There are several possible approaches to this question, but really it all turns upon what you think are the formative events in your life which give rise to the idea that this is good and that is not, that this action is moral or that is immoral. So far as I recall, Aristotle describes the things we do as habits and that these make up our moral character as either virtuous or vicious, but does not really give a list of what experiences might go to form these habits, at least, not in any detail.
As an example, Stanley Hauerwas, in his ethics primer ‘The Peaceable Kingdom’ (SCM: London 2nd edition 2003) describes a situation where a man was on a plane with few passengers. Towards the end of the flight he was approached by an air stewardess who asked him if he would like to come with her to a hotel room on disembarkation for a few hours, and see what happened. The man refused, and the question Hauerwas asks is why?
He argues that this man’s answer to the proposition was inevitable, given his background, upbringing, and beliefs and so on. In short, the man’s character was already formed by his previous experiences to refuse the stewardesses kind offer and return to his wife and children directly. His character, his habits, to use Aristotle’s expression, precluded him from acting in the manner suggested.
One way of looking at this sort of thing, which has, I think, wider implications for wargaming than just ethics, is to consider our attitudes in terms of our horizon. This gives us a model to understand how we react to suggestions and how we interact with new situations, like a new ancient text. Ultimately, I think the idea derives from Heidegger and was developed by Gadamer, who was one of his students.
Normally, to me at least, the appearance of the names Heidegger or Gadamer in a sentence are red flags, as is that of Wittgenstein. Normally it means that we are going to get a postmodern mish-mash of poorly understood regurgitated ideas which these thinkers put forward, usually in hideously complex forms. I will try to avoid that temptation.
According to one interpretation of the idea of a horizon, we can define three areas of knowledge. There are the known knowns, wherein we can ask questions and give answers. There are the known unknowns, wherein we can ask questions but not answer them. In this case, however, the questions are intelligible and we can imagine, at least, that we could answer them if only we thought a bit harder, read a bit more widely, or whatever. The third area is that of the unknown unknowns. In this area we cannot ask intelligible questions; it is meaningless to me. The boundary between the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns is our horizon.
Now, just because something is beyond our horizon, that is, it is in the region of the unknown unknowns only means that, to me, the questions that may be asked are unintelligible. It does not mean that to someone else, perhaps in a different era or culture, the questions are meaningless or unintelligible. My horizons is bounded by my own experiences, education, knowledge and so on.
The upshot of this is that, within the area of ethics, a new situation is dealt with within my horizon. The question is answered within the context of my previous knowledge, upbringing and so on. The answer to the scenario posed last week about wiping out a village with brutal violence in a wargame is answered within this context. We may not have thought about it before, and therefore the question is in the known unknowns area, but it is within our horizon to answer. How we answer is, of course, another issue, but our answer is mediated by our horizon of experience and knowledge.
As I mentioned, this seems to me to have another impact on us as wargamers. Gadamer suggests that, when we read a text, we have to fuse the horizon of the author of the text with our own. This can never be a wholly successful endeavour, because the author of the text will have a different horizon than we do. Our understanding is never perfect, even if the author is writing within the same culture as we are.
Incidentally, this is why Gadamer thinks that we can never get to a final translation of any text. A translation has to transform one culture into another, and cultures are not static. Even though, for example, the ancient Greek culture is static, being in the past and unchangeable, ours is not and our concepts, and hence the objects into which the original is transformed, change. So there is no such thing as a definitive translation.
The upshot of this, as wargamers, is that we always fuse our own horizon with that of the account of a battle that we are reading. Thus, as I described quite a while ago, we might read Tacitus’ description of a battle and translate it into wargame terms which are quite inappropriate for what the author was actually doing. We need, in short, to be aware of our own horizon.
Obviously, we can and do change our horizons. We can learn new stuff, we can apply old knowledge in new ways, we can interrogate our texts with different questions. This, however, is hard work and not always successful. For example, simply changing job does not necessarily change your horizon in any important way. Getting more material stuff also does not change our horizon of itself. Another pile of unpainted soldiers is simply a pile of unpainted soldiers; we need to press beyond that to actually develop our horizon.
I am sure there is much more to be said about this, but it does perhaps account for the innate conservatism of many wargamers. Their concept of a wargame is one of individual toy soldiers behaving heroically, or of bases of soldiers or whatever and, without some significant effort on the part of the wargamer, the two remain incompatible.