Yes, I know, a title that takes pretentiousness to new levels of ultra-bizarreness. But bear with me, there might be something interesting below.
By some measures, metaphysics is not a popular subject in modern western philosophy. This might be something to do with the influence of Heidegger (or, as the Epictetus blog described him recently, “the tainted Heidegger”. Well, OK, he was, at least, a Nazi sympathiser. But then, so were a lot of other people). Heidegger, of course, was not a fan of metaphysics, to the extent that he spoke and wrote an awful lot about it. I think this might be an older manifestation of the Streisand effect, whereby attempting to ban something simply draws attention to it.
Anyway, metaphysics is rather sniffed at these days, which is a bit of a shame because eventually most things can be tracked down to metaphysical presuppositions. Science, for example, does not do metaphysics. If you run into an atheist scientist (and they do exist) then, if you track back far enough, they will often simply claim that the laws of nature are a brute fact, a given, arbitrary, about which we can say no more. Now, obviously, this is to an extent attempting to admit either ignorance about the origins of the laws of nature, or an inability to define said laws (which is not as easy as we might assume) or a last ditch attempt to avoid metaphysics and the ‘G’ word. But the conclusion that the laws of nature are simply brute facts is a metaphysical one. There is no evidence to suppose that it is the case, it comes from a presupposition.
Similarly, in fact, science uses metaphysical assumptions in carrying out its day to day activity. The assumption is that the physical world is regular, intelligible and predictable. These things may have been shown inductively to be true, but as Hume pointed out centuries ago, there is no justification for induction, and any attempts to do so have failed. Of course, most science is massively indifferent to this; most scientist are just trying to get their experiments to work, write the next paper and grant application and not worry about ultimate justifications.
In the determination not to worry about ultimate justifications and the presuppositions which they might rest upon, scientists have much in common with wargamers. After all, the presupposition of a wargame of any description is that the universe is, in some senses, explicable. If someone is shot at with a musket, a ball will likely fly in their general direction and there is a chance that it will hit them and disable them. We assume that this is the case, without a huge quantity of justification except that we know, somehow, that it is the case. The presumption of regularity in the universe is metaphysical.
In fact, recent historical research suggests that modern science would not have come into existence without Christianity. The presumptions of Christianity are that the universe is intelligible, regular (because guaranteed by a good God) and that part of our activity as humans created in God’s image (whatever that might actually mean; don’t get me started) is to try and understand it. Many early scientists were people of faith, such as Roger Bacon and Robert Grossteste. Without Christianity, modern science might not have got going.
But I digress. I am trying to examine here what I might have referred to before as the framework assumptions or the conceptual archetypes of wargaming. I think that we can probably assume that wargaming, in common with more or less every other human activity, takes some metaphysical items pretty well for granted, such as the regularity of the physical world and the validity of induction. Without that, wargaming, let alone anything else, would not have got going.
So what other assumptions are made in order to have a wargame at all? I think that possibly the main one is that there is an interplay of chance and necessity. As I said above, if you pull a musket trigger, you have a reasonable expectation that a bullet will come out of the other end of the gun, that it will fly in the general direction in which you pointed it, and that it will do some damage if it happens to hit something or someone. But note that the sentences are hedged with conditionals – it might do some damage if it happens to hit something.
Thus the elements of chance are introduced into the game. Few wargames operate entirely without chance elements. Most use dice, but it is not obligatory. I seem to recall that HG Wells used matchstick firing cannon, and I’m fairly sure I read somewhere about entirely card driven games. Whatever the mechanism, we recognise that despite the necessity of some effects occurring given certain causes, chance is also a factor in war and, even more so (because we cannot model every level of human decision) in wargames.
At the risk of reinforcing my pretention credentials, I think I would want to classify such presuppositions in wargaming as metaphysical. I think that such assumptions are made, tacitly, in most, if not all wargames. Stuff happens. There are causes and effects, and sometimes things go a bit awry, but not so much that the awryness cannot be accounted for by chance or awkward human decisions. Hume, after all, argued that we only link cause and effect because that is how we link them together. His claim is that cause and effect are only due to our habits of associating the events. Of course, this is another metaphysical claim, and this from a man who argued that all books of metaphysics should be burnt.
In sum, I think that we should, as wargamers, try to be aware of some of our basic assumptions in holding a wargame at all. I am not really arguing that we should hold the laws of cause and effect, or the laws of nature in mind when wargaming (that way, I suspect, madness probably lies, and I do not wish to be held responsible for a decline in the mental health of the wargame community), but I do think that, from time to time, an investigation of what those assumptions are, and their validity, might be a good idea.