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D&D General Some thoughts on Moral Philosophies in D&D

Jaeger

That someone better.
It's about the Moral Philosophies of characters that players create to be heroes.

No need to create Moral philosophies for characters in D&D realms/settings with core book D&D cosmology.

With the in game cosmology/religions taking the stance of the gods being "Scientific Fact", expected and preferred behavior from any given deity is clear-cut: "My god says x."

Objectively speaking the PC's need only conform their actions so that they meet the minimum requirements that their god requires to enter the promised afterlife. No sophisticated "Moral philosophy" need apply.

The closest thing any PC might need to have to a moral philosophy would be the pragmatic need to weigh their actions against the mores and values of others in relation to their potential to enforce threats of corporal punishment.

So any Moral philosophies are either just projection of the players own mores and values on their characters. Or created whole cloth by the player for their PC above and beyond the requirements of their characters deity.

Circling back around to player disruption: No one cares what you PC's 'moral philosophy' is if your jerky behavior is disrupting the group.
 

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Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
It's predicated on DnD's implicit definition of 'Evil' which has (in recent years, since 3E certainly) always been 'Harming others'. This was made in clear in the BovD and BoED with both express and implicit text.

Rape, Slavery, Murder, Torture have always been in the realms of 'evil' because they all involve harming others.

Good OTOH is generally defined as 'Self sacrificing altruism'. Helping others, usually at cost to ones' self. Charity (Paladins have long been required to tithe wealth, and there is an oath of poverty in the BoED that does the same thing), mercy, compassion, altruism, empathy and kindness.

A lie doesnt (in and of itself) 'harm' anyone, and may in fact be a thing of mercy, with the liar taking on a burden in the lie to protect others. It can even be an act of Good.
Deception, on it's face, like killing, is morally wrong in basically every ethical structure.

However, outside of absolutist deontology and virtue ethics, there are loopholes. Extenuating Circumstances. Explicit situations where killing, or lying, are expressly allowed. Like Self Defense or Harmless Lies.

Hence the actual statement being about absolute deontology being a flawed system to attempt to model player morality outside of extreme Kantian Paladins.
 

Of course, that statement is predicated on an implicit philosophy choice.
Indeed.

It's predicated on DnD's implicit definition of 'Evil' which has (in recent years, since 3E certainly) always been 'Harming others'. This was made in clear in the BovD and BoED with both express and implicit text.

Rape, Slavery, Murder, Torture have always been in the realms of 'evil' because they all involve harming others.

Good OTOH is generally defined as 'Self sacrificing altruism'. Helping others, usually at cost to ones' self. Charity (Paladins have long been required to tithe wealth, and there is an oath of poverty in the BoED that does the same thing), mercy, compassion, altruism, empathy and kindness.

A lie doesnt (in and of itself) 'harm' anyone, and may in fact be a thing of mercy, with the liar taking on a burden in the lie to protect others. It can even be an act of Good.
Under a really rigidly deontological approach, a lie does harm, both to the speaker and to the listener. The speaker is self-harming by being irrational: a lie is told in order to control others via communication, but by the first formulation of the Categorical Imperative, this means the speaker wants all people to always lie forever. That would either make communication impossible, or would prevent actually controlling what someone else thinks (because they would know you were lying); it is thus trying to achieve something logically impossible. Intentionally seeking the logically impossible reflects either a damaged mind, or self-sabotage, which is a form of self-harm.

The speaker is harming the listener by way of the second formulation of the Categorical Imperative: they are treating the listener as a means to some end, rather than an end in themselves. It does not matter how noble, kind, generous, etc. the end you seek is: by the Categorical Imperative, it is ALWAYS wrong to treat another person as a means, period, end of discussion.

