Newsgroup Discussions: Evil On The Disc: Part I

Evil On The Disc: Part I

alt.books.pratchett

This discussion grew out of the "Carrot and Teatime" thread, and the preceding posts from that thread are quoted in Miq's initial post below. It can be assumed to contain spoilers for all Discworld books up to and including Carpe Jugulum, with major spoilers for Sourcery, Mort, Moving Pictures and Pyramids, and some discussion of plot points from the original Star Wars trilogy and from Lord of the Rings.


Subject: [R] Evil on the Disc
Date: 31 Oct 1998
From: Miq

I would agree but extend it to the effect(s) on an individual as well. Otherwise you can have Evil done to one, or a few, for the benefit of the 'many'. When the individual is protected, then society is protected.

Now, I disagree with all this so vehemently that I'm gonna have to find a way to bring the whole thread back on topic. So I'm going to see if we can pin down what this 'evil' is that we talk about so freely.

Let's consider some of the major DW villains, and see if we can agree about which ones are 'evil', whatever that means.

I started to go through all the books giving brief character sketches of the villains, but the whole thing was growing very long, so let's cut to the Executive Summary:

As far as I can see, there seem to be three major categories of villains:

1. Ruthless organisers (Trymon, Astfgl, The Auditors, Salzella, Lord Hong, Mr Clete, Wonse, the Patrician in TCoM).

2. People who think that their 'end' is so noble that it justifies any means to reach it (Lily, Ipslore the Red, Dios, Vorbis, Wonse, De'Ath).

3. People who simply don't care about anyone's welfare other than their own - psychopaths (Teatime, the Elf Queen, Dungeon Dimension creatures, possibly Dragon King of Arms, Duchess Whatserface in WS).

Now let's consider a few cases of people who are not normally considered villains:

In "Mort", a lovesick teenager abuses his position and endangers the whole of the Disc for the sake of Princess Keli. It seems to me that Mort falls squarely into Category 2 above. If Lily and Ipslore the Red are Evil, then how do we avoid condemning Mort on the same grounds?

In "Moving Pictures", CMOT Dibbler bursts into Silverfish's studio, perverts his invention, boots out the founder and deprives him of the fruits of his life's work. He incidentally also endangers the Disc, but I'm not prepared to hold that against him as there's no way he could have foreseen it; no, what I want him to answer for is his treatment of Silverfish.

So if we're going to go about calling people 'evil', can anyone tell me how we justify not applying the label to the romantic Mort and the lovable CMOT?


From: Stuart Painting

If Lily and Ipslore the Red are Evil, then how do we avoid condemning Mort on the same grounds?

You gave the reason yourself when you described him as "a lovesick teenager". Trying to cram him into category 2 simply doesn't work, if only because the other inhabitants of that category also exhibit characteristics usually referred to as "megalomania".

In Moving Pictures, CMOT Dibbler bursts into Silverfish's studio, perverts his invention, boots out the founder and deprives him of the fruits of his life's work.

Dibbler falls into the category of "loveable rogue" - he never knowingly treats anyone fairly, but this doesn't seems to get him anywhere because his bad luck (or incompetence) always wins out: at the end of each book he's back to selling the sausages inna bun again.

What distinguishes these people from the recognizably evil people you listed before is the scale of their ambitions. Mort certainly doesn't want to rule the world, and while Dibbler would dearly love to move a few rungs up the ladder, I doubt he would entertain any serious hope of being the next Patrician.


Date: 01 Nov 1998
From: Miq

Dibbler falls into the category of "loveable rogue"

So we can forgive him because he's an incompetent villain? Does that make him a better person?

Teatime comes to a bad end, but I don't feel a great deal of sympathy for him.

What distinguishes these people from the recognizably evil people you listed before is the scale of their ambitions.

Neither Teatime nor De'Ath has any very great ambitions to personal power. Dios is 'simply trying to help'. Ipslore the Red is merely trying to get the best for his boy.


From: Stuart Painting

So we can forgive him because he's an incompetent villain? Does that make him a better person?

No, it doesn't. But likewise it doesn't make him evil. To get back to your example from MP: Yes his actions towards Silverfish are hard-nosed, or perhaps even reprehensible, but not actually evil. Now a truly evil person would have had Silverfish killed or maimed or "ground his face in the dirt" by some means. As it is, Silverfish walks away: sidelined but otherwise unharmed.

Teatime comes to a bad end, but I don't feel a great deal of sympathy for him.

Nor are you meant to. However you are meant to feel some sympathy for Dibbler.

Neither Teatime nor De'Ath has any very great ambitions to personal power.

Agreed. But "personal power" isn't the only ambition possible, y'know.

Dios is 'simply trying to help'.

And I imagine we could expend rather a lot of electrons trying to decide whether Dios is truly evil or "a victim of circumstance".

Ipslore the Red is merely trying to get the best for his boy.

De'Ath and Ipslore have gigantic chips on their shoulders and are hell-bent on avenging some (possibly imagined) wrong in their past. Ipslore just happens to be using his son as a suitable vector, and it is difficult to see how this can be construed as "trying to get the best for his boy" - it is fairly obvious Ipslore reckoned he would remain in control of his son and hence be in control of UU.


From: Margaret Tarbet

a truly evil person would have had Silverfish killed or maimed or "ground his face in the dirt" by some means.

So if you develop something, i can steal it from you without being evil???

However you are meant to feel some sympathy for Dibbler.

I'm not so sure about that. I suspect it's a litmus test.


From: Stuart Painting

So if you develop something, i can steal it from you without being evil???

IMO, yes.

I reserve "evil" for the extreme end of the spectrum. I would hazard a guess you have the dividing line somewhere else.

I'm not so sure about that. I suspect it's a litmus test.

You could have a point there. I was having second thoughts about using the word "sympathy" in that context but the posting was long gone by then.


From: Margaret Tarbet

I reserve "evil" for the extreme end of the spectrum.

So how do you characterise an adult who thinks nothing of stealing everything from someone else?


Date: 02 Nov 1998
From: Paul Wilkins

kleptomaniac?


Date: 03 Nov 1998
From: Kheldar

geographically divergent in the financial sphere?


