Stormrunner1730

Evil In The Stormlight Archive

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Are there any characters in the Stormlight Archive that you would consider to be evil?  I'm bringing this over as a thread from the "Dichotomy of Villains" thread since a discussion there started to become a discussion of morality rather than the original post.  

I would say that Odium is only character I would currently consider to be truly evil.  We don't know a whole lot about Odium the Shard or Rayse, but their combined Intent is nothing other than hatred itself, which I would say is a negative emotion that cannot have positive or "good" effects without very specific contexts.  

I would also include Sadeas on this list.  However, I would say that Sadeas merely acts selfishly/in his own self interest.  This leads to a discussion of whether or not selfishness is evil.  I would argue in this case that Sadeas' selfishness led him to do evil and immoral things (the 4 on 1 duel, double crossing/abandoning Dalinar at the end of WOK).  One could still very much argue a different point on this, but I would stick by Sadeas as an evil person in the context of SA.  I would however, still concede that this is based on my point of view and opinions.

I would say that Szeth and Taravangian are not evil because they are following a certain code that is not inherently bad.  Whether or not those codes (the Shin religion and Diagram respectively) are evil depends on your point of view.  But they were both simply following the codes that have ruled their existence for years.  Sanderson also makes a point of avoiding dichotomies of "good" and "evil" (from his point of view at least).        

I would not say that Amaram is evil as his goal is to bring back the Heralds.  We'll don't know a whole lot about the Sons of Honor yet, but given what little we know, that's my view on Amaram.  He has done some pretty despicable things (branding Kaladin and killing his squad, etc.).  But this would be a combination of my view on Sadeas and Taravangian/Szeth.  Amaram is following a code with a goal that is not inherently "bad."  He also knows and recognizes that he's done some pretty bad stuff.  While I personally think his approach is wrong, there are valid arguments against that.  Otherwise, Brandon wouldn't have made Gavilar a Son of Honor. 

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No one is truly evil, just as no one is one hundred percent good either. But I do get your point, about Odium being the only really evil thing in the Cosmere.

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I read a definition of evil, somewhere, as the pursuit of one's interest with no boundaries. Sadeas acts in his self interest and he literally doesn't care who he hurts, so he qualifies by this definition. Taravangian probably falls under this category as well, for me. He seems to have no bounds on the behavior he will condone and engage in to pursue his goals, however noble sounding they are, so he is evil. Amaram will lie, cheat, steal, and murder to achieve his goals.

I categorically reject, both in the series and in life, the idea that noble ends justify evil means. I believe Dalinar said something to the effect of "No good end can be achieved by evil means" though I could be wrong on the source of that. Regardless I agree with the sentiment.

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1 minute ago, MRex said:

No one is truly evil, just as no one is one hundred percent good either. But I do get your point, about Odium being the only really evil thing in the Cosmere.

See, I don't get this. Wrath and Hatred are righteous in the right circumstances. It is GOOD to hate murder and rape, it is GOOD to want to destroy evil, therefore Odium could be a good thing/entity, if only his methods weren't so dang evil.

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24 minutes ago, bo.montier said:

See, I don't get this. Wrath and Hatred are righteous in the right circumstances. It is GOOD to hate murder and rape, it is GOOD to want to destroy evil, therefore Odium could be a good thing/entity, if only his methods weren't so dang evil.

Yeah I don't disagree with this.  That's why it would have to be under very specific contexts.  And we don't know enough about Rayse to be able to say he's at all justified.  For now all we have to go on are his methods (which include, but are not limited to: effectively destroying Shards, trying to completely wipe out humanity on Roshar every few thousand years, torturing the Heralds for said thousands of years... just because he can).

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4 minutes ago, Stormrunner1730 said:

Yeah I don't disagree with this.  That's why it would have to be under very specific contexts.  And we don't know enough about Rayse to be able to say he's at all justified.  For now all we have to go on are his methods (which include, but are not limited to: effectively destroying Shards, trying to completely wipe out humanity on Roshar every few thousand years, torturing the Heralds for said thousands of years... just because he can).

Yeah, he's for sure evil, at this point at least, unless there's some grand plot twist where humans are the source of all evil in the universe and splintered adonalsium in their wickedness or something like that. I don't see how that could be AND honor be on their side.