(This, incidentally, is the "real" reason why it is supposed to be morally wrong for a German citizen in WWII to lie to a Nazi about the Jews hiding in their basement: it's because you would be using that Nazi as a means, even though the goal of that using-a-person-as-a-means is "to save the life of another person." We just instinctively balk at the notion that it is wrong to "use a person as a means to save the life of another person" in this way, a consequentialist suspicion of hardcore deontology. Like how Foot's trolley problem isn't meant to derive any specific answer--it's simply meant to show that we have an intuitive virtue-ethics-derived suspicion of hardcore consequentialism: that it is somehow inherently bad, somehow inherently an error, to actively cause the death of one person in order to prevent the death of a larger number of people.)
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
It's predicated on DnD's implicit definition of 'Evil' which has (in recent years, since 3E certainly) always been 'Harming others'. This was made in clear in the BovD and BoED with both express and implicit text.

BoVD and BoED are not core, and older than many in the player base at this point, so I wouldn't look too hard to them for support.

Given how much we argue about alignment, it is clear that what is stated in the rules is not really definitional to the game as played, especially when what is in the books is not generally consistent, either in exact wording, or in philosophy.

A lie doesnt (in and of itself) 'harm' anyone...

So, for this discussion, this is assuming the conclusion. You are resting your position on a particular definition of "harm" (you put it in quotes yourself, calling attention to the fact that its definition is in question) that does not hold in all philosophical systems.

There are philosophical systems in which it is thought that a lie, in and of itself, does harm - it is a debasement and degradation of the speaker and the recipient. In such a system, at best the lie is only acceptable if the harm of the lie is lesser than the available alternatives.

We are apt to find that discussion of philosophical systems bears a lot in common with formal logic - in which you have to be absolutely certain of what your founding axioms are. The moral and ethical qualities of certain basic acts are philosophic axioms - and you cannot disprove or dismiss a philosophical framework with axioms from another framework.
 
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So, for this discussion, this is assuming the conclusion. You are resting your position on a particular definition of "harm" (you put it in quotes yourself, calling attention to the fact that its definition is in question) that does not hold in all philosophical systems.

But I am not looking at the assumption that 'harm is evil' in other philosophical systems (ours, yours, mine or anyone elses) - I'm looking at its implicit assumption in DnD's philosophical system.

Any observation of DnD through the ages, shows that DnD more or less consistently has held 'murder, slavery, rape, torture and harming others' as being 'Evil', and also has more or less consistently held that 'charity, self sacrifice, mercy and altruism' as being 'Good'.

Whether you or I agree with that assumption is neither here nor there; it does seem to be the assumption of the core game.
 

Under a really rigidly deontological approach, a lie does harm, both to the speaker and to the listener.
Assume a person was present when his or her best friend died in a horrific manner. Slowly fed into a woodchipper after weeks of torture. You get where Im going here.

Is lying about their mode of death, and instead telling their loved ones they died peacefully and heroically (and holding that secret to your grave) to give comfort to their loved ones (and holding that burden yourself) an act of evil?

Who (other than yourself) are you harming?
 


Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
As long as we are digging up Ancient Greeks ... metaphorically, I hope... Cynicism needs to be in this discussion somewhere.

You need the gen-x point of view?

You two probably realize this, but for others who have not made a detailed study of philosophy - when we talk about someone being cynical today - the distrust of the motives of others, and a rejection of need to be engaged and involved - doesn't have a lot to do with the original Greek philosophical cynicism.

Our current use of the word arises from a focus on only the negative aspects of the philosophical system, and caricatures of some of the founders of the philosophy.
 

No need to create Moral philosophies for characters in D&D realms/settings with core book D&D cosmology.

With the in game cosmology/religions taking the stance of the gods being "Scientific Fact", expected and preferred behavior from any given deity is clear-cut: "My god says x."

Objectively speaking the PC's need only conform their actions so that they meet the minimum requirements that their god requires to enter the promised afterlife. No sophisticated "Moral philosophy" need apply.

The closest thing any PC might need to have to a moral philosophy would be the pragmatic need to weigh their actions against the mores and values of others in relation to their potential to enforce threats of corporal punishment.

So any Moral philosophies are either just projection of the players own mores and values on their characters. Or created whole cloth by the player for their PC above and beyond the requirements of their characters deity.

