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Pragmatism and Platonism: Two Approaches to Nomic

by Don "Vanyel" Blaheta

Any Nomic Rule has multiple interpretations. This is, perhaps unfortunately, a fact of life for any Nomicker; given any Rule there is almost guaranteed to be some disagreement over its meaning. The most common source of debate seems to lie in the dichotomy between Platonist and Pragmatist interpretations. In the former case it may be assumed that if a Rule says an event shall occur, and doesn't, play can continue *as if* the event had happened as specified. In the Pragmatist view, however, any event which occurs late or not at all, or not as specified in the Rules, can not be retroactively "fixed"--one may only take the game state as it is at the time, and try to work with what is there.

This dichotomy shows up in many games, and is dealt with in different ways. In recent discussion on the Agora Nomic discussion listserver the examples of Bridge and Chess were brought up to exemplify the application of the two viewpoints. Bridge is largely a Pragmatic game; although Players are not *supposed* to see any other Player's cards but their own (and the Dummy), occasionally it will happen that a Player will glimpse someone else's hand, and there are several rules to deal with this. On the other hand, in Chess if a Player accidentally puts a piece in the wrong square, or knocks one off the board, it is replaced as if it had never happened.

It would probably be easier to deal with the dichotomy if it were explicitly dealt with in the Nomic Ruleset, but unfortunately all attempts to make the Agora Rules explicitly Pragmatic or Platonic have failed due to technicality, scam, or public dissent. For example, at one point during the history of Agora Nomic there was such a thing as a "Crime", of varying degrees between A and D. Each type of Crime had its own penalty, and many Rules specified a certain transgression to be a type of Crime. This system seemed to work, except that a number of Rules which *should* have remained Platonic were only ambiguously so, and the Rules intended to be Pragmatic (by instituting the Crimes) were phrased such that the Crime only occurred if "this Rule is broken", which could not happen because of Rule 101: "All Players must follow the Rules." In addition, much of this Criminal Justice system was lost in the Grey Repeals of October 1994 before it could be fixed.

It should be clear that both types should be required; if a Speaker happens to mispublish the results of a Vote, Platonism should clearly be applied to treat the Game State *as if* e had published the correct Results. On the other hand, if it is discovered that a Player thought to have been deregistered for months really wasn't (due to some technicality), it would be nigh impossible to return through months of Reports and Results to recalculate Quorums, Taxes, Passed and Failed Rules, etc. So the desirable treatment would be to continue Play as it has been; with this Player deregistered as reported several months before.

In spite of this, it appears difficult to modify a Nomic already in progress to account for the two viewpoints. Thus, I have developed a new Initial Nomic Ruleset to use the Pragmatic and Platonic philosophies. It is, of course, heavily based on Peter Suber's original Rules, with a few important modifications: I have made two basic categories of Rules, Pragmatic and Platonic, which each has its own subdivisions. Within the Pragmatic Order are Classes based on the importance of the Rule. These Classes are numbered beginning at 1 for the least significant Rules. The Classes of the Pragmatic Order serve several purposes: the higher Classes are harder to modify, have higher precedence (if a Rules in a lower Class conflicts it automatically defers to the Rule in the higher Class), and carry a greater penalty. Within the Platonic Order the divisions are similar, but not quite identical. There is a Class of the Platonic Order known as Meta Rules, which are Rules which are so phenomenally important to the game that they take precedence over all other Rules of either Order. Other than this Class there are numbered Classes as with the Pragmatics, which establish precedence and difficulty of modification. (Since, however, they may not be broken, no penalties are assigned.)

The method with which I assigned one of the Initial Rules to one Order or the other is fairly easily defined: Platonic Rules are Rules which are primarily dealing exclusively with Game Entities. Occasionally there is a Platonic which deals somewhat with the practical or real-world side of Nomic, but these Rules are of the type which shouldn't be broken, and if they are broken should be fixed and treated as if they weren't. On the other hand, the Pragmatics often deal with the real-world representation of the game. These are "prescriptive" rather than "descriptive" laws, and as such may be broken--but with a penalty.

Of course, given the vastly different types of Nomic in existence, it would have been impossible to write a tailor-made Ruleset for each; to my knowledge, there have been Nomics run via email, UNIX notesfiles, WWW, and the Usenet in addition to face-to-face games. However, since Nomic was originally designed as a face-to-face game, I have designed my Ruleset around that specification. Users of other types of Nomic may enjoy the challenge of converting this Ruleset to their home format.

As a minor sidenote, I will add that I have fixed a few minor problems with Suber's original Ruleset. I can hardly claim that his Ruleset was flawed in a major way, but I'm sure nobody could have anticipated the rigours which Agora and others have put the system through; among other corrections, I fixed the distinction between Proposals and Rule Changes, adjusted Amendment to a more playable meaning, and assigned more levels of "Mutability" as it was called in the Original; here it is called "Class", of which there are five, as opposed to the original two.

