Jump to content

On The Morality Of Shards


Recommended Posts

So, this is a theory that I've been mulling over in my head for a while, and the other day I finally figured out how to put it into words, so I figured I'd de-lurk and post it here where people who care can see it.

The basic idea is that all Shards of Adonalsium are evil, twisted, or in some way amoral—not just the obvious ones like Odium or Ruin, but all of them. I have compiled a list of evidence against each Shard to prove this:

Devotion: Most people see Devotion as being good, like a symbol of love. I have never interpreted her Intent this way; I’ve always seen Devotion as being more of a religious type of thing. This might explain why the Fjordell are so fanatically devoted to Shu-Dereth—even though they’re definitely more focused on Dominion than Devotion, the two are so mixed together at this point there’s got to be a little bit of her influence there, right? Tenuous evidence: "Devotion" is mentioned in regard to Shu-Dereth fairly often in Elantris.
Also, and possibly more convincing than baseless conjecture, consider that the one and only thing we’ve seen Devotion do in her time onscreen is mercy-kill people. She doesn't heal them, like you might expect a god whose only drive is love to do. She doesn't reward Raoden for his dedication to his cause, which could be another interpretation of Devotion. Nope, she just tries to kill him. This does not speak of good things in my opinion.

Dominion: Shu-Dereth. Dakhor. Brandon Sanderson himself referring to Skaze as “evil Seons.”
And I think we’ve heard enough from Dominion.

Endowment: Endowment was a tough case to make, partly because she’s my favorite Shard so I'm a little biased, partly because we know so little about her, and partly because the only thing we’ve seen her do is resurrect people in order to stop a war.
But I eventually came up with a case for Endowment’s amorality. Consider, for a moment, the way her magic system works. Everybody is born with something inside them that connects them to the world—something that lets them appreciate the beauty of things around them, that lets them sense when other people are nearby, that is so important to their mental state that people without it are considered to have lost their soul.
And the magic system consists of forcing large numbers of people to give this vital part of themselves up so that you can use it to do random stuff like singing better (which the large numbers of people are now less able to appreciate) or making more efficient soldiers to kill things.
Pretty cruel there, Endowment. Pretty cruel.

Ruin: I don’t think I need to make a case for “I’m the voice in your head that tells you to kill people and I’m going to start the apocalypse as soon as possible” Ruin.

Preservation: The only reason Preservation works as a force of good in the Mistborn trilogy is because he’s opposed to a much more immediate force of evil. If Ruin hadn’t been there to destroy things, Preservation’s Intent would, rather than save the world, cause him to turn it into basically a museum exhibit where nobody can do anything ever because they might get hurt.

Honor: A subset of this theory that Honor might actually have been Adonalsium’s moral compass, especially considering that he’s the one to keep Odium (AKA The Wrath Of God) in check*, and that him being a separate Shard is why all the other ones are evil. So I’m going to give Honor exception status for now. But I’m watching him.

Cultivation: She messes with the genetics of things, which is amoral from a human perspective but not necessarily a divine one. However, as far as I can interpret Brandon’s comments**, she's the reason Parshendi have multiple forms and therefore is responsible for Odium being able to turn them demonic, so we can be pretty sure she doesn’t have a divine morality making sure all these mutations are okay.
(Also she hates Hoid)

Odium: I already mentioned he’s The Wrath Of God, but for a complete list of Odium's crimes, he’s been responsible for the death of at least four gods, the isolation of Sel from the rest of the Cosmere for a while, countless apocalypses on the same planet over and over, the repeated murder and endless torture of ten people, and the unwilling corruption of an entire race of sentient beings. Odium is not a good guy.
(Also Hoid hates him)

Autonomy: She apparently helped Odium screw over Sel when he killed Devotion and Dominion, so that doesn’t put her in the best light. Not to mention she’s completely walled off Taldain from the rest of the Cosmere, thus preventing Khriss, who seems to be one of the most awesome Worldhoppers, from going home.
(Also Hoid hates her too)

Ambition: We don’t know much of anything about Ambition besides the fact that they lived on Threnody for a while. Ambition may not be responsible for how messed up Threnody is at the moment, but I’m going to say that they probably have something to do with at least some of the weirdness going on there.


*So this is the way I've always understood Odium's imprisonment in Greater Roshar to be—it was basically Honor's last act before Odium killed him. However, here on the Shard, I've seen some indication that it might have actually been Cultivation who did it. Can somebody elaborate on this for me?

