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Sasukerinnegan

A critical view of morality in Words of Radiance

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Hi, I wanted to look critically at the various moral standpoints and the fallacies of the various factions of Roshar. Please understand that this is in no way a criticism of Brandon himself or WoR.

 

Lets start with the Windrunners. The Windrunners and the Skybreakers are the ones whose ideology fascinates me the most since they seem to be almost diametrically opposite. The Windrunner's ideology depends entirely on an undefined principle of right and wrong. When Kaladin thinks about breaking the law and getting out of prison, Syl replies that she isn't a highspren and that being RIGHT is more imp than following the dictates of the law. The problem with the logic is that RIGHTness isn't a defined thing and it's rather a personal thing. Kaladin himself points out the fallacies of this belief when he encounters Szeth, that RIGHTness could well depend upon the belief of Szeth and the possible Honor spren he is bonded to.

 

The Skybreakers on the other hand pursue law as the FINAL authority on right and wrong. When Nalan's minion thinks himself above the law, Nalan replies that the law is the only sure thing in this world and that he should subject himself to its dictates. For most people, the law is at best a reflection of morality, but for Nalan and the Skybreakers, the law is morality.As Shallan says in WoK, you can be immoral while following the law and viceversa. The problem with this belief is that it is geographical, situational and such a right and wrong depend entirely on where you are. I can illustrate the fallacy in both these beliefs by giving an example. Drinking alcohol is legal in the US while it is illegal in, say, Saudi Arabia. For the Skybreakers therefore, Drinking alcohol is therefore immoral in Saudi Arabia while it is moral in the US. The obvious ridiculousness of such a standpoint does not occur to them. The Windrunners would have a even more ridiculous moral standpoint - some Windrunners would call drinking alcohol moral and protect those who consume alcohol from the law in Saudi Arabia while, others i.e those who consider it "immoral" would attempt to "protect" them from their "worse" impulses. The problem with the Windrunner principle is that most modern nations depend more on the Skybreaker principle. If every man started pursuing their own RIGHTS and wrong, it would be nigh impossible to administer a modern nation. Based on a vague sense of right and wrong,you could justify everything from terrorism to war.

 

The Edgedancers remember those who have been forgotten. An admirable principle, though as Nalan rightly pointed out, they would have been focused on issues of little importance while ignoring far bigger problems.

 

Mraize and Iyathil, believe in the principle of the hunter and quarry. We've heard it before - it's a dog eat dog world out there, One man's profit is another man's loss. The problem is it just isn't true - if it were, progress could only occur on the destruction of another - therefore absolute progress would be non existent.

 

The Sons of Honor are utterly selfish, willing to bring a Desolation just to restore the Vorin church. They are reprehensible.

 

Taravangian's beliefs are the one with which atleast I have a little sympathy, not much but atleast a little. The positive about his belief is that he acknowledges the hypocrisies inherent in his beliefs unlike all of the above. He doesn't expect or even desire salvation in any sense or even personal profit but just wants to save the people. As Hoid remarked, if it were another place, another time I might have denounced him with spit and bile, but considering the circumstances he is atleast partially justified.

 

What do you people think?

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It could just be me, but I've always seen the morality as such:

 

Windrunners: Keep *everyone* alive. They aren't meant to judge, they're meant to protect everybody that they can, not to be judge and jury. I guess what I'm saying is that I've always seen the Windrunners as the people who don't care who you are or what you've done, because there be Voidbringers and it's not worth it to decide who deserves to live or die.

 

Skybreakers: They're here to defend the law, which, to borrow from Cry, the Beloved Country, does not matter if it is flawed. Their job is to make sure people stick to the rules established. This sounds idiotic, and maybe it is by our standards, but I see one set of laws that would be quite useful for them to uphold: Their Oaths. The Skybreakers probably wouldn't be well liked, but they would also be the ones keeping other KR on their paths, a very useful calling calling back to watching the watchmen. On the side, they are the lawmen, who actually decide what to do with the troublemakers. Unlike the Windrunners, their job is to actually decide if keeping somebody around is worth the trouble.

 

Ghostbloods/Edgedancers I won't speak for, I don't know enough about them to make anything resembling accurate.

 

Sons of Honor are disgusting, but I can understand them. They think a Desolation is needed to whip mankind back into shape and purge corruption from the church. I don't like it, but I can understand.

