Author Topic: In Defense of Evil  (Read 969 times)

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Offline jdale

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In Defense of Evil
« on: December 18, 2021, 08:26:03 PM »
So not really in defense of evil, but in defense of the idea of evil....

This is spinning off the thread in the Shadow World forum https://ironcrown.co.uk/ICEforums/index.php?topic=20432.0 but I'm just addressing the RM aspects, not Unlife or Shadow World, so I thought I'd make a new thread.

MORAL ABSOLUTISM VS MORAL RELATIVISM

Most long-established moral systems believe in their own absolute truth: they establish what is right and wrong for everyone, and may claim that they are enforced or at least judged by an objective third party (e.g., God). When we started trying to really understand other cultures, it became obvious that finding an objectively true moral system was a matter of picking favorites. Every culture has their own opinion but what makes one better than the others? That led to the idea of moral relativism: morality is purely a construct of culture, and there is no objective truth. In a fictional world, it seems especially arbitrary to select one fictional culture which possesses moral truth while all other fictional cultures do not.

Moral relativism has significant limitations as a basis for ethical considerations. Although you can assess the morality of acts within a cultural group, by definition relativism has no answers for how to judge the morality of interactions between groups. If you want to become a better individual, it offers no ultimate answers for how you should act or how you should make decisions, only for how to become a better member of a particular society or culture. If you participate in a cross-cultural endeavor, it gives you no guidance at all; you are forced to pick favorites in determining how to act.

Moral relativism also starts to break down once you recognize that cultures have subgroups (castes, subcultures, even gender roles), which may have their own standards or expectations. If moral judgment differs between those subgroups, now you can't even usefully assess interactions throughout the whole culture. Pretty soon morality collapses down to "do what you personally think is right" which isn't a very helpful guideline, and certainly isn't a useful standard of judgment.

There is a lot of space, however, between moral absolutism (one standard for everyone) and complete moral relativism (everyone picks their own). If you examine real world moral systems, while they differ on the little details, a lot of big picture pieces are the same. What they share can be considered moral principles which could have objective meaning; what they do not share can be considered moral rules which are culturally specific.

Sanctity of life is one of these underlying principles. The lives of morally relevant persons have value and cannot be expended without good cause. This is a necessary principle; a society cannot function when people are free to kill each other for no reason. Societies might differ on "what is a morally relevant person" (more on that below) and on what circumstances justify killing (e.g., usually self-defense, but possibly in defense of honor, etc). So it's not necessarily that killing is forbidden, but killing must be justified; lives have moral value.

The "golden rule" is another principle that arises again and again. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Rule The exact formulation varies, but some form of "treat others as you would like others to treat you" (positive), "do not treat others as you would not like to be treated" (negative), or more abstractly "what you wish upon others, you wish upon yourself". This rule has to exist at the level of broad principles. It doesn't mean something as specific as "I like peanut butter, so I should make everyone else eat peanut butter", but "I have personal wants and preferences, and I should respect the wants and preferences of others." So, as a universal principle it respects that other people have moral value and that their needs and desires also carry moral weight.

Many moral rules within individual societies can essentially be boiled down to "show respect to others" and "behave according to social expectations." The details differ wildly in terms of how respect is shown and what society expects, but in essence this simply follows from the golden rule. As long as the expectations don't themselves violate other principles, one set of details is not any more important than any other. In interactions within a society, everyone can accord with the expectations of their society. In interactions between societies (or subgroups), they must be negotiated. I think this principle has limits, since others should also respect your autonomy, but it can be part of the moral calculus. Different cultures find different balances between individual autonomy and adherence to group ideals (individualistic cultures vs collectivist cultures) but both principles are at work.

There are other moral frameworks, e.g. utilitarianism which simply says what is moral is to maximize "utility" which, loosely, can be considered happiness. I don't see that as truly at odds with moral principles, since on the whole adherence to principles ought to contribute utility, and a respect for moral principles and rules may provide useful guidelines (especially when the outcome of actions may be unpredictable) even if the ultimate metric is utility/happiness.


