Bcknight2

Radiants with respect to Morality, Ethics, and Honor

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I recently saw a thread in which the morality/honor of the Knights Radiant was discussed. By the time I read it the discussion had moved past these things and it was only tangentially related so I did not comment. Also, the post is in the Oathbringer spoiler thread, so I won't link to it here...

The general sense/opinion I got from the brief discussion there was that a Radiant can be immoral but that all Radiants could be considered honorable as they are required to base their actions on a code.

I'm not sure I agree with these statements, and I think it's because of differing definitions of honor and morality. I also believe the key term that is missing is ethics. So, I thought I'd share my own interpretation and how I believe they relate to the Knights Radiant and see how they are received. 

 

First, morality:

In my opinion, morality is based on one's own understanding of what is "right and wrong". That is to say that it is an internal definition unique to every individual, which is shaped heavily by upbringing and culture, so people in similar situations often have very similar definitions of morality. By this definition a person would consider themselves a "moral" person if they do what they think is right. If that person is relatively sane and you are brought up in similar cultures/circumstances, likely you would consider that person moral as well. But if two people are brought up in completely different circumstances or cultures, then what one considers moral the other may consider immoral. 

I think that questions of morality are often further complicated by implications of a universal right and wrong... but those arguments are for philosophers and religious leaders, and I don't think they need to be discussed in this context.

 

Next, ethics:

To the best of my understanding ethics deal with whether something is "right or wrong" based on external and often explicitly defined qualifications. By this definition a decision or action is considered ethical relative to a specific code if it does not violate the rules/guidelines of that code. An ethical code is external and may contradict a persons own sense of morality. 

Now there somewhat of a chicken/egg scenario here as ethical codes are often expressed as representations of what the people in a society/culture generally deem moral. So the culture's sense of morality shapes their ethics and exposure to those ethics during formative years shapes an individual's internal morality and so on...

 

Finally, honor:

This one is more difficult as I believe it usually has a concrete sense/definition within a culture, but how one demonstrates honor can vary wildly from culture to culture. In my opinion honor usually relates to a somewhat nebulous ethical code within a society/culture, this "code of honor"often defines how a person demonstrates respect for themselves and others.

 

Finally, with my own quibbling over definitions done, my thoughts on how these things relate to the Stormlight Archives and the orders of the Knights Radiant

My interpretation is this:

Each order of the Knights Radiant essentially defines an ethical code which resonates with the nature of the spren of that order. Those ethical codes share a common base in The First Ideal and are further expressed by the other 4 ideals of each order. 

Presumably, a spren chooses a person because they show signs of instinctively acting according to the ethical code of one of the orders.  When a proto-Radiant begins a bond with a spren he/she begins to have their own sense of right and wrong influenced by their interactions with that spren. As that shaping progresses, if the potential Radiant acts morally, and their sense of morality begins to more acutely coincide with the ethical code associated with the order, the ideals become apparent and the proto-Radiant progresses in their bond. 

So, in my opinion a Full Knight Radiant will be a person who IS moral and whose internal sense of morality completely coincides with the ethical code of their order. If a person begins to act immorally (according to their own sense of morality, not yours or mine) or unethically (according to the code of ethics as defined by the ideals they've sworn) the bond will fail.

As for honor, I'm guessing the general Rosharan sense of honor will most closely relate to the ethical code of the Windrunners, and I consider it completely likely that members of certain orders may be seen as dishonorable in many circumstances while still acting according to their own order's ethics.

If you managed to suffer through my ramblings, I'd be interested in any other thoughts/opinions... Thanks!

Edited by Bcknight2
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I agree for the most part. But the main problem I see, and the reason for the discussions lately, is the assumption that the first ideal is fixed for all orders. 

I started a similar discussion but from the opposite direction here. 

If a Machiavellian can find a home in the Skybreakers, than the first oath is open to interpretation very very different than presented by Teft to Kaladin. 

I fully agree that, each person with a spren will have a moral code that coincides generally with their order, but is still flexible to the individual, and if they violate their own moral code, they violate the Oaths. 

I do not think that every Radiant will be "Moral" as their personal code may allow for conduct that is simply not tolerable in a "right and wrong" sense. The allowance of a Machiavellian into any order though, shows that an ends justify the means mentality is possible within the structure of the first ideal, and that can be expressly immoral. 

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Remember, that the Knights Radiant were formed after spren began to bond with beings in the Physical Realm. So the ethical code is actually defined by the spren, who chose their bonding partners. Though the creation of the oaths is a logical consequence of that. A way of strengthening the bond. As the spren of each order are attracted to persons, who bear their desired traits, it is logical, that the Orders form an ethical code, but they don't define it. The spren do. I think, that that is important to note.

The rest of your interpretation is spot on though, I think.

