Newsgroup Discussions: Evil On The Disc: Part III

Evil On The Disc: Part III

alt.books.pratchett

Date: 08 Nov 1998
From: Sam

I think in fiction there's always some kind of battle. But I'd like to get an example where there isn't.

Perhaps, but sometimes there are several battles, not all about Good vs Evil. Eg in Equal Rites, there are several battles, Esk vs the University and Esk + Simon vs the Dungeon Dimensions. If anything on the Disc represents real Evil, it would be the DD since they are purely about life destruction. Neither the UU nor Esk are Good or Evil in the first struggle, they are just different sides who have their own points of view. Esk is put in a difficult situation by the fact of her birth.

Also, in Moving Pictures, there are plenty of sub-plots. we have been discussing whether Dibbler's dispossession of Silverfish was evil, greedy or what? But the real battle only comes at the end When again, the Evil breaks through.

But there isn't a discussion for nearly all the characters. A real discussion here only seems to be about Dibbler and Vetinari, and they both are neither good nor evil after my definition - so you can discuss them. As for PTerry's writing being simply, see below.

But we could have a discussion about other characters, many others have been mentioned: Ipslore, Lupine Wonse, Teatime, Mort...

<snip history vs Discworld analysis>

Historians cannot be truly objective. If we take PTerry's writing as the truth of the Discworld, then our analysis can be free of propaganda. We can be objective within the framework of the books.

You shouldn't use the words in real life. Perhaps the point is that it helps to understand the books. Perhaps the point is that it makes fun.

I agree that to direct the words at individuals IRL is something we shouldn't do. But I have an understanding of the meaning of the word IRL and I don't want to create a different definition to use for fiction.

Now I'll try to give you a definition of good and evil in fiction: Good persons: The persons from whose eyes the story is mainly told (e.g. Mort, Susan, Pteppic, Magrat,...) and the persons who are on their side

Mort does some bad things - he disrupts reality by disobeying a direct instruction, this was wrong. Pteppic isn't exactly Good by my definitions either.

Evil persons / things: The ones on the other side of the conflict (e.g. the Universe, Teatime, Dios, Lily,...) and sometimes the ones that help them.

We really are talking about two entirely different concepts. Evil to me is not simply a matter of sides. It is about people's motivations their actions, their intentions. Two people could be on the same "side" but one be good and one be evil. It is also about the methods they employ to get what they want.

I also disagree with your concept of story-telling. You sympathise with those whose methods you like and you call these Good. The books are not written in the first person and could spend equally half the time discussing either side's POV. Then where would that leave you? We seem to pretty much disagree on whether any actions are absolute good and evil. I suspect that this is irresolvable. To me, you are blind because you do not see that the reason you support one side is because they are doing things the right way. Likewise, to you, I am blind because I think the characters are doing things the right way because they are the Good side within the context of the story.

I hope you're thinking better of my definition now. It is perhaps a flaw in it that it only judges a minority of characters as good/evil. But I think it is just the point that you can't tell for most of the persons if they are good or evil. I think e.g. it is nonsense to say 'Dibbler is evil' or 'Dibbler is good'.

I don't think it is a flaw that it judges only a minority of characters as Good or Evil. I would probably end up calling fewer characters Good or Evil than yourself. I would be able to apply my criteria to them all, but would find that I either lacked sufficient evidence for most or that most were simply somewhere in between.

I don't think much of your definition, because it tries to boil the stories down to basic battles and puts the characters on one side or another. This is all too obvious for me and doesn't really give me any further insight into the character's motivations etc. I want to be able to analyse the characters as individuals and apply the terms to them in the context of their fictional lives. ie I am trying to look at the detail, you are trying to look at the big picture.

I guess there is room for both our definitions since we are applying them to different things. Although I would rather use different terms than good and evil for your approach, I understand where you are coming from and how you are using them.


From: Joerg Ruedenauer

in Equal Rites, there are several battles, Esk vs the University and Esk + Simon vs the Dungeon Dimensions.

For a better understanding, I think "battle" is the wrong word. "Conflict" would be better.

If anything on the Disc represents real Evil, it would be the DD since they are purely about life destruction.