OUTSIDERS

Moral systems exist to protect members of a society, so one of their most important features is defining who are the "people" of moral relevance. Just as importantly, they define who does not qualify as such a person. This is the loophole of cultural morality. It's a loophole so big you could drive a genocide through it. If you accept that there are universal moral principles, external to individual cultures, then this is how a society as a whole can be wrong: by failing to accept outsiders as people, or even by excluding subgroups within their own society. It doesn't matter that one society takes off their hat as a sign of respect and another covers their head for the same purpose, but it does matter when one society pretends another is subhuman. The existence of objective principles, even when they are extremely general, creates the possibility that a culture may be evil.
 
 
GOOD AND EVIL

So what is good and evil?

In moral absolutism, good is accordance with a specific set of rules, and evil is violation of those rules. If good and evil can be detected, such detection is passing a judgment according to those rules.

In moral relativism, good is accordance with the specific rules of a culture or society, and evil is a violation of those rules. If good and evil can be detected, it is normally a personal judgment based on the standards of the caster (or their deity). (In principle and alternatively, it could judge whether a given individual lives in accordance with the rules of their own society, whichever that happens to be, but in practice I've never seen anyone implement a detection spell this way.)

However, if you take the middle position of moral principles, good is respect for life and the autonomy and value of others, and evil is callous disregard for those things (whether through malicious intent or merely selfishly putting one's own interests above them). Good and evil in this case are not concerned with culturally-specific traits like wearing or not wearing hats at appropriate times, but only with these big-picture principles. I think that is a suitably functional definition, that can accommodate differing cultures but still retain some useful objectivity.

These definitions are in accord with the highly general definition in Spell Law: Good is assumed to be primarily motivated to promote the well-being and happiness of others or to combat those forces that stand against it (i.e., Evil). Evil is characterized as that which causes intentional suffering or destruction and that which strives to overthrow good. Personally, I would extend the definition of Evil to encompass knowingly causing suffering in order to advance one's own objectives, or callous disregard for harm done to others.


EVIL SPELL LISTS

Ok, in that framework, why are the evil spell lists evil? Looking specifically at the RMU lists, but very similar considerations for other editions of RM.

Channeling:
* Curses: these spells inflict interfere with the target's autonomy, often causing suffering, and their permanent nature ensures they will continue beyond any need (unlike, say, a fireball which has immediate effect). Some of them will affect third parties who, even if the target is deserving, may themselves be innocent (e.g. Friendslayer, Curse of Oli). The highest level spell directly serves the interests of evil.
* Dark Channels: for the most part these spells channel power from an evil entity/deity (whatever that happens to be in your setting). Others directly oppose the cause of good (e.g. Repel Holy).
* Demonic Pacts: this presumes that demons themselves are evil. If demons in your setting are neutral inhabitants of another plane, it might be worth reworking, although e.g. the requirement of demonic vision for fresh blood is certainly intended to suggest a certain moral standpoint, and the references to holy ground etc wouldn't make sense in that case.
* Demonic Summoning: as above. Demons summoned are not necessarily controlled, so this spell at the very least has the potential to serve demonic interests if not used carefully.
* Disease: much like Curses, these inflict long-lasting suffering. The Carrier spells make them contagious, extending the harm indiscriminately to third parties.
* Wounding: I think these are the Channeling spells for which you could make the strongest case that they are not evil. They directly harm a specific target, and the harm is not fundamentally different than what you could achieve with a weapon (although at high levels it may be more precise). Explaining why the list is evil, I think, requires the assumption that, like Dark Channels, the wound is achieved not simply by manipulating the body but instead by channeling power from an evil entity/deity (e.g. power that is antithetical to life and which therefore unravels the body), and therefore extending the hand of that entity in the world.