Date: 02 Nov 1998
From: Sam

Do we have to characterise them at all? Can they not be individuals who have reasons for doing these things and we have to judge them on their intentions as well as their actions?

I agree that someone who steals everything from someone else and thinks nothing of it is doing a Bad Thing(tm). But it does not necessarily make them Evil.

E.g.s:
One country's secret service may steal secrets and or weapons from the other side. We would not characterise this as evil.

Likewise, the stealing of weapons from a terrorist organisation and the destruction of those weapons would from my POV be a Good Thing (tm).

IMO you need to analyse why someone is doing something in order to characterize them as good or evil. A simple he did this so he is evil is not sufficient.


From: Hamlet Haegarsson

With the above problems, forget good and evil. It's them and us.

A simple he did this so he is evil is not sufficient.

It is when you have absolute standards of what is good/evil or rather what good/evil is.


From: Sam

What I am saying is that absolute standards of good and evil are nigh impossible to define without having n (Where n is a Big number) provisos, conditions and amendments.

Without knowing the mind and the intention of an individual who perpetrates a certain act, it is difficult (for me impossible) to condemn them as being evil.

IRL I would never call someone evil as this is a judgements which I feel I am not in a position to make. When analysing fictional characters, the author can show us the mind of that character and put us in a better position to make such judgements. However, I would still be reluctant to define certain characters as embodying evil based on their actions alone. They may have redeeming features, they may have reasons for what they have done.

There are also people who will do good things to be seen as being good when in fact they may have ulterior motives. This is a form of hypocrisy, and yet judging by actions alone we would call such people good. The truly good people often go unnoticed as they do not make a song and dance about their good deeds.


From: Joerg Ruedenauer

IMO, "good" and "evil" exist in reality only in the opinions of someone (because it is easy to put people in categories, often to have a reason to do something to them). And they exist in fiction, i.e. in stories; here the author makes clear (at least in the end) who's good and who's evil.


Date: 01 Nov 1998
From: Margaret Tarbet

If Lily and Ipslore the Red are Evil, then how do we avoid condemning Mort on the same grounds?

I think because his goal was to prevent harm to someone he cared about, not to -- for example -- kill someone so that she could, oh, get to the throne more quickly. We generally don't regard a person as evil who, in trying to save a life, causes harm as a side effect -- we more consider such a person unfortunate or stupid or something else.

In Moving Pictures, CMOT Dibbler bursts into Silverfish's studio, perverts his invention, boots out the founder and deprives him of the fruits of his life's work.

I'm amazed that so many folk don't see Dibbler for what he is: a 'common' (sometimes called 'neurotic') psychopath --as opposed to a homicidal p. or major criminal p. He's a dishonest merchant -- someone in the class of corrupt politicians, unscrupulous lawyers, brutal police, etc. People who abuse their social role. He is, in fact, evil.


Date: 02 Nov 1998
From: Trent Hill

We generally don't regard a person as evil who, in trying to save a life, causes harm as a side effect

What Mort did was wrong, not evil. He failed to see the difference between reaping the soul and letting the person die.

In Moving Pictures, CMOT Dibbler bursts into Silverfish's studio, perverts his invention, boots out the founder and deprives him of the fruits of his life's work.

Dibbler was motivated by a cause. He wanted to make really big pictures and Silverfish wanted to make 'edu-tainment'. I agree with whoever said that Silverfish got off easy, no bones broken, no worse off than where he started, just outside. After all, if he had joined the bandwagon then he would have still been in.

I'm amazed that so many folk don't see Dibbler for what he is [...] He is, in fact, evil.

I don't think that Dibbler is evil. Unscrupulous, greedy to the point of nasty certainly, but not evil.

What about Nobby? He's always pilfering boots and gold teeth, cigarettes and loose change.


Date: 05 Nov 1998
From: Paul Johnson

As far as I can see, there seem to be three major categories of villains:
1. Ruthless organisers (Trymon, Astfgl, The Auditors, Salzella, Lord Hong, Mr Clete, Wonse, the Patrician in TCoM).

All bad. We are interested in their effects on society, rather than how they treat individuals. The Auditors believe the universe should consist only of "rocks moving in curves". As such they are completely antithetical to human society, but I think they should go in category 2. The others are merely power-hungry, and willing to sacrifice the greater good to their own ends.

2. People who think that their 'end' is so noble that it justifies any means to reach it (Lily, Ipslore the Red, Dios, Vorbis, Wonse, De'Ath).

All bad. They replace the general good of society with their own vision of Good.

3. People who simply don't care about anyone's welfare other than their own - psychopaths (Teatime, the Elf Queen, Dungeon Dimension creatures, possibly Dragon King of Arms, Duchess Whatserface in WS).

All bad.

It seems to me that Mort falls squarely into Category 2 above.

I agree. We can sympathise with him on the grounds that his intentions were good, but the results could have been very bad. Death's reaction reflects this. He is broadly on the side of humanity, and since Mort's actions endangered humanity he became very angry.

However it is not useful to condemn people on the basis of the effects of their actions if there was no way they could foresee or avoid them. Note the word useful. In judging people we are not seeking to divide them into abstract categories of "Good" and "Evil" but to decide whether they should be punished or held up as a Bad Example in moral tales, in the hope that both they and others can avoid the same errors. Mort needs to be held up as a Bad Example so that Death's next apprentice can avoid making the same error. Hopefully Susan has learned from her father's mistake.

In Moving Pictures, CMOT Dibbler bursts into Silverfish's studio, perverts his invention, boots out the founder and deprives him of the fruits of his life's work.

I don't care about Silverfish as an individual: I'm more interested in Dibbler's effects on society. As a good capitalist entrepreneur he found a market and exploited it, giving people what they wanted and raising the sum of human happiness. Silverfish was obviously incapable of doing this: once he had invented the Clicks he was no longer needed.

Now this appears very unfair on Silverfish: his contribution was needed and surely he should be rewarded for this. I agree: this is what we have the patent system for on our world, and the inventor of the movie camera (Edison?) did indeed patent it and make a lot of money as a result. A-M doesn't have patents, probably because inventors like Silverfish tend to have dangerously unpredictable effects on the world (as in M-P), so Vetinari does not want to encourage them. Silverfish may well find himself living next door to Leonard if he carries on in his current form.

