Milliongenerations:How can there be most happiness?

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Prize question

Milliongenerations plans to organize a prize question asking submissions on the question "How can there be most happiness?".

The question hopes to encourage people to think and act in directions that will result in more happiness, old ideas and recent research might be presented in ways that make them useful and accessible and there is always a chance that new and useful ideas come up. Asking the question certainly also hopes to draw attention to ensuring the possibility for life of future generations and also to the benefit of judging actions by their consequences. A focus could be on individual happiness (on earth and/or in the hereafter), the benefits of awareness, or differences between status, happiness and other motivations. Some might debate comparability or ideal society and economy, and the rights of other and future beings. Any of these would have a chance to actually be beneficial.

The requirement of "most", and linking the prize to it, should open the view to whatever people come up with. Selection should be by reviewers instructed to rank randomly selected entries according to which they believe have more practical benefit. To create a shortlist for the prize, entrants would be required to name at least two unrelated reviewers who offer to review and rank several entries other than his/her own.

Plans to organize the competition (under development)

The question

How can there be most happiness?

The scope of the question should be explained to be limited to "on earth".
Happiness could be further clarified to be understood as "life satisfaction" or "subjective well being", but could also be left entirely to the understanding of reviewers.

Which entry will win?

The author of the most beneficial answer to the question should win the prize. (Prize could be split for differenc categories.)

To determine this, entries will be rated by reviewers according to whether the reviewer believes that spreading the ideas of an entry will lead to practical steps that contribute to more happiness (as understood by the reviewer, not the author) than other entries the reviewer reads. The resulting ranking results in a shortlist, the organizing committee plans to select the winner from this shortlist.

Reviewers will have various backgrounds and are asked to look for actual applicability. Stating the interpretation of the question can help reviewers value your arguments. An academic discussion of e.g., utilitarian morality, ethical calculus or concepts of happiness will likely find reviewers preferring practical benefits.

The foundation organizing this competition has no funds and few volunteers to organize and evaluate this competition. So it asks the competitors for help and collaboration in a process that hopefully will nonetheless deliver useful and fair results.

Entrants and Entries

  • The contest is open to everyone. Only one entry per author. Several authors can collaborate to produce one entry, but will have to share any prize or reward.
  • Entries must be received before the deadline by email to answer (at) or links to
  • Entries should have the form of short video's of ca. 1 - 2 minutes (rather than the text of 1,000 to 10,000 words suggested earlier). The video should be uploaded to youtube or vimeo and a link entered to compete. Video rather than academic text should make it easier for a broader range of people to participate. Mobile phones, camera's and computers with the ability to upload video are fairly widespread. Academics might have to acquire new skills to complete the task. To compete, video's obviously need to remain on the site and must not be changed after submission.
  • You must find at least three (not two) reviewers who agree to review at least three rounds with each at least ten entries (rather than two). Reviewers will not review yours.

Prize and Formalties

NB. no prize promised at this time, the competition is under preparation!

Currently USD 10,000 is committed and the organization intends to use it as a cash prize. More might be added if sponsors can be committed. Ideas for and contributions of (other or additional) prizes are welcome. The organizers intend to pay a cash prize of USD $10.000 to the author selected as per these rules . The recipient might have to declare this amount as income to local tax authorities depending on local regulations.

The organizers reserve all rights to select the winner and to split the amount in up to three parts. If there are fewer than 25 eligible entries submitted, the organizers can reduce the prize in proportion, less than 10 they can refuse to pay any prize. At the organizers’ choice the equivalent of the prize money is paid in Euro. The price is limited to the equivalent in Euro on the date of the call. There is no right to this prize or reward. Dutch law applies. Organizer: Stichting milliongenerations, Veilinghavenkade 6, 3521 AK Utrecht, The Netherlands. (Process and wording still have to be reviewed by legal expert)

Publication and additional rewards

The organizers hope to publish those results that can be expected to be beneficial.

Under discussion, this still assumes text - video changes things. 

If publication or other exploitation of the resulting information can be made profitable, it is intended to distribute profits (after all costs and taxes, if any) from such exploitation 35% to the authors of published pieces, probably evenly distributed 40% to the reviewers weighted according to number of essays that the reviewers reviewed and 25% towards future rounds of such a prize question and further actions of milliongenerations (a not-for-profit foundation).

If external investment is needed to enable such exploitation (e.g., by a publisher), such an investor may require a significant share of profits to justify the investment.

There can be no right to such rewards. The organizers should seek to optimize the benefit resulting from publication first, and the share of profit distributed as rewards among authors, reviewers, and foundation second.

Concepts for publication of call and other details

Under discussion, this still assumes text - video changes things. 
  • Website with details of question: (currently for preparation, calling for organizers and resources)
    • including review and evaluation formats, however no determination on how to interpret the question.
    • Criterion is for success is that entries can practically lead to "more happiness" than other
    • entrants and reviewers are free to interpret the question in whatever way they see, reviewers must be consistent accross reviewed entries.
    • Limit size, should be about 1.000 - 3.000 words, not counting references, with an abstract of no more than 200 words and a representative title of no more than 160 letters
    • explain procedure
  • Establish response email address & organize processing: answers at
  • Announcement of just question, prize, deadline (e.g. +2 months) and link to more information in some well read publication with intellectual audience, e.g. an ad in The Economist, and/or philosophical journals/circles. Also include call for people interested in reviewing without entry.