 

Vargo is something right out of Scardial. He wants to survive, he wants others to survive, and he honestly doesn't care what has to happen for his goals to work out. On Scadrial, he'd be best buddies with Preservation and would be a good guy. Here though, Honor is morality and his methods are wrong. Killing hundreds of innocents a day just for the chance that one of them will Rattle, useful or not, dooms him to a hollow victory later. 

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The Skybreakers on the other hand pursue law as the FINAL authority on right and wrong. When Nalan's minion thinks himself above the law, Nalan replies that the law is the only sure thing in this world and that he should subject himself to its dictates. For most people, the law is at best a reflection of morality, but for Nalan and the Skybreakers, the law is morality.As Shallan says in WoK, you can be immoral while following the law and viceversa. The problem with this belief is that it is geographical, situational and such a right and wrong depend entirely on where you are.

 

I think the Skybreakers adher to it because to them, it sets a bad example to just pick the laws you like. If everyone did so, then the law would be pointless. In a sense, laws provide stability; without them, there is only anarchy and chaos. A foundation of sorts, even if some of it isn't exactly right. It's like what Lirin said. If nobody starts doing it, then no one will, only it's applied to following rules instead of doing what is right. And remember that the Skybreakers are a military organization - in war, stability and unity comes first and foremost, not being nice. Being nice comes when the war is done with, although obviously some of the other orders wouldn't agree.

Edited by Ketek
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Windrunners: Keep *everyone* alive. They aren't meant to judge, they're meant to protect everybody that they can, not to be judge and jury. I guess what I'm saying is that I've always seen the Windrunners as the people who don't care who you are or what you've done, because there be Voidbringers and it's not worth it to decide who deserves to live or die.


 

 

 

That's not what their Ideal says. I will protect even those I hate, SO LONG AS IT IS RIGHT. It's the second phrase I have trouble with.

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I think the Skybreakers adher to it because to them, it sets a bad example to just pick the laws you like. If everyone did so, then the law would be pointless. In a sense, laws provide stability; without them, there is only anarchy and chaos. A foundation of sorts, even if some of it isn't exactly right. It's like what Lirin said. If nobody starts doing it, then no one will, only it's applied to following rules instead of doing what is right. And remember that the Skybreakers are a military organization - in war, stability and unity comes first and foremost, not being nice. Being nice comes when the war is done with, although obviously some of the other orders wouldn't agree.

 

I´m with Ketek here. I don´t agree with Nalan and his extreme adherence to the law but if he still has his mindset from the Desolations it would make sense. You simply don´t have the time and effort to spare for criminals, if Voidbringers are concentrating on eradicating humanity and ruining your vacation. I also don´t think killing every criminal is his go to solution, Ym and Lift just so happend to have some big skeletons in their closets. Stability is needed for society, even more so in times of Desolations

From a not apocaliptic viewpoint though, he is way to extreme, however normal Skybreakers may be less so.

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Worth noting is the fact that the only real view of the Skybreakers we have is Nalan, who we've established is off his rocker and perverting his old ideals. I highly doubt that's how Skybreakers really worked.

 

@Sasuk

Keyword here is protect. Kaladin can't go and Windrun Amaram to death, because his job isn't to go and kill people in the name of right and wrong. He's defending somebody, keeping them alive to fight another day, and that will always be the centerpiece of his duty. He isn't a Skybreaker, going off and legislacerating the evil ones. There couldn't be much of a conflict among the Windrunners because at the end of the day things would just end with them all protecting and preserving their respected parties, keeping everybody alive.

Edited by Observer
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I think this would be more relevent in the Words of Radiance forum.

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Interesting discussion! 

 

A few minor points on the Ghostbloods and Diagramists.

 

The Ghostbloods:

  • The Ghostbloods analyze things from the hunter-prey paradigm.  It is a reductionist view.  It will work well in certain situations and not in others.  As they are so locked into the paradigm, they will not see how it fails them. 
  • The Ghostbloods don't follow their own paradigm internally.  The members look out for each other.  They cooperate with each other to hunt everybody else.  It is philosophically inconsistent, but likely very effective. 
  • The Ghostbloods, philosophically, should have a problem when it is best for the whole organization to cooperate with outsiders.  They are liable to hunt those they should cooperate with and re-enact the tragedy of the commons. 

