In order to try to make this blog as accessible as possible, I’ll be linking to this running glossary of more-or-less technical terms in both academic philosophy and Pathfinder (for interested folks who might have a background in Pathfinder but not ethics, and vice versa). This is consistently a work in progress, and if there’s a technical term you see used in a blog post and not here, please feel free to contact me about adding it.
Alignment: The complex nexus of values and moral positions used in Pathfinder to locate creatures and effects on a normative spectrum. There is both a “Good-Evil” axis and a “Law-Chaos” axis, such that all creatures occupy one of nine possible alignments: Lawful Good (LG), Neutral Good (NG), Chaotic Good (CG), Lawful Neutral (LN), Neutral (N), Chaotic Neutral (CN), Lawful Evil (LE), Neutral Evil (NE), and Chaotic Evil (CE). The particular detailed complexities of alignment are a primary topic of this blog.
A posteriori: A conclusion is reached a posteriori if one comes to it only after experience or empirical evidence of some kind. The converse of a priori.
A priori: A conclusion is reached a priori if one comes to it by way of theoretical deduction, without the need or use for experience or empirical observation. The converse of a posteriori.
Archetype: Pathfinder’s primary way of diversifying the mechanical options available to character classes. Class archetypes will include different class features and mechanics from the “base” class, but are not different enough to warrant an entirely different class altogether.
BBEG: Initialism for “Big Bad Evil Guy.” A tongue-in-cheek term for the end boss of a scenario or campaign, usually responsible for the bulk of the machinations which cause the PCs grief throughout the campaign. Roughly, the fantasy role-playing game equivalent of “supervillain.”
Begging the Question: An argument is said to beg the question (or called “question-begging”) when it includes its conclusion in its premises; such arguments are usually called “viciously circular.” While trivially valid, question-begging arguments are not useful if you’re interested in proving anything substantive, because they presume the truth of the argument’s conclusion from the beginning.
Consequentialism: A broad approach to normative ethics which maintains that the moral value of actions is a function exclusively or primarily of their consequences. Utilitarianism is the best-known, but not the only, form of consequentialism.
Deontology: An approach to normative ethics which focuses on the duties of a rational agent. Most closely (but not universally) identified with the moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant.
Descriptive: Not having to do with or implying any particular values, for the purposes of the jargon of moral philosophy. Usually contrasted with “normative.”
Determinism: Briefly put, the view that the entire course of the universe is somehow determined in advance and not subject to chance or changes in its course. The relationship between determinism and free will is remarkably multifaceted, but as a quick summary: those who believe that determinism is true and that this means there is no such thing as free will are called “hard determinists;” those who believe both that determinism is true and that free will also exists are called “compatibilists;” and those who believe that determinism is not true and that free will exists are called “libertarians” (not to be confused with the political view/ideology of the same name).
Epiphenomenal: An effect or result is said to be epiphenomenal if it arises from a certain process or characteristic, but does not have any causal force or explanatory value for that process or characteristic.
Epistemology: The philosophical study of knowledge and justification, including what ought to count as knowledge and how it might come to be obtained. By extension, moral epistemology is the study of the same questions about moral knowledge in particular.
Equivocation: Equivocation: A common and highly insidious type of logical fallacy/conceptual mistake, usually caused by mixing up different meanings for the same word. Example: if I say both “Snakes have no legs” and “Gerald the Used Car Salesman is a real snake,” I cannot from this derive “Gerald the Used Car Salesman has no legs,” as this would be equivocating on the term “snake.” Arguments which involve equivocation are said to be “equivocal” – and that’s bad.
GM: Initialism for “Game Master.” The person who determines the setting and plot for a given Pathfinder game. GMs will generally run monsters, allies, NPCs, and every other element of a game aside from the PCs themselves. The specific details of a GMs duties and role will tend to vary from gaming group to gaming group.
Golarion: The world in which canonical Pathfinder adventures and stories occur. The source of a good deal of the “lore” of Pathfinder, including the names and characteristics of nations, deities, religions, political factions, etc.
Iff: Abbreviation for “if and only if,” the natural-language expression of the material biconditional. “A iff B” is therefore a fancy way of saying “A is only true if B is true, and B is only true if A is true; A and B always have the same truth-value.” Yes, philosophers use the expression “if and only if” often enough that they needed an abbreviation for it.
Inner Sea Region: The Inner Sea region (usually just called “the Inner Sea” refers to the land masses and bodies of water that encompass the bulk of settings used for Pathfinder adventures. Golarion includes much more than just the Inner Sea, but this setting is the primary focus of most adventure paths, scenarios, and other Paizo-produced narrative material.
Metaethics: The branch of moral philosophy primarily concerned not with what ought to be done in specific situations (applied ethics) or what values and principles ought to guide our moral decision-making (normative ethics), but what the meaning of moral language is and what the nature of moral concepts might be.
Murderhobo: Tongue-in-cheek slang for adventurers, poking fun at the propensity for some groups to be composed of largely amoral characters who do little other than moving from place to place killing creatures and taking their things.
Normative: Having to do with or relating to values, including (but not limited to) moral values. Usually contrasted with “descriptive,” or sometimes with “positive.”
Priestly Classes: Character classes who explicitly gain the bulk of their powers from worship of a particular deity or divine being in the Pathfinder world of Golarion. In Pathfinder canon, these are clerics, inquisitors, paladins, and warpriests.
Proposition: A type of sentence with a truth-value, i.e., one which can (presumably) be either true or false. “The world is round” and “The world is flat” are both propositions; the first is true and the second is false, but both admit of a truth-value. “What time is it?” on the other hand is not a proposition (even though it is a perfectly useful and meaningful sentence) because it does not admit of a truth-value.
Reductio ad absurdum: A reductio ad absurdum argument (often just called a “reductio“) is a type of logical argument which demonstrates the falsehood of a proposition by showing that it necessarily leads to absurd, ridiculous, or otherwise unacceptable consequences. One can also use a reductio to prove the truth of a proposition by showing that its negation leads to absurd, ridiculous, or otherwise unacceptable consequences.
Revisionism: A philosophical concept is said to be revisionist if it is defined or used in a way other than the orthodox or everyday usage would suggest is appropriate. Revisionist concepts tend to be controversial: while philosophers strive to clean up concepts in order to make them more useful and consistent, altering the meaning of a concept too much can leave it divorced entirely from the original meaning, and thus no longer useful for conceptual analysis. As a result, revisionist concepts are generally acceptable, but such revisionism must always be justifiably useful.
Soundness: A property of arguments, such that the argument is both structurally valid and has true premises. All sound arguments are valid, but not all valid arguments are sound.
Tautology: A tautology is a proposition which is true by virtue of its meaning. “A bachelor is an unmarried man” is a tautology, because “unmarried man” is just what “bachelor” means. By contrast, “The world is round” may be a true proposition (perhaps even necessarily true), but it is not a tautology, because roundness is not implied by the meaning of “world” here.
Utilitarianism: A consequentialist approach to normative ethics which emphasizes doing the most good for the greatest number. Most closely identified with the tradition of 19th-century British moral philosophers, including Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, and Henry Sidgwick.
Validity: A property of the formal structure of arguments, such that the conclusion necessarily follows from the premises. Officially (and more technically correct), a valid argument is one where if the premises are true, then the conclusion cannot be false.