Essence:
* Darkness: the effects from this list don't feel particularly evil. They have significant utility for protecting your undead horde, but I don't think the list reads as evil unless you assume the darkness is a manifestation of an evil power which blots out light.
* Dark Summons: also not particularly evil. However, it would be appropriate to read Familiar and Investiture as molding the familiar into a form that is pleasing to a dark power. It might actually be demonically possessed, for example.
* Essence Twisting: this one is a good fit for MisterK's idea of evil essence (in the Unlife thread) actually being a disruptive, destructive anti-essence. It's evil to the extent that introducing more of that power into the world causes indirect harm (e.g. corrupting or polluting the magical environment). Conversely, if you assume the power itself is evil, the magical disruption this list causes may not be evil so much as it is simply a side effect of invoking that power, and someone studying this list has learned to invoke it for that purpose.
* Foul Transformations: I have to admit I love transformation spells and on a simple reading these seem culturally inappropriate rather than evil. An evil reading of the list would be that the caster is borrowing the traits from evil (e.g. demonic) entities, making themself more like those entities and gradually bringing their nature into alignment with those entities. You aren't just growing horns, you are making the top of your skull demonic in form, perhaps by linking your skull to an actual demon. Personally, I also like the transformation spell lists (and this also includes Beastly Ways too) to leave a permanent mark (e.g. you cast Horns enough times, and they will never fully go away), and in that case they become symbolic of your rejection of cultural mores. Remember that respect for the mores of your own society has some moral value of its own; it is part of having respect for others (within reason).
* Necromancy Mastery: if you accept the assumption that undead are hostile to the living (which makes them evil due to their disregard for sanctity of life), and left to their own devices will prey upon them, this list is at best grossly irresponsible. Some undead are contagious, too, so the harm you do could grow out of scale with your own intentions. Some settings don't assume animated undead are malevolent, but the base assumption in Rolemaster is that they are.
* Necromantic Ways: as above.

Mentalism:
* Mind Death: these are mainly attacks on the autonomy of others. Mind Death also creates permanent, purposeless disability.
* Mind Disease: these permanently disfigure the mind of a target, in many cases in ways that make them a hazard to innocent bystanders. Although you can achieve utility with them, they are mostly for inflicting suffering.
* Mind Domination: obviously these are direct attacks on the target's autonomy. Demonic possession serves the interests of demons.
* Mind Erosion: whereas Mind Disease creates specific dysfunctions, Dull Mind creates extremely long-lasting decay. I think anyone who has seen the horrors of real life dementia, both on the subject and those who are close to them, can understand the suffering involved. But the actual utility in terms of preventing harm (even if you were to try to use it for goodly purposes) is pretty darn limited.
* Mind Illusion: these spells are attacks on the target's sense of reality. The durations are pretty short, though, so I'm not sure they read as inherently more evil than a lot of Mentalist spells. I think the evil reading is that they are fairly acute (rather than chronic) applications of a power that is capable of much worse. Perhaps rather than whispering in the target's head, the evil mentalist is creating a channel which permits evil entities to do that whispering.
* Mind Subversion: these attack autonomy and compel the target to act immorally; the caster must bear the moral cost.


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Offline Hurin

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Re: In Defense of Evil
« Reply #1 on: December 19, 2021, 10:16:12 AM »

Moral relativism has significant limitations as a basis for ethical considerations. Although you can assess the morality of acts within a cultural group, by definition relativism has no answers for how to judge the morality of interactions between groups. If you want to become a better individual, it offers no ultimate answers for how you should act or how you should make decisions, only for how to become a better member of a particular society or culture. If you participate in a cross-cultural endeavor, it gives you no guidance at all; you are forced to pick favorites in determining how to act.

Moral relativism also starts to break down once you recognize that cultures have subgroups (castes, subcultures, even gender roles), which may have their own standards or expectations. If moral judgment differs between those subgroups, now you can't even usefully assess interactions throughout the whole culture. Pretty soon morality collapses down to "do what you personally think is right" which isn't a very helpful guideline, and certainly isn't a useful standard of judgment.


It isn't a useful 'absolutist' standard of judgment, but of course there are no absolutes. It's the same in physics: yes, it would be nice if time moved at the same speed for everyone, but once you start to move very fast then you have to start considering perspective, time dilation, etc., and there is no one 'god' perspective from which to view and judge. If you adopted the same tone towards relativity theory, you might say that the theory of relativity isn't a very good guide either, and for the exact same reasons that moral relativity isn't. Yet both are (to me at least) just facts we have to live with.