Edited by SLNC
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21 minutes ago, Calderis said:

I do not think that every Radiant will be "Moral" as their personal code may allow for conduct that is simply not tolerable in a "right and wrong" sense. The allowance of a Machiavellian into any order though, shows that an ends justify the means mentality is possible within the structure of the first ideal, and that can be expressly immoral. 

If your definition of Moral vs moral is that Moral relates to your idea a universal right or "good", then I agree... My main assertion is that every Radiant will perceive themself as moral and how closely their perception of morality coincides with their order will determine their progression.

 

I completely agree that the actions of a Radiant may be seen as immoral by us or others... But in order for them to be a Radiant of that order they and their spren must perceive their actions as moral.

Oathbringer prologue spoilers below:

Spoiler

Also, if your reference to a Machiavellian is about Gavilar... I firmly believe that he would not have progressed as a Radiant. 

I think the Stormfather chose Gavilar  because he had to choose someone and he didn't want the bond to progress because it makes him vulnerable...

 

Edited by Bcknight2
Edited to include a spoiler response
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1 minute ago, Bcknight2 said:

If your definition of Moral vs moral is that Moral relates to your idea a universal right or "good", then I agree... My main assertion is that every Radiant will perceive themself as moral and how closely their perception of morality coincides with their order will determine their progression.

 

I completely agree that the actions of a Radiant may be seen as immoral by us or others... But in order for them to be a Radiant of that order they and their spren must perceive their actions as moral.

I agree. They will adhere to their own code, and believe it correct, regardless of the perception of others. 

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1 hour ago, SLNC said:

Remember, that the Knights Radiant were formed after spren began to bond with beings in the Physical Realm. So the ethical code is actually defined by the spren, who chose their bonding partners. Though the creation of the oaths is a logical consequence of that. A way of strengthening the bond. As the spren of each order are attracted to persons, who bear their desired traits, it is logical, that the Orders form an ethical code, but they don't define it. The spren do. I think, that that is important to note.

The rest of your interpretation is spot on though, I think.

I agree that the spren would have played a major part in the definition of the ethical codes for their order. I would also assume that even before the establishment of the ideals the spren were likely choosing individuals whose morality resonated with their own sense of right and wrong.

However, IIRC one of the epigraphs describes one of the heralds forcing surge binders of the time and their spren to "agree to be bound". This and the fact that first ideal is supposedly based on the teachings of Nohadon suggests that there may have been some collaboration between the Knights, Heralds, and spren on the definition of the ideals for each order.

1 hour ago, Calderis said:

I agree for the most part. But the main problem I see, and the reason for the discussions lately, is the assumption that the first ideal is fixed for all orders. 

I started a similar discussion but from the opposite direction here. 

If a Machiavellian can find a home in the Skybreakers, than the first oath is open to interpretation very very different than presented by Teft to Kaladin. 

I fully agree that, each person with a spren will have a moral code that coincides generally with their order, but is still flexible to the individual, and if they violate their own moral code, they violate the Oaths. 

I do not think that every Radiant will be "Moral" as their personal code may allow for conduct that is simply not tolerable in a "right and wrong" sense. The allowance of a Machiavellian into any order though, shows that an ends justify the means mentality is possible within the structure of the first ideal, and that can be expressly immoral. 

Also, while reading through your thread, I had another thought. If the only qualification for determining if a Radiant has broken their oaths is the spren and the Radiant's interpretations of an action with regards to the oath... I wonder if Honor was able to more acutely regulate what a spren saw as breaking an oath before he was splintered.

 

Edited by Bcknight2
Added another reply to @Calderis
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3 hours ago, Bcknight2 said:

Also, if your reference to a Machiavellian is about Gavilar...

It isn't. Gavilar was proto-Bondsmith, while the Machiavellian would be a Skybreaker or a Lightweaver.

Quote

AndrewHB

Is Niccolo Machiavelli's political theory, the ends justify the means, incompatible with the Knights Radiants' First Oath?

Brandon Sanderson

No. Although many of the Orders would find Machiavelli's theory that the ends justify the means incompatible with additional Oaths and/or values of that Order, there are some Orders who could accept a Machiavellian. Brandon said that the Skybreakers where a Machiavellian could find a home.

Question

As Brandon was signing my books, I asked if the Elsecallers would also accept a Machiavellian.

Brandon Sanderson

Yes.

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26 minutes ago, The One Who Connects said:

It isn't. Gavilar was proto-Bondsmith, while the Machiavellian would be a Skybreaker or a Lightweaver.

One could argue Gavilar was a Machiavellian... The WoB isn't about him, but the more I read about him, the more I think he was a cunning, scheming, unscrupulous man looking towards his personal advancement. If Bondsmiths were fine with him, then I would assume they would be fine with similar individuals.

