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

pemerton

Legend
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.
This Popperian position is contentious (and you have mis-stated it: Popper doesn't think that failure to falsify via experimentation increases the likelihood of truth). AJ Ayer had sound criticisms of it (eg why would we care about experimentation and refutation if we weren't concerned with the truth of our theories?).

David Stove (the late Australian philosopher) has some interesting work critiquing Popper.
 

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pemerton

Legend
I think Rawls is correct that the classic utilitarians (Bentham, Mill, Sidgwick) saw utilitarianism as a method of evaluating institutions and practices, not as a method for determining what an individual should do in any given moment of action.

As Sidgwick noted and Rawls's whole body of work really elaborates on, there is an instability in utilitarianism applied in this way, because anyone who is participating in a utility-maximising practice is subject to two sorts of incentives that can destabilise that participation: (i) self-regarding incentives if participating in the practice will lower his/her personal utility; (ii) other-regarding incentives if, on a particular occasion of action, utility might be maximised by doing other than what the practice requires (eg breaking a promise; telling a lie). A major part of Rawls' work in A Theory of Justice and subsequently is to put forward an account of the justification of practices which is not so vulnerable to these incentives to destabilisation.

The whole approach to institutions and practices set out in the previous two paragraphs only makes sense if one assumes that human practices are subject (however imperfectly) to deliberate change by way of human action. In a D&D context this assumption is typically going to be doubtful, because (i) D&D societies tend to be pre-modern, pre-bureaucratic ones which lack the requisite technical and administrative apparatus to deliberately change themselves, and (ii) there tend to be active divine/extra-planar forces who are strongly committed to reinforcing the status quo of institutions and practices.

The sort of moral outlook that makes sense in typical D&D is the same sort of one that is found in heroic fantasy stories: one in which honour and truthfulness are valuable on their own account (and hence justify risking the lives of oneself and others to uphold); in which wanton killing is bad; in which the call of duty is keenly felt. In terms of the categories set out in the OP, this could be seen as a type of deontology or a type of virtue ethic/role morality - for the purposes of D&D play there is very rarely if ever going to be anything at stake in drawing those distinctions.

There are different possible approaches to this sort of thing: in REH's Conan it is more of an ethic than a morality, with a strong modernist flavour of "self-creation"; in LotR it is a morality with a strong anti-modernist flavour connected to ideas of tradition and providence. I think playing with these differences is interesting in the RPG context, and differences of fiction (eg how are faith and divinity handled) and differences of mechanics (eg how are dice rolls understood in their relationship to the fiction) can help bring them out. For instance, classic D&D with its impersonal mechanics that correspond to purely abstract "divine favour" or "luck" pushes towards REH-ish rather than LotR-ish feel (also reinforcing the oddity of the paladin in the gameworld); 4e D&D on the other hand (with its powers and its rerolls and its action points and other metagame elements) can be quite well-suited to a providential-feeling game.
 

Steampunkette

Rules Tinkerer and Freelance Writer
Supporter
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.
Oh, I'm 100% down with cute little asides and funny jokes and stories.

I just don't want this thread bogged down by a big theological debate because those often quickly become stand-ins for people's real-world beliefs which, y'know... Don't want the thread locked over it.

And you are -absolutely- right that Roleplaying, and specifically roleplaying through Role-Morality, can be incredibly illuminating! I'm glad you and your partner have fun with it! <3
 

This Popperian position is contentious (and you have mis-stated it: Popper doesn't think that failure to falsify via experimentation increases the likelihood of truth).

Technically true, failure to disprove a falsifiable scientific theory doesn't (by extension) make the theory more likely to be true.

Falsifiability otherwise holds though. There is no such thing as 'scientific fact'; only theory (which by extension, must remain falsifiable in order to be scientific).

About the only people that truly critique this are in the pseudo-sciences like Psychology, because they know that (fundamentally) their theories cannot be falsified (in psychologies case, due to the independent and subjective nature of the mind).

It's incredibly risky (and has been shown time and time again) to rely on the truth statements of scientific theory as 'objective fact'. Even greats like Newton, Ptolemy, Einstein and others have had theories evaporate (or been heavily modified) due to falsifiability.

Newton fell to Einsteins special relativity (as holes started to form in the original theory) and Einsteins critique of Quantum theories ('God does not play dice') have been shown to be incorrect.

It wasnt that long ago with Physics that it was famously thought we knew everything, and all that was left was filling in the gaps. Those 'little gaps' have instead led us to the Quantum realm, and in turn challenged many of the theories that we once held to be (basically) true.

Im a firm believer that one day Einsteins special relativity will be falsified (to some extent), like Ptolemys model of the universe, and Newtons general relativity (by Einstein) before him.

Its the Scientific methods greatest strength (and biggest fundamental weakness). It never really uncovers objective truth. It only ever eliminates falsehoods.

