Zinfandale

The Philosophy of The Stormlight Archive

29 posts in this topic

Hello everyone.

I've yet to see a topic dedicated to the philosophical implications and discussions inherent to the SA.

I figured it might be fun not only to philosophers and intellectuals, but to the average reader, to discuss the moral code(s) present in the two novels thus far, how these codes are justified, and the nature of good and evil in Roshar as a whole.

Some starter questions:

-Kaladin (but really Honor) holds individual life, and the protection and preservation of such, paramount to societal and/or collectivized "goodness". This is evident in the fact when he chooses to protect Elhokar from assasination. The assasins value the "greater good". Kaladin values natural rights, namely one's right to live. If what is good is destructive of individual, inalienable rights (life, liberty, and property), it is deemed dishonorable, and Sylphrena recognizes this breach of conduct and refuses to assist Kaladin in the pursuit of said destruction. Do you concur with this notion of individualism as being "right" and "honorable"? I certainly do.

-The Order of Skybreakers value "the law" above all else. Surely different cultures breed different systems of justice. Which is supreme, and why? Do the Skybreakers themselves have an intrinsic system of justice? Is their code superior to that of other's? Which is to be obeyed, and when, and why?

-Odium represnts Hatred. Most evil codes of conduct put death as their standard of value, but Brandon has chosen hatred. What to think of this?

I can think of a gazillion more questions on which to speculate but figured this would be a good start and fun place to have discourse for both lovers of philosophy and Roshar.

Looking forward to talking with some of you guys and gals.

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I think that's part of the point of SA - there are many different ways of being honorable, and some of them aren't that compatible. We know for sure that honorspren and cryptics don't get along. Windrunners, Edgedancers and Bondsmiths probably personify the individualistic theory of honor (i.e. you would never sacrifice an innocent person for the greater good) while Elsecallers and Skybreakers would lean toward the bigger picture. 

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Welcome! :)

 

Also with mentioning is the moral implications of everything Taravangian does, which I'm fairly certain has been discussed at great length already.

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Welcome! :)

 

Also with mentioning is the moral implications of everything Taravangian does, which I'm fairly certain has been discussed at great length already.

There have also been a couple threads about Szeth, as well, and I think I recall a thread about the morality of the Oaths a while ago. Let me see if I can find it.

 

Edit: Here is a thread about the Oaths. Here is a thread about the general morality. Both are dead, of course, so while this thread isn't totally original, it still has a point.

Edited by Shaggai
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I think that's part of the point of SA - there are many different ways of being honorable, and some of them aren't that compatible. We know for sure that honorspren and cryptics don't get along. Windrunners, Edgedancers and Bondsmiths probably personify the individualistic theory of honor (i.e. you would never sacrifice an innocent person for the greater good) while Elsecallers and Skybreakers would lean toward the bigger picture.

Perhaps it is for that very reason why cryptic and honorspren aren't exactly buddies. Crytpics assert there are "truths" while I'm sure Sylphrena sees only one, not mutliple, paths of being honorable and right. Cryptics are more subjective, relative, and situational while honorspren are objective and have a "one-track" vision of what is truly right. They see the "big picture" as irrelevant to honor, for it is an individual notion.

I'm certain these two POVs or ideologies will continue to clash throughout the series. Some people could even say Kaladin was acting selfishly by not allowing Elhokar to die because he put his own, individual loyalty to the king, above the greater good.

I just find it interesting that Sanderson has chosen the individual over the collective, when it comes to what is right.

Edited by Zinfandale
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Not a very long post (typing on mobile is never fun) but I wonder why you seem to consider Lightweavers (with their cryptics) to be shoo-ins for some variant of moral relativism. Sure, cryptics do seem to be more comfortable with a more fluid picture of truth, but as far as I'm concerned, it just means that they're not good fits for Kantian ethics. But that being said, I'm reading the cryptics as more amoral. I would suggest they might end up being non-prescriptivist, but I think there's less evidence for what to make of their normative concerns (if any.)

