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Ethereum Design Principles

by gubsheep and Albert Ni

This is a collection of more recent resources (mostly essays by Vitalik Buterin) which outline some of the goals and design principles behind Ethereum and other decentralized systems.

An asterisk (*) indicates that the resource may be (lightly) technical.

Credible Neutrality As A Guiding Principle (Vitalik Buterin, 2020)

  • Why are some organizations, protocols, and systems perceived as fair while others are not? Vitalik outlines a few heuristics for identifying what he terms "credible neutrality," as well as some of the inconsistencies between the perception and reality of such systems.

Control as Liability (Vitalik Buterin, 2019)

  • Historically, technology companies have focused on maximizing control over everything from interfaces to data. However, due to shifts in both the regulatory landscape and consumer preferences, certain types of control are increasingly becoming a business liability.

The Most Important Scarce Resource is Legitimacy (Vitalik Buterin, 2021)

  • "We are faced with this interesting fact that the organisms that are the Bitcoin and Ethereum ecosystems are capable of summoning up billions of dollars of capital, but have strange and hard-to-understand restrictions on where that capital can go... The powerful social force [legitimacy] that is creating this effect is worth understanding. As we are going to see, it's also the same social force behind why the Ethereum ecosystem is capable of summoning up these resources in the first place."

Engineering Security Through Coordination Problems (Vitalik Buterin, 2017)

  • Social coordination problems are typically viewed as a bad thing—friction slows organizations down and prevents us from realizing common goals that require global cooperation (climate change, public goods funding). However, a strategy in the design of decentralized protocols is to flip this pattern on its head—to increase the difficulty of attacks by requiring the attackers to overcome difficult coordination problems.

*A Proof of Stake Design Philosophy (Vitalik Buterin, 2016)

  • Vitalik outlines a few of the principles and advantages of Proof of Stake—explicit penalties, primacy of social consensus, security through coordination problems, and more.

*A Philosophy of Blockchain Validation (Vitalik Buterin, 2020)

  • Touches on a number of interesting concepts, including finality (and consensus models with a notion of time!), and primacy of social consensus.

Central Planning as Overfitting (Vitalik Buterin, 2018)

On Collusion (Vitalik Buterin, 2019)

The Triangle of Harm (Vitalik Buterin, 2017)

Ethereum From Multiple Perspectives (Albert Ni, 2020)