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[OB] Ideals, Divine Attributes and Personal Morality


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One of the interesting things about the Ideals system for Knights Radiant is that the in-world and out-of-world reasons for it are remarkably similar. Ishar imposed the system upon the Knights Radiant because he felt (correctly it seems) that without a phased accrual of power mediated by an increasingly strict set of personal moral commitments, without which the magic wouldn't work, Surgebinding had the potential to be vastly too powerful and dangerous.  


'But as for Ishi'Elin, his was the part most important at their inception; he readily understood the implications of Surges being granted to men, and caused organization to be thrust upon them; as having too great power, he let it be known that he would destroy each and every one, unless they agreed to be bound by precepts and laws. - From Words of Radiance, chapter 2, page 4' - WOR Chapter 42 epigraph

Similarly, although I'm not sure he has said so in so many words, Brandon clearly implemented the Ideals system because it prevents characters becoming too powerful at once and that for every increase in power there is a corresponding limitation of a new Oath that they cannot break (although interpretations can be flexible) and as Sanderson's 2nd law states, 'Limitations > Powers'. (It is also convenient that it links an increase in power directly to the main characters arcs). Brandon clearly considers personal morality to be a part of magic systems as he states about Superman when describing said 2nd Law.   



'There are lots of people with magic powers who can fly and who are invincible. There are a lot of strong, fast, or smart people. What makes Superman interesting, then? Two things: his code of ethics and his weakness to kryptonite.

Think about it for a moment. Why can Superman fly? Well, because that’s what he does. Why is he strong? Comic book aficionados might go into him drawing power from the sun, but in the end, we don’t really care why he’s strong. He just is.

But why is he weak to kryptonite? If you ask the common person with some familiarity with Superman, they’ll tell you it’s because kryptonite–this glowing green rock–is a shard from his homeworld, which was destroyed. The kryptonite draws you into the story, gets into who Superman is and where he comes from. Likewise, if you ask about his code of ethics–what he won’t do, rather than what he can do–we’ll go into talking about his family, how he was raised. We’ll talk about how Ma and Pa Kent instilled solid values into their adopted son, and how they taught him to use his strength not to kill, but to protect.'


With that in mind and also the knowledge that for the Skybreakers at least the final Oath requires one to become the embodiment of the central concept around which the other Oaths hang I thought it would be worth thinking about the organising moral concepts of each order's Ideals.


Divine Attributes;  Protecting, Leading

2nd Ideal - "I will protect those who cannot protect themselves"

3rd Ideal - "I will protect even those I hate, so long as it is right" or "I will protect those I hate. Even if the one I hate most is myself"

At first blush these seem fairly straightforward, Windrunners organise their moral thinking around protecting others. I suspect, however, that when taken in conjunction with Jezrien's other Divine Attribute of Leading that the actual point of being a Windrunner is a related but slightly different point of being selfless and dedicating oneself to others in ways that as per the Leadership attribute one has to determine for oneself.


Divine Attributes; Just, Confident

2nd Ideal - Ideal of Justice

3rd Ideal - Ideal of Dedication

4th Ideal - Ideal of Crusade

5th Ideal - Ideal of Law

The simple take on these is that Skybreakers believe in Law above all else but I don't think that's quite right. My sense is that Skybreakers are people who in our world might be Burkean Conservatives, who believe that human ability to determine moral truth for ourselves is inherently limited and so, therefore, it is better to follow external sources of moral authority of which the most obvious and important is the Law but for Szeth is Dalinar Kholin. The Ideal of Crusade is a bit of an odd one out but I feel implicit in the concept of Crusade is the idea of a higher calling external to oneself that might be why Highspren approve of them. This much better explains I think, the core disagreement between Windrunners and Skybreakers than some weird distinction between Protection and Law, they disagree because Windrunners feel the source of morality to endogenous to themselves and so do what they feel is right whereas Skybreakers see it as exogenous and so feel obliged to follow the dictates of that external source of morality.

Dustbringers - Unknown


Divine Attributes; Loving, Healing

2nd Ideal - "I will remember those who have been forgotten"

3rd Ideal - "I will listen to those who have been ignored"

I really like the Edgedancers and I think key to their overall worldview is that first Divine Attribute - Loving. I think this means something roughly analogous to agape in Christian theology in that it implies a general, unconditional love for one's neighbour particularly those who are off societies broader radar. I get a real Sermon On The Mount vibe from their Ideals and I will be quite surprised if their final ideal is not something like 'I am love' where love in this sense means a general deep affection and concern for others.

Truthwatchers - Unknown

Lightweavers - Truths

Elsecallers - Unknown

Willshapers - Unknown

Stonewards - Unknown


Divine Attributes; Pious, Guiding

2nd Ideal - "I will unite instead of divide. I will bind men together"

3rd Ideal - "I will take responsibility for what I have done. If I must fall, I will rise each time a better man"

These Ideals were the other reason I wrote this post. To my mind, there isn't much in the way of obvious similarity between them. One is about how you interact with others, the other how you interact with yourself. One seems like a generalisable promise, one seems like simply the culmination of Dalinar's Oathbringer arc. So here's my theory. These Oaths are all about how you as a Bondsmith interact with the 3 shards of the Rosharan system. The first is just about living according to Honour's intent which is to bind things together. The second is in two parts. The first sentence is about immunising oneself from Odium's chief promise which is to remove all of the pain and guilt and other negative emotions one might feel. The second sentence is about living according to Cultivation's intent, of self-improvement and removing that which is bad in you so that which is good may grow, which is to say to Cultivate oneself. Therefore, the Bondsmiths have a slightly different take on their personal morality than the other orders and one which fits nicely with their Pious attribute which is to align one's morality with the Intents of Honour and Cultivation and run it in contrast to Odium's intent. 

Well, there we are my theory on the moralities of various Radiant orders as implied by their ideal system. If you think any of its completely wrong-headed or have any relevant evidence to add I'd be delighted to hear and thanks for reading all of this post which became rather longer than planned.

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