Circling back around to player disruption: No one cares what you PC's 'moral philosophy' is if your jerky behavior is disrupting the group.
I don't think the discussion was meant to be primarily about players intentionally choosing a moral philosophy for their characters, nor even about the characters intentionally choosing a moral philosophy for themselves, but more about examining what moral philosophies those characters are actually demonstrating in play, which can be rather interesting.

For me, characters tend to come into my mind fairly quickly, and when I'm playing them I instinctively know what they would or wouldn't be prone to do. But I wouldn't necessarily think of trying to classify their moral philosophy without a discussion like this encouraging it. And while there is some projection of my own values (I don't want to be a bad person and I get very little out of identifying long term with a fictional bad person character), there is a lot of other variety in the moral philosophies that my characters' behaviors display, as well as in their alignments.
 

Assume a person was present when his or her best friend died in a horrific manner. Slowly fed into a woodchipper after weeks of torture. You get where Im going here.

Is lying about their mode of death, and instead telling their loved ones they died peacefully and heroically (and holding that secret to your grave) to give comfort to their loved ones (and holding that burden yourself) an act of evil?

Who (other than yourself) are you harming?
I appreciate that that's what you're going for, but that's explicitly not how very very hard deontology interprets things. Naturally you--and I, and many other people besides!--do not really share this view. (I'm mostly a virtue ethics guy personally; Philippa Foot is one of my philosophy heroes.)

That is, this is a bit like being a physicist going to an electrical engineers' conference and getting upset that they use "j" to denote the imaginary unit rather than "i." You are, essentially, saying "the deontologist MUST only work with my definitions and no others," which the deontologist is just as free to balk at as you are to balk at their rather strident insistence about the alleged "harm" caused by lying to others. Again, I have no skin in that particular game, because I am not a deontologist to begin with, but you should know whenever you get into a debate about ethics that "when I say 'harm,' I specifically mean grievous physical harm and nothing abstract or philosophical" is not going to be met with a particularly friendly response.

(Again, for my own position, the various virtues--and their corresponding vices of excess and deficiency--encapsulate why telling the truth is morally superior as a general rule, but make allowance for deceiving a person whose aims are bad. However...)

I personally disagree, and so does DnDs implicit morality.
I'm not sure you do. I mean, I can't read your mind, so perhaps you disagree, but "the truth is preferable to falsehood in general" is a pretty common ground rule of moral behavior. E.g. the ethic of reciprocity rejects telling lies in both its positive and negative forms. "Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you" (the negative version of the ethic of reciprocity, sometimes called "the silver rule") would imply that, since we do not want others to gain advantage over us or manipulate us via lies, we should not tell lies to others. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (the positive ethic of reciprocity/"golden rule"), which unlike the previous version requires actions instead of merely forbidding actions, expects of you that you tell the truth to others if you wish for others to tell you the truth.

These aren't complex philosophical theories; these are simple moral maxims everyday people use and live by. I would be extremely surprised if you said that lying about any random thing whenever a person felt like it was an acceptable behavior, for example, even if the harm caused by those lies failed to meet your "thrown into a woodchipper" standard. E.g., if I lie to someone to tell them I am vaccinated for COVID when I am not, and they catch COVID as a result but experience only mild symptoms, I certainly haven't done any harm to them that is comparable to throwing them in a woodchipper, but I suspect you would consider me morally at fault for having told that lie. (Please do tell me if you WOULDN'T think that though! That implies a very interesting discussion/explanation!)
 


Jaeger

That someone better.
I don't think the discussion was meant to be primarily about players intentionally choosing a moral philosophy for their characters, nor even about the characters intentionally choosing a moral philosophy for themselves, but more about examining what moral philosophies those characters are actually demonstrating in play, which can be rather interesting.

For me, characters tend to come into my mind fairly quickly, and when I'm playing them I instinctively know what they would or wouldn't be prone to do. But I wouldn't necessarily think of trying to classify their moral philosophy without a discussion like this encouraging it. And while there is some projection of my own values (I don't want to be a bad person and I get very little out of identifying long term with a fictional bad person character), there is a lot of other variety in the moral philosophies that my characters' behaviors display, as well as in their alignments.
Players naturally project their own morality on PC's.