Branching out slightly from (boring :P) ethics--

1. Maybe we should recast the idea of honour into a slightly more virtue ethicist/ classical philosophy light. The different Orders map out difderent pictures of what it means to be virtuous, or what it means to lead "The Good Life". And really, while there's a sense of normative value in this reading, I want to suggest it is potentially interesting because 'ethical value' doesn't fully cash out this broader sense of normative value.

2. As a bit of an aside, I think it is very interesting to consider where Skybreakers map onto, where the philosophy of law is concerned. Do Skybreakers accept the concept of wicked legal systems? (See: Dworkin.) What do they recognise as laws? Do they treat laws as possessing normative content? What sort of normative content is this? Is this ethical content?

P.S. Seriously, ethicists get all the spotlight everytime someone says 'philosophy', which frustrates the other 80-90% ;)

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Perhaps it is for that very reason why cryptic and honorspren aren't exactly buddies. Crytpics assert there are "truths" while I'm sure Sylphrena sees only one, not mutliple, paths of being honorable and right. Cryptics are more subjective, relative, and situational while honorspren are objective and have a "one-track" vision of what is truly right. They see the "big picture" as irrelevant to honor, for it is an individual notion.

I'm certain these two POVs or ideologies will continue to clash throughout the series. Some people could even say Kaladin was acting selfishly by not allowing Elhokar to die because he put his own, individual loyalty to the king, above the greater good.

I just find it interesting that Sanderson has chosen the individual over the collective, when it comes to what is right.

But has he? Sure, in the books so far we've mostly been looking at Kaladin and Dalinar when we're exploring the moral issues. But there's the whole matter of Taravangian. I expect that we'll learn a lot more if/when we get a Taravangian book. Really, it's all determined by how it works out. If the first five end with the Radiants winning, sure, that would be true. But if they fail (which I consider more likely. Why have another series if they've already won?), it gets more complex.

Edited by Shaggai
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Perhaps they pull off something similar to the cage Leras used, but powering it with a spren, instead - and, it being that much weaker, it will fail that much quicker - in time for pentology #2, where everyone's prepared, and the real badass happens.

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Perhaps they pull off something similar to the cage Leras used, but powering it with a spren, instead - and, it being that much weaker, it will fail that much quicker - in time for pentology #2, where everyone's prepared, and the real badass happens.

It's possible, definitely, and there are plenty of other possibilities. Maybe they'll end the Desolation, but in the second half they'll completely beat Odium. I still think they'll lose, for other reasons.

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Not a very long post (typing on mobile is never fun) but I wonder why you seem to consider Lightweavers (with their cryptics) to be shoo-ins for some variant of moral relativism. Sure, cryptics do seem to be more comfortable with a more fluid picture of truth, but as far as I'm concerned, it just means that they're not good fits for Kantian ethics. But that being said, I'm reading the cryptics as more amoral. I would suggest they might end up being non-prescriptivist, but I think there's less evidence for what to make of their normative concerns (if any.)

Branching out slightly from (boring :P) ethics--

1. Maybe we should recast the idea of honour into a slightly more virtue ethicist/ classical philosophy light. The different Orders map out difderent pictures of what it means to be virtuous, or what it means to lead "The Good Life". And really, while there's a sense of normative value in this reading, I want to suggest it is potentially interesting because 'ethical value' doesn't fully cash out this broader sense of normative value.

2. As a bit of an aside, I think it is very interesting to consider where Skybreakers map onto, where the philosophy of law is concerned. Do Skybreakers accept the concept of wicked legal systems? (See: Dworkin.) What do they recognise as laws? Do they treat laws as possessing normative content? What sort of normative content is this? Is this ethical content?

P.S. Seriously, ethicists get all the spotlight everytime someone says 'philosophy', which frustrates the other 80-90% ;)

 

All of the Orders ascribe to a relativistic morality. Not just Lightweavers and their spren. Simply just because you hold objective values (such as life--it's objective since value is that which you act to gain and keep and action and keeping is impossible without the prerequisite of life) as part of your moral code does not mean the code itself is objective.

