Friday, 28 August 2009


I've been reading an excellent book called "The Philosopher at the End of the Universe" in which Mark Rowlands (a philosophy professor) tries to explain certain philosophical concepts by reference to action movies. The chapter I'm reading currently is based on "Hollow Man" (starring Kevin Bacon) and asks why we should ever choose to act in a moral way. In the film KB is turned invisible, and because there are no apparent consequences to his actions he acts outside of normal morality and only tries to follow his own desires (he tries to shag one co-worker, then tries to kill the rest to protect his secret).

I've also started reading the Greedy Goblin blog by Gevlon, which is one of the best warcraft blogs in my view, though I disagree with much of what he says. His blog made me think more carefully about morality in the Warcraft context.

If you have a choice of act morally, or prudentially (meaning in your own best interests) why would you ever choose to act in such a way that was not in your own interests? It is normal for people in society not to steal or kill, but if we are caught we are punished so it is usually not in our own interests to do so. If however there was no possible downside to stealing then why would anyone make the moral choice not to?

Does the concept of morality come from the concept of God? I don't think it does - if you act in a certain way because God wants you to, you are acting in such a way because you fear divine retribution (ie your choice is prudential, not moral) or because you unthinkingly obey all of God's laws. In the second case if God commanded you to steal or kill then you would unthinkingly do that - you are not making a moral choice (or indeed any kind of choice) at all.

A second explanation comes from the concept of the social contract. This relies on two assumptions - one is that others are a threat to you. The second is that it is possible to use others to further your goals and desires. Thus society is born - it protects us from those who are a threat to us, and allows us to use others to attain our own desires.

In warcraft other players are not really a threat to you except on a PvP server. My experience of such servers is pretty much nil, but I imagine being in a guild or having a long friends list is a great help, especially when levelling. I'm not really interested in that here though.

Fundamental to Warcraft is co-operation with the aim of killing raid bosses. Want to kill KT? You need to find 9 (or 24) people to help you. You can try the PUG system, but you will find that it takes a great deal of time, effort and the failure rate of PUGs is very high. Much better to join a guild. So in one sense, a guild is a society brought together by the need to co-operate. Morality in guild dealings is therefore underpinned by the social contract - your guildies are there to help you with your desires - kill bosses, craft epics, make your fish feasts, etc.

This is I think where Gevlon comes from with this version of morality. One should act in a certain way only so far as it has a benefit for you, and that certain way is to behave well in raids - don't steal from the guild bank, don't ninja, don't insult your guildies because these things will get you /gkicked and hence you will have to find other people to help you to satisfy your desires.

It is I think a hollow form of morality though - to take a real world example, you are shipwrecked on a desert island with a small child. The child can't help you survive on the island (your desire) or protect you from wild animals (the threats), and so is useless to you. Ignoring the child and leaving it to die would therefore be perfectly moral.

To take a warcraft example, if you are GM of a guild which has lost its MT and healer and can no longer satisfy your raiding desires without a tiresome period of gearing up inexperienced alternatives, it would be moral to close down your guild, clear out the guild bank, and search for a raiding guild which is currently able to do so. You could even use the funds taken from the guild bank to buy your way in.

I think that this philosophy doesn't not explain morality, but merely provides an extension of self interest. It proceeds from the assumption that one would always act in their own interest unless contradicted by morality, which I think is an invalid assumption.

There are some other theories of morality - principally put forward by Kant and Mills, and I will maybe blog about those when I have time.

No comments:

Post a Comment