Many of the flaws of Mr. T's approach are evident: GIGO, insanity, inflexibility, methods and goal:

  • GIGO: Garbage In, Garbage Out means that his plans are limited by the quality of the information he starts with and acquires along the way.
  • Insanity:  On one of his smarter days, he thought only allowing smart people to breed was a really good plan.  That is not intelligence.  'Nuff said.
  • Inflexibility:  They are implementing a plan they don't really understand.  At a micro level, this fails due to the need to interpret.  Graves experienced this when he thought separating Kaladin from Dalinar would allow the assassination of Dalinar to occur.  They pushed Kaladin to become able to eliminate the distance.  At a macro level, when the accumulated errors and evolution of events make significant parts of the Diagram invalid, there is no way to correct it.  For example, if it were to become better for Mr. T to not become king of everything, he would never know it. 
  • Methods:  A ruthless centralized administration is not necessarily most effective at problem solving.  When the solution is clearly in sight, they can be effective.  When the solution is not known, a set of divergent efforts can find a solution that the centralized administration can miss.
  • Goal:  To preserve humanity is his prime directive.  It sounds good, but is it really?  What if it is better to allow humanity to risk annihilation to allow a possibility of a better existence?  Is a humanity possessed by agents of Odium like the stormform parshendi better than taking on some risk of annihilation and the possibility of humans with free will?
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A morality thread! I can't stay away from them. I'll restrict myself to the Skybreakers, because I've written about Taravangian at length elsewhere and if I started on him in this thread this post would be as long as Words of Radiance.

 

The Skybreakers on the other hand pursue law as the FINAL authority on right and wrong. When Nalan's minion thinks himself above the law, Nalan replies that the law is the only sure thing in this world and that he should subject himself to its dictates. For most people, the law is at best a reflection of morality, but for Nalan and the Skybreakers, the law is morality.

...

For the Skybreakers therefore, Drinking alcohol is therefore immoral in Saudi Arabia while it is moral in the US. The obvious ridiculousness of such a standpoint does not occur to them.

 

Worth noting is the fact that the only real view of the Skybreakers we have is Nalan, who we've established is off his rocker and perverting his old ideals. I highly doubt that's how Skybreakers really worked.

 

I believe both of these interpretations of the Skybreakers are probably not correct. I don't hold to the following (my personal views are almost the opposite of the Skybreakers, but I can see some convincing arguments from a possible point of view they might hold), so this is more me being devil's advocate:

 

 

First of all: the Skybreakers put law above all else, but that doesn't mean that they think the law is 'right', or that they obey the laws of every land. I don't know if we can set in stone the views of every Skybreaker, but I imagine a typical Skybreaker might say "the law is not perfect, but everyone must follow it".

 

There needs to be one a set of rules to keep society moving. If people have issues with the law, they can petition to have the laws changed, but everyone should keep to the laws in the mean time. If everyone just ignored the law when they found it inconvenient, society would be more chaotic. If we just let people off the hook when they broke the law, there would be a rise in crime because criminals would not fear punishment. There will be bad laws, but those can be changed, and more harm will be done by allowing people to flout the law than comes from forcing them to obey a few bad laws. (This is more utilitarian than deontological, but it still works.)

 

There also needs to be an obedience to authority and fairness. People cannot just be allowed to run off and do whatever they want in the middle of war. You'd have conflicting strategies as one group of soldiers does one thing and another group does something completely different. Rules and the law force one set of standards on everyone (in a 'everyone in the country' sense). It is fair that everyone be held to the same standard, and everyone be punished should they break the rules, no matter their reasons. Fairness and justice/revenge is something that a lot of humans respond strongly to, and I think the Skybreakers are an outgrowth of that.

 

As to the 'ridiculousness' of the Skybreaker thinking drinking is immoral in Saudi Arabia and moral in America, I don't think this is the case at all. It's not about drinking being moral/immoral, it's about following the laws of your land. Breaking the law is 'bad'. Everyone in Saudi Arabia has implicity agreed to the laws, and so they should all be held to the law of no drinking. If they have issues with that, too bad. They can try to get the law changed.

 

The Skybreakers quite possibly don't care about little details like whether or not a particular issue is 'moral'. Laws are a decent enough approximation of the morality of the population, and if everyone believes something is wrong, the law will be changed. There will be issues (no set of laws is perfect), but it's the best they've got.