 

Windrunners' standard of value is honor which, so far, has been deemed as upholding a protective role of individual life and personal loyalty. Simply because life is of objective value, to any rational person, does not mean Kaladin's code as a whole is objective. All of the KR are moral relativists, holding different standards of value for themselves as well as the spren which bond to them, namely life, truth(s), law, etc. But I would say that truth and law hold nowhere near the amount of objective value life does, if at all, making Kaladin's code superior, at least to a moralist, for truth holds no objective value when there is nothing to perceive truth, and law is meaningless in the absence of beings to govern.

 

Skybreakers:

These are bound to be an very interesting lot. There's going to be quite a few moral conundrums to be sure.

 

As for your last comment, I'd say that's simply a product of the majority of philosophy having very little practical or obvious value to the untrained or average thinker. Morality and ethics actually affect people substantially. Abstractions about the nature of existence and questions like, "Why is the universe not the opposite of the universe?" are pointless and valueless to the majority of people. What is good and what is evil though, is of great interest to many people. 

 

Oh, and one more thing-I don't think spren are amoral at all. Sentient beings which choose and bond to people precisely because of their moral attributes certainly makes me think that spren have some intrinsic moral values as well. Otherwise, why bond? Why value humans' qualities? It's silly to say that which is attracted to moral qualities is itself disinterested or unaware in/of moral qualities. Why would something which doesn't understand or recognize honor choose to "claim" (as Syl put it) people who exhibit certain, particular honorable attributes? They wouldn't.

Edited by Zinfandale
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I would be very interested to see, say, a spren who bonded with someone that opposed their moral viewpoint out of curiosity. They would be of course handicapping that person's progress as a Knight Radiant, but if that person managed to convert a spren to a different philosophy, I wonder if the exact Ideals needed to advance would change, as well. This is probably silly, because it looks like moral outlook is as intrinsic to spren as blood type is to us.

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Isn't that almost exactly what Lift is?

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No. Lift is a person who doesn't fit the stereotypes - graceful, etc. However, it's an error to assume that everyone following a particular moral philosophy is going to fit a stereotype. As demonstrated, she manages to find the Second Ideal under pressure. Besides, she's a child, with a pretty terrible childhood.

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Yeah, you're right. Despite her rough edges, Lift's sense of morality is in line with her spren's.

But that's kinda the point, ai think. Spren only bond with those amenable to their sense of right and wrong.

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I would be very interested to see, say, a spren who bonded with someone that opposed their moral viewpoint out of curiosity. They would be of course handicapping that person's progress as a Knight Radiant, but if that person managed to convert a spren to a different philosophy, I wonder if the exact Ideals needed to advance would change, as well. This is probably silly, because it looks like moral outlook is as intrinsic to spren as blood type is to us.

 

That's actually a super interesting concept. Imagine a spren bonding to someone with the purpose of corrupting or changing them. Like an honorspren bonding with Szeth to influence or alter his outlook. It's like spiritual infiltration. And they offer the power of Investiture only when the person they're bonded to "obeys" the spren's moral POV. This would be very effective, I should think, in changing someone quite a bit.

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Windrunners' standard of value is honor which, so far, has been deemed as upholding a protective role of individual life and personal loyalty. Simply because life is of objective value, to any rational person, does not mean Kaladin's code as a whole is objective. All of the KR are moral relativists, holding different standards of value for themselves as well as the spren which bond to them, namely life, truth(s), law, etc. But I would say that truth and law hold nowhere near the amount of objective value life does, if at all, making Kaladin's code superior, at least to a moralist, for truth holds no objective value when there is nothing to perceive truth, and law is meaningless in the absence of beings to govern.

The thing with the Windrunners is that their purpose is to protect, and only protect. Even if the world would be better off if someone died, a Windrunner wouldn't be able to do it. There are similar flaws in all of the moral codes. The point of them is that they work together, and cover up the flaws of the others. None of the Orders are meant to exist on their own.