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My opinion is that very, very few people are evil, both in fiction and in real-life. Most people try to do what they think is the right thing, which is what I feel about Amaram, Taravangian and Szeth. Short opinions on all three:

*Szeth: Szeth has been brought up in what seems like a strict religious culture. He feels like he has to follow the codes of his homeland and religion no matter what. Some people have a very hard time breaking religious or cultural rules (I can have a hard time with this sometimes). Does it excuse killing? No. Does it make Szeth evil? No.

*Amaram: Amaram has religious problems, just like Szeth. I read his character as someone who thinks that returning the Heralds would be good for everyone, which is why he does it. When you believe in a God, you tend to think that his words, laws and rules are important for everyone to follow. Amaram probably wants to bring religion back to people, for what he thinks this is their own good. It doesn't make him evil.

*Taravangian: I honestly don't get why people call this guy evil. I can understand Szeth and Amaram, even though I disagree with it, but not Mr. T. He truly believes that his actions will save humanity, and is prepared to sacrifice both himself and others for this purpose. He tries to go about it with as few unnecessary casualities as possible, and in from his point of view, he is sacrificing himself as well, by commiting horrible crimes in order to save mankind. 

Neither one of these three wants to hurt people. Szeth feels extremely bad about it and wants people to kill him so that he doesn't have to kill others anymore. Amaram wishes that he didn't have to kill Kaladins men, and mourns the deaths of all those who will die during the Desolations. Taravangian hates his actions, and considers them sinful, and try to damage control as much as possible. 

This is what it comes down to for me. Acts can be evil, but acts doesn't define human beings: we are far more complex than that. What defines a person for me is what he/she wants to achieve. Is it something they think will end up helping people? Is it something they think is ultimately good? If the answer to that question is yes, then they aren't evil. As long as they want to do good things, they aren't really evil (maybe misguided, but not evil). This stops Amaram and Mr. T from being evil in my book. And as for Szeth... I would consider him a weak-willed person, maybe a coward. But cowards are cowardly, not evil. 

Disclaimer: I am not a Son of Honor, nor am I a Diagramist. I do not share their views, nor do I support their organizations in any way, apart from thinking that the Sons of Honor has a pretty cool name. 

Oh, and I also find it funny that people dislike Amaram and Mr. T for their actions, while ignoring the fact that Mraize is willing to turture teenage girls "for fun".

Edited by Toaster Retribution
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Mraize is a sociopath and sadist evil possibly not, seriously disturbed in and need of serious help oh yes!!

Edited by Nathrangking
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1 hour ago, bo.montier said:

See, I don't get this. Wrath and Hatred are righteous in the right circumstances. It is GOOD to hate murder and rape, it is GOOD to want to destroy evil, therefore Odium could be a good thing/entity, if only his methods weren't so dang evil.

But Odium hates EVERYTHING. So he wants destruction to remove the objects of hate. Rayse also wants power, so he directs that hate at the Shards.

 

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Really though, all this depends on what your definition of Evil is.

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10 minutes ago, MRex said:

But Odium hates EVERYTHING. So he wants destruction to remove the objects of hate. Rayse also wants power, so he directs that hate at the Shards.

 

 

4 minutes ago, MRex said:

Really though, all this depends on what your definition of Evil is.

I agree with all of this.  The reason i see Odium as the only truly evil thing in SA is that he is an abstract of the very concept of hatred.  Well, the whole Shard-Vessel relationship makes that a little complicated.  But either way Odium is hatred existing without context, (which the way I see it is just pure negative emotion towards all existence).  I'm sure we'll get more about Rayse either by the end of SA or in Dragonsteel, but until then his hatred has no context the way I see it.  

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1 minute ago, Stormrunner1730 said:

which the way I see it is just pure negative emotion towards all existence

Wouldn't that include Ruin then?

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It's my personal belief that evil is purely a concept; not specifically a trait that you can define a person as. All people have their own goals and images of how they see themselves; people are rarely the villains in their own stories.  There is always a justification and always a reason behind actions, so the morality of those actions will come down to the perspective of those involved and affected.

Szeth is consumed with guilt for the killing he's done and is convinced he doesn't have a choice.  When he realizes he DID have a choice all along, he chooses to die, wanting to end his suffering and atone for what he did.  To me, that is not evil.