Anyway, that's just my own take. But in terms of your overall post, I do think you can say that some moral principles are very common, but I'm not sure any are universal when you start to take into consideration entities from other planes, cultures vastly different from our own, etc. Even in our own small list of earthly cultures, there are moral questions to which the answers are irreducibly contradictory. Is suicide ok? According to some, no, it is never ok because your body was created by your creator and it's not yours to destroy. In other cultures, suicide is the only honorable course of action in certain circumstances. There's no real principle here -- just different ideas about morality. There are many more examples one could advance, such as Faith vs. Reason, abortion, etc.

Overall, I am fine having Good and Evil in a fantasy game because it is a game with gods and magic. To me all those things have the same ontological status. I don't mind indulging in fantasy.
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Offline Cory Magel

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Re: In Defense of Evil
« Reply #2 on: December 19, 2021, 11:31:39 AM »
Without going into an overly long explanation, I separate things like Unlife and things that are merely a foe in terms of how they are 'evil'.

I treat True Evil as something that simply wants everything to die, be destroyed, or put back into a natural state of chaos (where life, as we know it, does not exist).  It's relatively mindless in it's pursuit of Entropy is a somewhat accurate way to put it.  Really, at a fundamental level, it's not really 'evil' so much as the desire for everything to revert back to it's natural state.  The God's created [an order to] things from the natural chaos of the universe (or whatever your construct is) and 'evil' wants to revert it back to it's 'natural' state.  But this is the universal idea of evil, because it's goal is the destruction of life.  Undead fit fairly well into this area.  It could be argued that they are a form of order (because it exists in a form), but its ultimate goal is accomplished by the destruction of life.

Then there's the everyday run of the mill evil, which is simply those people that you're trying to subjugate or kill for whatever reason you are.  They're simply the enemy and the enemy is evil.  This is the reason why, when describing holy items I use the term 'enemies' rather than 'evil'.  Your enemy may not really be evil, they're just your enemy and you therefore label them as evil for your own reasons.
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Offline jdale

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Re: In Defense of Evil
« Reply #3 on: December 19, 2021, 01:27:21 PM »
> take into consideration entities from other planes

Such entities are fictional. Any moral complications they invoke are because you, their creator, has chosen to create those complications. If you look at real, human moral systems, while they differ in many details, they also have important things in common. It's perfectly fine to assign completely different standards to extraplanar entities and such, it just means they may be immoral or amoral. Creating fictional societies that can exist and be functional while reversing the moral expectations of humanity is still an interesting worldbuilding exercise.

> there are moral questions to which the answers are irreducibly contradictory. Is suicide ok? According to some, no, it is never ok because your body was created by your creator and it's not yours to destroy. In other cultures, suicide is the only honorable course of action in certain circumstances.

If there's no commonality, it falls into the category of moral rules. I think the moral principle here would still be sanctity of life. You shouldn't be killing yourself for no reason. What constitutes an adequate reason for suicide, just as for killing others, is culturally variable. Restoration of honor, or cessation of chronic pain, may or may not be considered an adequate reason.

>Then there's the everyday run of the mill evil, which is simply those people that you're trying to subjugate or kill for whatever reason you are.  They're simply the enemy and the enemy is evil.  This is the reason why, when describing holy items I use the term 'enemies' rather than 'evil'.  Your enemy may not really be evil, they're just your enemy and you therefore label them as evil for your own reasons.

Human conflicts are complex. If you decide your neighbor is subhuman simply because you want their lands and to get some free labor, you're the evil one. But if your conflict is an ancient enmity with many wrongs committed on each side, it gets difficult to entangle and just recognizing that they are enemies may be more fair than trying to claim one side is right and the other is wrong.
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Offline rdanhenry

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Re: In Defense of Evil
« Reply #4 on: December 19, 2021, 01:41:49 PM »
I'm pretty sure that Darkness is basically in there because of Sauron. It's "shelter your orcish horde from the light". Never personally been that happy with it, and I think it is low-powered for an Evil list.
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Offline rdanhenry

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Re: In Defense of Evil
« Reply #5 on: December 19, 2021, 01:46:47 PM »
It isn't a useful 'absolutist' standard of judgment, but of course there are no absolutes. It's the same in physics: yes, it would be nice if time moved at the same speed for everyone, but once you start to move very fast then you have to start considering perspective, time dilation, etc., and there is no one 'god' perspective from which to view and judge. If you adopted the same tone towards relativity theory, you might say that the theory of relativity isn't a very good guide either, and for the exact same reasons that moral relativity isn't. Yet both are (to me at least) just facts we have to live with.