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The thing with the Windrunners is that their purpose is to protect, and only protect. Even if the world would be better off if someone died, a Windrunner wouldn't be able to do it. There are similar flaws in all of the moral codes. The point of them is that they work together, and cover up the flaws of the others. None of the Orders are meant to exist on their own.

That's a good point. Perhaps a different order will take on the role of destruction and agression, rather than protection. I'd imagine them swearing an Oath along the lines of, "I will destroy all those whose are themselves destroyers of what is right."

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That's a good point. Perhaps a different order will take on the role of destruction and agression, rather than protection. I'd imagine them swearing an Oath along the lines of, "I will destroy all those whose are themselves destroyers of what is right."

 

Dustbringers :D

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That's a good point. Perhaps a different order will take on the role of destruction and agression, rather than protection. I'd imagine them swearing an Oath along the lines of, "I will destroy all those whose are themselves destroyers of what is right."

There is a simpler way to put that, you know.

 

*ahem*

 

Destroy Evil

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I just want to make several points even though I understand discussion in the thread has gone beyond that.

1.

All of the Orders ascribe to a relativistic morality.

Clarify that position, please. There are two senses of moral objectivity/relativism we can be discussing here. First is metaphysical objectivity. I do not know if you intend to push the position that all facts that the Orders take to be moral facts are subjectively grounded, rather than given objective "out there" metaphysical status. The second sense of moral objectivity/relativism simply is epistemological in nature and suggests that a proper objective stance would produce the moral truths. Which are you denying, then?

At first glance, I don't think it's immediately obvious with either stance that the Orders "ascribe to a relativistic morality." When Syl tells Kaladin that something or the other is bad and makes a moral claim, Syl isn't saying, "Kal, doing that is bad for us." She's making a moral claim she believes to be a fact that has universal grounding. Regardless of whether Syl might or might not be correct as an epistemically limited agent (do spren share the same epistemic limitations as regular people?), there's nothing there that immediately suggests at relativism. In fact, I would suggest that to read her stance (assuming she is representative of the Windrunner system of morality) is to immediately deny both senses of relativism. Syl wouldn't sit back and say that what Szeth was doing was "good/correct for Szeth."

2. I do not claim the spren are amoral. I think the cryptics are. If there is a moral quality that the cryptics are claiming for, it's not immediately obvious. Second, you need to draw a distinction between what we perceive as moral qualities and what the cryptics appear to perceive as moral qualities. I suggest that given Pattern's portayal so far, you have no reason to make the assumption that Pattern chose Shallan for any particular moral qualities that called to him. I would not deny that Syl is clearly not amoral.

3. Does morality and ethics really affect people? How many people particularly care about the categorical imperative as something that guides their action? How many people are particularly troubled by the Darwinian dilemma and what that says about moral relativism? Here are other philosophical questions that genuinely affect people: how do we evaluate expert testimony? (Especially important in an increasingly technological age.) What should our disposition towards it be? Who is an epistemic peer and how do we rationally resolve disputes? What is justice and how do we achieve a just society?

Edited by Kasimir
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There is a simpler way to put that, you know.

 

*ahem*

 

Destroy Evil

Yeah,but it's got to sound majestic and profound, lest someone swear an Oath during the course of everyday conversation.

And plus it just sounds cooler.

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Clarify that position, please.

I'm simply asserting that an objective or universal morality is neither present nor practiced by the KR.

Life is of objective value since all other values preceed from it.

Windrunners use the ideal of protection as their agent for achieving moral purity. Skybreakers value law above life. Had a universal or intrinsic or natural moral code been instilled in all men, these different standards of value would not exist.

I know what you're thinking: People can simply rebel or deny their intrinsic moral code. The fact that they do, doesn't mean the code itself does not exist.

