me to require torturing the definition of liberty.

Now I know this isn't answering your question about moral systems that meet your criteria but all I can say to that is that I don't accept your first two criteria at all. The first I've discussed. As for the second, I think that the basic idea of authority - the designation of certain individuals as rule-makers and rule-enforcers by group consensus - is justifiable. It's part of my moral system.

My bedrock principle is "survival of the human species". It is arbitrary - why care about the survival of humanity? - but it is also based in reality. We have basic biological urges to survive, to procreate (most of us) and to nurture our offspring so that they also survive and procreate. Most of us want the species to keep going. I do. So that's where I start. We have to live with each other as individuals to survive as a species. That's the second level, and I think that's also clearly based in fact. And from there a whole slew of tertiary principles arise based on what makes it possible for us to live and co-operate with each other. Justice, honesty, value for life, mutual tolerance and yes, personal liberty too. They are not "consistent" in the way I understand you to use the word, because they have to be balanced against each other in any given situation to achieve the goal - survival of the species. They do, as far as I can see, lead when taken to their logical extent to a society that is not dystopian - not perfect, but pretty functional. Optimal balancing is something we've been arguing about for millennia but we've done well enough so far that we are still here, talking about morality on the internet.

Of all the different explanations and interpretations people have been giving in this thread this is the most satisfying to my mathematically illiterate brain. It's troublesome for me to grasp how 0.999... isn't always just a bit smaller than 1 because my brain wants to think that even an infinitely tiny difference is still a difference. But when you put it like that - there's nowhere between the two where you can draw a line between them - it seems to click in. 0.999... hugs 1 so tight that you can't meaningfully separate them.

I would think that for the purposes of the poll that doesn't count, because it's more a "guided thinking" thing - you're helping yourself to organize your thoughts by framing your problem as an imaginary dialogue. I do it too, with mixed results (I sometimes just end up scolding myself which I don't think is particularly constructive). But I would think it's qualitatively different to an actual dialogue with another mind which has at least the potential to introduce solutions or perspectives that you would not have come up with on your own. Maybe you should create a similar poll to see how many people talk to themselves and whether it helps!

Cool, another one! I'm supposed to be sleeping now rather than working, so I can engage with this.

(b), "there are mysterious forces at work here"

we would have to multiply by infinity and that wouldn't prove anything because we already know such operations are suspect.

Infinity is weird, and it makes math weird. I think a fuzzy version of this belief is pretty widespread - look what you get when you do an image search for "divide by zero", for example. For me, and I suspect for a lot of people with a very little general math knowledge, "infinity" is a stop sign. Inquiry ends, shoulders are shrugged, hands are thrown up. "Of course it doesn't appear to make sense - it's got infinity it it!".

I don't remember where I got this notion but it must have been early, because I remember seeing a version of the "disguise a division by zero > 1=2" trick in a book (Fermat's Last Theorem by Simon Singh, if anyone's interested) when I was about 14 and being baffled by it, and going over and over it trying to find the mistake. When I gave up and read on, and saw the explanation of how one of the canceled terms in the equation was zero, I was instantly satisfied. "Oh, of course. It divides by zero which is a sneaky way of introducing infinity to the mix - so naturally the result makes no sense."

This is one of those situations where a little incomplete knowledge is actually worse than none - a person who hadn't ever heard about the infinity-makes-everything-weird "rule" could see something like 0.999... = 1 and keep digging, instead of saying "yeah, that's infinity for you, what can you do".

The idea that infinity is some sort of magical spell that you can cast upon "real" math and turn it into a frog (using real in the everyday sense, not the math-sense) is obviously an irrational thought-stopper. It means you could present a false statement to me and I wouldn't question it so long as infinity was there to point to as the culprit.

(If you're able to quickly formulate an example of a superficially math-y looking proposition involving infinity that's actually total BS, that would be awesome - I could use it in future conversations about the topic.)

By the way, I'm not talking about some version of me in the distant past - I realized that I use "infinity makes everything weird" as a thought-terminating cliche five minutes ago. I didn't realize I was exempting mathematics from the same sort of bias-questioning rationality I try to apply to everything else until you pointed it out.

So, thanks for that - I still may not understand why 0.999... = 1, or how dividing by zero leads to results like 1=2, but at least from now on I won't let a non-answer like "infinity did it!" kill my curiosity.

It's awesome that you guys are really considering ways to incorporate changes people want.

I wonder, since you're going to have to put a lot of work into the refurbishing project and resources are finite, would it be worth generating some kind of survey for members to take about what kind of features/alterations/options they'd most like to see? I ask because it occurs to me that soliciting ideas in open threads, while absolutely useful as far as encouraging discussion and exchange of ideas goes, might present a patchy or unduly-slanted picture of what the majority of members want. Prolific commenters (like me!) might dominate the discussion, or certain ideas might look more important because they generate a lot of discussion. A survey of some sort might give you clearer data.

That's not to say you should necessarily do things because the majority want them, this isn't a democracy as far as I'm aware and some popular requests might be unworkable. It just could be useful to know. Of course you're better placed to determine if it's worth the effort.

(Also, this isn't in any way prompted by Raemon's point about the link posts - it was your reply about possible implementation options that put it my head).

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