 

 

As to Nalan: I think saying he's off his rocker is misinterpreting what he's trying to do. He is cracked, yes, and likely feels the stress of abandoning his oaths and betraying Taln, but his actions have a clear goal: he's trying to stop the Desolation from coming. He has to be focused on the big picture. He's only one (superpowerful) man - he cannot stop every single crime, and so he focuses on the biggest crime available. Surgebinding. Surgebinding is inviting Odium in to start a Desolation (or so Nalan believes; I am inclined to trust him, as he has more information than me). Nalan only kills Surgebinders who break the law. If Surgebinders would just follow the law, they would be fine under Nalan's gaze. (As well, to resolve a possible conflict with Nalan: I suspect Surgebinders who follow the law to a T do not risk bringing a Desolation, but that is rampant speculation.) Is the punishment for the Surgebinder's crimes fair? It seems over the top to me, but I'd agree such a punishment is well warranted for anyone who could be bringing a Desolation to the land, willingly or not.

 

The issue is that Nalan has failed. The Desolation has come. I wonder what he'll do? I could see him continuing to punish Surgebinders for bringing it because that would be 'fair', but he could also stop his efforts and start applying the law to regular criminals more. Which makes me wonder if Mr. T should be worried, but as king, he sort of makes the law, so... perhaps not?

Edited by Moogle
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Hi, I wanted to look critically at the various moral standpoints and the fallacies of the various factions of Roshar. Please understand that this is in no way a criticism of Brandon himself or WoR.

 

Lets start with the Windrunners. The Windrunners and the Skybreakers are the ones whose ideology fascinates me the most since they seem to be almost diametrically opposite. The Windrunner's ideology depends entirely on an undefined principle of right and wrong. When Kaladin thinks about breaking the law and getting out of prison, Syl replies that she isn't a highspren and that being RIGHT is more imp than following the dictates of the law. The problem with the logic is that RIGHTness isn't a defined thing and it's rather a personal thing. Kaladin himself points out the fallacies of this belief when he encounters Szeth, that RIGHTness could well depend upon the belief of Szeth and the possible Honor spren he is bonded to.

 

The Skybreakers on the other hand pursue law as the FINAL authority on right and wrong. When Nalan's minion thinks himself above the law, Nalan replies that the law is the only sure thing in this world and that he should subject himself to its dictates. For most people, the law is at best a reflection of morality, but for Nalan and the Skybreakers, the law is morality.As Shallan says in WoK, you can be immoral while following the law and viceversa. The problem with this belief is that it is geographical, situational and such a right and wrong depend entirely on where you are. I can illustrate the fallacy in both these beliefs by giving an example. Drinking alcohol is legal in the US while it is illegal in, say, Saudi Arabia. For the Skybreakers therefore, Drinking alcohol is therefore immoral in Saudi Arabia while it is moral in the US. The obvious ridiculousness of such a standpoint does not occur to them. The Windrunners would have a even more ridiculous moral standpoint - some Windrunners would call drinking alcohol moral and protect those who consume alcohol from the law in Saudi Arabia while, others i.e those who consider it "immoral" would attempt to "protect" them from their "worse" impulses. The problem with the Windrunner principle is that most modern nations depend more on the Skybreaker principle. If every man started pursuing their own RIGHTS and wrong, it would be nigh impossible to administer a modern nation. Based on a vague sense of right and wrong,you could justify everything from terrorism to war.

 

I wouldn't call it's ridiculous. Both moral and law vary among countries, cultures, ages, etc. A law is a fact, doesn't matter if it's a good or a bad law, it just is. And law is the same for everyone in the same country, whereas moral depends on the individual.

 

I'll even go further and say it's the Windrunners who could be ridiculous. Breaking or following a law is a fact that can be proven; something outside one's perspective, so on most matters Skybreakers would be able to agree with each other. Whereas the Windrunners could basically start their own civil war over a small event, because there could be as many opinions on what's right to do about it as there are Widnrunners.

Edited by Aleksiel
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The Edgedancers remember those who have been forgotten. An admirable principle, though as Nalan rightly pointed out, they would have been focused on issues of little importance while ignoring far bigger problems.

 

 

Little problems can turn into big problems.  I read "I will remember those who have been forgotten" as caring for the sick, homeless, poor, mentally ill, and disabled.  If you have enough of these people being ignored, then civil unrest and economic collapse can occur.  Importance is very relative.  A single individual soldier's life is not necessarily of great importance, but if you ignore the lives of your soldiers you may find yourself without an army.

