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People have diverse views about what they think is moral, what economic policy is the best, what legislation is good, etc. But all of these views are opinions. By sharing our opinions, (most) people are advocating for ideas that they believe is better - one that will create the most benefit and cause the least amount of suffering for people, overall.

Through experience, experiments, and discourse, we learn about how we can improve the system that we live in. For example, I think most would agree that humans (overall) suffered more 500 years ago when compared to today, because we've learned and changed our views over those years.

Given this, does a "best" system exist out there that humans just haven't figured out yet (one that produces the most social, moral, and economic, environmental, etc. benefit, with the least amount of harm)?

It is likely that a perfect system (one that has no harm and suffering) doesn't exist. But when I think about this mathematically, it makes sense to me that there does does exist a best system that maximizes benefit and minimizes suffering/harm. If so, with time and experience (like how we've changed over the past 500 years), will humans ever figure out this "best system" and reach an equilibrium where things overall are already the best they could be, and nothing can be improved anymore?

Please note that I'm not trying to ask a subjective question; I'm thinking of this as a mathematics optimization problem, where there exists a point that is the most optimized and things (overall) can't get "better".

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    This isn't asking a too broad question about what the optimal system is. It is asking a clear theoretical question of whether or not an optimized system could exist. We can answer with quotes from political theorist and philosophers who've looked at such a problem. – lazarusL Jul 24 at 14:40
  • @lazarusL Yeah, I think it would have been broad if I was asking something like "what would this best system look like", but I'm just wondering if optimization of all of the variables in a system is theoretically possible, or not. Or at least that's what's on my mind, if it doesn't come across that way – F16Falcon Jul 24 at 17:00
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    "I'm thinking of this as a mathematics optimization problem" Then you must define what you mean by best. Give us a metric to optimize. You say maximizing one thing and minimizing anothere, but this is not a metric yet. We need a single number or at least some kind of order. As it is, this question is not answerable because it is not clear enough what is meant by best. – Trilarion Jul 24 at 22:02
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    I thought a lot about it and decided to vote to close as just too broad. The problem is its subjectivity. Define best. You and I may have different ideas about what minimzing suffering means. I actually disagree that "humans (overall) suffered more 500 years ago when compared to today" because of political systems. Needs more specificity. – RWW Jul 25 at 18:55
  • A significant (perhaps the most significant) part of disagreements over the "best" ideas to implement is in fact over how to define what societal states are "best" (or even desirable at all), not just disagreement over which ideas will move us towards those states. If you like to think of this as mathematical optimisation, there is no widespread agreement on what the objective function should be. – Ben Jul 26 at 8:26
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As a question on this stack, this seems to assume that the "best" system will be political in nature. That's not necessarily so. Many of the improvements from five hundred years ago are technological in nature. For example, indoor plumbing provides a wide array of benefits in terms of convenience and health. But that is a technology that didn't exist five hundred years ago. Even the best political system wouldn't maximize benefit if it couldn't have indoor plumbing.

You may feel that indoor plumbing is a mature technology and every political system can include it. But what about the internet? That's less than fifty years old. And is the internet the last such discovery?

Some political systems would be hard to implement. For example, a pacifist democracy two thousand years ago would have been overrun by hostile neighbors. But a country might manage that now. Perhaps Germany might be described that way. A whole world of pacifist democracies might work, although even one holdout might break it. Political systems are heavily influenced by the situations in which they occur.

In technology, there is the concept of singularity. Basically the idea is that there is a certain point in technology where we can do everything that we currently want to do trivially and there is only the question of the new things that we'll want to do. And since we don't know what those are, the post-singularity world is opaque to us. This is similar to how things on the other side of a black hole's event horizon are opaque to us, thus the name. A black hole is a singularity in space.

It is reasonable to think that all our current systems will be made obsolete by the technological singularity. But since we don't know what the new world will be like, we don't know what its concerns will be.

TL;DR: we won't even be able to make a good guess until we are on the other side of the technological singularity. Now we don't even know all the areas where we need to know more.

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    Assuming such a singularity exists, of course. – eyeballfrog Jul 24 at 2:47
  • I have never seen a definition of "the singularity" which actually excludes all previous technological developments, so it's unclear to me what people mean by "the." Maybe "a singularity" just doesn't sound as neat? – Kevin Jul 24 at 14:03
  • Very interesting perspective, I was not thinking about technology, but I completely agree with you. It'd be interesting to think about how AI would impact us trying to reach this singularity... thanks for the answer! – F16Falcon Jul 24 at 17:02
  • "Perhaps Germany might be described that way" - or not, depending on how many levels of "pacifist" you see; being a member of NATO and providing "some" funding, scouting information for drones... but of course no "direct" military interventions :) – DrCopyPaste Jul 29 at 10:12
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The problem with this question is that you can not think of this as an objective mathematics optimization problem, because quantifying "benefit" and "suffering" is a completely subjective thing. So before you can answer the question what political system is the most optimized, you first have to agree on a consensus about what metrics to optimize for.

