I have written before about Kant, and his effects on wargaming. However, having now read a bit more, on re-reading that post I feel that it was, probably, a bit too Kantian, in that I broadly accepted that we cannot know what is going on in a battle, we can only see what outcomes there may be, and attempt to save these phenomena in our rule sets.
It might come as a surprise to many to find out exactly how influenced by Kant modern thought is. He kind of weaves his way through a lot of recent thinking and, sadly, can even be used in a dogmatic sense. For example, I once read an article that argued that the Big Bang theory of the origins of the universe was too theistic (what started off the Big Bang opens the door to the reply ‘God’), and that science, in order to exclude this back door to theism, should return to the ideas of Kant and the infinite duration of the universe.
This is rather interesting, as it shows that atheists can be a blindly ignorant of the empirical facts as they often claim that theists are, and also that philosophers can be as silly as the rest of world when they really try. The article did not offend me as a theist, but it certainly did as a physicist. The ignoring of a huge amount of evidence and theory (you cannot really separate the two) in trying to return to a way of thought that firstly, in my view, does not rule out theism anyway (Kant was bought up in pietism, after all) and secondly does not have much in the way of evidence going for it is, well, ignorant and daft. To get it published in an academic journal is a bit worrying too.
But I digress somewhat. Kant, as I am sure you recall, argued that we can only deal with things as they are presented to our senses, the phenomena. Things as they are in themselves are not available to us. We cannot get outside our senses to observes the thing in itself. Thus, for a battle, we can only observe outcomes, as reported to use by the evidence of history. We have no access to what was ‘really’ going on in a battle.
Fortunately for the sanity of most of us, Kant is, most likely, wrong. He was attempting, as so many philosophers do, to assimilate the science of the day to the thinking of the day, and he landed up tying himself (and most people who attempt to read him) up in knots. The results of twentieth century science imply very strongly that Kant’s views are incorrect. For example, he argued that space and time are constructs of the human mind. Relativity theories, both special and general, indicate that this is not the case. Space and time exist quite happily without an observer and, in fact, interact with each other in mind bending but understandable ways.
Of course, this is not necessarily Kant’s fault, given that he died at the start of the nineteenth century, and based his thought on science as it was then, which was essentially Newtonian. However, other developments in science indicate that his distinction between the phenomena and the things in themselves is probably incorrect as well. For example, modern quantum mechanics allows us quite happily to make statements about the internal structure of atoms and, indeed, how atoms interact with other atoms. We can predict, more or less accurately, how one atom can interact with a surface, a beam of light, or what you will. That is, we can deduce from the phenomena we observe things about the thing in itself and how it works in itself.
Now, let us apply that thought to a battle. Obviously, a battle, as a historical and social event, is a lot more complex than a couple of atoms bouncing off each other. But we can and do try to abstract rules from the reports that we have. Now, this is more or less difficult depending on the reports that we have obtained. But we can make some generalizable statements about them.
For example, I have been reading a bit about the battles of Alexander III of Macedon (sometimes called “the Great”). It seems to me, on that reading, that the key point of the battles came when the Companions charged. This timing was under Alexander’s direct control, and usually involved the Companions in a change in formation (from, say, column to line) and a change in direction.
Thus, if I were working on a rule set for the period (and I am), I would be thinking very carefully about how to write rules for the Companions. How can this difference between Alexander’s men and those of other units be incorporated in the rules?
If I were a Kantian, I would probably just try to save the phenomenon of the Companions being crucial by, say, giving them a hefty advantage in tactical factors. But I can start to deduce other things from the phenomena as we have them. The Companions, we can say, were highly trained, and so could switch formation rapidly. As Macedonian nobles fighting for and with the king, they were probably highly motivated, in a way which most other troops which were fairly reluctant levies, were not. And, of course, they were under the direct command of that king, who had a fairly short way with people who did not do exactly what he wanted.
So, as a rule writer, I can penetrate, at least some way, into the things, in this case the mind-set of a unit, as they are (or were). For the rules to yield the historical results, I need to take into account the fairly unique (can something be fairly unique?) status of the Companions in order to be able to reproduce their battle winning charges. Saving the phenomena by simply giving them +4 for being Companions is overly simplistic.
This might even point to an answer to the question of why ‘national characteristics’ tend to be a bad idea. We save the phenomena (like the Royal Navy tends to win) but at the cost of zero insight into what that might be the case.