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@ Moogle: While I agree with most of your points there is one flaw in what you said. At least the vorin part of Rhoshar, if not more, has a monarchy. Darkeyes in Alethkar can´t just make a petition. To change the status que they would need something akin to lets say a rebellion and I doubt those count as legal.

Looking at it outside the rhosharian-setting. What about dictatorships? They make the laws, so would the Skybreaker slaughter the members of a rebellion composed or supported of most of the population? (See Skaa rebelion.)

Now, as I already said above, they were created in an apocaliptic time so they had larger things to worry about. But still you have to adapt with time otherwise you´ll turn into a zealot.

 

On the Edgedancers. The people they worry about may seem insignificant to Nalan but someone has to look out for the downtroten, even in desolate times. Otherwise we will just end up with another Diagramm, that sacrifices "unimportant" people.

There may be more important things to concentrate on but from what we have seen they don´t abondon the fronline (not until the Recreance, that is) and if things come down hard there are still the other orders to take care of the "not-forgoten".

Overall they appear necessary to me. Obviously it would be problematic if all of the KR would be composed of them but we have the different orders and they do a fine job of balancing each other out.

 

Given that all Windrunners are bonded to Honorspren, which are based on the same ideal, I doubt their definition of the right thing won´t be that different on important topics.

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@ Moogle: While I agree with most of your points there is one flaw in what you said. At least the vorin part of Rhoshar, if not more, has a monarchy. Darkeyes in Alethkar can´t just make a petition. To change the status que they would need something akin to lets say a rebellion and I doubt those count as legal.

 

I don't believe the Skybreakers need to enforce democracy, and I also don't think they necessarily support dictatorship. Most of Roshar is a dictatorship, however, so I imagine most Skybreakers lean in that direction. I don't think the need for laws to change is central to the Skybreakers, I just think they're fine with it.

 

As to the rebellions, this quote is very interesting:

And thus were the disturbances in the Revv toparchy quieted, when, upon their ceasing to prosecute their civil dissensions, Nalan’Elin betook himself to finally accept the Skybreakers who had named him their master, when initially he had spurned their advances and, in his own interests, refused to countenance that which he deemed a pursuit of vanity and annoyance; this was the last of the Heralds to admit to such patronage. —From Words of Radiance, chapter 5, page 17

 

I think the quote means that the Skybreakers supported the people who broke the law and did a civil war (though they initially fought against them). I think if the majority of the population rebels, the Skybreakers will support them as it is just. There might be some inherent democracy there, which is very interesting.

 

 

But still you have to adapt with time otherwise you´ll turn into a zealot.

 

I believe this is an issue inherent with all the Radiant Orders. Each Order, on its own, would lead to negative consequences, because they focus on one thing to the exclusion of other things. If all the Radiants were Edgedancers, people would be too focused on helping the less fortunate while ignoring the big picture and Desolations would be lost. If all the Radiants were Windrunners, nobody would be able to do what needed to be done (like killing Sadeas), which the Dustbringers are possibly needed for. I think the Orders work well together, but not on their own.

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@Moogle - While I agree with the basic point you are making, I believe the application will be more nuanced than your summary, as shown below.

I ...

If all the Radiants were Windrunners, nobody would be able to do what needed to be done (like killing Sadeas),

Szeth says hi.

 

I also think Kaladin will be quite amenable to bearing witness at the trial of Amaram.  Syl will have no problem with it as long as his intent is largely protective and not personally vengeful. 

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@Moogle - While I agree with the basic point you are making, I believe the application will be more nuanced than your summary, as shown below.

Szeth says hi.

 

I agree that my summary was very bare-bones and missed a lot. I should improve on it, but I'm not confident enough on the general disposition of the Orders to actually really do that. I just feel the basic point is reasonable: the Orders work better together and having one dominate is not ideal.

 

 

I also think Kaladin will be quite amenable to bearing witness at the trial of Amaram.  Syl will have no problem with it as long as his intent is largely protective and not personally vengeful.

 

Do you think Kaladin could manage to bear witness against Amaram and not have it be vengeful? I'm not disagreeing, I just think it's a fascinating question. I could see any action Kaladin takes against Amaram to have some flavor of revenge to it. I am also not sure that trials will be like modern-day courts. Kaladin may not even be called on to give testimony, since he already gave it to Dalinar.

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I ...

Do you think Kaladin could manage to bear witness against Amaram and not have it be vengeful?