**I don't know where the WoB is for this, but I remember reading that somebody asked if the Parshendi were of Honor or Odium and Brandon said "Not originally" for both, and then they asked about Cultivation and the indication was that they'd existed before she showed up but then she messed with them somehow.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I disagree. Not that the Shards aren't good, cause they aren't, but they aren't evil either. They're personifications of the pieces of a whole being and basically because of this they can't be considered amoral as much of their ability to choose is taken away. Morality relies on choice. We don't consider a volcano evil, it just is.

Devotion and Dominion: we have no real way to judge the actions of these shards, as they have not existed separately since pre-human history on Sel. Every magic system on Sel is derived from the Dor, which is the entirety of both of these Shards mixed together. The only reason there is the remnant of the voice of Aona in the pool, is that the shardpool exists in the physical realm, separated from the Dor, but unable to act.

Endowment: Her intent is to give. And therefore her magic system requires nothing of anyone. While coercion and threats are definitely viable, her magic system requires someone to willingly give away their Breath. There is no command to take breath from something unless that breath belongs to you in the first place. Additionally, not all gifts are given out of love or without ill intent.

Ruin: Ruin is not evil. He is the personification of entropy and decay. He is a necessary force in the universe, and without a Vessel with the willpower to contain that intent, he literally became a force intent on the end of all things... But he was no more evil than wolves hunting a deer.

Preservation: as you said, isolated, he would see that things were held in stasis so that everything and everyone could exist forever. The desire to persist is admirable, but as with all the Shards, without context it is an extreme that is untenable. 

Honor: There is absolutely no way Honor gets a pass. Honor is a wonderful attribute when tempered by all the others. By itself? It is holding to a code to the detriment of all else. You want your example of twisted Honor? He wore white through the two published books. Honor is the codification of what is right, and what is wrong and sticking by it. No matter what. 

Cultivation: there is nothing morally wrong with the modification of genetics. Humans have done it for millennia in different forms. It is simply growth with guidance over a single lifespan or generations. It can be used for both positive and negative results and is morally neutral. 

Odium: as you said God's wrath, God's anger, God's judgment. Isolated yes it appears evil. But it was never meant to be isolated. This is the one place that I feel a moral judgment can actually be placed, but not on the Shard. On the Vessel. Rayse took up that Shard, and the intent alone cannot be blamed for the actions of the guiding mind. 

Autonomy: We don't honestly know enough about what this intent pushes towards to judge. But I think the actions again are more Bavadin than the Shard. This shard seems the one most likely to have little constraints placed upon it's vessel. So I think this is all her. 

Ambition: Ambition is just the drive for bigger and better. Good or evil are both facilitated by it. It's all in the application 

And your use of Hoid as part of your judgements... Yeah we all like Hoid. There's no guarantee he's a good guy though. 

Welcome to the Shard.

Edit: just read through all that again and I hope it didn't come across as overly harsh. I just finished day 7 of a 12 day work week and I'm tired. I apologize if it came across that way. 

Edited by Calderis
Link to comment
Share on other sites

The intent of the Vessel plays a key role in this theory. I don't think the Shards themselves are necessarily evil, but the Vessels that took them up can influence the nature of the Shards with evil tendencies. Brandon has said before that the big question surrounding the Cosmere is "how would normal people respond to being given the power of gods?" The evil nature within people would mostly cause us to screw up. You see some Vessels like Rayse exemplify this because he was an evil person (presumably) taking up the Shard of hate. Then you have Sazed taking up two Shards, but he's still not perfect even though he was generally a good person. 

It reminds me of Zelda if you've ever played those games. Ganondorf isn't evil because he took the Triforce of Power. He's evil because he took that piece with the intent to rule the world by force. He could have easily desired for the power to heal sicknesses or prevent famines or something equally as noble. I view the Shards similarly. It's not that the traits the Shards represent are inherently evil, it's that the Vessels' intents can be. I know I'm kind of rehashing some of what was said above, but I don't think your theory is too far off the mark. I just think the amoral nature you're talking about comes more from what the Vessels decided to do with their powers, not the powers themselves. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites


5 hours ago, Calderis said:

Ruin: Ruin is not evil. He is the personification of entropy and decay. He is a necessary force in the universe, and without a Vessel with the willpower to contain that intent, he literally became a force intent on the end of all things... But he was no more evil than wolves hunting a deer.