Of course we have to condemn the ultimate results of the actions of both Silverfish and Dibbler on the same grounds as Mort. But we don't condemn them as individuals because neither of them could have foreseen the effects of their actions.


From: Margaret Tarbet

I don't quite follow either your conclusion or your reasoning for it. You've just got done saying that Dibbler was right in dispossessing Silverfish because D. gave society more than S. would have. So why are you condemning him? And which results could he not have foreseen? That Silverfish would be bereft of his property after Dibbler stole it? That it was going to be a big financial success?

To my mind, it is a very dangerous view that says "unless you do with your creation what i think you should, I'm justified in stealing it from you on the grounds of The Public Good (and my getting rich). You don't like it? Tough, you don't count."


Date: 07 Nov 1998
From: Paul Johnson

I don't quite follow either your conclusion or your reasoning for it.

I'm taking two different frameworks here, and I'm afraid I failed to distinguish between them.

The first is within our world where capitalists generally produce the goods, and capitalism and technological innovation have produced the computers we are both looking at. Within this framework Dibbler is acting as an effective capitalist, filling a market need and getting money for it.

In the second framework we have Discworld magic and the general thinness of reality. This is not the fault of either Dibbler or Silverfish, its just the way things are. Vetinari recognises this and has arranged to reduce the level of technological innovation in several ways (e.g. no patent laws, locking up Leonard of Quirm, no moveable type). He regards capitalist merchants as a good thing because they are part of the functioning of the city. He regards technology as dangerous because of events such as those in MP.

Thus we cannot blame Silverfish or Dibbler for their actions: they were trying to maximise their own return within the rules of nature and the Patrician, and they were not able to foresee the end result.

However this is quite consistent with condemning the results of their actions, and hence seeking ways to prevent such a situation from recurring.

And which results could he not have foreseen? That Silverfish would be bereft of his property after Dibbler stole it? That it was going to be a big financial success?

That creatures from the Dungeon Dimensions would break through into the DW.

To my mind, it is a very dangerous view that says "unless you do with your creation what i think you should, I'm justified in stealing it from you on the grounds of The Public Good (and my getting rich). You don't like it? Tough, you don't count."

But why, exactly, is it "dangerous"? The answer, I suspect, is that arbitrary confiscation of property is bad for society rather than good. And I'd agree.

Dibbler took over the Flicks by being a better manager than Silverfish, rather than simply walking in with Detritus behind him and saying "I'm in charge now". Basically he made Silverfish his employee and then fired him when he became unnecessary. Hard on Silverfish, but a Good Thing for society in the long run because the Flicks were run better thereafter (until the creatures from the Dungeon Dimensions turned up of course).

But if you don't think that my property should be taken from me for the public good (and other people getting rich as well) then how do you justify taxation?


From: Margaret Tarbet

Thus we cannot blame Silverfish or Dibbler for their actions: they were trying to maximise their own return within the rules of nature and the Patrician, and they were not able to foresee the end result.

(a) Holy Wood isn't in A-M., and (b) there is more than one end result involved.

Dibbler took over the Flicks by being a better manager than Silverfish, rather than simply walking in with Detritus behind him and saying "I'm in charge now".

This is really amazing! Unless you're expressing yourself badly, you really don't see what happened.

Dibbler did essentially take over by saying, with Detritus behind him, "I'm in charge now." By saying that "he made S. his employee" you imply that he somehow legitimately gained ownership of the enterprise and thus acquired the right to make the earlier owner his employee.

It's rather as though you invite me into your home for dinner and after dinner i hand you your coat and say "we'll have to do this again sometime" and close the door on your back. That's theft, pure and simple. That is was carried out by deception doesn't change the fact -- it might as well have been done with menaces.

But if you don't think that my property should be taken from me for the public good (and other people getting rich as well) then how do you justify taxation?

Taxation is the agreed way we provide for the creation of common social property such as roads and similar. Dibbler stealing from Silverfish did not in any way create common social property.


Date: 13 Nov 1998
From: Paul Johnson

Dibbler did essentially take over by saying, with Detritus behind him, "I'm in charge now."

Its been a while since I read MP, but I don't remember it like that.

As far as I can remember Dibbler opened up with an offer to take over the administration, thus leaving Silverfish free to do the artistic stuff. Silverfish, being as green as some of his alembics, didn't spot that one coming.

Dibbler then extended his control over the whole enterprise by appointing vice presidents (including Detritus as VP in charge of VPs), and eventually was able to order Detritus to eject Silverfish.

By saying that "he made S. his employee" you imply that he somehow legitimately gained ownership of the enterprise and thus acquired the right to make the earlier owner his employee.

Let me see if I can explain my utilitarian position here.

In our world business is carried out according to a bunch of rules. These rules have evolved over the years, and for the most part they serve the many rather than the few. It may not look like this sometimes, but for example a businessman who gets very rich can only do so by fulfilling a need (and hence the common good), and also by this action encourages others to emulation.

Some might say that the riches of this businessman are "unfair" in some way (and there are popular definitions of fairness in which this is true). Hence it would be "right" to confiscate the excess wealth and distribute it for the common good. However if this policy is carried out to an excessive degree then potential businessmen will be put off from trying to build up companies because if they lose then they lose, and if they win then the state will confiscate their wealth, so they still lose.

Hence the concept of private property is a Good Thing, not because of some abstract morality but because societies that observe it do better than those that don't.

Now here comes Dibbler. He can use the Flicks to create a great deal more wealth than Silverfish, both for himself and for society in general. He can do this in one of two ways. Either he can set up in competition with Silverfish or he can join the organisation and take it over from within. Either way his natural ability at managing a movie company will cause Silverfish to lose because Silverfish is not very good at what he is doing.

I suspect that if Dibbler had chosen to set up in competition you would have seen his actions as perfectly acceptable, despite the fact that the net effect is the same.

Dibbler stealing from Silverfish did not in any way create common social property.

Yes it did: it created flicks that people wanted to see instead of boring studies of pottery making.