While those things sound the same, they're really quite different.
 

pemerton

Legend
There is no such thing as 'scientific fact'; only theory (which by extension, must remain falsifiable in order to be scientific).

About the only people that truly critique this are in the pseudo-sciences like Psychology, because they know that (fundamentally) their theories cannot be falsified (in psychologies case, due to the independent and subjective nature of the mind).
Your second paragraph is not true. I already identified two critics of Popper: AJ Ayer and David Stove. Both are important philosophers. Neither is interested in "pseudo-science".

Popper adopted falsifiability as a criterion because of his Humean scepticism about the possibility of proving empirical generalisations (ie non-demonstrative proof; also known as the problem of induction). Stove thinks he can solve that problem (I'm not sure he's right). Ayer is sympathetic to Hume but thinks that Popper is weak in relation to truth.

And this is before we get to other fields of human knowledge. For instance, it is not possible to have "falsifiable" knowledge of history. This doesn't mean that it is meaningless or "pseudo-science" for historians to investigate the causes of historical events.
 

Your second paragraph is not true. I already identified two critics of Popper: AJ Ayer and David Stove. Both are important philosophers. Neither is interested in "pseudo-science".

Popper adopted falsifiability as a criterion because of his Humean scepticism about the possibility of proving empirical generalisations (ie non-demonstrative proof; also known as the problem of induction). Stove thinks he can solve that problem (I'm not sure he's right). Ayer is sympathetic to Hume but thinks that Popper is weak in relation to truth.

And this is before we get to other fields of human knowledge. For instance, it is not possible to have "falsifiable" knowledge of history. This doesn't mean that it is meaningless or "pseudo-science" for historians to investigate the causes of historical events.
Whoa. I never said pseudo-science was 'meaningless'. I'm not inferring any negative connotations to the term at all. I'm simply making the distinction between the scientific method - in which any given theory must be falsifiable - and other methods of uncovering the truth (whether those methods of investigation and epistemology be pseudo- scientific and follow a similar method to the Scientific method - but lack falsifiability - or otherwise seek to uncover the truth of existence - such as theology, or other philosophies outside of the method)

Psychology for example is a pseudo-science and its far from meaningless. Ditto theology (not a pseudo-science, but also far from meaningless).

I certainly dont hold the Scientific Method up as some kind of holy grail of uncovering truth of the universe. It's the best one we have at the moment, but I (personally) hold the view that it's critically flawed in that it's underpinned by a false assumption (that the universe is objectively real and contains objectively real truths that can be measured).

People from Descartes to Heisenberg have challenged that notion pretty strongly I would argue, and the method doesnt really hold up to a postmodern critique either.
 

Sithlord

Adventurer
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.
Well. I know if I don’t lie about how beautiful my wife looks in the morning that there will be a lot of harm directed my way and to alot of property i worked my butt of for. Not to mention the overtime that the taxpayers will have to pay to the police and possible medical personnel. And it can all be avoided by a simple “ my god you are beautiful, what did I ever do to deserve you”. And apocalypse averted.
 

Well. I know if I don’t lie about how beautiful my wife looks in the morning that there will be a lot of harm directed my way and to alot of property i worked my butt of for. Not to mention the overtime that the taxpayers will have to pay to the police and possible medical personnel. And it can all be avoided by a simple “ my god you are beautiful, what did I ever do to deserve you”. And apocalypse averted.
dude that sounds rough and in need of counselling.
 

Well. I know if I don’t lie about how beautiful my wife looks in the morning that there will be a lot of harm directed my way and to alot of property i worked my butt of for. Not to mention the overtime that the taxpayers will have to pay to the police and possible medical personnel. And it can all be avoided by a simple “ my god you are beautiful, what did I ever do to deserve you”. And apocalypse averted.
Seriously, you sound in need of relationship counselling at the very least.
 

Remathilis

Legend
I think the philosopher Osbourne summed it up thusly:

There are no indisputable truths
And there ain't no fountain of youth
Each night when the day is through,
I don't ask much
I just want you
 



I think the philosopher Osbourne summed it up thusly:

There are no indisputable truths
Isn't that an indisputable truth, then? :sneaky:

Technically true, failure to disprove a falsifiable scientific theory doesn't (by extension) make the theory more likely to be true.

Falsifiability otherwise holds though. There is no such thing as 'scientific fact'; only theory (which by extension, must remain falsifiable in order to be scientific).
Falsifiability is pretty weak, actually. The Duhem-Quine thesis, for example, may not be a fatal flaw, but it's a pretty bad one. There's also the issue of falsifiability depending on the scientific community being able to achieve consensus on what counts as falsifying evidence. The two of them together isn't good.