Amaram's entire guiding force is his Vorin religion and strong belief that the church being back in power will save Alethkar.  His sole goal is to save his country, by any means.  To me, that is not evil.

Taravangian sought the Nightwatcher so he could find a way to save the world.  The boon/bane that was bestowed upon him gave him the capacity to save Roshar, but at the cost of his empathy (at least on his Brilliant days).  On the days where he is more empathic, he laments the things he's done and tries to control the outlying damage, but in the end he knows that what he's doing will save the planet and that he needs to trust his Brilliant self and the Diagram he created to guide them there.  To me, that is not evil.

Even Sadeas has a sole passion to see Alethkar become great and save his country.  He also has a wife who he truly loves.  To me, that is not evil.

Lin Devar used to be a kind and loving man until his wife tried to murder his daughter.  After his daughter murdered his wife, her own mother, he took on the guilt and the rumors that he was the culprit, all to protect his daughter from remembering the truth.  To me, this is not evil.

Every major character in the Stormlight Archive has done terrible things.  Kaladin has killed men in battle.  Shallan has killed and deceived.  Jasnah murdered men in an alleyway.  Adolin murdered Sadeas.  Come the release of Oathbringer, I think we're going to witness Dalinar do some truly horrifying things in his past as the Blackthorn.  Are these characters evil because of what they've done?  Does atonement matter?  Does guilt matter?  Do the ends justify the means?

I don't think there is a right answer.  Anyone answering in black and white is missing so much of the story and characterization that is happening here.  I don't think it's about forgiving characters for what they've done or for trying to change your own beliefs on who is evil and who is good.  But, instead, it's about accepting that everyone has their own measuring stick for morality, and it's extremely difficult to prove that any particular measuring stick is "correct".

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The Shards are forces. They are segments of a whole divinity removed from the context that made them something more. 

Odium cannot be evil. It is a force. Rayse, the mind and soul that controls that force... Rayse I agree is evil. 

On morality in general... Nothing is black and white. Trying to break thing down into good and evil is pointless. Good people do bad things, and bad people can accomplish good things. Without knowing their beliefs and motivations, and how they came to hold them, judgements are beyond my capacity. 

Nietzche said "Morality is the herd instinct in the individual." I fully believe this true. Societal consensus determines morality for most people. What we believe is right and wrong is decided by environmental queues from the societies in which we develop. 

Unless your level of empathy is inhumanly high, or you are live and grew within the same social/family /religious structures as the person who you are judging as "evil" you're most likely projecting your own prejudices onto the person and expecting them to believe the same things that you do. 

Villains are typically far more believable when they don't think of themselves as villains for precisely this reason. 

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In Hoids letter in WOK he describes Odium as "Divine hatred separated from the virtues that once gave it context." So Odium is the personification of old testament style smiting in the vein of killing Jobs family or flooding the world but without the justice and mercy. Wheather or not he is Evil depends on whether or not this is a compulsion or a choice if its a compulsion then Odium is like a natural disaster, theres no intent. If this is a choice however then we can probably describe Odium/Rayse as Evil.

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17 hours ago, MRex said:

Wouldn't that include Ruin then?

Well Ruin is complicated in that sense.  Brandon has said that Ruin and Cultivation are pretty similar.  Ruin could be looked at as wanting to destroy a certain way of life/phase in order to make way for a new way of life.

Mistborn Spoiler:

Spoiler

When Harmony re-makes the world at the end of HOA, he uses both Ruin and Preservation to shape Scadrial.

 

Edited by Stormrunner1730
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Ruin defenitely isn't evil. He just want to fast-track the ending to get to the good stuff.

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6 hours ago, physicskid said:

In Hoids letter in WOK he describes Odium as "Divine hatred separated from the virtues that once gave it context." So Odium is the personification of old testament style smiting in the vein of killing Jobs family or flooding the world but without the justice and mercy. Wheather or not he is Evil depends on whether or not this is a compulsion or a choice if its a compulsion then Odium is like a natural disaster, theres no intent. If this is a choice however then we can probably describe Odium/Rayse as Evil.

That's basically how I interpreted Hoid's letter as well.  Hate is a legitimate human emotion.  Kaladin knows that emotion all too well.  Things often perceived as negative emotions (sadness, sorrow, guilt, hate, spite, jealousy, anger) are all what make us human; they round us out as individuals.  Odium or hatred as a part of the bigger picture of Adonalsium is not a bad thing because it becomes only one piece of the puzzle that makes up a complex being.