Date: 14 Nov 1998
From: Miq

Dibbler then extended his control over the whole enterprise by appointing vice presidents (including Detritus as VP in charge of VPs), and eventually was able to order Detritus to eject Silverfish.

It seems to me that you're both using different words to describe exactly the same thing. Paul's account is more detailed, but no more legitimate. All you're doing is adding a little detail about the tactics he used to blag his way in and dispossess the rightful owner - I don't see how that makes it any less an act of robbery.

I suspect that if Dibbler had chosen to set up in competition you would have seen his actions as perfectly acceptable, despite the fact that the net effect is the same.

Utter tosh. If I choose to set myself up in competition with Bill Gates, reduce Microsoft to a footnote in the Trademarks section and dominate the market for OSs and apps, that's legitimate competition, and it would make me richer than Mr Gates.

If I choose to alter myself with plastic surgery to look like BG, then quietly knife him one night and take his place, then start running MS so that it produces decent software, that achieves the same end, but it's not legitimate.

You seem to be justifying a blatant assault on the very rights to private property that you've just been to so much trouble to justify.


From: Margaret

Dibbler then extended his control over the whole enterprise by appointing vice presidents (including Detritus as VP in charge of VPs), and eventually was able to order Detritus to eject Silverfish.

um, i don't see that as essentially different. The net result was that he took over, using Detritus as muscle.

I suspect that if Dibbler had chosen to set up in competition you would have seen his actions as perfectly acceptable, despite the fact that the net effect is the same.

(a) You're assuming your conclusion. The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong ....even though, as the saying goes, that's the way to bet. Dibbler might not have won.

(b) The DW has the notion of private property, and rules about how ownership is transferred. The label used for violations of those rules is 'crime'. Dibbler violated the rules, and therefore he committed a crime. No amount of hand waving or appeals to utilitarian philosophy can alter that fact. :-)

Yes it did: it created flicks that people wanted to see instead of boring studies of pottery making.

'Common social property' is property owned in common and from which, therefore, no individual can legally profit. Dibbler profited.

Pterryobe's books are enjoyed by many, but that doesn't make them common social property!


Date: 02 Nov 1998
From: Margaret Tarbet

IMO you need to analyse why someone is doing something in order to characterize them as good or evil.

Fine, i agree with you. There are sometimes extenuating circumstances. What are they in this case? Dibbler's nature? Or that he was taken over by The Spirit Of Holy Wood? Something else?


From: Miq

Do we have to characterise them at all?

Of course any such label as 'evil' is going to be a simplification. Which is part of what I was originally getting at. But if we're going to use the word at all, then...

I agree that someone who steals everything from someone else and thinks nothing of it is doing a Bad Thing(tm). But it does not necessarily make them Evil.

So what, exactly, does make someone evil? Please give reference to Discworld characters. Do not attempt to type on both sides of the keyboard at once.

A simple he did this so he is evil is not sufficient.

How about 'he did this because he really doesn't care about anyone's welfare but his own'?


Date: 01 Nov 1998
From: Steve

If Lily and Ipslore the Red are Evil, then how do we avoid condemning Mort on the same grounds?

This one's easy (to me): Mort didn't know any better. He had no idea (when he saved Keli) that there would be repercussions. He was just trying to do a good deed. And, in the long run, he succeeded in his good deed


From: Miq

So, your defence of Mort is (a) that he didn't think it through, and (b) his gamble paid off.

Sorry, but that really doesn't seem to cut it. He knew, because Death told him, that what he was doing was wrong and could have unforeseen consequences. But he did it anyway, without making any effort to check what those consequences might be.

And as for his having succeeded - that's really no defence. If we're going to measure people by their outcomes rather than their intentions, we would have to exonerate Lupine Wonse, who succeeded in upgrading the Watch.


From: Sam Vimest

So, your defence of Mort is (a) that he didn't think it through, and (b) his gamble paid off.

Well that and the fact that sometimes the immediate good just can't be ignored.

He knew, because Death told him, that what he was doing was wrong and could have unforeseen consequences.

So you're saying that whenever someone tells you that something is wrong, and you believe opposite, you listen to them? And that if someone doesn't they are evil?

If we're going to measure people by their outcomes rather than their intentions, we would have to exonerate Lupine Wonse, who succeeded in upgrading the Watch.

It's a good way to judge people if a good outcome was their intention to begin with.


Date: 03 Nov 1998
From: Kheldar

So you're saying that whenever someone tells you that something is wrong, and you believe opposite, you listen to them? And that if someone doesn't they are evil?

Re-read the scenes between Mort and Ysabell prior to his actions but immediately after his original missed swing which started the whole thing. Mort knew damn well that he'd screwed up and didn't have the moral courage to admit it.

He learns through the book to take responsibility for his own actions, but this does not in any way, shape or form make his intentional and fully knowing perpetration of and persistence in a monumental and widely damaging act of irresponsibility any less <insert word here: I'm not going to invite semantic arguments>


Date: 02 Nov 1998
From: Joerg Ruedenauer

If we're going to measure people by their outcomes rather than their intentions, we would have to exonerate Lupine Wonse

Well, history tells us that at least for the time he has power the winner of a conflict is considered good, while the loser is considered evil (e.g. WW1). But this is a rather realistic point of view and doesn't quite fit into this philosophical discussion.


Date: 01 Nov 1998
From: T J Wilkinson

If Lily and Ipslore the Red are Evil, then how do we avoid condemning Mort on the same grounds?

Mort feels responsible for what he did and guilty about it. At the end he's willing to devote the rest of his life to putting things right. While the death rate amongst group 2 is quite high can you imagine any of them, if they had survived, saying "Oh god, how could I have done such a thing? How can I make it up?"? Maybe De'Ath would have, if he'd survived, but the others wouldn't've.

Plus saving someone's life, even when the consequences are nasty, is rather different morally to killing someone because they got in your way or forcing people to act how you want them to.

In Moving Pictures, CMOT Dibbler bursts into Silverfish's studio, perverts his invention, boots out the founder and deprives him of the fruits of his life's work.