After my definition, the DD are Evil. But seen from a morally point of view, couldn't you say that they only want to exist / live? Hmm... at least in MP, I'm not sure in TLF.

<snip discussion of characters>

I agree that to direct the words at individuals IRL is something we shouldn't do. But I have an understanding of the meaning of the word IRL and I don't want to create a different definition to use for fiction.

And that's the problem you have with my definition.

We really are talking about two entirely different concepts. Evil to me is not simply a matter of sides.

Yes, they are entirely different concepts. My definition has nothing to do with moral. That seems to be a big problem. It isn't a help if you want to judge people. It works only in fiction, and there, it works in the way that it can tell you for some characters if you 'sympathise' with them. Often, when you sympathise with them, you think of them as morally good - but not always. Perhaps I shouldn't even call the sides in my definition 'good' and 'evil' because there's no moral in the definition. But I don't know better words for them. "The ones you feel sympathy for" and "The ones you don't feel sympathy for" is rather too long and it takes also too many persons in it.

I also disagree with your concept of story-telling. You sympathise with those whose methods you like and you call these Good. The books are not written in the first person and could spend equally half the time discussing either side's POV. Then where would that leave you?

There were some books mentioned now that do this. They seem to be shocking when you know at the end that they did this. It seems to me (I haven't read them and can be entirely wrong there) that they are shocking because you sympathised throughout the book with the protagonist and, therefore, thought of him as good. So my definition worked. But, as I said before, it has nothing to do with moral, and so the good persons can do morally wrong things.

I get more and more the impression that 'good' and 'evil' are the wrong words. It even looks strange to me.

To me, you are blind because you do not see that the reason you support one side is because they are doing things the right way. Likewise, to you, I am blind because I think the characters are doing things the right way because they are the Good side within the context of the story.

Well, yes. I really think I support one side because the author wants me to support this side. In most books, though, this isn't a dilemma because the author lets the 'Good' Side do the things the right way.

I don't think much of your definition, because it tries to boil the stories down to basic battles and puts the characters on one side or another.

I don't try to boil down the stories. I only extract one aspect of the story that is important for my definition, without diminishing the rest of it. I also don't put the characters on sides, but only some characters. There are a great majority of characters that are neither on the one nor on the other side. That's just the point: The definition works for the characters that are clearly on one side. For all others, it doesn't. I don't want at all to put a character on a side just to find out if he's good or evil.

It's true that you have to analysis the characters for your definition and I don't have to (because your definition is about moral). But, when you read a book for a first time and don't have sufficient data to analysis a character, you still feel sympathy or you don't.

I guess there is room for both our definitions since we are applying them to different things. Although I would rather use different terms than good and evil for your approach, I understand where you are coming from and how you are using them.

Perhaps you're right and I shouldn't use 'good' and 'evil' (see above). I would be glad if you could give me better words. I think I understand the problem now, too. But if you want to give a definition for your view of good / evil, i.e. with moral, it would have to work also IRL. And you say that you don't want to use the terms IRL. Perhaps we'll have to find a synthesis of the two approaches. I'll think about it.


Date: 09 Nov 1998
From: Sam

Perhaps I shouldn't even call the sides in my definition 'good' and 'evil' because there's no moral in the definition. But I don't know better words for them. "The ones you feel sympathy for" and "The ones you don't feel sympathy for" is rather too long and it takes also too many persons in it.

Yes, my definition was about analysing the characters and their actions, yours about the book and who you sympathise with.

There were some books mentioned now that do this. They seem to be shocking when you know at the end that they did this. It seems to me (I haven't read them and can be entirely wrong there) that they are shocking because you sympathised throughout the book with the protagonist and, therefore, thought of him as good.

There are certainly some where the twist in the tail is to shock you that you have been sympathising with the bad guys, but there are also others where the bad guy is simply the main vehicle for the story. You may still sympathise with the other side, but your definition started from the premise that the book would be told from one side. I think Frederick Forsyth's book does this, but it is a long time since I read it. It doesn't really alter the validity of the defn, but it does make me question whether your way of looking at things is all that helpful.