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To be "immoral" in the eyes of others is to maintain and practice a moral code that does not conform to generally accepted moral standards.  Very few people ever consider themselves or their own actions immoral because that generally wouldn't make sense.  Being unethical generally means not adhering to standards of conduct related to a specific group/role.

Telling a significant-other that they don't look fat when they do is immoral because lying is a violation of a commonly accepted moral standard.  It's ethical in the sense that significant others are expected to protect each other and act kindly towards one another to some degree.

Murdering your neighbor and taking their stuff is immoral.  It's also unethical in the sense that neighbors aren't supposed to murder each other.

A doctor refusing to treat a patient who was injured while murdering and robbing their child is unethical, because they are disobeying the code of conduct governing how doctors are supposed to act towards patients.  Many people would still consider it moral to withhold treatment however, or at least feel the situation was ambiguous enough to be unable to pass any legitimate moral judgement.

It's a subtle issue, but it leads to a lot of confusion.  Basically, a Radiant can absolutely be immoral.

Shallan lies all the time.  Kaladin bullies Gaz (and a few other people on occasion...)  Lift steals stuff.  Jasnah lured 3 muggers into attacking her and then brutally killed them when she could've just as easily captured them alive.

They all occasionally act immorally.  Like most people in the world they are flawed.  They all occasionally act as unethical people.  Like most people in the world, they occasionally prioritize their own interests and beliefs over those mandated by their position in society.  But they all follow the ethics and rules that are specific to being Radiants of their specific orders, as outlined by their oaths, which allows them to continue.  A Radiant can't be an unethical Radiant and remain a Radiant.  Oh, they can do things that make them an unethical human being, lie, cheat, steal, ect.  But they can't do anything that would make them an unethical Radiant, as doing so would violate their oaths and kill their spren.  I'm not a doctor, so I can refuse to offer treatment to anybody and it isn't technically unethical, even if I know how to help them (though it could still be immoral).  Similarly, there are no standards saying that edgedancers shouldn't commit petty theft, so stealing things doesn't make Lift an unethical Radiant.  It just makes her an unethical person.

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Great thread. I've commented on this subject before, but I think the main concept underlying the Surgebinding system is that there is no one definition of honor or what is honorable. Hence, each order has their own definition, and their definitions may very well oppose each other in certain circumstances. The obvious example is Lift, who is the stereotypical "thief with a heart of gold" vs. the Skybreakers (even if Nale represents a corrupt version of their code, I doubt the original Skybreakers would have been cool with breaking and entering in order to steal people's dinner). 

The episode of Jasnah vs. the muggers is another example. As Shallan states afterwards, every legal and philosophical code she read justified Jasnah's actions that night (for that matter, so does every legal and ethical code IRL, and police routinely conduct sting operations). And yet, Shallan couldn't quite shake the "ick factor" of that night, and clearly doesn't feel that Jasnah acted morally. This is despite demonstrating later on, in Words of Radiance, that she has no problem with killing in self-defense. So something about the pre-meditated nature of the encounter conflicts with the morals of the Lightweavers (or at least with Shallan's - it may well be that the Lightweavers as an Order did not have any particular code other than "be true to yourself").

And then there's Kaladin. His code is clearly much stricter than either Shallan's or Jasnah's in terms of how he is allowed to achieve his goals - for instance, I don't think Jasnah would have had any issue at all in letting an incompetent leader be assassinated if she thought it best for the nation that he go. Kaladin however, clearly has to defend Elhokar even when he dislikes and disapproves of him. Similarly, Dalinar feels compelled to work with Sadeas in order to unite Alethkar even when he knows Sadeas is untrustworthy; his nature as a Bondsmith won't allow him to create discord among his people. 

My point here is that one of the central themes of Stormlight Archive is going to be the philosophical question of: what is Honor? How do we define it? How do we reconcile differing definitions? 

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9 hours ago, Bcknight2 said:

 

Also, while reading through your thread, I had another thought. If the only qualification for determining if a Radiant has broken their oaths is the spren and the Radiant's interpretations of an action with regards to the oath... I wonder if Honor was able to more acutely regulate what a spren saw as breaking an oath before he was splintered.

 

From Edgedancer I'd say you're right

Quote

“Unfortunately, no,” Darkness said. “I once thought as you, but Ishar made the truth clear to me. If the bonds between men and spren are reignited, then men will naturally discover the greater power of the oaths. Without Honor to regulate this, there is a small chance that what comes next will allow the Voidbringers to again make the jump between worlds. That would cause a Desolation, and even a small chance that the world will be destroyed is a risk that we cannot take. Absolute fidelity to the mission Ishar gave us—the greater law of protecting Roshar—is required.”

 

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