I think Kaladin has gone past the choice point on vengeance vs protection by choosing to be fundamentally protective.  While he will almost certainly have some vengeful feelings, as long as vengeance is not his primary motivation, it seems like it would not threaten the bond.  He seems introspective enough to know why he would be proscecuting Amaram, and he has Syl to remind him also.  I think he will be more attentive to her warnings after the events of WoR. 

 

From Chapter 84:

... It was about Tien, it was about Dalinar, and it was about what was right - but most of all, it was about protecting people.

This was the man he wanted to be.

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Both moral and law vary among countries, cultures, ages, etc.

Agree! Not only are there different legislative powers that make different laws on the same subject in the same country (i. e. national laws, laws of the (federal) states, laws and bylaws in municipalities etc.). Also the statutorily regulated executive might not be done in the same way in every part of a country. More so does this hold for different countries.

 

A law is a fact, doesn't matter if it's a good or a bad law, it just is.

This is correct. And -- as a side note -- the simple desire of parts of a country for changing a law isn't that easy done. It's not that some people petition to their government to change a law and this happens. Not in our world and not in the Cosmere.

 

Little problems can turn into big problems.  I read "I will remember those who have been forgotten" as caring for the sick, homeless, poor, mentally ill, and disabled.  If you have enough of these people being ignored, then civil unrest and economic collapse can occur.  Importance is very relative.  A single individual soldier's life is not necessarily of great importance, but if you ignore the lives of your soldiers you may find yourself without an army.

 

Agree!

As for Nalan I have two remarks:

1. I'm not sure yet that each and every Skybreaker is that extremely focused as Nalan himself is. I still don't see, why Ym had to die. What if what he said (that he didn't know about the assassination attempt and had only been the messenger) was true? Is a death sentence then justified?

2. I haven't understood Nalan's place in the legal system yet. He acts as police. So far so good. But having caught the potential criminal he immediately carried out the sentence. But: Who made this sentence? Apparently there exist trials on Roshar.

Is Nalan police, judge and executioner in one person?

Hopefully he's not the "typical" Skybreaker, for neither in a world like Roshar such a system should be established.

And: Okay, Ym is a surgebinder, but only in Lift's case Nalan said it's about preventing a coming desolation by making surgebinders disappear (namely: kill them).

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I was all set to counter the Skybreaker points, and then I saw Moogle's posts, and all the wind left my sails. He's made a good portions of the points that I was going to make, but I do want t expand just a tiny bit on what the points he's been making. 

 

 

 

 For most people, the law is at best a reflection of morality, but for Nalan and the Skybreakers, the law is morality.

 

I don't agree with this, I think that Nalan holds morality and law seperate. Law is more a function of black and white, and law is everything in between. That's why he's so adamant on not having emotion. If he lets his own morality into judgement, he won't be able to act effectively to enforce the law. At the same time, I don't see Nalan as having the characteristics being presented in this snippet from the OP. 

 

It seems like Nalan is being painted as an Inspector Javert from Les Mis, on a personal journey to enforce the law, even when it is obviously lacking. Nalan isn't obsessively enforcing every law, but instead, he is wielding the law as effectively as any weapon. He understands morality, and knows that it damns his actions, and that's why he had to kill his emotions, in order to do what needed to be done. 

 

 

 

 

And: Okay, Ym is a surgebinder, but only in Lift's case Nalan said it's about preventing a coming desolation by making surgebinders disappear (namely: kill them)

 

 

No, it was a blanket statement. 


 

"You. . .you coulda hunted big crime bosses, murderers. You chose me instead. Why?"

"Others ma be detestable, but they do not dabble in arts that could return Desolation to this world." His words were so cold. "What you are must be stopped."

 

He's seeing a larger picture, and is using the law to do what he believes must be done, regardless of morality. 

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Moogle has basically said what I was leading at but didn't quite know to say. The Radiant Orders are based on a very simple idea: there is no perfect morality system. There is no single sentence, or even a group of them, that can fit itself in as the morality for every situation. Instead, there were ten Orders, all with different moral viewpoints to cover as much of the spectrum as possible. Yes, things look bad when you stare straight at the Windrunners or the Skybreakers or the Edgedancers, but that's not how you're meant to do it. There were Ten Orders, all together not because they had to work in perfect unison towards a goal, but because more than one belief system was needed. Windrunners to be morality. Skybreakers to be legality. Edgedancers to see the small picture, and maybe the Truthwatchers to see the big one. I'll agree that there are flaws, but personally I find it to be unavoidable. Instead, the Orders balance one another, and together they can work just fine.