  • Participants submit via email (or online) before a set deadline
  • Require participants to name one or two knowledgeable & independent people who are willing to review two or more submissions
  • Require participants to review at least two other entries themselves.
  • Commit and screen reviewers (to verify an identity different from entrants submit copy of identification document, demonstrate some form of relevant ability (wide limits - not intended to select), promise confidentiality)
  • After submission deadline, screen for formal checks and send out randomly selected (not own) submissions to named reviewers and participants and ask for return until a set deadline
    • Review to check for
      • originality / if found & documented plagiarism, no further evaluation
      • own summary and judgement of concept, argument, stringency, benefit
      • rating according to utility perceived by the reviewer: order the reviewed submissions according to how much happiness the proposal could lead to, by providing the reviewer with the question of which of the essays he reviewed previously provides for more happiness
  • Evaluate only submissions where serious reviews were returned timely
  • Allow anyone with to register (& promise confidentiality)
    • Reviewers rank entries they read in a relative order according to how much happiness they will bring in the eyes of the reviewer
    • Ranking has to be completed before a set deadline
  • Screen for suspicious reviewing
    • Reviews & rankings are eligible only if it seems credible that the reviewer actually read a rated entry
      • Reviews of a reviewer are eligible only if the reviewer consistently applied the same standard to all entries ranked.
    • The standard applied to rank entries are the reviewer's own. It may differ from those of the organizers within wide limits.
    • Vandalism: if an organizers' panel of three agrees that the standard a reviewer applied are obviously detrimental to any of a wide range of standards accepted within the majority of other reviewers, or clearly applied to deliberately disrupt the competition rather than contribute, the rankings of the reviewer are ineligible. Must be used in exeptional cases only.
  • Award points to submissions on the lists: 0 points for last (or only) selected, and an increasing number of points for every one on the list after that, probably 1 point more than the previous on the list. A reviewer who reviews more entries therefore gives out more points)
  • Create shortlist from those submissions collecting the most points
  • Have jury to judge & explain their choice on shortlist
  • Pay out price to author of winning submission
  • Make a selection of submissions and publish them, along with reviews (can be hardcopy, selling to journals or sponsored site)
  • Use of the resulting information (e.g., submitted essays, reviews, rating) should be used with the intent to increase happiness or well being as much as possible
    • If publication or other exploitation of the resulting information can be made profitable, profits (after costs and taxes , if any) from such exploitation shall be distributed
      • 30% to the authors of published pieces, probably unweighted
      • 40% to all reviewers (weighted according to number of essays reviewed) and
      • use the rest towards further actions of milliongenerations.
      • If external investment is needed to enable such exploitation (e.g., by a publisher), such an investor may require a share of profits to justify the investment. The organizers should seek to optimize happiness resulting from exploitation first, and the share of profit distributed among authors, reviewers, and foundation second.

Background: video contest

Background: essay prizes/contests

  • It is said that the Académie (des sciences, Belles-Lettres et Arts?) de Lyon proposed a prize question on happiness in 1791: Quelles vérités et quels sentiments importe-t-il le plus d'inculquer aux hommes pour leur bonheur?, to which Napoleon Bonaparte is said to have contributed as a young lieutenant.
    • In "The Boyhood of Great Men", John G. Edgar suggests that "The Academy having offered a prize for the best dissertation on the question, What are the institutions most likely to contribute to human happiness? Napoleon wrote on the subject, and was successful in his efforts against numerous competitors."
    • In "The Empress Josephine", Luise Muhlbach writes: "The Academy of Sciences in Lyons had offered a prize for the answer to the question: What are the sentiments and emotions which are to be instilled into men, so as to make them happy? Napoleon entered the lists for this prize, and, if his work did not receive the prize, it furnished the occasion for the Abbe Raynal, who had answered the question successfully, to become acquainted with the young author..."
    • some suggest that the entry seems to have been lost on purpose after a report by Dumas. Suivant un rapport de Dumas sur ce concours, l'Académie, peu satisfaite de ce mémoire, l'aurait fait disparaître de ses archives.
  • In 1839 Schopenhauer submitted entries to academic prize questions, resulting in his essays On the Freedom of the Will (as a response to the question of the Royal Norwegian Society of Sciences) and On the basis of Morality (question posed by the Royal Danish Society of Sciences, Schopenhauer famously submitted the only entry to this contest but failed to win).
  • Several academic institutions regularly award philosophy prizes e.g., Harvard University, Trinity College, Australasian Association of Philosophy, American Philosophical Society. The prizes are usually cash prizes on the order of several hundered to a few thousand dollars and are often for dissertations or publications published elsewhere. Those that are for essays are usually limited to about 10.000 words.
  • Kids Philosophy Slam awards prizes to young students to "give kids a voice, and to inspire them to think by unlocking their intellectual and creative potential through a unique yet powerful philosophical forum."
  • The International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design sponsors annual Essay contests
  • 3 Quarks Daily in 2009 started awarded prizes to blogs in arts, politics, science and philosophy. Steven Pinker and Dan Dennett respectively selected the winners of the science and philosophy contest from a shortlist determined by online voting.
  • The Straniak Philosophy Prize in 2008 was worth 30.000 SFr, entry could be English or German for unpublished essays between 50 and 250 pages. Contestants were given about 18 months from publication to submit entries.