We Are All Neutral Survivalists: Alignment in a Complex World

1: ...This was in question?

I am not sophisticated enough with the posting software yet, so let me see if this works:

When it comes right down to it I'd say about 80% of people fall into the 4e "Unaligned" category. Most people simply aren't far enough out to the edge of the spectrum to justify one of the other alignments.

I don't mean to be the guy getting all defensive about his argument and responding to anything that could be construed as a breach of my argument's honor, but I do think this can clarify my intentions constructively. Arguing for alignment would kinda be a necessary side argument for people like the quoted if I am going to do a Great Wheel cosmology.
 

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Leontodon

First Post
Ok. Sadly, I'm unable to formulate a rebuttle that isn't likely to violate the policies of EnWorld or at least derail the thread. Suffice to say that I think you spend far too little time addressing the cause and ideology being defended and far too much time on the idea that all nationalism is the same. Also, you seem to make the same sort of general error as the OP, arguing that if some benefit accrues (or is percieved to accrue) then its not selfless. But we can always find some benefit accruing or being percieved as accrueing in any sort of selfless behavior. You also seem to be of the delusion that I'm unaware of the nuance involved in my examples and need a history lesson on the subjects, but I really can't address that either.

I suspect that if you are accurately reflecting the nature of the work, I'll find much the same flaws in it.

I disagree. Even beyond the very slippery nature of the term, I don't strongly associate a selfless state with the capacity or indication of good, and more importantly I don't think that an indicator of a thing is the thing itself.

I wouldn't go that far. It's quite possible to imagine a world where the laws governing the world suggest a morality which is different than the morality suggested by the laws we suppose govern this one, but I wouldn't suggest that a real world understanding couldn't inform even that extreme case.

I just addressed your very American-centristic notion of morals and the fact that people do not live their lives in a constant ideological upheaval in the real world. Your post seems to make the point that people always know the full moral implications of their deeds even on a global scale.

That you do not know Andersons work is testamony to you not having done any academic work on the topic and no I did not even try to represent the thesis of the book (really you should look it up).

My point stands valid as you did not address any of the actual content of my post.

A kamikaze pilot is never only a kamikaze pilot, and a southern states soldier is never only a southern states soldier. The main driving force in their live is not ideology.
A paladine in a heroic fantasy environment on the other hand is exactly that: An ideology-driven larger than life character, as is the evil-priest who sacrifices virgins. They to are not one-dimensional but much more so than some recruited soldier, simply they are fictional characters created to serve a purpose. The Japanese kamikaze pilot was not born so as to be castet as the baddy and only Hollywood movies turn him into exactly that and nothing more. Its not a good idea to draw upon those images for historical and moral discussions.

I hope that I made the connection of my post to the topic at hand clear enough.
 

pemerton

Legend
Real-world examples are of little use when arguing about heroic fantasy roleplay-games
I agree. I would go further and say that classic D&D alignment is of little use either. If you're not interested in having a game explore moral issues, alignment just gets in the way (in practice, the players write LN, NG, CG or TN on their sheets and then everyone ignores it). On the other hand, if you are interested in having a game explore moral issues, it's likely you're interested in real-world moral questions, in which case alignment isn't much help for thinking about them.

IA paladine in a heroic fantasy environment on the other hand is exactly that: An ideology-driven larger than life character, as is the evil-priest who sacrifices virgins. They to are not one-dimensional but much more so than some recruited soldier, simply they are fictional characters created to serve a purpose.
I agree with this. Again, I'd go further and suggests that if a game is going to have an alignment system, that system should at least do a good job of helping the fiction achieve its purpose.
 

pemerton

Legend
I am making a tautological revealed preference argument as follows: people do stuff they like and we know they like to do that stuff cause that is the stuff they do. Therefore everyone is "alike" in the sense that they do the stuff they like to do.
This is not a very interesting sense in which people are all alike. What is interesting is their very varied preferences, and hence their very varied utility functions. In this sense, which I suggest is more interesting, people are often very different from one another.

