As I am sure many of you already know, in the general debates over philosophy these days, there is much about realism and anti-realism. Having been subjected, in the last few weeks, to endless stuff about this, I reckoned that there was a blog post about it. Furthermore, of course, misery loves company. So I thought that I would inflict it upon you, my reader.
First of all we need to have some idea about what a realist is, and then try to define what an anti-realist might be. This, however, is easier said than done. In the philosophy of religion, a realist is someone who believes that God actually exist. But that does not precisely mean that an anti-realist does not believe in God, just that they think that God is not an observable in the world and therefore we cannot speak of God.
By an odd quirk of the human mind, there is a very similar debate in philosophy of science. Here, the question is (or rather, the example usually is) whether electrons exist. A realist would say they do, point to the theories for them and the effects they have. An anti-realist might well counter by arguing that we cannot see electrons and so the ways we have of talking about them are merely conventional words with given meanings within the mathematical models we have to predict the world around us.
All of that said, of course, most people are realists, most of the time. Most people who believe in God believe in a real God. Indeed, we could argue that most people who do not believe in God do not believe in a real God, and, at risk of too many negatives, do not not believe in an anti-realist God. Similarly, most people believe in electrons as actually existing, not, probably, as our descriptions of them, but as some sort of entity in the world. Even anti-realist philosophers of science, practically, believe in electrons somehow, or else they would refuse to use word processors to type out their arguments for the non-reality of the electron.
I have to admit here to being a realist, and to regarding anti-realism as being a bit bizarre. I can kind of understand where they are coming from, but, as a former jobbing physicist, do actually regard electrons as entities, albeit unobservable entities. I think I would also claim that most physicists would fall into the realist camp here as well. In fact, the subtleties of philosophy of science are ignored by most physicists.
With respect to wargaming, however, realism and its opponents rear their ugly heads. I am not talking here about historical accuracy, but in whether the effects we discuss are real effects. Let us presume that we can, within some knowable degree of freedom, reproduce a battle on the wargames table, and do it with some known degree of accuracy, however that might actually be measured. That established, our attention must turn to the rules, and what they are modelling.
Most obviously, of course, there are morale rules. Morale is one of those Cinderella rules in wargaming. We all know what it is and what it means, but we do not really have a good handle on it. Indeed, as I think I have mentioned before, DBA ignores morale except on a broad scale and some proponents of the rule set argue that morale is built into the combat outcome rules.
However you argue it, morale is, broadly speaking, an unobservable. I cannot go into a wargame shop and order a slice of morale, or deliver to the army their morale for the day. We can, of course, see its effects. Troops have fought bravely, or run away, as a result of their morale status. But morale is unobserved, all we see, like the electrons, is the effect of morale.
I could go further as a radical anti-realist, of course. A movement rule is not about how far or how fast units can move. It is about how fast the do move. ‘Movement’ is in fact something that is not fixed and thus, cannot be measured. We decide in writing the rules, how far our units are allowed to move. Further, the movement of a unit on the battlefield is not the same as the movement of the individuals, but all I can really measure is the latter, and then only by determining how far some point of the unit has moved, be that headquarters, colour party or one corner of a theoretical rectangle of men.
Thus, as an anti-realist, I can argue that movement rules, as well as morale rules, do not refer to anything real. We draw our nice orders of battle, sketch out the deployment of the units and place their equivalents on the wargame table, but this, and the motions in which we set them, do not refer to anything. The battle of Naseby was not the clash of neat squares of battalia as they are drawn on the famous map of the battle. Those clusters of musketeers around a central pike block might look good on table or map, but it is highly unlikely that the reality looked anything like that.
It is also unlikely that our rules reflect anything much in reality. Of course, we can argue that morale is important in battles, and everyone would concede that that is correct. But we cannot define morale easily. We can only see its effects. We cannot even, by my argument, define movement successfully. We can, again, only see the effects. The rules are mere instruments for obtaining some outcome. The mechanism has nothing to do with what might happen on a battlefield.
So, are the anti-realists right? As I hope I have suggested above, I fail to believe that they are, but I do think that they pose a question to us as wargamers. Even if we concede that our wargaming is historical, we then have to wonder if the rules we use have any relation to the real. My example of morale is only one where the referent is not an entity in real life. I have tried to suggest that movement might be another, and I dare say that if I tried hard enough, I could find an argument for suggesting that combat rules do not refer either.
Whether this is a problem for us or not depends on taste, of course.