CMOT Dibbler doesn't kill anyone or make them kill other people. He might also be excused because he's influenced by Holy Wood, although I think he'd have acted like that anyway. But it still doesn't strike me as terribly evil, more the way that you can be caught up in an idea and you know how it should be done and in this drive run roughshod over other people's feelings. I've done that a few times and I'm ashamed of the way I've acted but I don't think I should be ranked with Lily or Vorbis or Isplore the Red.

As I was saying before there is a scale of bad acts. We do not consider walking on the grass or drifting over the speed limit while driving down hill on the same level as killing people because you like the feeling of power. Dibbler may be fixated by money, incredibly self-confident, and willing to defraud anyone he can, but he doesn't actually kill people, probably because it's more difficult to sell things to them then. He's not prejudiced against other species, there's some statement to the effect that he believes in a world where all can roam free and proud, and if they can be persuaded to buy a sausage-inna-bun, then so much the better. There are worse philosophies.

Plus he didn't deprive Silverfish of his life's work. The alchemists spent most of their time trying to make gold. They only took up movie-making when Holy Wood started leaking out and things happened really quickly. If you're going to get Dibbler on emotional cruelty you'll have to go after Ridcully too. Which may make sense. But they're still not on the scale of Lily or Vorbis.


Date: 01 Nov 1998
From: Miq

Mort feels responsible for what he did and guilty about it.

I agree, this is a strong point in his favour. But I'm still struck with the case of Ipslore the Red. All he wanted was the best for his boy.

Plus saving someone's life, even when the consequences are nasty, is rather different morally to killing someone because they got in your way or forcing people to act how you want them to.

IIRC he killed the assassin who was about to kill the Princess. This might be called justifiable homicide, but I can't help wondering what he would have done if she'd been about to kill him.

you can be caught up in an idea and you know how it should be done and in this drive run roughshod over other people's feelings. I've done that a few times and I'm ashamed of the way I've acted but I don't think I should be ranked with Lily or Vorbis or Isplore the Red.

I hate to say it - but it does sound pretty much like Lily. Though I find it hard to believe that you would go to anything like the same lengths as her.

But Dibbler robs Silverfish of everything, finally even throwing him out of his own studio.

Dibbler may be fixated by money, incredibly self-confident, and willing to defraud anyone he can, but he doesn't actually kill people

Hmmm - how about the Guaranteed Anti-Dragon Protective Cream, or whatever it's called? Though I suppose buying something like that from CMOT counts as 'suicide' by A-M legal standards...

Plus he didn't deprive Silverfish of his life's work. The alchemists spent most of their time trying to make gold.

Good point.

If you're going to get Dibbler on emotional cruelty you'll have to go after Ridcully too. Which may make sense. But they're still not on the scale of Lily or Vorbis.

True. Both of them do, in fact, draw the line somewhere. Which I guess is the key difference.


Date: 03 Nov 1998
From: T J Wilkinson

I agree, this is a strong point in his favour. But I'm still struck with the case of Ipslore the Red. All he wanted was the best for his boy.

Is that the way you read it? The way I read it was that Ipslore the Red wanted revenge on the wizards and the whole of the Disc for the loss of his wife. He seemed to be using his son to achieve his aims, not wanting to do what was best for his son. At the start of S he says

"And I say that my son shall go to Unseen University and wear the Archchancellor's hat and the wizards of the world shall bow to him! And he shall show them what lies in their deepest hearts. Their craven, greedy hearts. He'll show the world its true destiny, and there will be no magic greater than his."

(Emphasis in original)

This does not mesh with my picture of a loving father, only wanting their kid to be happy and healthy.

IIRC [Mort] killed the assassin who was about to kill the Princess. This might be called justifiable homicide, but I can't help wondering what he would have done if she'd been about to kill him.

Leapt towards her and held her arms behind her, in an attempt to stop her doing such a thing? That seems to be what narrative law requires when one of the good guys goes nuts.

I think that Mort wouldn't have killed Princess Keli if she'd been about to kill another, innocent, person. Emotionally he's too bound up in her. It all happened quickly so he would have been acting on instinct, and one of our instincts is to protect, not kill, the people we like.

[CMOT]I hate to say it - but it does sound pretty much like Lily. Though I find it hard to believe that you would go to anything like the same lengths as her.

In my defence I regret how I acted. I've also seen other people do this sort of thing without going on to killing people because they believe the world is carried on the back of a turtle. I doubt if anyone has lived a completely morally perfect life, but I think that what separates the evil from the rest is the ability to feel remorse.

But Dibbler robs Silverfish of everything, finally even throwing him out of his own studio.

To quote from MAA (pg 190, Corgi, paperback)

"For Dibbler believed in a world where a sapient creature could walk tall

This is not the worse philosophical statement I've heard[1]. Dibbler isn't evil, he doesn't wander around killing people. He isn't vicious or he'd be rubbing Silverfish's nose in it. I'm not certain what word I'd use to describe him, perhaps immoral. He's definitely not the sort of person you'd find closer than a brother, but I'd much rather be shut up with him in a cell than with any of your group 2 members.

[1] Although the bit about eating food sold by Dibbler may contravene the US's prohibition of "cruel and unusual punishment".

Hmmm - how about the Guaranteed Anti-Dragon Protective Cream, or whatever it's called? Though I suppose buying something like that from CMOT counts as 'suicide' by A-M legal standards...

Yep. Cleans out the gene pool. Probably buying such a thing is prohibited under the Being Bloody Stupid Act.

If you're going to get Dibbler on emotional cruelty you'll have to go after Ridcully too. Which may make sense. But they're still not on the scale of Lily or Vorbis.

True. Both of them do, in fact, draw the line somewhere. Which I guess is the key difference.

I don't think either of them do draw a line. Ridcully and Dibbler just act based on their natures. There's never any sign of them thinking like Granny Weatherwax does about right and wrong.


Date: 04 Nov 1998
From: Trent Hill

This does not mesh with my picture of a loving father, only wanting their kid to be happy and healthy.

What sort of father did you have? Mine considers me as an extension of himself and wants me to become great because in some way it will achieve his immortality.

I think that this is what Isplore wanted. He couldn't become great himself because the other wizards wouldn't let him, but his son was going to be the greatest magical user of all time. No matter what.