I will also add that my Ruleset can hardly be perfect. I harbor no doubts that a rigorous playtest would uncover many little problems with my version, much as current Nomics are discovering problems with Suber's original.

APPENDIX A The Platopragmatic Ruleset Devised by Don "Vanyel" Blaheta Based on original by Peter Suber

I. Platonic

Rule 101--Platonic (Meta)

Each Rule lies within one of two Orders--Platonic or Pragmatic.

Rules which are Platonic are descriptive in nature; they describe the way the Game State is. In the event that the recorded Game State (as transcribed in the Ruleset or any list of scores, or indeed any physical manifestation of the game) does not agree with this Platonic Game State, the Platonic Game State is correct.

Rules which are Pragmatic are prescriptive; they prescribe to the Players how they must conduct themselves through the Game, as well as controlling physical manifestations of the Game. If for some reason an Entity under the control of the Game does not follow these Pragmatic Rules, he, she, or it is liable for this error. Other Rules may specify a Penalty for such transgressions.

Of the Rules in the Initial Set, Rules 101-123 are Platonic and 201-209 are Pragmatic, initially. These may change as according to the Rules once play has begun.

Rule 102--Platonic (Meta)

A Player always has the option to leave the game rather than continue to play or incur a game penalty. No penalty worse than losing, in the judgement of the player to incur it, may be imposed.

Rule 103--Platonic (Meta)

No Rule designated as "Meta" may be repealed or modified in any way except with unanimous consent of all Players. Initially, Rules 101, 102, and 103 are Meta Rules.

Rule 104--Platonic (4)

Initially, Rules in the 100s are of Order Platonic and Rules in the 200s are of Order Pragmatic. Rules subsequently enacted or Transmuted (i.e. changed from Order Platonic to Order Pragmatic or vice versa) may be Platonic or Pragmatic regardless of their numbers, and Rules in the Initial Set may be Transmuted regardless of their numbers.

Rule 105--Platonic (4)

All Rules lie within a certain Class. Except for Meta, every Class may be uniquely specified with a number. The Rules which are most fundamentally important to the Game lie in Class Meta, but all other Rules are grouped into numbered Classes beginning at 1 for the least important. Initially, Rules are grouped as follows:

Class Meta Rules 101-103 Class 4 Rules 104-105 Class 3 Rules 106-110, 201 Class 2 Rules 111-121, 202-204 Class 1 Rules 122-123, 205-209

After the game has begun, any Rule may be Reclassified as according to the Rules, and Rules subsequently Enacted may be in any Class regardless of number.

Rule 106--Platonic (3)

A Rule Change is any of the following: * Enactment of a Class 1 Rule * Repeal of a Rule * Amendment of a Rule * Transmutation of a Rule * Reclassification of a Rule

Rule 107--Platonic (3)

All Proposals Proposed in the proper way shall be Voted on. They will be adopted if and only if they receive the required number of Votes.

Rule 108--Platonic (3)

Every Player is an Eligible Voter. Every Eligible Voter must participate in every Vote on Proposals.

Rule 109--Platonic (3)

There must always be at least one Class 1 Rule. The adoption of Rule Changes must never become completely impermissible.

Rule 110--Platonic (3)

Each player always has exactly one Vote.

Rule 111--Platonic (2)

No Proposal may take effect earlier than the moment of the completion of the Vote that adopted it, even if its wording explicitly states otherwise. No Rule Change may have retroactive application.

Rule 112--Platonic (2)

Each Proposal shall be given an ordinal number for reference. The numbers shall begin with 301, and each Proposal proposed in the proper way shall receive the next successive integer, whether or not the Proposal is adopted.

A newly-enacted Rule receives the number of the Proposal to enact it. A Rule which is Amended, Transmuted, Reclassified, or otherwise changed, receives the number of the Proposal to modify it. If a Rule is Repealed and then re-enacted, it receives the number of the Proposal to Re-enact it.

Every Rule Change which enacts a Rule shall specify the Order of the Rule to be enacted.

Rule 113--Platonic (2)

A Proposal is adopted if and only if it achieves the appropriate number of Votes; the Enactment, Amendment, or Repeal of a Class 1 Rule requires a simple majority, i.e. 1/2 the Votes in favor, the Amendment or Repeal of a Class 2 Rule requires 2/3 of the Votes in favor, and in general a class N Rule requires N/(N+1) of the Votes to be in favor in order to Amend or Repeal. A Meta Rule requires a unanimous Vote FOR to Amend or Repeal.

