Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Aristotle and D&D

I just got back from another great Triangle Ethics Circle. Each month, for some reason, I sort of dread heading out to the Durham or in this case Chapel Hill for the Ethics Circle. For some reason I think it will be less interesting than it really is. Today was a great one. C.D.C. Reeve did the paper for tonight, on Aristotle and Practical Reason. Good stuff.

I love a good conversation about Aristotle. I don't agree with Aristotle. I don't really think his politics or ethics are quite right, and yet, there is something about his work. It brings to mind a well crafted novel, or in my case a really cool D&D campaign world.

He imagines sorts of people, parts of their souls, how they ought to live, the sorts of problems they are likely to face. And honestly, these people he describes seem quite alien. Or rather, they are familiar enough, that I can think I understand what he means. They need courage, sure I know was courage is, so no problem there. But then, there are elements that are very odd, and there is a lot of... well this would only apply to this sort of a society, or ideally, or consider the Greeks thought this. And the upshot is, it isn't clear his theories mean anything to us, and may not have meant much to the Real Greek of his day.

But, there is his world. And it is incredibly well thought out. He paints a picture of the man and the polis, engaged in a sort of stewardship, over himself and his society (use of the masculine is intention here). It is quite remarkable. There is a certain clockwork appeal to it. I wouldn't want to live in Aristotle's ideal polis, at least I am pretty sure I wouldn't. But it has it own internal logic and sense. The wisest, most virtuous, and most rational run things, they deliberate on matters of difficulty and importance, but for the most part, well thought out laws guide the behavior of the common person. If there are such people, these aristocrats would, I think, make the best decisions. it seems almost a tautology. If there are virtues of thought, and correct ways of behaving, deliberating, reasoning, then those who possess those virtues, who are best able to reason through things, really ought to make leaders, in the sense that Aristotle imagined. Of course, as Woody Allen parodied, it is not so much the idea of their being philosopher kings that is troubling, it is that when you say it that you point to yourself and cough.

When I look at the things in my own gaming worlds that I like. It is when there is this kind of falling to place of the elements: the societies, or histories, or planar alignments that seem to fit together nicely, one explaining the other. I think Aristotle has the same sort of appeal. I like the way his thoughts seem to fit together so nicely, and the paradoxes he introduces, the puzzles, are so interesting, and dramatic (eg. Book 10 of the Nicomachean Ethics).

I remember writing on one of my grad school applications, how my approach to philosophy was one of 'appreciation' rather than criticism or addition. I think that remains true today. go figure.


At 10:52 PM, Blogger jeff said...

I feel this way about Aristotle at times, too, though I've really only read parts of the Ethics. Philosophy is funny in this way--the system builders can often be appreciated in the way one appreciates a good D and D campaign. I mean, I have even felt this way about Leibniz, and geez, what a freakin' wacko system he had.

I often think about your description of appreciating philosophy, rather than thinking of it as particularly practical--I struggle with this because I want it to be practical, dammit.


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