Then there's the issue of falsifiability not actually looking like how people do science in several different ways. Scientists often cling to theories because they have desirable properties and only "defect" to a new theory when the old one has become totally untenable; scientists often conduct science without the goal of testing for any particular thing, and only derive testable claims after; scientists almost always use either frequentist or Bayesian understanding of probability, which is (explicitly) incompatible with Popper's perspective (because falsificationism explicitly rejects any concept of corroboration, but both frequentist and Bayesian probability interpretations are about our confidence that the available evidence supports a particular belief). As a practical description of how "good science" is done, falsificationism has generally failed, and despite its superficial popularity among scientists (many of whom have no idea this concept has a name, let alone that Popper was so influential to it), serious scientists usually don't make their choices about hypotheses, evidence, experimental design, or evidence analysis in ways that are compatible with falsification of any kind.

And note, I say all of this as someone whose primary area of study IS physics. I just also studied philosophy because I love both things. (I am of course nowhere near as much of an expert as other people in the thread.)

Finally, with all that said...I'm really not sure how we got onto this really seriously divergent tangent? Because this doesn't have the slightest thing to do with what we were talking about just a page ago, which is whether telling lies is harmful to anyone.

You seem to be committed to a pretty hard version of relativism: that ethical statements (and, based on other stuff you've said, potentially all statements...) can only be said to have any meaning relative to a specific context and, as a result, no action can ever be called "wrong" in any context-free sense. A thesis that is...not going to go over well with most non-relativists, who tend to hold there are at least a few things that are either actually true (moral realism) or in some other way universal even if not facts in the proper sense (e.g. sentimentalism).
 

Steampunkette

Rules Tinkerer and Freelance Writer
Supporter
It is a bit annoying that when asked to stop talking about Theology in a D&D Cosmology in a thread about D&D Heroic Character Morality structures the conversation has instead moved to Epistemology in general with a heavy focus on scientific understanding of reality...

But at least it won't get the thread closed when it hits a real-world Religious Allegory...
 


Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I am?

Which philosophical tradition am I steeped in exactly?

It doesn't matter, exactly. Modern western culture is steeped in several, so you are probably a mish-mash. However, philosophies that believe in total honesty are rather out of vogue, and you actively questioned the harm due to lies, so it was a pretty safe guess.

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).

Not quite correct. A thing is falsifiable if it is "contradicted by a statement that is logically possible." Or, more practically, a thing is falsifiable if we can imagine a test that could possibly disprove it.

"All swans are white," is falsifiable, in that "Here is a black swan" is not a logically impossible statement. "All men are mortal," is not falsifiable, because the statement, "Here is an immortal man," cannot be made. I can say, "Here is a guy who has been alive throughout history," or "Here is a person who heals from all wounds we can throw at him." But to show him truly immortal requires waiting until the end of Time itself, after which we are not present to make the statement. Thus, we can never assert a person as immortal, so mortality is non-falsifiable.

Now, the point about the statement being logically possible becomes important, because we must understand what logic actually is before we fully understand falsifiability.

Logic is a system through which we can take true statements, and through some operations, we can deduce other true statements. "Given A, B, and C are true-> some operations -> D is true."
We can use this to determine the truth value of other statements - If we have the assertion E, we then say, "Given A, B, and C -> some operations -> D. If D = E, then E is also true. If D!=E, then E is false."

However, note that we still need true statements A, B, and C to begin with. Without them, we can use the operations of logic to compare the truth value of two statements - I can determine if D equals E, or if D does not equal E. I can know if they have the same truth value, or different truth values, but not what those values are.

A, B, and C are axioms. They are assumed to be true by the logical operations. Their truth cannot be determined by the logical operations. At best, we can determine that the set of axioms is not consistent - that they cannot all be true at the same time. But, we cannot tell which one might be false.

So, the Peano Axioms define the arithmetic properties of the natural numbers. It is by the Peano axioms that we know that 1 + 1 = 2 (in values - whether you express this in decimal or binary or whatever is irrelevant to the logic). Given the axioms, that 1 + 1 = 2 is not falsifiable, as no logical statement to contradict this can exist.

However, there are other axioms.

We can create a consistent (indeed, a trivial and pretty much useless) set of axioms, in which 1 + 1 = 0. GIVEN THE AXIOMS, this is not falsifiable, as no logical statement to contradict it can exist.

So, we have two statements - 1+1=2, and 1+1=0 - and both are true, and both are non-falsifiable. But you don't take one to say the other is false, because they are based in different sets of axioms. They are different number systems, and crossing them is a misapplication of logic. Logic only applies internally to the set of axioms.

This is why I said that moral philosophy systems were a lot like formal logic - they also have axioms. These are assumed to be true. You cannot use your axioms to prove that another's are false - the logic of moral philosophy only works internally. What you consider to be "good" or "evil" or "harm" depends on your axioms, your base definitions of morality. And yours may be different someone else's, and they lead you to different results. But, yours doesn't disprove theirs logically. The logical statements we'd use for falsifiability depend on the axioms, they don't apply to the axioms.