Well, yes. I really think I support one side because the author wants me to support this side. In most books, though, this isn't a dilemma because the author lets the 'Good' Side do the things the right way.

Star Wars is actually a good example of what you are saying, because the good and the evil sides do pretty much the same things to one another. The death toll is around about the same on each side. The evil side tend not to mind if innocent civilians get in the way whereas the good side tend to stick to military targets, but other than that they are pretty similar. The real conflict comes in Return of the Jedi when Luke has to face the emperor and decide whether to fight or to lay down his arms...

I don't want at all to put a character on a side just to find out if he's good or evil.

Sorry, I didn't mean that to come across in that way. I think what I was trying to say was that your definition is ok while you are reading the book. When a new character is introduced, you might say aha, he is going to be a good person and help the main guy or the opposite, likewise, you may say, aha incidental character... But, once the book is read, the definition doesn't serve to analyse the characters actions or motives any further.

Perhaps you're right and I shouldn't use 'good' and 'evil'

The words good and evil clearly mean more than just one thing. Good is perhaps worse as it is the opposite of bad which is a wider term than evil.

I modified Miq's first tentative definition to give the sort of definition I would be comfortable with somewhere else in the thread, but I still wasn't very happy with it. The point of my definition was that it would work in real life (for me), but that I would never have enough insight or conviction to use it.


From: Joerg Ruedenauer

Star Wars is actually a good example of what you are saying, because the good and the evil sides do pretty much the same things to one another. The death toll is around about the same on each side.

Interesting. In Star Wars, the evil side kills much more people (they erase a whole planet !). But there are much more guys of the evil side you see die.

Perhaps we'll have to find a synthesis of the two approaches. I'll think about it.

Well, I thought about it. Here is a first try:

1) This definition is for a story (fiction) with a plot in a clear time frame

2) In this definition, I call a being everything that can feel happiness.

3) An act is called good if it increases the overall happiness of the beings in the plot and its time frame (compared to the overall happiness if another or no action had been taken instead) and the actor did it with this aim [1] and the actor had a choice [2]

[1] He doesn't need to think "Let's increase the overall happiness.". It is enough that he wants to do it because he believes it to be an good act (after his own definition / conscience).

[2] Please no determinism here. I think that sometimes there is a free will.

4) An act is called evil if it diminishes the overall happiness of the beings in the plot and its time frame (compared to the overall happiness if another or no action had been taken instead) and the actor had a choice and the actor could and should know that the act will be evil.

5) A being is called good if the sum of his deeds in a plot leads or would lead[3] to a higher overall happiness of the beings in the plot and the author lets the reader sympathise with the being.

[3] their effect can be destroyed by other deeds.

Note that here, a good being must not necessarily do good deeds (perhaps it doesn't have a free will, or it doesn't think about his deeds). I'd still say that such a being would be good, but I'm not sure (I don't know an example).

6) A being is called evil if the sum of his deeds in a plot leads or would lead[3] to a lower overall happiness of the beings in the plot and the author lets the reader dislike the being.

7) For the happiness, the following shall be:

i) Every being in the plot has a high happiness, even if it is very unhappy.

So if the existence of a being is ended, it is really much more unhappy than before

ii) If a being suffers from serious physical or psychical harm, it is very unhappy.

iii) Usually[4], every change of happiness of a being is a change of the same amount.

iv) At least somewhere in the book, the author must show how the happiness has changed because of an act; otherwise, the act cannot be judged.

[4] Some exceptions are listed above. Probably there are some more.

Now for some examples:

to 3):
- when Esme helps the injured robbers in M!M, the overall happiness is increased, and Esme did it knowingly. It was a good act.

- when Susan frightens the assassins in SM, they (and Clete) are more unhappy. But if she hadn't done it, they would have killed someone, which had reduced the happiness much more (after 7 i). It was also a good act.

- when the wizzards light the fuse of the cannon before sending it back in IT, the happiness is increased (compared to if they hadn't). But they did it not for this purpose, so it wasn't a good act.

- when in Tolkiens 'Lord of the Rings' Gollum falls into the volcano, it isn't a good act because he had no choice.

to 4):
- when Lily kills the coach drivers in WA, it is a bad act because the happiness is much lessened and she should (and could) have known it.

