Morality in Goodkind's Wizard's First Rule

Teresa Edgerton

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But what if the legal system is immoral? Or is a person excused from having a conscience if they choose to be a puppet of the state?

Many people are born to a way of life, raised in it, trained in it, decide it is corrupt and walk away. Whether they are right or wrong in doing so (which, as Foxbat says, may not be entirely clear cut), at least they confront the moral questions, rather than abdicating all responsibility to those in authority.

I was under the impression that the character in question here is a thinking, intelligent individual, not a mindless robot doing whatever she is told. But you tell me she is a tool, no more responsible for her actions than if she were an inanimate object, simply following orders ... if so, she sounds incredibly boring.
 

Boneman

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SPOILERS FOR WIZARD'S FIRST RULE FOLLOW!



To be fair to Goodkind (I can't believe I'm saying that, but I am Libran...) the issue of Khalan's power is purely to set up the biggest deus ex machina I've seen in a long time, and if the book hadn't been successful (and so many sequels written, because of that success) it would have worked pretty well. The only reason she has the power is so that it can be used on Richard to establish the truth about the boxes of Orden, (I think that's what they were called...) because they had to be opened in the correct order to garner their power. The climax of the first book totally depends on this. So: cast an enchantment on Richard so he looks like someone else (can't recall who, but they were probably important...) she slams her mother confessor power into him to save everyone, so he's now (supposedly) nothing more than a devoted slave, but it doesn't work, though Richard pretends it does, to fool the bad guy, because he's already 100% devoted to her. Without Khalan's power he'd have to think up a more convincing ending... okay, a convincing ending...

The problem is, she's now stuck with the power and Goodkind couldn't really work out what to do with it, so he let it run amok in subsequent books... Would have been much better if there'd been a prophecy that if she'd used it on someone already in her thrall, then she lost the power for ever, then they could have led normal lives, and we'd have been spared the endless sequels. Ooh, here's a sudden thought: did Khalan ever use it on women? Or did it only work on men?

Slightly off-thread, I know. I think the biggest morality issue is that she has absolutely no qualms about killing, always justified, as others have pointed out, by the fact that if you're against her, you deserve to die. Now. No trial. No arguments. No defence. But when the bad guys use the same methods, it's 'shock-horror-evil'. But I think her mother confessor dress is pure white, so Goodkind shows us she's a good person... In book 2, she has an army of 16 years olds (I think) and some of them decide to join the other side. (I'm a little hazy on this, it was a long time ago) and rather than question them she uses her power, the bad guy confesses what they were going to do, and she tells him to die, so he does. You'd have thought at the very least she'd have ordered him to attack the enemy and kill as many as he could, so his sacrifice would be worthwhile.
 
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Brian G Turner

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Added a SPOILER! warning above Boneman's post because it gives away a lot of the climax for Wizard's First Rule. :)

Curiously, I really liked the way Goodkind juggled with these issues in Wizard's First Rule - I thought the way he balanced the developing plot, and the tension with it, was very clever. It's when you stop to think about the characters that I pondered the issues of morality relating to their backgrounds. Just to be contrary. :)
 

Moggle

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But what if the legal system is immoral? Or is a person excused from having a conscience if they choose to be a puppet of the state?

Many people are born to a way of life, raised in it, trained in it, decide it is corrupt and walk away. Whether they are right or wrong in doing so (which, as Foxbat says, may not be entirely clear cut), at least they confront the moral questions, rather than abdicating all responsibility to those in authority.

I was under the impression that the character in question here is a thinking, intelligent individual, not a mindless robot doing whatever she is told. But you tell me she is a tool, no more responsible for her actions than if she were an inanimate object, simply following orders ... if so, she sounds incredibly boring.

Who precisely decides whether it's immoral or not? To them, in their time, and in their society, it's moral.

A confessor cannot be compared to any person living. No one is born to be a president, or a construction worker, or a cab driver or pizza delivery guy.
 