For instance, Ruin on its own is devastating, but combined with Preservation, it becomes Harmony.  The world needs destruction and death; that is the circle of life after all.  It's because things are finite that they become beautiful and prevents us from taking them for granted.  A balance of both of those Shards is a far greater force than either on its own.

So I can definitely depict Odium as being evil; it is hatred without balance, reason, or (as you put it) intent.  Hatred on its own is not evil, but there needs to be checks and balances.

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Well, I'm the guy who got the last thread derailed, so let's delve into my argument a little bit.

I think murder is bad. I think somebody who commits murder is a bad person. I think somebody who commits murder a great many times is a very bad person. My judgment of individual people and individual acts may be swayed if you killed somebody to prevent that person from doing harm; you were coerced through force into killing somebody; or something else of that nature. But broadly, I'm in the murder-is-bad camp. So, I suspect, is everybody else here. It's interesting to debate these issues as they come up in a fictional context, but if your co-worker revealed that he's bleeding people to death in his basement to prevent the end of the world you would call the police.

(I'm trying on purpose to keep out of really tricky moral questions, and just stick to a consensus view. I'm not making the case for pacificism, or against execution, or anything like that.)

Now, let's talk a little bit about adherence to a code of honor. Some folks here see that as mitigating, at least in some degree, the obvious badness of a person's actions. I think that gets things backwards. The value of any personal code is how it drives you to treat the people around you. In Szeth's case, it leads him to murder a bunch of people that he would have otherwise left alone. Szeth himself is not better off for having followed this code, but neither is anybody he's ever met. His code cannot redeem him, even partially, because the code itself is malignant.

Taravangian is a slightly different case, because in his way of thinking he does terrible things now in order to prevent much greater harm in the future. This is a mode of thinking common in would-you-kill-baby-Hitler hypotheticals, but it usually falls apart outside of the context of thought experiments because the reality is that, even if you buy the underlying moral logic, you cannot remotely be sure that the baby in front of you will turn out to be Hitler. Arguably a good reason not to blindly follow a prophecy about the future is that it causes you to do monstrous things like murder people in your basement so that eldritch powers can reveal hidden wisdom to you. (Seriously, Taravangian is the bad guy from every D&D module there is. He's Mola Ram of the Temple of Doom.)

More broadly, it is true as a matter of psychology that people rarely do bad things without in some fashion having rationalized it for themselves. So what? People rationalized lynching people and slavery and pogroms and the Holocaust, and built vast structures of rationalization that permitted them to cause a lot of avoidable misery for a lot of people. That's not exculpatory, it's philosophical CYA. Assuming that you're the good guy because you have a lot invested in that belief doesn't mean, to any degree, that you actually are a good person.

Edited by Harry the Heir
Needed to get the bad guy's name from Temple of Doom correct
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3 hours ago, Harry the Heir said:

if your co-worker revealed that he's bleeding people to death in his basement to prevent the end of the world you would call the police.

Which is why Taravangian does it in secret. Just because he thinks he's right doesn't make the act any less heinous. That's not in question. 

3 hours ago, Harry the Heir said:

Now, let's talk a little bit about adherence to a code of honor. Some folks here see that as mitigating, at least in some degree, the obvious badness of a person's actions. I think that gets things backwards. The value of any personal code is how it drives you to treat the people around you. In Szeth's case, it leads him to murder a bunch of people that he would have otherwise left alone. Szeth himself is not better off for having followed this code, but neither is anybody he's ever met. His code cannot redeem him, even partially, because the code itself is malignant

I don't disagree with anything you've said in the context of our world. The issue is that this is not our world. Honor is not tied to morality. And I have said that Szeth is honorable. The things that Honor has lead him to do are horrible things. He would agree with you. I agree with you. But he, and his society, believe that staying true to his code is the "right" thing to do. The code itself is not righteous. The actions most definitely aren't. 

I don't believe that Szeth is evil, precisely because he believes that the things he has done are wrong and he, through an upbringing that instilled this honor in him, believed that he was morally bound to commit the very actions he found detestable and when he discovered that he was in the wrong chose to die. 

The actions themselves are atrocious, and his code does not mitigate that. His own beliefs and descent into insanity due to following them show just how opposed to them he was. 

