A while ago I attempted to remove any ideas of Kant from wargaming. The problem with Mr Enlightenment Philosopher is, of course, that he keeps sneaking back into our thinking, however postmodern or post enlightenment we might like to think we are.
Some of you might remember the ‘wargame houses’ post, as well, in which I tried to show that no one can have an overall view of a house, let alone a battle. The example came from Bernard Lonergan, who, as I might have mentioned, is what is described as a ‘transcendental Thomist’. Without wishing to delve into what that actually is, suffice it to say that traditional Thomists view transcendental Thomists to have yielded too much ground to (you have probably guessed it already) Immanuel Kant.
I dare say that you can see the point. I suggested that we can have no knowledge of a house as a house from our senses. All we have are different impressions formed from our view of the house from different angles. We cannot know the inside of the house and its outside at the same time. All we can do is synthesise an overall house from our impressions. That is not the house in itself, which is, after all, closely parallel to Kant’s view that we cannot know the thing in itself.
As the house, I suggested, so the battle. No-one can know the battle as a battle, a thing in itself. We cannot know the historical event, the battle as it was. This is also inaccessible to anyone who was there. Let me call the battle in itself Battle 1. It is to Battle 1 that we have no access.
Now, obviously those present at a battle will have some experience of it, or at least, their part of it. They do have access to this layer, let me call it Battle 2. This is knowable by the participants, although they have no access to the overall battle, Battle 1.
Some of the participants, those with Battle 2 knowledge, may write down their impressions of the battle in diaries, letters, battle reports and so on. This I shall call Battle 3. Battle 2 is only accessible to those who were present, but Battle 3 is accessible to us, given that we can read their accounts of Battle 2. However, we are already two layers away from “the battle” Battle 1 level.
There are other things which can happen at this sort of level, of course. Archaeology can take a turn, as with Naseby and Bosworth, to name but two. This gives us further information which can be interpreted to provide an account of the battle, or parts of it. Similarly, historians can come along and create accounts of the battle from the sources. These secondary sources are also available to use. I could call these a different level of the battle, but for simplicity I shall lump this is with Battle 3. We have access to this level.
Now, consider the complex of a set of wargame rules, two armies and a wargame table set with terrain. This provides a further level in the battle, let me call it Battle 4. The wargame is a model of the battle, which we hope will provide a similar sort of outcome, within a reasonable margin of error from the original.
The point about the model (Battle 4) is that is self-consciously not the Battle 1 event itself. It cannot be. But the question then arises as to whether it has any relation with Battle 1 at all, and whether Battle 4 can show any insight into Battle 1 (or, for that matter, Battle 2).
One of the interesting things about models is that they can throw up all sorts of spurious intermediate results. For example, a model of an aeroplane flying has, in its simplest form, four forces acting on it: thrust, drag, lift and gravity. These balance out so the aircraft can continue to fly. However, it is not actually possible to isolate these forces. All we can measure is the outcome, the fact that the aircraft continues in the air going in a certain direction. The forces are, to a greater extent, fictitious; they help us to model the situation, but do not actually exist.
As with scientific models so, I suggest, with Battle 4 models. The point about the forces in the aircraft model is that they do not exist, on their own. They are not ontological forces. The outcome is ontological, it does exist; the others simply help us to reach that point.
In Battle 4 models, the Battle 1 level is unobtainable, and so is Battle 2. But, from Battle 3 we have a certain amount of outcome information. We know that this charge worked ad that one did not, that this unit stood firm while that one fled, and so on. The point is that the Battle 4 mechanics are expected to achieve this outcome, without knowing what the internal mechanics of the result are.
The upshot of this ramble is that most of the mechanics of our Battle 4 models are fictitious. I can, for example, include a reaction roll for a unit that is being charged. However, I can scan the Battle 3 accounts for a sentence that says ‘the unit reacted’ in vain. It is a fiction, a part of our model that has no counterpart in real life, in Battle 2 or even, presumably, in Battle 1.
Does this matter? I am really not sure it does, because all we can ever have access to are the outcomes anyway. In the aircraft model I do not really care if my forces exist or not, so long as the aeroplane remains airborne. Similarly, all I can really say about Battle 4 is that the outcomes match those given in Battle 3 within some margin of error.
So, I contend from this analysis that the mechanics of wargame rules are fictitious, and there is nothing we can do about that. All we can hope to do is match outcomes.