But in relativity, *everyone sees the universe as having the same laws*. That's *why* they have to disagree on dimensional measurements.
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Offline MisterK

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Re: In Defense of Evil
« Reply #6 on: December 19, 2021, 02:13:15 PM »
I don't need (or want) an absolute Good or Evil because I don't need (or want) an absolute judgement in my games.

There is evil - which is the enemy, and which is relative. Enemies of your own moral compass, enemies of your clan, enemies of your faction, enemies of the state, enemies of the faith, you name them. All of them are relative evil - they are evil because they oppose you one way or another.

Then, there is the unfathomable, things that defy understanding. And you can call them evil by assimilation, but it's really for lack of a proper qualifier, because "alien" does not make the cut.
Azathoth is not evil - it just *is*, on a scale so incomprehensible for humans that they can't find an appropriate word for it.

In game terms, what you get in a "detect evil" depends on what reference your "good" is. Since those spells are often faith-based, the point is easy - anything that is opposed to your faith is "evil" - the faithful of the opposite faith, those who actively act against the moral compass of your faith, those that the faith have painted as abominations, those who the church hates and fears.

So if your faith states that all undead are abominations in the eye of the Holy, then all undead will be evil - even those who are still sentient and do not perform immoral acts. On the other hand, if your faith states that evil is in the intent of sentient beings, then the intelligent and immoral undead will be evil, but the intelligent and inoffensive undead won't be, and the mindless undead won't be either unless the will of their creator can be perceived in them.

I find the relative view actually much more interesting than the absolute view from a roleplay perspective. People make their own decisions, have to think about what they believe in and have to accept that they act on *their* principles, not on an absolute mandate.

An additional advantage is that the relative view can be considered as absolute for the characters if the setting is restricted enough - because of lack of perspective.

Having an absolute Good and Evil is OK when the setting is built on this principle of black and white - I find it fitting for either monotheic (think medieval europe)  or pantheic (think ancient china) faiths, where all that exists under the sun follows one divine law (the Word of God, or the Mandate of Heaven) except the heathens and the heretics (who must be, at best, poked with a long pole and, at worst, cut down mercilessly).

When there are multiple competing faiths and belief systems, I think the absolute view fails badly as a setting foundation, unless you admit that one faith is "right" and the others are delusions or deceptions. Even falling back on general principles such as the ones JDale lists in his post is short selling the setting - after all, sanctity of life is not necessarily a core tenet (you can easily substitute, for instance, that life is meaningless but duty is everything), and respect for others is not either (you can substitute that individual thought is nothing but vanity against the betterment of the Whole, as dictated by the Law of Heaven spoken by the Divine Emperor - on other words, the only worthy opinion is the one of the ruler, and everything else is inconsequential). Neither are absolutely evil. Either would lead to a society that is fairly different from our more or less unconscious western medieval baseline, and you can find countless *very* interesting examples of such in literature (usually inspired by non-western traditions).

Offline Hurin

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Re: In Defense of Evil
« Reply #7 on: December 19, 2021, 03:00:53 PM »
It isn't a useful 'absolutist' standard of judgment, but of course there are no absolutes. It's the same in physics: yes, it would be nice if time moved at the same speed for everyone, but once you start to move very fast then you have to start considering perspective, time dilation, etc., and there is no one 'god' perspective from which to view and judge. If you adopted the same tone towards relativity theory, you might say that the theory of relativity isn't a very good guide either, and for the exact same reasons that moral relativity isn't. Yet both are (to me at least) just facts we have to live with.

