I've been a DM in DND 3.5 for a while now, and have been sitting down working for this last week on potentially a new campaign setting which I'd like to have ready in a few months - there is no urgency as the existing game is not quite finished and my players and I are all on holiday for the summer. So with the spare time, I've been letting my mind wander. I have a whole bunch of ideas for a setting, but one that puzzles me particularly is the alignment system, which I've done a good deal of meditation on, and find to be woefully underwhelming.
At first glance, there don't seem to be any problems with this system. It has two axes which describe two kinds of actions, those dealing with laws, and those dealing with morals, and the combinations of these actions are supposed to make up the moral and political stances of every kind of entity that might exist in the DND world.
Without getting into too much philosophical debate, I find the "moral" axis to be the one that gives me problems. I have a hard time consistently putting forward a system which allows me to adjudicate which actions are "good," which ones are "evil," and which ones are "neutral." Now I get that most things are relatively cut and dry (i.e. damsel in distress and burning down orphanages are easy). Suffice it to say in games that have large philosophical undertones, this will represent a big problem.
But the player interaction or dealing with morality in terms of game mechanics isn't the problem - that's easily left for them to work out for themselves. Which NPCs to associate with and appropriate actions for their characters, that's all fine. The problem comes down tot the game mechanics and in particular, the magic associated with them. If I can't define what good is, then protection from good doesn't make much sense as a spell. This is particularly problematic for weapons like The Holy Avenger which requires a specific alignment to use, and presents even more problems for items with variable effects depending on the alignment of the user. The whole thing comes together to be a mess, and I can't in good faith just invoke my DM powers and tell my players what their alignment is at any given time. I feel like that information needs to be readily available.
So the challenge is this: find an alternate way to classify actions that is independent of DND's limited definition of "good" and "evil." Does anyone have any experience with a problem like this? Any suggestions or ideas for a relatively easy fix to magic that doesn't depend on these limited definitions? I will be posting one possible alternate system in an answer for your feedback on as well.
Thanks so much for the help! Sorry if this question is long-winded or formatted improperly. My first time over here, I'm from math.stackexchange and don't know how things work here normally. Anyone with more experience, please don't hesitate to lend me a hand.