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Aristotelian Development & Deduction

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Traditionally, roleplaying games have built-in systems for character improvement. This may take the form of a leveling system where the character gains new abilities or they may improve their mastery of certain skills. Either way, the underlying commonality is character improvement. The development of one’s character, in another sense, was also a concern of ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle.

Aristotelian Development & Deduction is a tabletop game based on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. In the game, players attempt to improve their character’s character by mastering those virtues that Aristotle thinks are necessary for human flourishing. To do this, the characters must garner practical wisdom and experience to better determine how to act virtuously in a given scenario. The correct action, Aristotle argues, is the intermediate between excess and deficiency. How would a virtuous person engage in everyday interactions with other individuals? Surely, they would not be overly flattering in an attempt to please others at all costs. On the other hand, they would not strive to be the perpetually grumpy contrarian. The virtuous individual would instead be friendly, which is the mean between being ingratiating (excess) and cantankerous (deficiency). Where the mean between excess and deficiency lies is not a constant, as it will fluctuate based on the particulars of a given scenario. While there is the general schema of virtuous action (the doctrine of the mean), there is no formula for calculating correct action. Through life experience, an individual becomes a better judge of situations and can better determine the proper course of action that aims toward the fine.

The game system simulates the variability that is inherent in determining the correct action in different contexts. In broad strokes, it is easy to conceive of the wrong sort of action that would lie on either extreme, but determining the precise point between the two that matches the exact situation in the exact set of circumstances is much more challenging. By having a system that quantifies this, it challenges those running the game to describe a scenario that should fit a given mean, as well as challenges the players to try to determine the relevant virtuewhile factoring the nuances of the scenario into their calculations. It gives players a way to “test out” the theory and see how it would work in practice. By doing this, it will hopefully give a new perspective on the ethical theory that may not arise from reading the text alone. In doing so, it can serve as a way to prompt intuitions concerning the theory in practice.

The game can serve as an introduction and brief overview of Aristotle’s ethical theory. While the game was designed from the ground up with this in mind, it should not only be of interest to students of philosophy. Those who enjoy homebrewing rules for tabletop games may find the core system intriguing. Included in the booklet is a section on suggestions for making a hack of the system.

is a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Houston, where he earned both his B.A. and M.A. in philosophy. He primarily teaches introductory courses on aesthetics and the philosophy of art. He has previously taught courses in ethics and logic.