3 hours ago, Harry the Heir said:

Taravangian is a slightly different case, because in his way of thinking he does terrible things now in order to prevent much greater harm in the future. This is a mode of thinking common in would-you-kill-baby-Hitler hypotheticals, but it usually falls apart outside of the context of thought experiments because the reality is that, even if you buy the underlying moral logic, you cannot remotely be sure that the baby in front of you will turn out to be Hitler. Arguably a good reason not to blindly follow a prophecy about the future is that it causes you to do monstrous things like murder people in your basement so that eldritch powers can reveal hidden wisdom to you. (Seriously, Taravangian is the bad guy from every D&D module there is. He's Mola Ram of the Temple of Doom.)

Again, I don't disagree. Taravangian is a well intentioned villain who, like Szeth, hates the things he does but believes that they are necessary. Imagine for a moment that Taravangian is correct. If the apocalypse occurred, and humanity survived precisely because of his actions, he would be remembered as a hero. It doesn't change how vile the things that he is doing are. Which is why it's all in secret. Whatever evidence he has for the reasons for what he is doing have to be pretty amazingly convincing though. The number of followers of the Diagram means that a good number of people have seen it and agree with its arguments. 

Good and evil are psychological constructs created in order to allow for the punishment of "evil" people by "good" people without guilt. They are absolutely necessary for society to function, but the truth is never black and white. These characters exist in the darker shades of Grey on the moral spectrum. I don't disagree, but writing off any character as "evil" means missing the intricacies of what the character adds to the story.

I think that Taravangian on the day of brilliance was correct, and that the Diagram is the work of Cultivation. Make the world strong through directed growth and aggressive pruning. Does this make what he's doing morally right? No. The question though is this. If the alternative is complete destruction of the species, do you sacrifice every living soul on the planet to soothe you're conscience? 

Edited by Calderis
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25 minutes ago, Calderis said:

The actions themselves are atrocious, and his code does not mitigate that. His own beliefs and descent into insanity due to following them show just how opposed to them he was. 

I don't buy that he was _that_ opposed. All he had to do was toss the Oathstone in the garbage and walk away. The only thing that's stopping him is that he really really doesn't want to. One might be sympathetic to the reasons why Szeth really really doesn't want to. But ultimately that's not a good reason to murder even a single person, much less many people.

31 minutes ago, Calderis said:

Whatever evidence he has for the reasons for what he is doing have to be pretty amazingly convincing though. The number of followers of the Diagram means that a good number of people have seen it and agree with its arguments. 

What, does the number of people holding to a particular position mean that said position is more likely to be true? Should we conclude that the Almighty is alive?

35 minutes ago, Calderis said:

Good and evil are psychological constructs created in order to allow for the punishment of "evil" people by "good" people without guilt. They are absolutely necessary for society to function, but the truth is never black and white. These characters exist in the darker shades of Grey on the moral spectrum.

You say that they're psychological constructs but then you introduce this idea of a moral spectrum that implicitly assumes the existence of good and evil, which I find contradictory.

37 minutes ago, Calderis said:

I don't disagree, but writing off any character as "evil" means missing the intricacies of what the character adds to the story. 

I can see how calling a character "evil" comes across as reductive, as if I have little interest in, or understanding of his characterization. But that's not my position. I think Szeth's psychology is fascinating, and I find the character compelling to read about. I don't have a lot of sympathy for the character (although I have sympathized with characters that I thought were evil) but I don't need a character to be sympathetic for me to find them interesting.

52 minutes ago, Calderis said:

The question though is this. If the alternative is complete destruction of the species, do you sacrifice every living soul on the planet to soothe you're conscience? 

I dunno, man. I could come up with an elaborate hypothetical scenario when the way to save the most lives is to drop-kick an adorable moppet (who talks with a lisp and and walks with a limp and has the biggest blue eyes you've ever seen) through a plate-glass window into a vat of acid and then dance the Macarena in your underwear, and then I might ask you what you would do in that scenario, but I don't think that answer would be as revealing as my need to construct said scenario. In real life, and I suspect for Taravangian, the need to see existence in such terms is very frequently a symptom rather than a cause of the desire to do evil.

In short, I don't think that the Stormlight Archive is going to turn into a ten-book argument for the murder of invalids.