Up above, I mentioned that we can have a definition of a number system in which 1+1=0. I also said this was trivial, and pretty much useless. But, "useless" is a subjective term. We, on Earth, here, in this universe, have little to which that number system constructively applies (honestly, I've only seen it used in discussions very like this one). Most arguments of moral philosophy come down to such opinions. The issue isn't actually about absolute truth, but about applicability.

Or, you know, you can just watch The Good Place, and get pretty much the same result as this post...
 
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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Well. I know if I don’t lie about how beautiful my wife looks in the morning that there will be a lot of harm directed my way and to alot of property i worked my butt of for.

Yes, well, a proper Stoic or Cynic would say that your property is meaningless, so harm to it isn't relevant, and indeed, your attachment to things is a significant source of unhappiness, and you should really Marie Kondo the lot.

Also, your wife's vanity in this regard is not a virtue, and is thus also a source of unhappiness, and she should be led to understand your love for her transcends her mere physical appearance.

See how well that flies :p
 

It doesn't matter, exactly. Modern western culture is steeped in several, so you are probably a mish-mash. However, philosophies that believe in total honesty are rather out of vogue, and you actively questioned the harm due to lies, so it was a pretty safe guess.



Not quite correct. A thing is falsifiable if it is "contradicted by a statement that is logically possible." Or, more practically, a thing is falsifiable if we can imagine a test that could possibly disprove it.

"All swans are white," is falsifiable, in that "Here is a black swan" is not a logically impossible statement. "All men are mortal," is not falsifiable, because the statement, "Here is an immortal man," cannot be made. I can say, "Here is a guy who has been alive throughout history," or "Here is a person who heals from all wounds we can throw at him." But to show him truly immortal requires waiting until the end of Time itself, after which we are not present to make the statement. Thus, we can never assert a person as immortal, so mortality is non-falsifiable.

Now, the point about the statement being logically possible becomes important, because we must understand what logic actually is before we fully understand falsifiability.

Logic is a system through which we can take true statements, and through some operations, we can deduce other true statements. "Given A, B, and C are true-> some operations -> D is true."
We can use this to determine the truth value of other statements - If we have the assertion E, we then say, "Given A, B, and C -> some operations -> D. If D = E, then E is also true. If D!=E, then E is false."

However, note that we still need true statements A, B, and C to begin with. Without them, we can use the operations of logic to compare the truth value of two statements - I can determine if D equals E, or if D does not equal E. I can know if they have the same truth value, or different truth values, but not what those values are.

A, B, and C are axioms. They are assumed to be true by the logical operations. Their truth cannot be determined by the logical operations. At best, we can determine that the set of axioms is not consistent - that they cannot all be true at the same time. But, we cannot tell which one might be false.

So, the Peano Axioms define the arithmetic properties of the natural numbers. It is by the Peano axioms that we know that 1 + 1 = 2 (in values - whether you express this in decimal or binary or whatever is irrelevant to the logic). Given the axioms, that 1 + 1 = 2 is not falsifiable, as no logical statement to contradict this can exist.

However, there are other axioms.

We can create a consistent (indeed, a trivial and pretty much useless) set of axioms, in which 1 + 1 = 0. GIVEN THE AXIOMS, this is not falsifiable, as no logical statement to contradict it can exist.

So, we have two statements - 1+1=2, and 1+1=0 - and both are true, and both are non-falsifiable. But you don't take one to say the other is false, because they are based in different sets of axioms. They are different number systems, and crossing them is a misapplication of logic. Logic only applies internally to the set of axioms.

This is why I said that moral philosophy systems were a lot like formal logic - they also have axioms. These are assumed to be true. You cannot use your axioms to prove that another's are false - the logic of moral philosophy only works internally. What you consider to be "good" or "evil" or "harm" depends on your axioms, your base definitions of morality. And yours may be different someone else's, and they lead you to different results. But, yours doesn't disprove theirs logically. The logical statements we'd use for falsifiability depend on the axioms, they don't apply to the axioms.

Up above, I mentioned that we can have a definition of a number system in which 1+1=0. I also said this was trivial, and pretty much useless. But, "useless" is a subjective term. We, on Earth, here, in this universe, have little to which that number system constructively applies (honestly, I've only seen it used in discussions very like this one). Most arguments of moral philosophy come down to such opinions. The issue isn't actually about absolute truth, but about applicability.

Or, you know, you can just watch The Good Place, and get pretty much the same result as this post...
can you define applicability?
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
At some point, is anyone going to bring this back to D&D?

...the thread isn't really hopping until someone tries to apply Gödel to the 5e rules.
 


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