But in relativity, *everyone sees the universe as having the same laws*. That's *why* they have to disagree on dimensional measurements.

And yet, there is the possibility of other dimensions and universes beyond our own with different physical laws. This was more what i was getting at by talking of entities from other plains. I doubt alien life would agree with our moral laws or principles.
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Offline Cory Magel

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Re: In Defense of Evil
« Reply #8 on: December 20, 2021, 12:47:55 AM »
Human conflicts are complex. If you decide your neighbor is subhuman simply because you want their lands and to get some free labor, you're the evil one. But if your conflict is an ancient enmity with many wrongs committed on each side, it gets difficult to entangle and just recognizing that they are enemies may be more fair than trying to claim one side is right and the other is wrong.
Those people that have what you want are the evil ones and you are the evil ones according to them for trying to take it.  Or, even more superficial (think religious differences) those people that think pineapple is an appropriate pizza topping need to be purged from the universe due to their heretical beliefs.  As you said yourself, it's a construct based on what you believe.  Neither are inherently evil.  It's actions, often based on belief systems, that result in one applying the label to the other.

I put true evil, beings that are simply inherently evil, on a different level than that.  Things that want you dead simply because you're alive.
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Offline MisterK

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Re: In Defense of Evil
« Reply #9 on: December 20, 2021, 01:18:00 AM »
I put true evil, beings that are simply inherently evil, on a different level than that.  Things that want you dead simply because you're alive.
That's simply you overreacting :)

Imagine aliens that come from another world and that have a biology so different (not based on carbon) that our biosphere is actually harmful to them. You cannot communicate with them in any way. They want to change your planet to suit *their* biology - which will kill you because, well, you won't have nutrients and won't be able to breathe whatever passes for an atmosphere when they're done. Your existence is *corrosive* to them, and theirs to you.

So they try to kill you and yours any way they can. They want you dead just because you're alive - literally speaking.

I don't qualify that as evil - and especially not as *absolute* evil.

Basically, evil is evil only because you think it is. Which is the definition of relative. And it doesn't make it any less powerful - as a species, we've done pretty awful things in the name of what we think is good and evil.

[as a matter of fact, I would advise all who haven't already done so to read Cixin Lui's 'The Three-Body Problem' trilogy, and especially the second tome 'The Dark Forest' - the implications are enlightening).

Offline Hurin

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Re: In Defense of Evil
« Reply #10 on: December 20, 2021, 10:12:39 AM »
I would add that there may be other universes (or even other parts of our own universe) with different physical laws. It is hard to all agree on the principle 'Cause no harm' when 'cause and effect' don't exist (at least not in the same way they do for us).

See for example this article, 'Quantum Mischief Rewrites the Laws of Cause and Effect': https://www.quantamagazine.org/quantum-mischief-rewrites-the-laws-of-cause-and-effect-20210311/

Now add in fantasy elements, such as immortal gods that are manifestations of abstract principles, sometimes from other universes, and I think the idea that their moral code can be reconciled with or judged by ours is problematic.
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Offline jdale

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Re: In Defense of Evil
« Reply #11 on: December 20, 2021, 10:39:34 AM »
There's a lot of invocation of fictional entities here. You can invent things as outlandish as you want, but when it comes to real humans, there are fundamental commonalities between them. You can invent things that do not share those commonalities, but I would submit that your invented entities are necessarily inhuman, and humans across cultures would reject them as wrong.

>Those people that have what you want are the evil ones and you are the evil ones according to them for trying to take it.  Or, even more superficial (think religious differences) those people that think pineapple is an appropriate pizza topping need to be purged from the universe due to their heretical beliefs.  As you said yourself, it's a construct based on what you believe.  Neither are inherently evil.  It's actions, often based on belief systems, that result in one applying the label to the other.

I am making the opposite claim. Pineapple on pizza, clearly a culture-specific moral rule (or more precisely a matter of food grammar). But labeling another people as evil purely as justification for taking their stuff is evil (or at least immoral) according to principles that are universal among real human cultures -- even if the real implementation of those rules is often flawed (another human commonality!).
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Offline Hurin

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Re: In Defense of Evil
« Reply #12 on: December 20, 2021, 10:55:08 AM »
Why are humans the center of everything?

