Friday, January 23, 2009

Halfling Logic (by Post Festum)

During the first evening of his return to Throdenoth, after the discussion about where to proceed next had run its course, Tilo retired early and could be seen swiftly scribbling into his journal.

On Differing Abilities

It is ancient custom to suppose that all creatures of our world can be compared across six essential traits or attributes - Strength, Intelligence, Dexterity, Wisdom, Constitution, and Charisma. And while there is certainly much that can be criticized in any attempt to wholely reduce the diversity and range of existing creatures to simple categories, there is also, undeniably, a wisdom to this approach.

Our world's diversity expresses itself through each of these characteristics, creating the wide array of differing personalities and skill combinations we call "class" primarily through relative adjustments between these many different abilities. No wonder, then, that differing classes tend to see their particular ability gifts as THE most important ability and their weaknesses as THE least important or valuable. Is there a way to answer this age-old question that gets beyond parochial self-interest and the tendency to think that what you are is the best there is? What ability is really the most valuable? And, by extension, which class is the most able?

Consider as a possible candidate the choice of barbarians and fighters and monks and paladins - pure strength. Of course, more is meant by strength than simple brute force. On the contrary, those who are fleet and skilled at scaling cliffs we properly call "strong climbers" as well, as do we refer to the stoutest of swimmers. "She is a strong swimmer" or a "strong climber" are not an accident of speech - they are references to the key if general ability of muscle and physical frame to produce acts of great power. Such power might strike us as a perfect candidate for the most valuable ability, for countless stories are told of those men both great and small who devote their lives to the pursuit of such power for what seems like no other reason than its mere possession.

If it were possible to value power for its own sake, than the strong would have the right to call themselves best. But, alas, although we can indeed place the words "power valued for its own sake" in order next to each other, this doesn't guarantee that what we are saying has sense and meaning. Try to conceive for yourself of a creature who truly desires power for nothing but its intrinsic qualities...Just of what can you conceive? In all cases strength and power serve some other goal or some other master beyond themselves. Those whom we most often claim to desire strength for its own sake can be more accurately said to desire it for the pleasure it provides them or the satisfaction they enjoy at its enactment. But the power to enjoy or have enjoyable experiences are far from intrinsic to the ability of strength. It seems, then, that just as we cannot truthfully conceive of a circular tower constructed in the shape of a square (because it both a physical as well as a conceptual impossibility), so too our inability to conceive of power and strength being valuable without reference to some other end or object must mean that such a state of affairs cannot exist, the grand poetry of the bards not withstanding.

On close examination it becomes clear that what has been said above about strength equally applies to all other abilities as well. For of what good is charisma or dexterity except in what they can do for the charismatic and the quick? And it is always possible to imagine situations in which each distinct ability can become a weakness or problem for its wielder. So, strengh is valuable when its obejct or goal is valued and strengh is not valuable when its purpose is not. Constitution is valuable when stamina and long-life are desirable and not when they are not.

There is one exception to this infinite regress of purposes and values. The wide scope of abilities we broadly label 'inteliigence'. There is indeed much that intelligence is good or valuable for, but what I have in mind is the more basic point that intelligence alone is a prerequisite for valuing at all. Without intelligence, no purpose, no goal, no master is worth serving, for to have worth at all it must be valuable to a someone - that is, a being who can understand themselves as existing over time and as possessing desires in the first place. And this basic capacity or ability is none other than what we call intelligence. Intelligence makes valuation possible as it is the very source of value itself.

At this point Tilo broke off from his furious scribbling, as he realized that his goal of self-clarification had been accomplished. If intelligence really is the source of all value, then surely it followed that creatures of higher intelligence have a rightful claim to being more valuable than their lessers. Put in another way - Why aren't more intelligent creatures simply worth more than others? Tilo shudders at the next thought that follows inextricably from the first: Under what conditions would it be acceptable and logical to sacrifice creatures of lesser intelligence, including his companions, to save the greater minds of the party?

As Tilo's intelligence grows, a chasm has begun to widen between he and his fellows, and he knows it. He realizes that he is committed to the Heros of Guad Hill, despite the cynical conclusion he just reached. There were many reasons why he was happily willing to continue accepting an equal partnership in the group as opposed to seizing its reigns for his own ends. Most centrally of which, the bond of true friendship that tied him to the surviving original members of the group - Aeschere, Whren and Ardyth - the four remaining planks of a ship that has been rebuilt all about them. But he fears that upon reaching the conclusion that it is only logical that the intelligent have more right to life than the lessers, he has succeeded only in producing an elixir of mind so corrosive that he will never be able to contain it and that, even more, it is bound to dissolve all attempts to constrain it, including all ties that might try to bind it.

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