And as others have pointed out, your "like to do" is ambiguous as between a thing (i) that they gain pleasure from doing, (ii) that they satisfy a preference by doing, and (iii) that is the rational thing to do consistent with their overall preference structure. For those with other-regarding preferences, (i) and (ii) can come apart. For those with higher-order preferences not to act on their lower order preferences, (ii) and (iii) can come apart (eg Ulysses and the sirens). And which preference will be revealed by a person's behaviour depends upon further complexities such as the possibility of acting out of weakness of will. (Hence to understand Ulysses's overall preferences we have to notice his instruction to his men to tie him to the mast, rather than his cries for release when the sirens come within earshot. Similarly for the knowing lycanthrope who instructs his allies to wrap him in chains of silver and then ignore his entreaties later in the evening. )

What I intended was probably closer to the (tautological) concept of utility maximization.
If I understood it right, your initial post suggests that everyone has a strong self-regarding survivalist preference, but that different beliefs about (i) the likelihood of social reciprocation, and (ii) the usefulness of departing from expected ways of doing things, will produce different behaviours that are expressive of the different alignments.

If I wanted to explain why some people are more generous than others, though, I wouldn't confine myself to positing different beliefs about the likelihood of reciprocation. Equally for those who act viciously. I'd also ask myself whether or not they have genuine other-regarding preferences, whether altruistic or hostile.

At least as I've tended to understand it, I think that D&D "good" is meant to describe those who actually have, and who act upon, altruistic preferences. The definition of D&D "evil" has always been a bit ambiguous as between other-regard and self-regard, but on at least some readings it seems to be used to refer to those who have, and who act upon, other-regarding but non-altruistic preferences (ie a desire that others suffer).

I've always assumed that, in D&D terms, a person who acted in a generous way but purely out of a self-regarding expectation that such behaviour will be rewarded is "neutral" as between good and evil, although the sort of neutral that you wouldn't necessarily mind having as a next-door neighbour. Conversely, there has always been some ambiguity as to whether a person who acts in a hostile fashion, but purely out of a self-interested desire to ensure their own survival, is neutral or evil. When played as a PC, this person tends to be given the benefit of the doubt, and hence neutral status. For NPCs, it's a bit more ambiguous (for example 1st ed Oriental Adventures, if I remember correctly, suggests that greedy merchants are neutral evil).

And this doesn't even get to the issue of whether a method of analysis that was invented to explain the behaviour of modern individuals in a capitalist market (ie modern economic theory) is really exportable to what are ostensibly very different social and political contexts (ie the D&D gameworlds, which however varied are rarely meant to be modern capitalist societies).
 

Aust Diamondew

First Post
The idea that everyone acts to "maximize their survival" sounds reminiscent of Schopenhauer's (a 19th century German philosopher) idea of the Will to Live, that rationality and morality aren't the things that cause human action but the desire for survival.
I haven't actually read much Schopenhauer, only a small bit about him in relation to Nietzsche (who was inspired by and reacted against Schopenhauer's philosophy) so I can't say much else on the relation between the OP's argument and what has been explored.


I just find it very interesting when discussion of morality in D&D (even though I despise the good/evil law/chaos alignment system) connects somewhat with what philosophers have written.
 

Celebrim

Legend
I just addressed your very American-centristic notion of morals...

Ok, now you are just trolling.

My point stands valid as you did not address any of the actual content of my post.

Which is hardly surprising since I suggested that to respond to your content would require me to talk about politics or religion or both.

I will say once again though, that I don't find nearly as sharp of a distinction between the real world and fantasy as you want to draw. Real world people are indeed often driven by sincere belief in ideologies which, from their own perspective, are as real and important to them as anything a Paladin believes in. Neither fantasy characters nor their real world counterparts need to be simplistic charactitures and just because a real or imagined person is not one diminsional does not mean that we can't draw any conclusions about thier actions.
 

pemerton

Legend
The idea that everyone acts to "maximize their survival" sounds reminiscent of Schopenhauer's (a 19th century German philosopher) idea of the Will to Live, that rationality and morality aren't the things that cause human action but the desire for survival.
I think the OP is influenced more by game theory/economics than by German philosophy.
 

Leontodon

First Post
Ok, now you are just trolling.

No unfortunately I am not. Actually the examples you mentioned are a nice way to proof how that our real-world moral perceptions are in no way a fitting tool to measure morality in a heroic fantasy world.
To say that Kamikaze pilots are evil (which is what you said) is a uniquely Western way and more precisely North American way of viewing them. To a Japanese person the might appear to be noble, dedicated and good willed. You see a cultural pattern that is alien to you and from your American point of departure you judge them.
The same goes for your example of a Southern States soldier. If your firmly rooted in a Southern states background you may see the Northern States denial of letting the Southern states go their way as an act of tyranny and oppression.

It is a matter of perspective. Only in a few cases it is possible to see objective evil in the real world. Certainly I woud not search for examples in warfare or one is endagered to end up as a hypocrite.