It seems you're adopting a human perspective as absolute, and then when we raise examples of non-humans that would not agree in those absolutes, you say they don't count because they're not human.

I'm not talking just of humans or human morality here. Can you clarify if you are talking about universal moral principles, or universal human moral principles? The two are very different, especially if we're talking about a fantasy game in which humans are a minority.

Minority positions are, by definition, not absolutes. (Nor of course are majority positions necessarily absolutes either, even when portrayed as such). But I am having difficulty discerning whether you feel human moral principles are applicable to all other races/beings/entities in the universe and multiverse or not.
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Offline jdale

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Re: In Defense of Evil
« Reply #13 on: December 20, 2021, 11:23:04 AM »
Humans are real. When you find real non-human sentients, we can use them as data points. Everything else is world-building that arises starting from your own assumptions. Humans in our reality, within the confines of the known, are not the minority of sentient beings, not even the majority of them, but the totality. I've certainly heard of the tyranny of the majority, but there's a reason no one ever talks about the tyranny of the totality.

That said, all players of RM are human too. I don't think it's unreasonable to use a human standard of morality in such a case. All your human players will be capable of comprehending it, even if your fictional NPCs are not.

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Offline Hurin

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Re: In Defense of Evil
« Reply #14 on: December 20, 2021, 12:06:12 PM »
Ok, thanks for clarifying that you are talking purely about humans.

Note though that in denying the existence of any sentient beings beyond humans, you've also just denied the existence of God.

There are many humans who would reject such a denial, since belief in a 'real non-human sentient' (as you put it) forms the basis of probably a majority of human ethical systems worldwide.

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Offline MisterK

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Re: In Defense of Evil
« Reply #15 on: December 20, 2021, 01:37:26 PM »
That said, all players of RM are human too. I don't think it's unreasonable to use a human standard of morality in such a case. All your human players will be capable of comprehending it, even if your fictional NPCs are not.
Actually, I think the basic idea of roleplaying in a fictional universe is to be able to adopt the cultural viewpoints of the cultures you play in, even if they run against the core principles of what we consider good and evil (and there are many variations on that - if I take only my own example, I consider the current state of civilisation on earth as evil).

But additionally, I don't think we need a common reference of good and evil for the players - I know mine certainly don't need it. They do, however, need information on what the culture of their character consider good and evil (if such moral red lines exist).

Saying that, since we are humans (and the game is mostly written with a standard european/north american cultural background), we should use the "common interpretation" of what we, as players, deem good and evil as an absolute reference for a fictional universe seems both significantly biased, detrimental to immersion, and a poor way to consider the relative merits of various cultures. I'd much rather have the players *know* that good and evil are relative, have their character take responsibility for what *they* consider good and evil, and deal with the consequences of those choices.

I stumbled upon a very interesting idea somewhere (it was relative to D&D), in that good and evil were not related to morality *at all*, but were actually related to magical auras. Basically, the magical aura is the reflection of your affinity for specific magic, and "good" and "evil" (since they are basically absolute standards in D&D) were human-centric nomenclature for different kinds of auras (because humans are the majority species in standard D&D worlds).
As a result, you could be a very well-intentioned necromancer and would still register as evil, because your magical affinity was to necromancy, which was tagged "evil" by the human-centric tradition.
And I found this interpretation of alignments quite interesting: it reconciled the "absolute" idea of alignments with the relative idea of moral systems, integrated the "majority rule" of human-heavy settings, was compatible with how the system worked technically, and still provided room to explain how entire species could be tagged with a single alignment without resorting to gross stereotyping and blatant racism. If I do a D&D campaign someday, I will certainly use it.

Offline jdale

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Re: In Defense of Evil
« Reply #16 on: December 20, 2021, 03:48:09 PM »
If I obtain the means to query god on its moral preferences without those preferences first being interpreted through human agents, I assure you I will do so.