- when Dibbler creates the big movie in MP, it is not an evil act because he couldn't have known that it would bring the Dungeon Dimension to the Disc.

- Mort killing the assassin is not evil: In the end, the happiness is not lower than it would have been if he had done his job correctly.

- the acts of the Dungeon Dimension monsters are not evil: they have no choice.

to 5):
- good persons are (e.g.) Carrot, Death, Brutha.

to 6):
- evil beings are (e.g.) Hong, Ipslore, the monsters of the DD, the dragon.

- the sum of Dribbler's deeds lowers the overall happiness (serious pain when eating his sausages), but he's not evil because (the majority of) the readers don't dislike him (and, IMHO, he isn't meant to be disliked).

to 7):
i) killing someone without him getting undead or preventing the killing of another one is always evil. It is e.g. very likely that Old Stoneface's killing the king was evil (he could have been locked up or exiled or something).

iii) when an act increases the happiness of a smaller group and lessens the happiness of a larger group, it is usually evil.

ii) even several torturers delighting in torturing a single person is still evil.

iv) (also) because of this, the definition can never work IRL: there, you don't have a closed time frame.

So that's the first try. I'm interested in what you will make of it.


From: Andrew Janssen

i( killing someone without him getting undead or preventing the killing of another one is always evil. It is e.g. very likely that Old Stoneface's killing the king was evil (he could have been locked up or exiled or something).

I have to disagree here. It's pretty clear from the DWCompanion, and the watch books that King Lorenzo the Kind of Ankh-Morpork, who was beheaded by Old Stoneface, had some 'unspeakable' predilections that involved children. Given the seemingly inbred reaction of the people of Ankh-Morpork to royalty, executing Lorenzo was probably the best idea. Exile would certainly be unacceptable, as Lorenzo would still have been able to do whatever unsavoury things he did elsewhere.

To my mind, Suffer-Not-Injustice Vimes' execution of Lorenzo the Kind is on a par with Susan killing Teatime. Some monsters should not walk the earth.


Date: 10 Nov 1998
From: Joerg Ruedenauer

Yes, you've got a point there (especially about exilation). But only if it is sure that locking him up would not work.


From: Sam

In Star Wars, the evil side kills much more people (they erase a whole planet !). But there are much more guys of the evil side you see die.

The Death Star was the size of a moon and more densely populated than a planet (since effectively hollow). I'm not sure if we're ever given numbers, but I always took them to be similar.

<snip definition>

A much better definition. I like it.

You have included some absolute measures of good and evil. For example you treat the killing of another without justification as an evil act. I agree.

I like the way your definition works within the time-frame of a book. It allows us to change our minds when a new book sheds new light on the character. It also would not work IRL because of the fixed time frame, so we cannot judge a person because we cannot see their whole life. I like this feature.

This is actually not all that dissimilar to Miq's first definition.

I think you made a mistake in the examples though, you said the acts of the DD are not evil since they have no choice, but then you included them in the evil beings category.

This highlights the fact that your definition requires free will as a pre-requisite. In fact, you want free will for every being that can feel happiness. Why are you excluding the DD creatures?


From: Richard Bos

I think DD creatures should be excluded as not, nor anywhere near, human. There is never any hint that the DD creatures are any more aware than an animal; they crave the light and warmth of this world more as an instinct than according to any thought out plan. Even something as, say, Bel-Shamharoth does what it does as if it were, say, an octopus; nasty, perhaps, and not nice as a neighbour, but not intent on the destruction of men, merely on the acquisition of their life- force. So they fail the Free Will prerequisite, just as, say, a tiger or a snake would.


From: Joerg Ruedenauer

I think you made a mistake in the examples though, you said the acts of the DD are not evil since they have no choice, but then you included them in the evil beings category.

Seems to me you didn't understand the definition fully. It is not needed to perform evil act to be evil (as like it isn't needed to perform good acts to be good). The DD monsters are evil, but they do not perform evil acts because they have no free will.