Teresa Edgerton

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Every individual with a conscience decides what would be moral or immoral behavior on their part. This has always been the case. It's true that most people just go along with what they are told, but that is a decision, too, and in every era there have been individuals, sometimes whole groups of individuals, who stood up to authority and said "This is wrong." So it's no excuse to say she was just following orders, or that it was legal for her society. This is the same excuse that so many Nazis used. They were following orders. It was within the law. (And in Germany at that time, it was true.)

Besides, people shape their times. The strong ones, the important ones affect their times the most, though sometimes an extraordinary individual rises up from the lower classes.

So I think Brian's point stands, that there is something troubling about a book where the "good guys" believe that their inhumane behavior is moral and justified if it serves a higher good. If they are intelligent enough to think for themselves and question what they do (and any intelligent person with a conscience does ask themselves such questions from time to time, whether they decide to continue or not*), then they are responsible for what they do or don't do.

That's a large part of what morality is: taking responsibility for your own actions.

And if a person is strong enough and heroic enough to shape his or her time and society in other ways, then they are doubly responsible for what they choose to do.


______

*And as I said before, I find characters who don't ask such questions boring.
 

tinkerdan

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This is an important thought because it is a basic truth that can easily be muddied up by some people through wrong headed thinking.

Every individual with a conscience decides what would be moral or immoral behavior on their part. This has always been the case. It's true that most people just go along with what they are told, but that is a decision, too, and in every era there have been individuals, sometimes whole groups of individuals, who stood up to authority and said "This is wrong." So it's no excuse to say she was just following orders, or that it was legal for her society. This is the same excuse that so many Nazis used. They were following orders. It was within the law. (And in Germany at that time, it was true.)

I did one piece once where several characters did things that were quite explicitly following orders that were breaking or stretching the rules and they were small rules. It ultimately leads to the death of two people and each of the people who did their own one small thing have to come to grips with the idea that though they were following orders they did violate some moral code that they understood while following the orders and this time two people died.

One point though is that it's not always cut and dry for them like perhaps the three laws of robotics and often takes something jarring like a death to bring them out of their seeming mindless state. For some people it is easier to say that they were just following orders than it is to recognize the moral issue that the orders present. Sometimes being separated from the consequences keeps them shielded from the effects.

But once they get that shock, if they continue, then there is no question that they are no longer just following orders.

The next problem that arises is just what morality is and if it might be fluid within some socio-political context to alter someones judgment of certain acts. I think for myself that the fluidity would be false and might fool a few people but I think there are specific moral issues in a thinking society that are self evident and can't be justifiably altered to fit society without creating a rift between those who think and those who follow the rest or follow orders.

But that's just me.

If you were to start crossing into other species there might be some muddiness again but I believe once sentience and sapience are established that the muddiness might be in recognizing each others awareness. Or perhaps further in recognizing your own awareness makes you responsible for all your actions.

I suppose it would be proper to add in reference to the original post the question of whether at any time these characters realize the morality problems or if they go blissfully forward with consistent behavior as though there is no problem. If no one ever questions it then it makes it difficult to think anything other than that it might be something the writer endorses as
proper.(The reader might end up asking just what he's trying to teach here.)
 
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Toby Frost

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there is something troubling about a book where the "good guys" believe that their inhumane behavior is moral and justified if it serves a higher good

Totally and utterly correct.

The problem with this excuse is that anyone can use it to justify anything. From "Ug invent wheel, I kill Ug because I use wheel better" to "I am uniting the Slavic peoples against the vile Sodom of human rights", the long-term view can be wheeled out to justify any short-term evil. I have recently been trying to read The Ascent of Man, in which the author visits the spot where his family were murdered by the Nazis. "When people believe they have absolute knowledge," he says, "this is how they behave."

You always have to be wary of the intellectual thugs who can't see the difference between weakness and decency, or are too excited by cruelty to want to do so.
 

vanye

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Good to know I'm not the only one who thought that there is something twisted about the moral stance of Goodkind's books. Have to admit, though, that it took me several of the books until I was finally so disgusted with the series that I put it down. T'was quite some time ago, too.

Beware of people who tell you they know THE TRUTH!
 

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