Saying that, since we are humans (and the game is mostly written with a standard european/north american cultural background), we should use the "common interpretation" of what we, as players, deem good and evil as an absolute reference for a fictional universe seems both significantly biased, detrimental to immersion, and a poor way to consider the relative merits of various cultures. I'd much rather have the players *know* that good and evil are relative, have their character take responsibility for what *they* consider good and evil, and deal with the consequences of those choices.

I think narrowing the moral conception to that of a single culture -- moral absolutism -- is problematic, but the middle ground of moral principles is quite open to consider the "relative merits of various cultures". Indeed, it recognizes that despite the differences, there is a shared good that no one culture has a monopoly on. Conversely the recognition that there are also moral rules which differ between cultures leaves plenty of conflict to work with.
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Offline Hurin

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Re: In Defense of Evil
« Reply #17 on: December 20, 2021, 03:58:37 PM »
Ok, then basically what it seems the idea of moral principles boils down to is this:

--The one absolute, universal moral 'principle' is the sanctity of life.
--There are also moral rules, but those are relative.

If so, then what if there were a human culture that did not recognize the sanctity of life? The Cathars believed that physical bodies were inherently sinful; they trapped the spirit (which was good) in something that was evil (matter). If I want to include a form of Cathars in my game, and some of them feel that the best way to free souls is to destroy bodies, and that doing so is an act of great mercy... are they Good or Evil?
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Offline jdale

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Re: In Defense of Evil
« Reply #18 on: December 20, 2021, 05:30:45 PM »
Sanctity of life isn't the only principle I cited. In any case, if you wanted to represent Cathars as rampaging murderers, killing people for their own good, that would be a pretty bad misrepresentation.

But I expect it would be possible to come up with some groups that held immoral beliefs and carried out immoral actions. I think it's fine to call those actions out as such. Genocide, in particular, is a wrong that occurs between different cultures, so relativism has no way to handle it, but I don't have any hesitation in calling it wrong. Immorality at the level of a society or culture usually stems from labeling some people as less than human, but there might be examples that stem from some other belief.
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Offline Cory Magel

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Re: In Defense of Evil
« Reply #19 on: December 20, 2021, 09:03:43 PM »
Imagine aliens that come from another world and that have a biology so different (not based on carbon) that our biosphere is actually harmful to them. You cannot communicate with them in any way. They want to change your planet to suit *their* biology - which will kill you because, well, you won't have nutrients and won't be able to breathe whatever passes for an atmosphere when they're done. Your existence is *corrosive* to them, and theirs to you.
But they aren't trying to kill you JUST because you're alive.  You have something you want to take from you.

Obviously there are huge differences in where the line of evil is drawn. Is what happened to the Native Americans evil? Does it depend on the stage of the process? (Initial accidental introduction of diseases, to misunderstandings, to outright genocide). Do vegans think meat eating people are evil? Are plants aware, we just don't know it, and it's even MORE evil to walk up and uproot a plant that has no chance to run from you like a cow might? Is a male lion evil for killing cubs of his own kind because they aren't his own cubs? If we were having a serious discussion I'd say 'evil' would be partially based how self-aware the creature is causing harm to another creature and, possibly one level of evil further, how self aware that creature is.

But we're talking about a fantasy world.

In my setting I try to separate the label of evil assigned between the living creatures in a world from a more universal idea of true evil. Something that has no reasoning for wanting you dead than because you're alive. Granted, if you tried to assign human thinking to them you could try to say they are simply trying to bring the universe back to it's original form. But, from the perspective of everything that is alive, flora, fauna, monsters, humanoids... everything... it is evil. There's no splitting hairs among even the most 'evil' and 'loving' self-aware beings in the world.

Granted an evil being might try to utilize true evil in some way, but considering the nature of true evil that's a really, really bad idea (in my little world). It'd be a bit like setting your house on fire to kill a thief.

Humans are real. When you find real non-human sentients, we can use them as data points. Everything else is world-building that arises starting from your own assumptions.
Trying to debate this topic from a human-centric perspective falls down because we're talking about fantasy worlds with more then just humans or even humanoids.
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