Different political ideologies have completely different ideas what those metrics should be. For example:

  • A capitalist wants to optimize for average prosperity, while a socialist wants to optimize the lower bound of personal prosperity.
  • A libertarian wants to optimize for personal freedom while an authoritarian will want to optimize for more tangible benefits.
  • A cosmopolitan wants to optimize for the happiness of all humans, while a nationalist only wants to optimize for the happiness of the members of their nation.
  • A radical environmentalists wants to optimize for the happiness for all living beings, while others only want to optimize the happiness of humans.
  • A radical fundamentalist wants to optimize for adherence to religious doctrine.

Who is right and who is wrong? You can have opinions about that matter, but you can not objectively prove which one is the "right" value-system.

So no, a best or most optimized system can not exist before humanity agrees on what to optimize for.

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    "Completely subjective" is an overstatement, as our suffering operates on identical biological mechanism (pain, hunger, feeling of loss) that we evolved and share. – Shadow1024 Jul 24 at 15:24
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    @Shadow1024 But those are not quantifiable either. What's worse: having not enough to eat or having a chronic lung disease? How much access to entertainment and luxury goods would make up for a 0,2% annual risk of dying in an accident? Are you sure your answer to these questions would be identical to that of everyone else? – Philipp Jul 24 at 16:12
  • "..before humanity agrees on what to optimize for." Couldn't everyone decide for himself what is best and then we take the average of it to optimiz?. Like half of the people prefer ham and the others eggs, so everyone just gets avocado as a compromise. ... We would have to take the wishes of all yet unborn humans into account. That might become a bit difficult. – Trilarion Jul 24 at 22:20
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    Wrong approach. The trick is not optimising for any uniform, average citizen, but if you have actually divergent expectations, is a arrange to a system which in general gives individual possibly high amount of freedom to pick his own favourite choices. That's actually the source of success of capitalism and freedom of speech, as they exactly provide for that. Add safety net, as regardless of officially declared values, not many people are happy while starving to death. (It approaches some modern western democracy, except that as it technically does not have to be democracy) – Shadow1024 Jul 26 at 7:21
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Additional to Brythan's answer, which points out the uncertainty about futures technological process, there is a similar additional problem. Many decisions now affect future generations. A "best" system would surely also include the wishes of the future generations, the wishes of every yet unborn human. But this is not known in advance.

If anything it's rather the other way around. We are pretty certain that history will look unfavorably down on us, but we get away with it for now.

  • Upvoted because that's a good point... we can't know what the future wants. But at the same time, I dont think this would matter very much in the context of the question, which asks if a best system exists (not if we know what it is, or if we can make a best system today). So, a best system may exist in the future... but then again, the future doesn't know what it's future wants... so maybe it's always trying to become better and better, but it never gets to its best? Thanks for the perspective – F16Falcon Jul 30 at 2:30
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Answer is no, for multiple reasons.

1) Society is a complex (not in sense of complex numbers, though imaginary entities like various gods are considered relevant by some subsets of population) system which would be described with trilliards of parameters. It's impossible to optimise system for every parameter, only for function that is some combination of those parameters, effectively a compromise between parameters. Unlike in, say, physics where system has well defined function to be optimised for, like energy or entropy, your function to be optimised does not even exist. You need to first "optimise" for what function you want to optimise. Writing such function would be extremely non-trivial, even if we could perfectly quantify things like happiness of every living person. In fact finding aforementioned "function" has in practice been main focus of philosophy for at last 3 thousand of years.

As mentioned in other answers, ideas what to optimise vary from obedience to god (theocracies), obedience to leadership (authoritarianism), devotion to nation (fascism), wealth of those in power (oligarchy), through wealth of lucky and ruthless (capitalism, economic liberalism), freedom to do whatever you want (libertarianism), freedom from having others do whatever they want to you (social liberalism) to representation (democracy), self fulfilment (eudaimonia), equality of opportunity (socialism), happiness (utilitarianism) and many others. And even then, related systems will have vastly different ideas, there are many flavours of virtue ethics or utilitarianisms out there.

2) Unless mathematical function is concave (or convex) in entire phase space, or unless you can find optimum analytically, you ALMOST NEVER know if what you found is a global optimum. Depending on starting points, you can descend into local optimum from which you will never leave, unless you start over from different starting point. You could never know if starting your optimisation from different set of taxes or political principles wouldn't result in more optimal conditions. Considering sheer size of phase space, probing it all is impossible, as such even if optimal (ignoring caveat of point 1.) system could exist, you will never find it, you can only make do with "best we can find".

Now, all that does not mean that search of perfection if futile, because it's not. Even if perfect system can't be found or doesn't even exist does not mean current system(s) can not be improved for the benefit of all, which however traces back to point 1. of defining what benefits should be aimed at.

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Yes, given any stable set of criteria. What's interesting is that often enough some have argued that humanity had already found just such a best system. Not perfect, but the best we could do, so it's pointless to try to do better.

But it's like engineering. Once some perfect or best thing has been devised, it opens new doors, causing new problems, and then people want new features, (the set of criteria expands, or on occasion replaces one desired feature with another), and the hunt goes on, albeit a new and revised hunt. This cycle can continue as for as long as our sets of criteria can be modified, i.e. always...

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