This is a bit of the 'synthesis'. IMO, someone / something that (would) lessen(s) the overall happiness is an Evil in the context of the book. To tell it in your words, to decide if someone / something is evil it is not necessary to analyse every single action; it suffices to looks at the sum of them in the story (regarding overall happiness, free will and knowing is not needed).

This highlights the fact that your definition requires free will as a pre-requisite. In fact, you want free will for every being that can feel happiness. Why are you excluding the DD creatures?

Sorry. It seems that I can't write a definition of 10 lines without getting confused and doing things wrong.

You've got to replace "beings" in 5) and 6) with "characterer / thing". Still, it is not required to have a free will to be good or evil. It is only required to do good or evil actions. But, and that is important, it is also not needed that a good or evil thing / character can feel happy. E.g., in SM, the non-human death is good (mainly because of the last showdown), but he can't feel happiness (because he has no glands).

What do you mean, I excluded the DD creatures? I think of them as evil. They just (see above) do no evil acts.


Date: 12 Nov 1998
From: valdisb@est.is

For example you treat the killing of another without justification as an evil act.

When exactly can you justify killing?


Date: 13 Nov 1998
From: Sam

[I agree but] some people would justify killing in self-defense, in war time, for the greater good...


Date: 12 Nov 1998
From: Ophelia

Having followed this intently, I wanted to express, say, five opinions.

(1)I don't have an absolute definition of evil and, in fact, I think any absolute definition is dangerous. I can only go on my instincts, which is flawed but possibly better than the alternatives.

(2) Cohen is evil. He shows absolutely no respect for human life whatsoever. Just because he might have, once, felt a bit sorry for a troll doesn't make him a good person. "Interesting Times" is the only one of Pterry's books I actually dislike.

(3) Dibbler isn't evil. Morally dodgy, yes, but not evil. He never hurt Silverfish, he simply manoeuvred someone who was inept and had no idea how to use what he'd stumbled on out of the way. Moving pictures were hardly, as I remember someone claiming, Silverfish's life work anyway - they were the sudden result of Holy Wood's force escaping.

(4) I don't believe in the death penalty, either, but Susan isn't evil because - because - because she's perfect, that's why, Susan's number one fan argues (with dazzling logic.) In any case, she wasn't exactly in a position to offer Teatime humane imprisonment with psychiatric treatment, was she? He was a monster who would definitely have killed her grandfather if she hadn't killed him first.

(5)Pteppic was far more evil than Dios. (This may be why I don't like Pyramids much.) Dios was doing the best he could, really.

But Pteppic... First, he stomps in and wants to stomp all over his own homeland's culture, imposing Western ideals regardless of what the people seemed to actually want. And then he decides to make a Pyramid that will eat up his peoples' resources, despite believing it is the wrong thing to do, just to save face. Perhaps not evil evil, compared to, say, torturing people for fun, but mildly evil nevertheless.

Oh, and, btw:

The real conflict comes in Return of the Jedi when Luke has to face the emperor and decide whether to fight or to lay down his arms...

Yep. Which is really funny considering how many people he has killed without qualms so far. Obviously, you only have to reject killing in a suitably dramatic moment, with appropriate background music.


Date: 13 Nov 1998
From: Andrew Janssen

(2) Cohen is evil. He shows absolutely no respect for human life whatsoever. Just because he might have, once, felt a bit sorry for a troll doesn't make him a good person. "Interesting Times" is the only one of Pterry's books I actually dislike.

I think calling Cohen "evil" oversimplifies things. Yes, perhaps by our moral standards, the things he does are wrong, but you have to remember when dealing with Cohen that he lives, as it were, in a separate moral universe.

But Pteppic [...] mildly evil nevertheless.

Now, I really disagree here. Pteppic didn't build the Pyramid to save face, he built it because Dios guilted him into it ( how's that for the verbing of America?). If anything, I'd say Dios is the "more evil" since it was his actions that led to Djelibeybi being stuck in the same piece of time.

Teppic's attempts to modernize, I don't see as evil. He's simply trying to break his people out of the rut they've been trapped in for the last few millennia.


From: Foul Ole Ron

you have to remember when dealing with Cohen that he lives, as it were, in a separate moral universe.