While I do agree that Ruin as a shard isnt evil, I do think that Ruin exhibits evil in non-everything-shall-end ways.

He obviously enjoys taunting people and watching their desperation. For example (Secret History spoilers):


Keeping Kelsier close to Vins camp, but smacking him away every time he tries to contact her, as well as repeatedly showing up to tell him how worthless his efforts are.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

To address some of your specific questions:

  • When asked if the Parshendi were of Odium, Cultivation, and Honor (in that order), Brandon respectively replied not originally, not originally, and no. Not quite what you had remembered.
  • Hoid calls Cultivation "Slammer." Since it's a colloquial term for prison, some people think Cultivation is responsible. I agree with your point of view, since the Second Letter says "whether this was Tanavast's design or not, millennia have passed without Rayse taking the life of another of the sixteen." I inferred that Honor was responsible, even though he may not have been consciously trying to protect the other Shards.
  • Devotion is used as a synonym for love. Before we knew the names for the Selish Shards, people actually used to propose Devotion, in your sense of the term, for Skai's Shard. Brandon found it quite ironic.

As to the broad question, I like the concept, but I don't think it needs to occur for every Shard. If you believe, as I do, that the Shards are each a piece of the total divine character of Adonalsium, then I'll agree that each piece requires tempering from other pieces. But I think amoral may not be the best word to use, but something more like 'constrained' or 'limited.' You identified Preservation really well, which goes along with what we saw in Secret History: he wasn't trying to help people, his motives just aligned better with what worked well for the Scadrians.

I think it's drawn heavily from Brandon's personal beliefs, which he speaks of in the Mistborn 3 annotations, that all religions have a piece of the truth, even if he doesn't believe they are true religions. But instead of religions that came from men giving undue weight to certain divine attributes (that guy on TV read that God will provide for your needs, but ignores everything else in the Bible), in the cosmere it's a pantheon comprised of actual gods who are driven by those attributes. Sometimes, they turn out very poorly - I'm sure you could make comparisons between Shu-Dereth and some of the stuff happening in the Middle East. Or you could have something relatively 'harmless,' like Pathism on Scadrial and Buddhism in real life. (Or Buddhism and Shu-Korath.) But just because the Shard isn't evil doesn't mean they are acting in complete accordance with deity; Honor might have trouble intervening without proper protocol, or Preservation may support an 'evil' man like Rashek because he hasn't been changing.

I guess this might get down to semantics, amoral vs immoral. You said 'amoral,' but it seems you're arguing more for immoral. That all the Shards do things that are wrong, not just have priorities beyond morality that they are driven by. This also gets into the definition of morality, which is a long and winding rabbit trail (as the Shard of that planet, is there anything wrong with Aona killing her followers?), but I think regardless of how you slice it I do think you can make a case that all the Shards are bad gods. Which I think is a major theme of the cosmere as a whole, an exploration of divinity. (And man ascending to divine is a large theme in Mormonism as well, I believe.)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

I agree that shards are all basically amoral.


Morality is a really complicated thing.

I believe each shard has a little piece of that morality right.

If you put it all together, you get Adolnasium, a God that is probably truly moral.

But the shards only have a little bit of that, just like they only have a little bit of Adolnasium's power.


Now, while this means all shards are inherently immoral in some ways, it also means that, in the proper context, they all represent a piece of what is moral.

Even Odium has some good in it. Being good necessarily implies the hatred of evil.

The trouble is obviously that Odium takes that hatred and applies it to everything. It is divine hatred without it's proper context. The hatred isn't limited to only evil things, nor is it tempered by divine forgiveness. It's just pure and all-consuming hatred.


And the other shards can be taken out of context to. You've listed many of the ways that this can happen. Preservation may be good in a situation where it is opposing Ruin, but in other contexts, "preserving" is not the appropriate moral response.


I would like to assert that Honor is in fact not an exception to this. The idea of honor sounds like it is moral, but that isn't always the case. An extreme example of this is honor killings.

Honor, at its core, is about following a code of ethical conduct. Perfectly. If you are a skybreaker, that means ruthlessly pursuing the law at all costs.



Still, on the bright side, I predict that the entire cosmere series will eventually result in Adolnasium being reforged. Which should result in a diety that is actually moral.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Chaos locked this topic
This topic is now closed to further replies.
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...