Tuesday, September 2, 2008

How Morality is Portrayed in RPGs: part iii

World of Darkness: Virtues and Vices

One (possibly shallow) problem with virtue ethics is that it does not tell us what we ought to do as well as deontology or consequentialism. Deontology, in the form of the categorical imperative offers advice on how to proceed in certain situations as does utilitarianism, which offers up something like a cost benefit analysis of pleasure v. pain. These moral systems offer solutions in many cases - sometimes too easily [Bernard Williams makes this criticism of Utilitarianism], or not the answer we want to say is moral, but they offer solutions where virtue ethics might be unclear on answers. When a teenage girl is pregnant and she wants to decide if she ought to get an abortion she can weigh the pleasures v. pain this could cause now and throughout her life and her relationships to others, she can look at the interpretations of the categorical imperative and wonder if she'd be treating the fetus as a mere means, but what do the virtues tell her? 

Is it courageous to get an abortion or to have the baby? It can be in both cases. 
Is it just? - It's hard to say in the moment that a decision needs to be made (or even hypothetically with infinite time). 
Temperance, wise - none of these may help. 

But what if she asks: What would the virtuous person do? Would Socrates have an abortion? 

Neither of these questions seems helpful to anyone who isn't virtuous already. 

Yet despite this, we clearly recognize some situations where virtues are applicable: it's charitable to give money to non-profit organizations like Doctors Without Borders, it's courageous of firemen to selflessly run into the flames to save another's life. In turn, it's cowardly of the firefighter who has been properly trained who doesn't run into the building that's only partially on fire and not in danger of collapsing. It's wrathful to beat someone who's only committed the slightest of crimes against you - or merely been accused. 

I don't know if this is common, but when going over moral theory deontology and consequentialism were often paired off against each other, while virtue ethics seemed to handle morality from such a different standpoint it wasn't necessarily against the other two theories. In fact, I've heard that Buddhism can be interpreted (morally) as self-effacing consequentialism that utilizes virtue ethics to reach the best consequences. Virtue ethics is often more about our relationships with others while deontology and consequentialism are about finding a principled way of abstracting all moral problems. 

Related more directly to the WoD: I like that the virtues and vices stand apart from Morality the mechanic. It reminds me of this separation in how it was viewed in studying morality. I also like that being virtuous contributes to willpower. There is no happiness or eudiamonia (mechanically speaking) in WoD, but the fact that being a virtuous person replenishes your willpower suggests very much that it is good to be virtuous. 

1 comment:

szilard said...

But what if she asks: What would the virtuous person do? Would Socrates have an abortion?
Neither of these questions seems helpful to anyone who isn't virtuous already.

I disagree with this entirely. People use exemplars in decision-making all the time.