Date: 05 Nov 1998
From: T J Wilkinson

[Ipslore] couldn't become great himself because the other wizards wouldn't let him, but his son was going to be the greatest magical user of all time. No matter what.

I think that Isplore wanted revenge on the other wizards and was willing to use his son to get it.

"And he shall show them what lies in their deepest hearts. Their craven

[...]

Different men have different philosophies about child-rearing. Planning for your child to take over the Disc for you rather violently is at an extreme end of the normal distribution curve. It's not just the wanting his son to rule the world, it's the killing of anyone who got in the way. If your father wants you to achieve greatness by rising to Arch-Generalissimo of your country by a bloody coup involving killing half of your country's parliament and a fair number of ordinary people that just happened to get in the way of fire, what would you think of the morality of that aim?


Date: 06 Nov 1998
From: Trent Hill

revenge was a strong desire too.

Revenge is all part of it. Coin doing what he couldn't.

what would you think of the morality of that aim?

I said nothing of morals. I said that Isplore genuinely wanted his son to achieve.


Date: 07 Nov 1998
From: T J Wilkinson

Okay. Let's say Ipslore wanted to be the greatest opera singer on the Disc. This of itself is not normally regarded as evil. But if he wanted to be the greatest opera singer on the Disc and to do so killed anyone who got in his way, including ones which could be removed by other, less total, methods, I'd regard him as evil.

Now say Ipslore wanted his son to be the greatest opera singer on the Disc. He may genuinely think this is the best thing for his son. But if he taught his son to kill in the pursuit of the goal, if he guided his son in the murders, isn't that as evil as if he was doing it for himself directly?

I agree that Ipslore genuinely wanted his son to achieve. But he wanted Coin to achieve for Ipslore's own purposes[1] and the method he choose for his son was evil, involving as it did the deliberate killing of people.

If he'd felt a need to protect Coin and was convinced that the only way to do that was to kill some wizards and take control of the Disc then there may have been some justification. But I haven't seen a hint in S that Ipslore thought this way.

[1] Basically to show the wizards up.


Date: 09 Nov 1998
From: Trent Hill

Let's say Ipslore wanted to be the greatest opera singer on the Disc.

Ah but we're not talking opera we're talking magic and dead men's boots was the preferred method at the time.

the method he choose for his son was evil, involving as it did the deliberate killing of people.

I'd say he was evil for wanting to live Coins life, not the methods he used for Coins advancement.

If he'd felt a need to protect Coin and was convinced that the only way to do that was to kill some wizards and take control of the Disc then there may have been some justification.

The bit when Isplore kills the Wizard in front of the library was unnecessary I admit but killing was the method of advancement at the time. You can't just forget that. It is more than likely that all of the current incumbents of the faculty positions got there by murder.


Date: 10 Nov 1998
From: T J Wilkinson

Ah but we're not talking opera we're talking magic and dead men's boots was the preferred method at the time.

Leaving aside the question of the morality of the wizards' advancement scheme[1] it wasn't just the killing of other wizards. It's also the starting of a magical war leading to the Apocralypse, killing a number of innocent people along the way, the killing of people directly (or encouraging the other wizards to), e.g. that bloke Koble in Stator Square, and the plan to burn books, and if you don't think the last is evil you can explain your position to the Librarian. And to a fair number of afpers. :-)

[1] You could regard killing other wizards in order to move a step ahead as okay since they all agreed to it, but on the other hand I got the impression that the UU collects boys with magical abilities on the basis they should be trained and where they can be kept an eye on, which means that wizards don't really get a choice.

Since Rincewind knows what magical war does to the Disc it is hard to believe Ipslore, a full wizard, is ignorant of the devastating affects it'll have.

I'd say he was evil for wanting to live Coins life, not the methods he used for Coins advancement.

Novel. You regard wanting to live someone else's life as evil but not causing the death of an unknown number of people and nearly bringing about the destruction of a world? As I pointed out above Coin didn't just kill wizards.

killing was the method of advancement at the time.

Does one murder justify another? One evil act does not mean it is impossible for any other act to be evil as well.


From: Trent Hill

It's also the starting of a magical war leading to the Apocralypse, killing a number of innocent people along the way, the killing of people directly (or encouraging the other wizards to), e.g. that bloke Koble in Stator Square, and the plan to burn books

I agree killing innocents is evil. Burning books is the most evil thing that can be done. Due to Lspace they probably would have got every library everywhere, unless of course the fire started in the catalogue section in which case Lspace would have collapsed very quickly... That guy is Sator square committed suicide. He was going to hit a wizard wasn't he?

I still don't consider Isplore especially evil. He committed or allowed others commit various evil acts.

You saying you've never done anything bad in your life? ;)

Now its probably not on this scale but the Wizards were a bit preoccupied worrying about fireballs to worry about bystanders...

wizards don't really get a choice.

Think of the life they live though. And they know the rules from the start. They can leave whenever they want. Just look at all the Wizards over the chronicles that we have been introduced to outside of the campus.

Since Rincewind knows what magical war does to the Disc it is hard to believe Ipslore, a full wizard, is ignorant of the devastating affects it'll have.

I think the Archancellor's hat pushed the magical war...

You regard wanting to live someone else's life as evil but not causing the death of an unknown number of people and nearly bringing about the destruction of a world?

The Apocralypse was such an old tale though, which of the wizards would have honestly believed it possible?

Sadly theres always more people. I've lost enough friends to know that.

One evil act does not mean it is impossible for any other act to be evil as well.

In the case of the Wizards it is not evil. It is a fact of tenure amongst them.


Date: 03 Nov 1998
From: Kheldar

But I'm still struck with the case of Ipslore the Red. All he wanted was the best for his boy.

NO!. Ipslore wanted his boy to do what he couldn't (run UU) AND to be entirely under Ipslore's control (through the staff) THERFORE Ipslore was entirely interested in reaching beyond the grave to dictate terms to the wizards who for very good reasons (unknown but still good) had cast him out, and was merely using Coin as a vehicle.

I hate to say it - but it does sound pretty much like Lily. Though I find it hard to believe that you would go to anything like the same lengths as her.