Rule 114--Platonic (2)

Rule Changes that Transmute or Reclassify require as many Votes as would be required to Amend the Rule as it currently is, or as many Votes as would be required to Amend the Rule as it will be if the Transmutation or Reclassification is successful, whichever is greater.

Rule 115--Platonic (2)

Any Rule which is inconsistent in any way with a Rule of a higher Class is wholly void and without effect. Rule Changes may not implicitly Reclassify or Transmute Rules and at the same time Amend them. Rule Changes that Transmute or Reclassify will be effective if and only if they explicitly state their effect.

Rule 116--Platonic (2)

The state of affairs that constitutes Winning may not be changed from achieving a certain number of Points. However, the exact number of Points required and the means of earning them may be changed, and Rules that establish a winner when play cannot continue may be enacted and (if allowed by other Rules) be Amended or Repealed (as well as Transmuted and Reclassified).

Rule 117--Platonic (2)

If two or more Rules of the same Class conflict with one another, then the Rule with the least ordinal number takes precedence.

If at least one of the Rules in conflict explicitly says of itself that it defers to another Rule (or type of Rule) or takes precedence over another Rule (or type of Rule), then such provisions shall supersede the numerical method for determining precedence.

If two or more Rules claim to take precedence over one another or to defer to one another, then the numerical method must again govern.

Rule 118--Platonic (2)

Rule Changes that affect Rules needed to allow or apply Rule Changes are as permissible as other Rule Changes. Even Rule Changes that Amend or Repeal their own authority are permissible. No Rule Change or rype of move is impermissible solely on account of the self-reference or self-application of a Rule.

Rule 119--Platonic (2)

Whatever is not explicitly prohibited or regulated by a Rule is permitted and unregulated, with the sole exception of changing the Rules, which is permitted only when a Rule or set of Rules explicitly or implicitly permits it.

Rule 120--Platonic (2)

An adopted Proposal takes full effect at the moment of the completion of the Vote which adopted it.

Rule 121--Platonic (2)

The Winner is the first Player to achieve 100 (positive) Points.

Rule 122--Platonic (1)

Players who Vote against a winning Proposal receive 10 Points apiece.

Rule 123--Platonic (1)

When a Proposed Rule Change is defeated, the Player who Proposed it loses 10 Points.

II. Pragmatic

Rule 201--Pragmatic (3)

Any Proposed Rule Change must be written down before it is Voted on. If adopted, it must guide play in the form in which it was Voted on, until such time as it is modified as allowed by the Rules.

Rule 202--Pragmatic (2)

If a Pragmatic Rule is broken, the Player to whom this transgression may be ascribed shall receive a Penalty in Points equal to two times the Class of the Rule broken. Such a Penalty automatically deducts the appropriate number of Points from the Player.

Rule 203--Pragmatic (2)

If Players disagree about the legality of a move or the interpretation or application of a Rule, then the Player preceding the one moving is to be the Judge and decide the question. Disagreement, for the purposes of this rule, may be created by the insistence of any player. Such a process is called Invoking Judgement.

When Judgement has been Invoked, the next Player may not begin eir turn without the consent of the majority of the other Players.

The Judge's Judgement may be overruled only by a unaminous Vote of the other Players, taken before the next Turn is begun. If a Judge's Judgement is overruled, the player preceding the Judge in the playing order becomes the new Judge for the question, and so on, except that no Player is to be Judge during eir own Turn or during the Turn of a teammate.

Rule 204--Pragmatic (2)

If the Rules are changed so that further play is impossible, or if the legality of a Move is impossible to determine with finality, or if by the Judge's best reasoning, not Overruled, a Move appears equally legal and illegal, the the first Player who is unable to complete a Turn is the Winner.

This Rule takes precedence over every other Rule determining the Winner.

Rule 205--Pragmatic (1)

If a Proposal is unclear, ambiguous, paradoxical, or destructive of play, or if it is an Amendment that makes no difference, or if it is of otherwise questionable value, then the other Players may suggest Amendments or argue against the Proposal before the Vote. A reasonable amount of time must be allowed for such a debate. The proponent decides the final form in which the Proposal is to be Voted on and decides the time to end debate and Vote.

Rule 206--Pragmatic (1)

Players shall alternate in clockwise order, taking one whole turn apiece. Turns may not be skipped or passed, and parts of turns may not be omitted. All Players begin with zero Points.

Rule 207--Pragmatic (1)

One turn consists of two parts, in this order: (1) Proposing one Proposal and having it Voted on; and (2) throwing one die once and adding the number of Points on its face to one's score.

Rule 208--Pragmatic (1)

Players may not conspire or consult on the making of future Rule Changes unless they are teammates.

Rule 209--Pragmatic (1)

There may never be more than 25 Rules of a Class less than 3.