Epistemology for roleplayers

22 November, 2007 at 8:55 pm (game mastering, rpg theory) (, , , )

Epistemology talks about the possibility of and criteria for knowledge.

Roleplayers are people who spend a significant amount of their time creating fictional characters and interacting with fictional worlds, often via the fictional characters. In my personal opinion, it would be foolish to not adopt a theory of knowledge that allows sentences such as “The lowly orc stabs Drizzt, who drops to his death in the gorge.” to be meaningful, and further makes most sense from the practical point of view.

The theory of truth often named correspondence says that a proposition (claim that something is true, essentially) is true if and only if it corresponds to the real world. This is, of course, totally useless to an average roleplayer. At least I hope the world isn’t really swarming with vampires who wield katanae, mages searching for Atlantis, werebeasts eating folk, etc.

Coherency is another way of defining truth; it claims that something is true as long as it is coherent with our other beliefs. I find this to be more usefu, as a roleplayer and especially GM. After I know something about a given setting, further additions can be evalued based on the coherency of them: If they conflict with existing facts, accepting them is kinda risky. Not always wrong, but risky nonetheless. Direct contradictions should be avoided almost always, but somewhat dissonant material can be useful.

Especially if Universalis or some other less extreme game where everyone gets to narrate is the order of the day, coherence is a pretty useful concept, also for checking the contributions of others. See also no myth as a related way of gaming.

There is at least one other theory of truth that springs to mind. I don’t remember what it is called, but the content is that truth is whatever works best. This, too, is a useful point of view for roleplayers. Usually, whatever works best, at least in the long run, is also coherent with the pre-established material.

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A random burst of ontology and epistemology, part 1

20 November, 2007 at 7:37 pm (philosophy) (, , , )

Skepticism is a fun way to think. Global skepticism is a philosophical stance according which we can know pretty much nothing. Everyone who is not a skepticist tries, of course, to show that the skepticist is wrong. I have not seen a tight proof along those lines, as of yet. I think it is pretty futile to try, due to skepticism being right. There is precisely one thing we can know with certainty, though reasoning must be assumed to work (if it doesn’t, this entire exercise if futile, but so are any and all responses and claims of futility, so I find myself justified in assuming that reasoning does work).

The argument goes thusly: I think, therefore a thought exists.

Do note that “I” does not necessarily exist. Or the thought might be momentary; time and other measures of change may be illusions.

The skeptic can’t really touch that argument. Neither is it particularly strong argument. The existence of a world in which we live would be nice to know, for example, and would be a lot stronger claim. I just can’t figure out a way to prove it without nontrivial assumptions. This is why I will assume it and the capability of know things about it. There are further justifications for that assumption, gratefully.

It is a fact that I perceive something around me. I will call the immediate source (as opposed to the ultimate or final source, if there is such) of these perceptions a world or a reality or some word that is practically synonym thereof.

If there actually is no world, I will lose little by assuming it, because I can’t perceive whatever else there may exist (otherwise it would, by definition, be part of world, which is a contradiction). If there exists a totally irrational and random world (defined as one about which useful knowledge can’t be gained), I likewise lose little, because no matter what I assume or don’t assume, there is nothing useful I can know about it. At least trying to find patterns keeps me well amused. If a world about which something useful can be known exists, it is smart to assume so, because it is true. A world which works so that all human assumptions about it are false is contradictory, because one could assume that all human assumptions about it all false, which leads a and not a, where “a” means “all human assumptions about it are false”.

Hence, it is justified to assume that there is a world about which one can know things.

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