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22 minutes ago, Harry the Heir said:

What, does the number of people holding to a particular position mean that said position is more likely to be true? Should we conclude that the Almighty is alive?

Popularity of an opinion has no bearing on its validity and that's not what I said. I said that arguments able to convince people of such a drastically radical course of action have to carry significant weight. 

22 minutes ago, Harry the Heir said:

You say that they're psychological constructs but then you introduce this idea of a moral spectrum that implicitly assumes the existence of good and evil, which I find contradictory.

No, I said they are necessary constructs. There's nothing contradictory about that. Measurement of time into arbitrarily defined segments is also a constructs. They're still useful. 

22 minutes ago, Harry the Heir said:

I dunno, man. I could come up with an elaborate hypothetical scenario when the way to save the most lives is to drop-kick an adorable moppet (who talks with a lisp and and walks with a limp and has the biggest blue eyes you've ever seen) through a plate-glass window into a vat of acid and then dance the Macarena in your underwear, and then I might ask you what you would do in that scenario, but I don't think that answer would be as revealing as my need to construct said scenario. In real life, and I suspect for Taravangian, the need to see existence in such terms is very frequently a symptom rather than a cause of the desire to do evil.

In short, I don't think that the Stormlight Archive is going to turn into a ten-book argument for the murder of invalids.

And thinking of the Diagram in those terms is exactly the problem. He didn't invent a scenario to enact a desire to do wrong. Every instant we see of him shows a man who considers himself damned. Haunted by the actions he's taking. Urging his followers to never celebrate their "victories" because of the blood they've had to wade through to achieve them.

He facing the ultimate trolley problem. 

You can frame it as reductively as you want, and try and make these arguments look ludicrous. That doesn't change the character we've been shown. 

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I still hold that shards are basically amoral.

Odium is the perversion of something that isn't inherently evil. Presumably, in the context of the other 15 shardic intents, divine wrath is not intrinsically evil. The reason why Odium is problematic is simply that unadulterated wrath is a lot more dangerous than unadulterated honor, for example.

That said, shard vessels aren't amoral. They are real people, and had moralities. If Hoid's opinions are to be trusted, we could conclude that Ati was generally a good person (obviously nobody is 100% good, but some are certainly more good than others). Ruin's intent ultimately forced him to do evil things, but Ati restrained Ruin as best he could. Rayse on the other hand was a distasteful person to begin with, according to Hoid.

 

Also I would contend that selfishness is more or less the definition of evil intentions. And by that standard, Sadeas is quite evil.

 

I agree that Szeth and Taravangian are not necessarily evil. Both of them at least believe that they are acting for the good of others.

But I'm not sure I could call them moral either. In the case of Taravangian, there are really only 3 options:

1. Taravangian's beliefs are correct, and his actions really are a necessary evil to save the world. In this case, his actions are vindicated.

2. Taravangian's beliefs are incorrect, and somebody has tricked him. Nonetheless, he can't really be blamed for his actions. He was decieved, and really did believe he was doing the right thing.

3. Taravangian's beliefs are incorrect, and he has tricked himself into believing them. In this case, he is culpable for his actions.

I kind of figure that what's actually going on here is some kind of mix of all three of these. So I would hesitate to label Taravangian as either notably evil or notably good. He's somewhere in the middle (when we learn the source of the diagram perhaps a more conclusive assessment could be made).

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@Harry the Heir If actions define peoples goodness, then the following characters from Mistborn should be evil:

Spoiler

Kelsier - Murdering innocent guards.

Vin - Being willing to murder innocent servants.

Elend - Being willing to slaughter civillians.

Yet we don't see those people as evil. When protagonists do evil things, we can easily separate actions from the person itself. But when antagonists are bad, we make stuff much more simple than it actually is.

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Something I like about the SA, and probably Sanderson books in general, is that no one is the villain of their own story. They all believe they are justified in doing what they do, even if what they do is cause death and suffering on a widespread scale. I do believe there is good and evil in this world, and I suppose on Roshar, and that every person is a mix of both. If you define an evil person as a person who mostly does evil, I'd say there are a lot of evil people in the SA, no matter how good their intentions may be. If you define an evil person as someone who does evil for evil's sake, as you seem to be defining it, there has never been a person who fit that definition, so the question is pointless.

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