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Moogle has basically said what I was leading at but didn't quite know to say. The Radiant Orders are based on a very simple idea: there is no perfect morality system. There is no single sentence, or even a group of them, that can fit itself in as the morality for every situation. Instead, there were ten Orders, all with different moral viewpoints to cover as much of the spectrum as possible. Yes, things look bad when you stare straight at the Windrunners or the Skybreakers or the Edgedancers, but that's not how you're meant to do it. There were Ten Orders, all together not because they had to work in perfect unison towards a goal, but because more than one belief system was needed. Windrunners to be morality. Skybreakers to be legality. Edgedancers to see the small picture, and maybe the Truthwatchers to see the big one. I'll agree that there are flaws, but personally I find it to be unavoidable. Instead, the Orders balance one another, and together they can work just fine.

It should also be noted that the Radiants were intended entirely to prevent the utter annihilation of humanity. It was the ultimate, all out, total war. Some flaws in their morality are rather irrelevant in the face of the survival of humanity itself. All that matters is survival. That consideration also contextualizes some of their flaws - when humanity must be united against that sort of foe, keeping order is essential. Thus the Skybreakers. In those circumstances, morality can pretty much be defined as "does this help us against the Voidbringers?", so the Windrunners don't have to personally decide morality. The Bondsmiths are, of course, doing the uniting. The Edgedancers focus on the little things, keeping the grit from getting stuck in the gears. Quite possibly they are also keeping the knowledge of the past alive, thereby allowing humanity to advance between Desolations. If we're right about the Dustbringers, they would probably have been the main warriors, doing what had to be done.
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I believe ultimately all concepts of morality are based in the notion of law/lawgiver.  However I think that there is a hierarchy to the multiple levels of law.

 

1. First, we have the Divine Law, rooted in the nature of the Ultimate Being.  Dalinar strikes me as a character in the book who would be most willing to admit moral and right action to be ultimately based on this level of law.

2. From thence would derive the Natural Law, which would be the created participation in the Divine Law by virtue of being created/made as a certain kind of being.  Certain people -- atheists such as Jasnah for instance -- might hold to this level of law while denying the existence of Divine law.  Others (Kaladin for instance) might hold to this level without outright denial of the Divine, but with an inchoate or incomplete view of the Divine.

3. Creatures with intelligence can then use their reason to issue edicts and structures that then have the force of law (this level of law would be known as human positive law, i.e. law as originating from the decrees of human agents).  At this level, we can run into conflicts between human laws and the natural law and/or Divine laws, and two categories of response are possible:  to uphold human positive law above and/or in contradiction to Divine/natural law concepts [which is commonly seen to be Nalan's general view, although I think there is something different going on there], or to uphold the priority of natural and/or Divine laws above human positive law [the Sylphrena view].

 

Sanderson gives multiple views of morality throughout the book, but no evidence that such multiplicity of views was foundational to the KR system.  I could certainly see Truthwatchers or Lightweavers or Edgedancers for instance to have individual members with quite varying view of the relationship/existence of the three level of law.  Others (those bonded to Honorspren) would seem to have an intrinsic self-selection towards one view, e.g. upholding the primacy of natural law above human positive law.  So while I do think there might be some general form of self-selection into a few KR orders based on one's view of the relationship of human positive law to natural/Divine law, I don't see the KR orders as a whole being based upon the notion that there is no perfect morality system.

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Something often ignored in discussions about morality is that in practice decisions are made with incomplete information. It's important to consider how that may impact the decision-making of the individuals in question.

 

It's worth noting that Kaladin/Syl's morality is generally reactive rather than proactive; that is, they are generally about identifying something 'wrong' and acting to prevent it, rather than actively trying to change things that aren't yet obviously broken. This is actually a pretty good rule, if somewhat conservative - if you think you can afford to wait to have more information before acting, that's usually the best choice. A rational decision would be based on the expected value of additional information versus the expected value of the opportunity cost of deferring a decision. In situations where someone is under direct attack or in immediate risk of dying, the expected value from the lost opportunity would be determined by most people to be pretty high.

