I guess I'll share some background information as well: Nearly a third of all the philosophy courses I took in college were related to morality. Courses on classic moral theory, contemporary, metaethics, issues of collectivity. My senior thesis was on the metaethical issue of internal v. external motivation within statements such as "X is right." It was this that first led me to examine motivation in rpgs and breaking them down into internally driven v. externally (this was one of my firsts writings on games, and partially inspired me to start this blog). It comes as no surprise then that the way that various games portray morality in their systems is of great interest to me. I would now like to explore that over the course of several posts.
Three Models of Moral Theory:
Virtue Ethics: Historically virtue ethics goes back to Plato and Aristotle. It was also immensely popular during the medieval period, less so during the Enlightenment, but became popular again in the middle of the 20th century. Virtue ethics emphasizes character above behavior. The vitreous person holds the dispositions that lead to human flourishing. Examples of virtues are: courage, wisdom, justice, and prudence. It's interesting that virtue ethics is linked to human flourishing. In this way it can be understood as an inter-subjective theory, and not necessarily making a claim about objective morality. This system will be of special interest when looking at the World of Darkness as the virtues are explicitly written into their system.
Deontology: The most famous of deontological theories was that developed by Immanual Kant. Kant's theory is absolutist - there are some actions that are wrong, always, and some good, always. Kant cared more about intentions than outcomes in many cases. Imagine two shopkeepers: A boy walks into the store to buy candy. The boy mistakes the price of candy to be far more expensive than it is, but gives the shopkeeper all this money. The first shopkeeper wants to give the boy his money back because if the rest of the town found out he cheated the boy they would not shop from him again. The second shopkeeper doesn't want to cheat the boy because this is wrong. The first shopkeeper can be said to be performing the right action, but for a selfish reason. Kant might label this amoral or immoral. With the second shopkeeper however, he is performing the right action and for the right reason. This is then moral, according to Kant. The method to determine right from wrong is formalized in Kant's Categorical Imperative: Act only on that maxim that you would also will it to become a universal law.
Consequentialism: The ends justify the means. That platitude, in a way, sums up consequentialism. Consequentialists deny absolute right and wrong. Lying is permissible, or obligatory, in some cases. Killing is as well, or even in the most horrible of thought experiments so is raping children. Consequentialism is unintuitive to many in such cases. The consequentialist is committed to outcomes always being of the highest value: greater than personal integrity, responsibility, everything. The most famous example of consequentialism comes from John Stuart Mill in the form of utilitarianism. Utilitarianism values happiness above all else, and equates happiness with maximizing pleasure while lowering pain in the greatest number of beings capable of feeling pleasure and pain. This theory is often unfairly criticized for being hedonistic, but Mill recognizes intellectual pleasures as a higher sort than base pleasures. Whether he argues this well is questionable.
In short, those are the three major moral theories. I'll also likely bring up issues of egoism and the role of intuitions in moral thinking, divine command theory, cultural relativism, as well when discussing specific treatments of morality in games. Tomorrow I'll post an analysis of the World of Darkness core book's morality system and their use of virtues and vices.