And you're right, to an extent, but not on Roshar. Spren are pieces and imitations of creation itself. Had a universal morality been present, how is that there are spren which value law above life, life above the collective, and simply the nature of truth and lies? All of the Orders seem to have moral codes with different standards of value. Not a universal nor intrinsic one, which is a quality of an objective morality.

And you're right about how Syl perceives morality. She doesn't assert it's wrong for Kaladin. She asserts it is wrong. But how you go from this, to the view that this wrongness is objective, I do not know. Skybreakers do not recognize this. Cryptics are apathetic about it.

Different Orders and their respective spren hold different standards of what is right. Kaladin's however, is the only one rooted in objectivity (thus far).

I deny the metaphysical and universal presence of an intrinsic moral code. Again, simply upholding an objective value as part of your morality does not mean at all that the code is objective.

Certain spren have chosen certain ideologies to uphold, much like the humans with which they have bonded. Their standards of value are not inherent. And even if an objective morality was persistent, I have no idea how we could even recognize such a thing as the deities on Roshar do not seem to be interventional ones and I'm not aware of how any standard of objective morality is possible without divine intervention or design.

As for your comments on Cryptics, I agree. I apologize for reading your position as spren as a whole.

Your last paragraph is in the province of psychology and neuroscience and philosophy in the real world. I don't see how these topics are relevant to the SA. We could discuss the implications of Kant's ethics, Rand's egoism, and many other topics philosophical in nature in a different place. We're dealing with a fantastical world, not the real one.

Edited by Zinfandale
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Yeah,but it's got to sound majestic and profound, lest someone swear an Oath during the course of everyday conversation.

And plus it just sounds cooler.

Sorry, that was a joke. You need to have read Warbreaker to get the context.

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Sorry, that was a joke. You need to have read Warbreaker to get the context.

Oh. Sorry for ruining it :P

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WOR spoilers below

Thanks for posting this topic Zinfandale. This has been something I've wanted to discuss for some time. I feel like one philosophies present in the Metanarrative, especially if you take into account Brandon's mission statement essay he posted prior tot WoR, is to make a modern Epic Fantasy with total sincerity and as little cynicism as possible. This means having the themes of the books present, not thru subverting genre tropes (a la George RR Martin or so called "grimdark authors), but by bringing the issues in question to the forefront.

1. An "Awesome" reading experience with top notch worldbuilding and exciting action. One of the mission statements of the SA is that it is , above all , fun! This is in itself commendable. Like I said this is Metanarrative. One of the points of the series is to Herald back in an era of Sincere epic fantasy. {there are other authors doing this as well . I think Pat Rothfuss is another champion of sincerity. He does have cynical characters, but the prose and poetry are all from his heart, genuinley}

2.Slavery / Racism/ Subjugation. This is another super big theme for Brandon across all of his works really, but I feel it comes forth beautifully in The Stormlight Archive. The idea of Lighteyes is so ridiculous and trivial that the fact that they don't see differences in skin color the way we do makes us seems like the ones with weird misconceptions. The Alethi culture in general is abhorrent, I mean Kholinar SHOULD be in Revolt. I think it's interesting that , for the most part, the story keeps the narrative from the point of view of those who perpetuate this injustice as well. SHallan and the Kholins are all lighteyes. Kaladin shows a good counterpoint starting as a slave in WoK and the injustice done to him is a damning piece of evidence to what Sanderson thinks of caste systems of rule. And all that is before you bring the Parshmen into the discussion!

I'm going to wrap up on one more topic because I'm running out of steam.

3. This theme is the one being discussed already in this topic and it's the Honor Vs Odium discussion. It boils down to this. Can you win in life while adhering to your own personal morals when those you compete with or oppose do not? Also tied in with is a "do the ends justify the means" argument. I think he's putting out a firm "they do not" vibe, and I dig that.

I'm very glad you started this topic. This kind of discussion was one of the main reasons I joined the forum. I've taken a hiatus since WoR came out mostly because I was burned out on speculation. I understand how shards work enough now that unending theory topics just make me gloss over. This is what I want to talk about!

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