Everyone does it. I do it. It's human nature.

And it is the way D&D is played at the table.

Which is 100% ok. Nothing wrong with it at all.

As for the point I was making:
"This topic is about the Moral philosophies of heroic characters in a fantasy world. Not considerations and reflections on Fantastical Theology."

Morality and Theology are intertwined. For example; In western society we live in a culture that has been shaped by 2000 years of Christian morality. It doesn't matter if you are an atheist. Your notions of right and wrong are shaped by the general cultural mores and values you grew up with. Which in western society happens to have been largely shaped by Christianity.

If you are truly trying to imbue what a character that lives in a fantasy world's morality is like - then that morality will be shaped by the Fantastical Theology of the setting. The PC would have grown up under the influence of some gods moral tenets. Which should be reflected in how the character is played.

As much as this is NOT reflected in actual play in most D&D games is a commentary on how ridiculous D&D's cosmology actually is, as it is usually one of the first things that gets ignored. And deservedly so. (Yes clerics/paladins/warlocks etc. have to pay cosmological lip service - but this is all in the name of getting cool powers, so it is a small price to pay.)

So if we really are discussing the Moral philosophies of heroic characters in a fantasy world...

Then the Fantastical Theology of that world should be part of the discussion.

Insomuch as the OP doesn't want it to be part of the discussion just goes to show just how good a job D&D's Fantastical Theology actually does of getting players to really engage with the theological tenets of their supposed gods into who their character is as a person in the setting. i.e. A really bad one.

Basically if you want a guide on how not to make a believable or engaging fantasy theology for your fantasy setting; look no further than your copy of the 5e DMG.

I will refrain from further injections of D&D's Fantastical Theology in a discussion about morality in D&D Fantasy Worlds as everyone seems to agree that it should be ignored anyway.
 

Does it though? Didn't Postmodernism clearly show that nothing happens independent of context, and that context is subjective in nature?
The point of very hard deontology is to find moral duties. It is, very explicitly, completely uninterested in the consequences or context of an action, only in what can be logically determined about it. (Again, this is for very hard deontology, as how Kant articulated it; there are almost certainly some deontologists today who do take an interest in such things.) The Categorical Imperative is what it is because (Kant alleged) it is the only obligation which applies universally, as opposed to being contingent on specific situations. Whether or not there is a context is, to the very hard deontologist, utterly irrelevant. To them, bringing up the context of the action would be like saying that the solutions to the polynomial typically represented in Arabic numerals/"modern mathematics" as "x²-x-1=0" are dependent on whether one solves it in Rio de Janeiro or in Tokyo, or whether one belongs to a particular ethnic group when solving it, or which written language one chooses to write about the solution.
 

The point of very hard deontology is to find moral duties. It is, very explicitly, completely uninterested in the consequences or context of an action
I get that, but it cant escape postmodern critique of its own metanarrative.

Postmodernism asserts that you cant ignore context, and context is subjective.

Lets assume postmodernists are wrong, and actions can be evil 'in and of themselves' (sans any context and somehow absent any subjective bias in us, the observers).

Where you do get the authority that (in DnD) lying is an 'evil' act (or for that matter in the real world, that lying is 'evil')?

I certainly dont assume a person is evil on account of them being dishonest, or that a fabrication is necessarily evil for that reason and that reason alone.
 

I get that, but it cant escape postmodern critique of its own metanarrative.

Postmodernism asserts that you cant ignore context, and context is subjective.

Lets assume postmodernists are wrong, and actions can be evil 'in and of themselves' (sans any context and somehow absent any subjective bias in us, the observers).

Where you do get the authority that (in DnD) lying is an 'evil' act (or for that matter in the real world, that lying is 'evil')?

I certainly dont assume a person is evil on account of them being dishonest, or that a fabrication is necessarily evil for that reason and that reason alone.
I used the mathematical analogy for a reason.

