Check for Traps
All About Alignment

Alexander Macris | 30 Nov 2010 21:00
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In between these two positions is a third way, which could be called aretological, or character-based ethics. To an aretologist, the goodness of an action is judged based on the character trait which motivated the action. While they ultimately judge the rightness or wrongness of deeds in their totality by their consequences, they believe that it is impossible to predict what the consequences are likely to be in most circumstances. Instead, we should generally behaving in accordance with particular character traits (the "virtues") which tend to promote these desirable consequences overall. John Stuart Mill's rules-based utilitarianism and Aristotle's virtue ethics both lead to similar reasoning, leading to moral "rules of thumb" or "habits" which should be followed unless there is a strong reason for not doing so. Such people will generally follow the rules and keep their promises, but not so strictly as Lawful characters, but may act on a case-by-case basis when circumstances dictate, though not with such disdain for custom and law as Chaotics. They are, in short, Neutrals. When you ponder whether it's permissible to drive through the stop light when there's nobody around, you're thinking like a Neutral. (The Lawful person would never consider it, and the Chaotic person drove through as soon as he knew it was safe.)

Is it a Circle of Life, or a Circle of Strife?

Having identified how we judge the "goodness" of actions, and thereby identifying Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic philosophies, the second question we must answer is who the proper beneficiaries of "good" behavior are. In short, whose "good" are we talking about? The answer to this question will correlate with an element on the Good and Evil axis.

To frame this discussion, let's turn to Peter Singer's theory of the "expanding circle of morality," in which each individual has a different circle that he takes account of when evaluating what's good. At its narrowest point, this simply means a man asking "what's good for me?" A broader circle might include "what's good for me, my family, my neighborhood, or my tribe?" A vastly broader circle might include "what's good for all mankind" or even "what's good for all life on earth?" Within the circle, the individual may treat everyone equally, or may elevate certain interests above those of another. An individual who treats everyone equally within his circle has a flat circle, while one who discounts the interests of others the further away they are on the circle has a sloped circle.

This concept of the expanding moral circle elegantly maps onto the Dungeons & Dragons alignments. Good characters have very broad, flat moral circles that generally encompass all other Good creatures. Such a character feels an obligation to help, serve, and benefit others, even at the sacrifice of their self-interest.

Neutral characters have modest, sloped moral circles that encompass themselves, their loved one, and their tribe, city, country, or race, at an increasing slope of disinterest as the circle expands. The ancient Arab maxim "me against my brother; my brother and I against our cousin; my brother, my cousin and I against the stranger" expresses a Neutral sentiment. Objectivism,, which demands that "I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for man," is another expression of Neutrality. (A Good person would live for others; an Evil person would have no compunction against asking another man to give his life for him.)


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