This suggests quite clearly that evil or bad or whatever you want to say to comment on the concept rather than gradations within the concept is a matter of scale. I wonder if you meant that? Cos it would imply that, say, Hitler was more evil than Pinochet, though those who died in Chilean cellars would probably disagree with you. The point I'm making is that as b4 the argument is deviating from a discussion of the nature of evil to a discussion of the different extremes of activity within the concept and which particular English words we use to describe them.


Date: 01 Nov 1998
From: Anthony W. Youngman

But I'm still struck with the case of Ipslore the Red. All he wanted was the best for his boy.

Ipslore didn't want the best for his boy. He wanted his boy to be what he couldn't. And we all know what a damn fool thing that is that messes up other peoples lives.

Mort acted on impulse. Dibbler is just plain selfish, and his plans always go wrong because he doesn't think them through.

When you look at Hong, Ipslore, Lilith, De'Ath? they DO think, they DO plan, and they OUGHT to realise that they are going to cause untold harm to other people.


Date: 02 Nov 1998
From: Hamlet Haegarsson

I agree, this is a strong point in his favour. But I'm still struck with the case of Ipslore the Red. All he wanted was the best for his boy.

After all the other wizards would have killed the boy as a possible threat before he'd get a chance to learn his power. Killing a (possibly) rivaling wizard was very common at that time in UU.

IIRC [Mort] killed the assassin who was about to kill the Princess. This might be called justifiable homicide, but I can't help wondering what he would have done if she'd been about to kill him

Mort sets himself as a judge of good and evil, decides and acts. Without thinking twice (I don't know if he had Death's power to stop the time to think it out but being on the job he should have) he kills the assassin and saves the princess.

He acts extremely irresponsible but not evil because according to his own ethic stand arts which are reasonable close to common western stand arts he kills the old, cold-blooded murderer and saves the frail, beautiful, hapeless and young princess. This is generally regard a good thing (in a him-or-her situation) and that's why he isn't evil in doing so.

He is extremely irresponsible not only because he risks the future of the disk but also because for all Mort knew she might have been cruel and heartless, claiming every first-born child to sacrifice it in a dark ritual to retain her beauty forever and the assassin might have been a brave hero who risked his live to stop this atrocity.

The outcome of his deed doesn't matter but his motivation. And as I said by that motivation and my set of morals he doesn't act evil. But is righteously never given a chance to do something like that again.

But Dibbler robs Silverfish of everything, finally even throwing him out of his own studio.

CMOT never cares for the good or bad of other people. He would start a war if he could profit by it. That is evil by my stand arts. Only, usually CMOT just sells bad sausage-in-a-bun and it is everybody's own fault when one buys one. That is rather normal so it doesn't matter that he is capable of extremely evil deeds and that he doesn't care a cuss for anybody else's wellness.

If you're going to get Dibbler on emotional cruelty you'll have to go after Ridcully too. Which may make sense. But they're still not on the scale of Lily or Vorbis.

Lack of "thinking-big" doesn't makes someone less evil. Just less dangerous.


Date: 03 Nov 1998
From: valdis

Perhaps we should just stick to the categorization that Pterry mentioned in ER, i.e. "things to eat, mate with, run away from and rocks". Please excuse any deviations from the original text, I don't have the book in front of me.


From: An Thi-Nguyen Le

Here, here. Lilith, Ipslore, Wonse, Vorbis, and other plotting co, including De'Ath, are people you run away from. You probably want to walk away fast from Dibbler, but he's not likely to actively seek to kill you. Of course, one also places Cohen into the 'run away from' category.

Life is so much easier when you don't fuss with what's good and evil and just focus on what's right.


From: Antti Lehtola

Sounds good. So. Who has a working definition - one detached from all cultural frameworks - of Wrong and Right?

<g>


From: Miq

Life is so much easier when you don't fuss with what's good and evil and just focus on what's right.

This is okay if you're prepared to foreswear, once and for all, any use of the word 'evil'. I threw in the original question precisely because, it seemed to me, people were being a little too unthinking in how they applied the word.


From: Kheldar

So how do you characterise an adult who thinks nothing of stealing everything from someone else?

Margaret's point and Stuart's are both about where to draw the dividing line of the WORD 'evil'. As opposed to the WORDs 'nasty' perhaps, or 'reprehensible'. This has as I think Miq anticipated, become a semantic discussion rather than an ethical one: a discussion of where to place certain words in the spectrum of a concept, rather than a discussion of the criterion of the concept itself.

1. Ruthless organisers (Trymon, Astfgl, The Auditors, Salzella, Lord Hong, Mr Clete, Wonse, the Patrician in TCoM).
2. People who think that their 'end' is so noble that it justifies any means to reach it (Lily, Ipslore the Red, Dios, Vorbis, Wonse, De'Ath).
3. People who simply don't care about anyone's welfare other than their own - psychopaths (Teatime, the Elf Queen, Dungeon Dimension creatures, possibly Dragon King of Arms, Duchess Whatserface in WS).

Initial comment is that I think DKA belongs in category 1? He was a fairly ruthless organiser wasn't he?

You gave the reason yourself when you described him as "a lovesick teenager". [in defence of Mort]

This doesn't go very far. We're discussing what 'evil' is. You're arguing, without qualification, that Mort is not 'evil' because in spite of the fact that he was willing to consign the rest of the world to causal chaos, and did so, he did it for love. Ie. thought his needs that much more important than anyone else's, which as Miq says puts him in category 2. However, this whole point begs the most important question, and the one which Miq was raising, which is what evil is. Is evil the actions and their results, or is it the motivation with which they are done?

Now a truly evil person would have had Silverfish killed or maimed or "ground his face in the dirt" by some means. As it is, Silverfish walks away: sidelined but otherwise unharmed.

Can you support this contention?

Teatime comes to a bad end, but I don't feel a great deal of sympathy for him.

Surely this isn't the point of the discussion, people? Given that we're talking about the nature of evil not about whether or not Pterry(OFiaH)OBE is a good enough author to make our feelings regarding the villains ambiguous?

You guys are debating whether or not Pterry wrote a character to be an object of sympathy. The discussion started off as a discussion of the nature of 'evil': not the semantic definition or extremism of definition of the word evil, but a discussion of the criterion for deciding on the concept in any of it's incarnations or levels of extremism.