Where do I get the authority to say, "2 + 2 = 4"? Assuming that you and I agree on what "2," "+," "=," and "4" mean, I get the authority to say "2 + 2 = 4" from the rules of deductive logic (specifically, sentential logic aka propositional calculus) and the meanings of the terms used. The very hard deontologist claims that moral determinations are exactly the same, derived purely from applying logic rigorously to universal truths (such as the claimed Categorical Imperative.) Or, if you prefer something a bit less symbol-based, any two people who can communicate effectively with one another must agree with their communicative equivalent of, "For all entities a, a is itself," the logical law of identity.

A deontologist doesn't really care too much about calling people "evil" or "good," it's really only about the actions themselves. People can be rational (which, according to the very hard deontologist, would require them to behave morally) or irrational (which would permit, but not require, them to behave immorally), but not "good" or "evil" generally speaking.
 
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Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Players naturally project their own morality on PC's.

Everyone does it. I do it. It's human nature.

And it is the way D&D is played at the table.

Which is 100% ok. Nothing wrong with it at all.

As for the point I was making:
"This topic is about the Moral philosophies of heroic characters in a fantasy world. Not considerations and reflections on Fantastical Theology."

Morality and Theology are intertwined. For example; In western society we live in a culture that has been shaped by 2000 years of Christian morality. It doesn't matter if you are an atheist. Your notions of right and wrong are shaped by the general cultural mores and values you grew up with. Which in western society happens to have been largely shaped by Christianity.

If you are truly trying to imbue what a character that lives in a fantasy world's morality is like - then that morality will be shaped by the Fantastical Theology of the setting. The PC would have grown up under the influence of some gods moral tenets. Which should be reflected in how the character is played.

As much as this is NOT reflected in actual play in most D&D games is a commentary on how ridiculous D&D's cosmology actually is, as it is usually one of the first things that gets ignored. And deservedly so. (Yes clerics/paladins/warlocks etc. have to pay cosmological lip service - but this is all in the name of getting cool powers, so it is a small price to pay.)

So if we really are discussing the Moral philosophies of heroic characters in a fantasy world...

Then the Fantastical Theology of that world should be part of the discussion.

Insomuch as the OP doesn't want it to be part of the discussion just goes to show just how good a job D&D's Fantastical Theology actually does of getting players to really engage with the theological tenets of their supposed gods into who their character is as a person in the setting. i.e. A really bad one.

Basically if you want a guide on how not to make a believable or engaging fantasy theology for your fantasy setting; look no further than your copy of the 5e DMG.

I will refrain from further injections of D&D's Fantastical Theology in a discussion about morality in D&D Fantasy Worlds as everyone seems to agree that it should be ignored anyway.
You say some very right things... but for some very wrong reasons.

Yeah. The topic is about the moral philosophies of heroic characters and not theologies. Yeah, players tend to project their own morality on PCs.

With those two facts established: D&D Theology is irrelevant unless the player, separate from the character, ascribes to D&D Religions and has for enough of their life that such things shape their moral identity.

That said, of course, the player can also chose to engage in Role Morality (Almost all of us do) in which the morality of a given situation in our experience replaces our own to some degree or another. Such a thing could be influenced by D&D Theology, but since the theology of most deities amounts to Virtue Ethics, since the designers of a campaign setting have never attempted to write a full canon for every deity to the point of rituals, hymns, community involvements, and sacred texts... we've already got it covered in the OP.

But I can see... @Flamestrike is utterly unwilling to accept that this thread is not about D&D's Cosmology or the Theology (Really scientific fact thereof) so screw it. I guess he gets to decide what this thread is about...

Hey, Flamestrike? You're wrong about D&D Cosmology being Moral Relativism. It is 100% Utterly and Violently ordered to an external viewer's Morality wherein good things are good because they are good and bad things are bad because they are bad, IE Deontology.

That Morality is the Writer's. Oh, you can argue that a follower of Llolth is "Doing Good" within their society when they follow the tenets of Llolth and murder whoever she tells them to as part of her Rites. But her alignment, and that character's alignment, are Evil. Maybe Neutral. Maybe Lawful. Maybe Chaotic. But Evil.