In a fantasy world there IS objective evil. The red dragon is evil (you wont investigate wether he had a hard childhood). The orc soldiers are evil. A demon is evil. Evil exists here in a way so that you can touch it.

BTW bringing the accusation of trolling up in that arbitrary fashion does not help any debate and can only be seen as a cry for the moderators to shut your adversary up. As far as I know trolling refers to needless antagonization. I tried to make a point so it hardly qualifies.

Which is hardly surprising since I suggested that to respond to your content would require me to talk about politics or religion or both.

I will say once again though, that I don't find nearly as sharp of a distinction between the real world and fantasy as you want to draw. Real world people are indeed often driven by sincere belief in ideologies which, from their own perspective, are as real and important to them as anything a Paladin believes in. Neither fantasy characters nor their real world counterparts need to be simplistic charactitures and just because a real or imagined person is not one diminsional does not mean that we can't draw any conclusions about thier actions.

If you bring up historical (not contemporary political) examples, than I am entitled to challenge them as wrong. Calling Kamikaze pilots evil would definitly need more elaboration on the matter from your side than may be acceptable on this board, but this is only another proof of the example being badly chosen (You may PM your thoughts on that matter to me I'd love to see you justifying that qualification).

You suggest that a real human beings life can be easily stereotyped as being evil. You only prove that the definition of evil in the real world is almost impossible. Therefore no conclusions can be drawn from the real world to a fantasy world were evil is an almost visible force being constantly at work, a world where it may even be represented by its own cosmological sphere and monsters that impersonate it.
 

Celebrim

Legend
The same goes for your example of a Southern States soldier. If your firmly rooted in a Southern states background you may see the Northern States denial of letting the Southern states go their way as an act of tyranny and oppression.

Nine members of my family fought in the Civil War on the side of the South. Seven of them died during the war. And that's just the paternal line. My great-great-grandfather on a maternal line was the last surviving confederate veteren of Gettysburg (he was a drummer boy).

You see, you really don't know anything about my perspective (like for example, you probably didn't know I grew up in a third world nation), and I wish you'd stop the personal attacks, because you aren't worth a 3 day suspension and you are very much tempting me to respond in kind. You know nothing of my background at all, and the whole dismissal of what I said as 'American-Centric' says in my opinion alot more about your biases than it says about mine.

Basically, it comes down to this. You are fighting me over the objective nature of evil in the real world. You don't like my description of it, and wish to propose a separate description of evil in the real world as a factual one. That is, you want to state as a fact that evil in the real world is not objective or at least not usually objective, where as evil in a fantasy world is objective. However, at a minimum, both statements are themselves merely opinions.

You seem to think that I'm going to get in to a historical argument with you, and if that was really what was at stake in your challenge, I would. However, we aren't arguing over historical fact. You are challenging me over metaethical concerns. It would be pointless for me to offer up an argument about the objective nature of evil in the real world. Even if I could defend my opinion, if I start arguing about real world metaethics invariably its going to get political/religious/etc. It's already got that with your whole 'American Centric notion of morals' bit.
 

pacdidj

First Post
That is, you want to state as a fact that evil in the real world is not objective or at least not usually objective, where as evil in a fantasy world is objective. However, at a minimum, both statements are themselves merely opinions.

Actually, at least one of them is not a matter of opinion. 'Ethics,' just like all systems of value are necessarily subjective. Objects don't have values. Subjects do. Ethics specifically is an inter-subjective process of evaluation, because good or evil both get done by someone to someone. It takes one subject to commit the good or evil deed, often to or on behalf of someone else (though also occasionally to oneself). Then both the doer and the person to or for whom the deed is done will evaluate where they feel the deed falls on a spectrum of received values that they have been taught and/or learned through experience. A chair cannot evaluate whether or not it thinks it has been the victim of evil.

Thus 'ethics' are subjective, because they don't exist without subjects. This is part of why alignment poorly reflects the real world. In D&D as written, both good and evil are palpable, tangible forces that can inhere in objects, as well as in the actions committed by people, making them distinctly more objective forces than the abstractions we call good and evil in the real world. Though, whether these forces inherent in objects would continue to exist in the game world in the absence of D&D subjects (PCs, NPCs, and Divine beings), when no one is around to see or handle them, or when the god who blessed or cursed them is overthrown is an interesting and open question. I imagine this would vary greatly from DM to DM, and thus you're correct in terming the relative objectivity of good and evil a matter of opinion within the canonical fantasy world of Dungeons and Dragons.
 

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