 

Nalan is different in that he appears to be more proactive about his decision making. He has decided that killing Surgebinders will stop the Desolations (he seems to believe that's a good thing) and is actively going about to accomplish his goal. As mentioned by other people, Nalan doesn't appear to be using the law for morality (i.e. there is no law that says he should stop the Desolation, or that he should kill Surgebinders) but instead as something that limits the actions he's allowed to take (in other words, following the law absolutely is part of his morality, but it does not drive it). In particular Nalan seems pretty sure about his belief about the interaction between Surgebinders and the Desolations; this appears to be the main flaw in his decision making - incorrect assessment about the accuracy of that correlation/causation.

 

Edgedancer philosophy sounds pretty close to the Windrunners, except probably more proactive. Without more data it's hard to say more, but while the Windrunner philosophy is explicitly reactive ('protecting' implies an agency you are preventing from doing something) Edgedancers seem a little more 'go find things to help'.

 

Regarding Mraize - I don't really agree with the interpretation that his philosophy is dog-eats-dog. It's more of man-doesn't-eat-man. He's not saying that everyone is a hunter and/or quarry to someone else; he's saying that some people are hunters and some people are quarry. This is really just a second tier distinction between e.g. sentient versus non-sentient. It's okay to eat cows because they aren't really intelligent. It's okay to 'feed' on quarry because they aren't really enlightened actors. His philosophy is that there are different classes of people, rather than that everyone is out for themselves.

 

Regarding Sons of Honor - It's worth noting that as far as the Sons of Honor know, the Desolations are the cause of the return of the Heralds. Whether or not this is a worthwhile trade is a separate discussion, but the main problem here is again that there is a gross misestimation of their error bars here. They do pretty terrible things based on pretty sketchy deduction, which is really the problem (if they were actually correct, it would look quite a bit different, even if it doesn't make their actions completely right).

 

Regarding Mr. T - it really comes down to how well he's dealing with his errors and unknowns. The biggest problem is that he's relying on a plan that he can't really validate any more (if his super-smart self made a mistake, it's almost impossible for current-T to catch or fix it within the context of the whole plan). He can't actually identify when he falls off the plan unless the possibility was already included in the plan (in that case he's not really falling off the plan); this has been pretty much done to death with the Foundation analogies and all of the problems it runs into.

 

So for the most part, I agree with Kaladin's approach - it's a local-level approach (stick with what you have lots of information on, don't take wide-sweeping actions if you don't need to until you have plenty of data unlikely to be overturned by new data) that defers decisions until they have to be made (don't worry too much about the Parshendi Honorspren person until you have a specific instance, worry about actions that can't be deferred without severe consequences). It's not explicitly spell out this way, but this is basically how it's evolving (it's also possible that it only looks like this by coincidence).

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Hmmm I really should be getting some sleep but one thing that we don't know exactly about the Skybreakers is exactly what set of laws they follow, Perhaps the Radiants had their own set of laws in which case there shouldn't be too much of a problem, but if the Skybreakers had to abide to the different rules in every single country then things might get complicated.

 

There's also the whole matter of the Highspren, so far we've seen most bonded spren act as guides of some sort, Perhaps the highspren can help decide and lead a Skybreaker on exactly what laws he should be following. I cant wait for the third book to get more intel on the Highspren, apparently they keep records and interest me quite a bit.

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Szeth says hi.

 

Szeth wasn't bound to an honorspren. He was using Jezrien's Honorblade, which does not require the 'checks' a spren would.

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Moogle's said pretty much what I first wanted to say when I saw the opening post of this thread. I find it a bit overhasty to condemn the normative code of the Skybreakers in such a way, and of course, there have been many good comments in this thread attempting to tease out the difference between legality and morality.

 

I'm actually interested--although convinced--by those who've characterised the principles of the Windrunners as being reactive. I'd always characterised it as being a more proactive knight-errant sort of code: 'Go out there and protect', but I can see where this would turn out being pretty reactive in practise.

 

As a further addition: at least for the Windrunners, there's more of a focus on intent than consequences, which you wouldn't see in the Skybreakers. Kaladin's letting Moash arrange an assassination on Elhokar comes out wrong under this system, while Kaladin fighting for the wrong reasons ("Who were you trying to protect?") also comes out pretty wrong. Whereas in the case of the Skybreakers, it's not about your intentions so much as what you do/have already done.

 

Some of the KR orders don't seem to have as much of a party line though. Contrast this to the Lightweavers: there seems to be much more room for fluidity there. While they swear the first Ideal, they're not as bound as the others are to definite principles of conduct.

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