While I was aware that, as a matter of statistics, there would be racist D&D players I did not have this solidly confirmed until I joined some D&D Facebook groups. When encountering such a person I wonder whether they are gamers who are racists, racists who game or merely trolls (internet, not D&D).
Gamers who are racists are actual gamers—they just happen to also be racist. Racists who game play (or pretend to play) as a means of recruitment or to engage in racism. This is analogous to the distinction between video gamers who are racist and racists who are video gamers. It must be said that while right-wing hate groups recruit video gamers, there seems to be no significant research into the use of tabletop games (and the associated groups) in such recruitment. My discussion does not, however, require any racists who game; all that is needed is gamers who are racist. To show that they exist, one need only spend a little time on online groups dedicated to gaming.
One easy way to summon racists is to begin a discussion of Wizard of the Coast’s (WotC) new approach to diversity and D&D. But surely there are non-racists who disagree with aspects of this approach? Is it not hyperbole and a straw man to cast all critics of diversity as racists? This is a fair and excellent point: to simply assume that every critic is a racist would be to fall into bad reasoning. The problem is that while some racists do their racism openly, others prefer to use stealth—they advance arguments that seem reasonable and non-racist while occasionally letting a hint of racism show through by accident or design. But never so much that they cannot plausibly deny what they are doing is racist.
There is also another problem: the honest non-racist critic and a stealthy racist will often advance the same sort of arguments. So, what is the difference, other than the racism? The easy and obvious answer is that the critic is arguing in good faith while the racist is arguing in bad faith. I do not claim to be the authoritative voice on good faith and I do not insist that my account provides a necessary and sufficient definition. Rather, this is a starting discussion on good and bad faith reasoning.
As a philosopher, I will start with the philosophical definition of an argument. In philosophy, an argument is a set of claims, one of which is supposed to be supported by the others. There are two types of claims in an argument. The first type of claim is the conclusion. This is the claim that is supposed to be supported by the premises. A single argument has one and only one conclusion, although the conclusion of one argument can be used as a premise in another argument (thus forming an extended argument).
The second type of claim is the premise. A premise is a claim given as evidence or a reason for accepting the conclusion. Aside from practical concerns, there is no limit to the number of premises in a single argument. When assessing any argument there are two main factors to consider: the quality of the premises and the quality of the reasoning. The objective of philosophical argumentation is to make a good argument with true (or at least plausible) premises. Roughly put, the goal is to reach truth.
Philosophical argumentation is thus different from persuasion—the goal of persuasion is to get the audience to believe a claim whether it is true or false. As Aristotle noted, philosophical argumentation is weak as a means of persuasion—empty rhetoric and fallacies (errors in reasoning) have far greater psychological force (though they lack all logical force). The stage is thus set.
The foundation of arguing in good faith is the acceptance of the philosophical definition of argument: the goal is to provide plausible premises and good reasoning to reach the truth. This entails that the person must avoid intentionally committing fallacies, knowingly making false claims, and misusing rhetoric. A person can, of course, still employ persuasive techniques—good faith does not require debating like a stereotypical robot or being dull as dust. But good faith argumentation precludes knowingly substituting rhetoric for reasons. A person can, in good faith, argue badly and even unintentionally commit fallacies—a person can make bad arguments in good faith. A person can, obviously, also make untrue claims when arguing in good faith—as long as these are errors rather than lies and the person put in the effort to check their claims, then they can still be arguing in good faith.
Arguing in good faith also requires that the person be honest about whether they believe the claims they make and whether they believe the reasoning is good. A person need not believe what they are arguing for—a person can advance an argument they disagree with as part of a good faith discussion. For example, I routinely present arguments that oppose my own views when I am doing philosophy.
One must also be honest about one’s goals when arguing from good faith. To illustrate, a critic of WotC’s planned diversity changes who believes that some of them will be detrimental to the game and makes this clear would be arguing in good faith. A racist who argues against the proposed changes because of their racist values and with the hope of luring people into real racism while concealing their motives would be arguing in bad faith. As would be suspected, a clever racist will work hard to conceal their true motives when trying to radicalize the normies. There is also the possibility that a person is trolling. But if someone is trolling with racism it kind of does not matter that they are a troll—they are still doing the racist’s work for them.
While there are objective methods for sorting out the quality of arguments and the truth of claims, determining motives and thoughts can be problematic—as such, while I can easily tell when someone is committing an ad hominem fallacy, I cannot always tell when someone is engaged in bad faith argumentation. This is more in the field of psychology than philosophy—discerning motives and intentions. However, sorting out motives and intents is something we all do as people and we can divine from a person’s actions and words what their motives and intents might be. But we should use due caution before accusing someone of arguing in bad faith—and this accusation certainly should not be used as a bad faith tactic. To use accusations of bad faith as a rhetorical device or an ad hominem would be bad faith argumentation and would, of course, prove nothing. But why should people argue in good faith?
There are two broad reasons why people should do so. The first is ethical: arguing in good faith is being honest and arguing in bad faith is often deceitful, which is wrong. Obviously, one could counter this by arguing against honesty and in favor of deceit. The second is grounded in critical thinking: bad faith argumentation generally involves bad logic, untruths, and a lack of clarity. As such, arguing in good faith is ethical and rational. Bad faith argumentation is the opposite. Why, then, do people argue in bad faith?
One reason is that bad faith reasoning can work very well as a means of persuading people. If one rejects truth as the goal and instead focuses on winning, then bad faith argumentation would be the “better” choice.
A second reason is that a person might risk harm, such as social backlash, for arguing their views in good faith. In such cases, hiding their view would be prudent. As a good example, a person who wants to get people to accept human rights in a dictatorship might argue in bad faith, hoping to “trojan horse” people into accepting their views. If they openly argued for human rights, they risk being imprisoned or killed. As an evil example, a racist might argue in bad faith, hoping to “trojan horse” people into accepting their views. If they were openly racist in a D&D Facebook group, they would face censure and might be rightfully kicked out of the group. A third reason is that bad faith reason can be used to lure people down a path they would not go if the path were honestly marked. Such a use does raise moral questions—some might advance a utilitarian argument to defend its use for good while others might condemn such deceit even if it is alleged it is to achieve a good end.
In the next essay I will look at some arguments against some of WotC’s policies that can be made in good or bad faith.