Weeelll... so does Teatime, right? And I think Mr. T IS evil...


From: PM Bowles

Dios was doing the best he could, really.

Dios created a culture for no other reason than to prolong his own life, and kept that culture stuck in the past to achieve that end. Would you call that 'evil'?


From: Darin Johnson

Dios has been doing this for so long, it's just habit, not evilness. Ie, like a slave owner born and raised in a culture where it was considered OK. Except in the case of Dios, he has been doing it forever, since he's in an endless loop. One can't point to the instant when he first started down his road, since he's always been on it.

Of course, one might say that once he got shifted back in time, he could have changed things, but I think he's been conditioned to be patronistic for far too long to stop now. ("Patronistic" isn't necessarily a bad or evil thing)


From: Joerg Ruedenauer

Yes, I think Dios is not evil, because in the context (time - frame) of the book, he really had no choice. Perhaps the time loop started sometimes, and early in the first loop, he still could have stopped and changed. But during P, he couldn't any more.


From: Darin Johnson

But there's only one loop, not a "first" loop. Dios was never born and never lived outside the loop. There was never an earlier or later loop. Does my head hurt yet?


Date: 15 Nov 1998
From: Joerg Ruedenauer

How do you know that there wasn't a first loop? It's been quite a while since I last read P, but isn't it possible that Dios was born once and then got into a loop? Otherwise, there are some tricky questions about where he came from (he's a man, he must have been a child once, mustn't he?) and about causality (like in Terminator: nobody ever invents or builds the terminator chip, it's just there).


From: Darin Johnson

It's one of them paradoxical thingies. Depends upon how you view time travel. If Dios went back in time, and there's also a young Dios there, then how does the young Dios become the high priest without usurping the older Dios? There is nowhere in the loop to insert a younger Dios.

You can solve this by assuming each "loop" is in a different reality, but that's boring. If going back in time does not affect things that have already happened, and if going back in time doesn't just place you in an alternate past, then Dios will never have been born, in the same way that a circle doesn't have a beginning.

The boring part is, if you can go into the past to prevent someone close to you from dying, but you are really preventing an alternate version of that person from dying, the original person still dead. So what's the point?

However, if going into the past creates an alternate reality, and further if a loop is formed, doesn't this create infinite alternate realities? If there is a conservation of reality, then we can't have infinite realities, so some of the "earlier" one's may cease to exist.


Date: 13 Nov 1998
From: lampert

Dios created a culture for no other reason than to prolong his own life, and kept that culture stuck in the past to achieve that end. Would you call that 'evil'?

My impression was that Dios prolonged his life for no other reason than to keep the culture stuck in the past, not vice versa. He thought he was acting for the good of society.


Date: 16 Nov 1998
From: Ophelia

I think calling Cohen "evil" oversimplifies things. Yes, perhaps by our moral standards, the things he does are wrong, but you have to remember when dealing with Cohen that he lives, as it were, in a separate moral universe.

<Frowns thoughtfully>

As greet (I think) helpfully pointed out for me, this describes Teatime aptly. I pointed out to start with that my idea of evil is, really, simply based on what I personally feel to be wrong. My logic goes, I think killing people either for fun or without compassion is evil. Cohen and Teatime both do this. Therefore, I conclude that Cohen and Teatime are evil. I'm not sure, given my stated beliefs, how I could reach a different conclusion.

As far as I can see, the difference is that we are supposed to giggle when Cohen kills someone and shudder when Teatime kills someone. For myself, I can't accept that distinction, which is a matter of writing style rather than morality in any case.

Teppic's attempts to modernize, I don't see as evil. He's simply trying to break his people out of the rut they've been trapped in for the last few millennia.

My problem is that his modernisation is really a simplistic attempt to impose one "developed" culture over another, "ancient" culture. If his concern had been to free Djelibeybi to evolve organically, I'd have felt very differently. As it is, it reminds me of too many shudderingly awfully well-intentioned things done in the name of modernising "primitive" cultures.