Llolth is not a "Good" god according to literally any source. Ergo Moral Relativity and specifically the sticky wicket of Subjective Morality (Honestly, that's what I should've titled that heading, foolish in hindsight) is irrelevant.

D&D has an external central moral authority over the -entire- cosmology of -every- world and it declares that Evil Gods are Evil, Good Gods are Good, and the matter is settled.

Now if you'd like to argue the matter further, feel free to create your own thread on the Theology of D&D Campaign Settings. Hell. Copy-Paste or Quote this post, there, and argue to your heart's content.

But get it out of here.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This topic is about the moral philosophies of heroic characters in a fantasy world. Not considerations and reflections on Fantastical Theology. It is meant to highlight the myriad ways that we, as players and storytellers, tap into moral philosophy to construct characters, situations, and stories, and help us to recognize these motivations in our characters and the characters of others to better understand the characters themselves.

If you wanna talk D&D Theology, feel free to make your own thread about it! I'll happily talk about it, there!
 

....but what if you're playing 1e, and you've got an Elf??????

AD&D assumes that the anima, that force which gives life and distinct existence to thinking beings, is one of two sorts: soul or spirit. Humans, dwarves, halflings, gnomes, and half-elves (those beings which can have a raise dead or resurrection spell cost upon them) all have souls; all other beings that worship deities have spirits. This latter group includes (but is not limited to) elves, orcs, half-orcs, and the other creatures specifically mentioned in the NON HUMANS' DEITIES section of this work.
(Deities & Demigods 10)

Oh, wait. So this is why 1e character sheets have a Last Will & Testament- in case you are a soulless, dead-eyed automaton.

A/K/A an elf!
Lol at the risk of derailing the topic again, I had to comment, as an elf and afterlife fan. I realize this is probably meant in good humor, but having a spirit I believe means you can be reincarnated. The pull of Arvandor for elves is very strong, and is a reward, but elves also believe that they could eventually be reincarnated. The majority of elves do go to Arvandor, and in trying to bring this back to the topic at hand, I think that is regardless of "alignment", but I'm not entirely sure on that. Perhaps if they've been really "evil", they may be banned.

Anyway, apologies to the OP, I just wanted to comment. I agree with what another member said in that D&D (or any RP) can help players explore morality and play someone who is the complete opposite of them. While not D&D, my queerplatonic partner and I do a form of storytelling (I've sometimes called it oral roleplaying, but that sounds bad), which is somewhat like D&D, minus the mechanics and dice. We have so many characters lol, and many of them are opposite of us (assassins, rogues, people who have experienced immense trauma, etc). It is fun to explore their philosophy and morality--and I think this is the one of the powers of fantasy in general. It can give us perspective, and either play or read about characters who philosophies are different than our own, which also allows us to explore ourselves.
 


Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Who (other than yourself) are you harming?

By some philosophical systems - both of you. To lie about the matter is a debasing of both your and their inner nobility as humans, who deserve to know what actually happened, even if it is painful.

You are unlikely to believe that is harm. But you are steeped in a philosophical tradition that doesn't hold this to be true.

But I note that you cannot PROVE it to be true. This is all in what we call "non-falsifiable" stuff.
 

You are unlikely to believe that is harm. But you are steeped in a philosophical tradition that doesn't hold this to be true.
I am?

Which philosophical tradition am I steeped in exactly?

But I note that you cannot PROVE it to be true. This is all in what we call "non-falsifiable" stuff.
In the philosophy of science something that is falsifiable technically is something you can only attempt to prove to be false. It's not the same as something that is true (because something that is true, is not falsifiable).

A subtle but important difference to proving something true.

All scientific theory must be falsifiable in order to be science. It must be able to be proven false via empiricism and experimentation. It's never actually possible to prove a scientific theory true (because then it would lack falsifiability), only to experiment on it, fail to disprove it, and make it more likely that it is true (because no-one has been able to disprove it yet).

It's the interesting side effect to the scientific method. In order to uncover supposed objective truths about our existence and the universe, it never ever makes any discoveries about actual objective truth.

Only theories, which much remain falsifiable in order to remain science.
 

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