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Theory of Morality; a response to Sandineyes
Posted on Wednesday, May 21 2008 @ 04:39:56 Eastern

This is a response to Sandineyes' post of May 19, 2008: "Morality in video games"

I felt a blog post was necessary, rather than a comment, as I'll be going to length and depth to which a comment is not amenable.

The whole discussion runs into a snag from the very start when we attempt to "quantify" morality.  To do so is to make an ontological and metaphysical error that obliterates any attempt at moral or ethical philosophy.  Morality is eminently qualifiable, however, and to completely abjure categories, kinds, qualities and abstract principles for purely quantitative expressions leads us to a universal state of unintelligibility; after all, the human mind automatically thinks in kinds.  It is not enough to ask "how much," one must first ask "what," and then "how much of what," and these are fundamentally separate questions.  Following on this, any attempt at an ethical system cogitated on pure reason (Kant stated one was possible, but never built one) or one dependent exclusively on the particulars of experience are both doomed to failure.  The former may lay out some fixed principles or guidance, the criterion of judgment which is the very essence of what morality provides, but without reference to reality, which experience provides, these are almost certainly worthless principles.  A good example is the Attic, especially Platonic/Aristotelian, scorn for labor and commerce.  It was founded on ideals not beholden to the reality in which man actually exists.  The opposite, the morality of Hume, Bacon, and many of the 20th century philosophers, is a shifting quicksand; lacking any abstract principle (Bacon, for example, abjured reason to maniacal extremes, in all fields, whilst secretly embracing mysticism) there is ultimately no judgment and no essential moral code.  It is often in lower fields, especially politics and economics, where such errors are revealed; the empiricists have typically been unopposed to any particular form of government and e.g. Ronald Coase has stated that he is uninterested in rights in the abstract, but only in rights that are "useful."  The flaw in the statement provides further considerations; useful to whom?  In what way?  How do we determine this?  There is nothing in Coase's work to provide an answer.  The Coase/Chicago school of advocacy for capitalism is based on a criterion of "efficiency" which is at best ill-defined.  Bacon's followers were fairly agnostic politically; so long as there was a powerful enough state to fund their endless fact-grubbing, that is.

Moving the discussion back to video games, and GTA IV in particular, the metaphysical framework that underpins an artist influences and guides, and is the ultimate foundation of, artistic works.(1)  To say that the world in which we romp about in GTA IV is amoral is entirely false; it has a moral character, brought forth by its creators, but it is a very subtle one, which reflects well on the artistic gifts of its creators.  The choices we are given in GTA IV are as strong, and as meaningful, as the key choice in Bioshock.  However, they're devoid of immediate gameplay implications.  They don't need to have them to be meaningful, however.  The value in them is exclusively for the player, as the game itself.(2)  Morality, or the lack of it, lay in our own judgment, demonstrated in action.  If a person is truly determined(3) in a given circumstance, there is no question of morality, but the truth is that even if a game 'forces' a player to do undeniably despicable things, the player still has at least one choice left; turn the game off.

One last quibble,

"Even regardless of the moral flexibility of players, these games ensure that playing the game only once will result in losing out on a great deal of content, regardless of how thorough one is."

This could be said of any non-linear game that contains large numbers of secrets and ancillary content that one need never access.  My quibble is this; why not be optimistic about the implications?  That means there's always something more to go back for, when one decides to play again.

I hope I've added more light than heat to this discussion.

(1) - This insight was originated, to the best of my knowledge, by Ayn Rand.  Once one grasps it, and its significance, it seems downright silly that no one said it before.  It's nearly a tautology.

(2) - I've not played through all of GTA IV, so I can't say it with certainty.  I won't go into specifics here, for reason of not wishing to drop spoilers.

(3) - Determined as in the sense of determinism as against free will.  Suffice it to say the present author comes down on the side of free will.
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