0212 - Naughty - 2021.10.25
What are good and evil? How are they measured, how do we categorize them?
This is a question that is often asked in roleplaying games, particularly D&D, which has a canonical alignment system that affects magical things. In the real world, whether or not you are a "good person" is a fuzzy question, one that primarily affects your emotions and other people's behaviour towards you. In D&D, whether or not you have an "evil alignment" can mean the difference between whether or not your character takes 3d8 extra points of damage, which can mean the difference between whether you live or die.
I've always personally defined D&D morality through altruism, whether or not your character wants to help or harm someone when there is no reward or penalty associated. A "good" character sees dog poop on the sidewalk and does the extra work to clean it up, even though they have no obligation to do so and will receive no reward, purely because they like to help. An "evil" person does the extra work to pick up the dog poop and drop it in a mailbox or throw it at someone's house, even though they have no obligation to do so and will receive no reward, purely because they like to harm. A "neutral" person leaves the dog poop where it is, which is normal and acceptable.
And yes, that means that the average person is "neutral", which is as it should be in such a system, even though the average person would probably insist that they are "good". (At least, I think most people would insist that they are "good" if they're feeling happy and psychologically normal. They may say that they are "evil" if they're particularly self-loathing or depressed, and neither assessment likely has much correlation to their actual actions in the world.)
But of course, this is a controversial topic, especially when different "races" in D&D are involved. When the manual says that a given intelligent species is usually "evil", what does that mean, exactly? Is that merely a cultural judgement, or does the fact that they physiologically possess the ability to burn their enemies with necrotic energy play into it?
I've seen some attempts to redefine good and evil in fantasy roleplaying into "cultural values". If your character comes from a culture where truth is highly valued, then they will consider it "good" to unswervingly speak the truth, regardless of how much damage that truth may cause. That's all well and good, of course, until you come up to a culture that considers it "good" to keep women in their place, or to slay the outsiders, or to keep slaves (certainly, values that have been practiced and propagated in many different cultures, historically). If I keep slaves, but I come from a culture of slavers, do I still take that 3d8 damage? What if I'm really nice to my slaves?
Now, this may all seem needlessly baroque and theoretical. Who cares how a tabletop roleplaying game defines good and evil? Just homebrew something!
But, of course, AI also needs rules to determine what good and evil are. Whether we like it or not, math and logic will have to be delineated and applied to morality somehow, and far more than 3d8 damage may be at stake.