I'm hopping out now with a re-iteration of the question that I raised above, to make it sure that the central point of this post comes out: Is evil a matter of the causal status of the actions perpetrated, or is it a matter of the motivations which caused the actions?


From: Stuart Painting

You're arguing, without qualification, that Mort is not 'evil' because in spite of the fact that he was willing to consign the rest of the world to causal chaos,

Your interpretation of the consequences, not his. He knew there would be consequences, but didn't have any idea what they might be.

and did so, he did it for love. Ie. thought his needs that much more important than anyone else's, which as Miq says puts him in category 2.

Are you trying to equate a rash act with an evil one? Sure sounds like it from here. Oh, hang on, I'm arguing semantics again. Wash my mouth out.

Can you support this contention?

I'm not sure what you expect me to say in response to this, but I'll start by pointing out that most of the other people on Miq's list would have permanently removed Silverfish from the field of play, if only because "a defeated rival remains a potential threat".

Is evil a matter of the causal status of the actions perpetrated, or is it a matter of the motivations which caused the actions?

Frankly I think it would be almost impossible to try to judge whether a single isolated act is necessarily evil. You have to have some measure of the context, and this will in all probability include the motivations of those present. And since we are talking specifically about evil on the Discworld, Pterry has thoughtfully provided us with much of this information already.


Date: 02 Nov 1998
From: Nathaniel Shockley

Let's consider some of the major DW villains, and see if we can agree about which ones are 'evil', whatever that means.

Fascinating discussion, I find I basically agree with Margaret that CMOT is probably "evil", if relatively harmless and amusing, and I disagree that Mort is in any way evil, for reasons that other people have gone into.

But I think you missed somebody. Going by the definition of evil quoted above (harming the few even though in the interests of the many), Lord Vetinari, as we know and love him, is in fact Evil: he's against unnecessary cruelty, but "bang alongside necessary cruelty." Example: he doesn't kill Leonard, no, but he does find himself wondering why he didn't - in other words that would have been his standard response.

I personally would have to take the view that if it's in the interests of the many for a few to be harmed, then it probably isn't evil to harm them unless there's some other, fairly obvious way of solving the problem.

Prince Cadram in J is in much the same category, but his evil/good status is even more ambiguous, perhaps because it's not even clear that what he's doing would be particularly good for Klatch (it might just be good for him personally). Vimes, for one, is convinced that Cadram is evil. Interestingly, Vetinari disagrees - or at least, it's not an issue for him (which also says something about his character).


From: Hamlet Haegarsson

Prince Cadram in J is in much the same category, but his evil/good status is even more ambiguous, [...] Vimes, for one, is convinced that Cadram is evil. Interestingly, Vetinari disagrees - or at least, it's not an issue for him (which also says something about his character).

Since being good or evil is based on your motivation it can be very difficult to judge somebody. It can be that Vetinari sees Cadram's motivation by a different light and judges him not evil.

More probably, though, Vetinari and Vimes' sets of morals differ by a generous fill so when they judge Cadram's deeds by their own morals (which I think not simply allowed) with or without considering Cadram's motives, they come to a different conclusion.

But I think you missed somebody. Going by the definition of evil quoted above (harming the few even though in the interests of the many), Lord Vetinari, as we know and love him, is in fact Evil: he's against unnecessary cruelty, but "bang alongside necessary cruelty."

Vetinari keeps the town running by means which I wouldn't agree on for a city/state on earth and wouldn't want to live in. But he keeps A-M running with fewer cruelties than without him, that should make him good shouldn't it?


Date: 03 Nov 1998
From: a1

Okay, I started this nonsense, now let's try to make some progress. Thanks to lots of people for good points, especially Tracy for the convincing defence of Mort and Kheldar for dragging the whole thing back on track.

Contrary to appearances, I think there is some consensus here.

First, that the morality of an action should be judged by the motivations of the moral agent concerned. The actual outcome is relatively unimportant: what matters is the intention.

Second, there is a sharp distinction between evildoers and evil people. People can perform evil acts without being evil per se. I'll come back to this.

Third, the word 'evil' itself evidently carries a lot of baggage. People who are happy to label Mort 'wrong' remain loth to call him or his actions 'evil'. Conversely, it's been suggested that Vetinari should be considered 'evil', even though no-one has actually pointed out anything he's ever done that was 'wrong'.

So what is 'evil'? A tentative definition:

An act may be said to be 'evil' if the agent[1] responsible[2] fails to take account of and minimise the harm[3] caused to other[4] sentient[5] beings.

This definition allows us to condemn the actions of all the villains I listed in the first place. Vorbis, for instance, simply reasons that 'any amount of pain and blood is justified in the cause of the Truth' - this sort of reasoning is designed specifically to avoid 'taking account of' harm.

Vetinari, by contrast, goes to great lengths to minimise harm. His treatment of mimes has been condemned, but the fact that he restricts extreme punishment to these few special cases suggests that he has considered the harm and is genuinely trying to minimise it.

However, the definition does have its problems. For one thing, it assumes that the agent has perfect knowledge. For another, note that it is still possible to do harm - even a lot of harm - and be right, provided you have factored that harm properly into your decision and acted to minimise it overall.

By this definition, Mort's action in saving Princess Keli is evil.

Second tentative definition:

An evil person is one who habitually and knowingly performs evil acts.

This definition lets Mort off the hook, though it might also open the door to a defence for Teatime.

Dibbler habitually acts in this way, but he might be excused on grounds of naivete - he simply doesn't realise that what he is doing is harmful to someone. If he did, he might act differently.

[1] Any entity capable of making a decision. Let's not get into free will again, that really wouldn't help.

[2] Responsible for = is capable of preventing, and decides not to. Several people may be held responsible for one action.

[3] Good utilitarian definition: harm = reduction in net 'happiness'.

[4] I have a strong gut feeling that a moral agent should be allowed to do as much harm to itself as it likes, without being called to account for it. However, I also have a strong suspicion that there's a major flaw with this reasoning, so I'm interested in any contrary views.

[5] In this context, beings that are capable of suffering. I know it begs a few questions about the rights of animals v. humans, etc., but let's leave 'em begged for now, OK?


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