Date: 15 Nov 1998
From: Andrew Janssen

As far as I can see, the difference is that we are supposed to giggle when Cohen kills someone and shudder when Teatime kills someone. For myself, I can't accept that distinction, which is a matter of writing style rather than morality in any case.

<wince>

Looking back, I see I didn't express myself too terribly well. I'll concede that if Cohen lives in a different moral universe from the majority of us, so does Teatime, but I don't think that there's that much in common between Teatime's little world, and the barbarian culture that Cohen grew up in. That's the crux with Cohen. He's a barbarian. Redistribution of the wealth is simply what he does, along with occasionally overthrowing the odd tyrant. He's by definition uncivilized, so we can accept (some of us, at least) that he won't behave in a civilized fashion.

In contrast, Teatime was raised in a civilized culture, and at least outwardly appears civilized. Inside, of course, he's a wolverine.

I guess I can summarize by saying that I consider Cohen to be a bit more on the good end of the moral scale, because he's simply following the customs and mores of the Hublandish culture he was born and raised in, whereas Teatime violates all the customs and mores of the society he was born in.

[Pteppic]
My problem is that his modernisation is really a simplistic attempt to impose one "developed" culture over another, "ancient" culture.

I fail to see why you find the introduction of soft pillows and outhouses morally wrong. I don't see Teppic's actions as being necessarily an attempt to drag the country kicking and screaming into the Century of the Fruit bat; he simply wanted to make his life in the palace more comfortable. You seem to miss the point that no matter what he did, Djelibeybi could not change. The country had been living, no, make that existing, in the same day for thousands of years. It wasn't until Teppic inhumed the Great Pyramid that time actually began to pass in the Djel Valley again, and it could evolve organically, as you put it.

While Teppic certainly doesn't intend in the beginning to be a hero, that, I think, is what he is at the end.


Date: 16 Nov 1998
From: Ophelia

I guess I can summarize by saying that I consider Cohen to be a bit more on the good end of the moral scale, because he's simply following the customs and mores of the Hublandish culture he was born and raised in, whereas Teatime violates all the customs and mores of the society he was born in.

OK, I can see the distinction - but, personally, I can't apply it. If I allowed that Cohen wasn't evil because his killings were in accord with his culture, I'd be agreeing that other acts - genital mutilation, female infanticide, capital punishment, persecution of non-straights, etc etc etc ad nauseum - aren't evil if they take place within a culture in which they're an accepted part of life. Which I can't agree with. As I've admitted, my idea of good and evil is terribly unscientific, and probably wouldn't stand up to the kind of in depth logical analysis which is such a glorious tradition here. <g> All I can do is admit that my response - be it instinctive or acculturated - is that compassionless killing is evil.

[Pteppic]
I fail to see why you find the introduction of soft pillows and outhouses morally wrong.

But my point is that his changes were cultural as well, and seemed to be based in a disdain for his own country.[1] Again I'm reminded of "Utopia Ltd." Princess Zara is sent away to be educated in England, comes back and immediately starts to mold her home country in England's mold, because she feels utopia is less advanced and inferior to England. Pteppic shows a similar shame in his homeland - his rejection of intermarriage is typical - that I really don't feel is justified, considering what a mess A-M is. (OK, so it's a mess that "works," but I'd still hate to live there.) The difference is that Gilbert viciously satirises Zara and England, while we seem to be expected to agree with Pteppic without future thought.

I suppose it's a touchy subject for a committed post-colonialist in a colonised country...

While Teppic certainly doesn't intend in the beginning to be a hero, that, I think, is what he is at the end.

By the end, yes - after all, he oh, there's no need to tell you what he did. <g> And I don't really mean that Pteppic is evil, even though I said just that. <wink> I was, ah, exaggerating for effect. I do think, though, that Dios cared more about his country's traditions than Pteppic did, and that therefore Pteppic's actions were more "evil" than his. Reading Pyramids, I often feel that my sympathies are with the "wrong" person, that I'm being positioned by Pterry to be on Pteppic's side when at heart I belong with Dios.

[1] And, yes, I realise that as I've said some acts are evil regardless of culture, I'm contradicting myself somewhat. All I can say in mitigation is that the Djelibeybians don't do anything I'd consider seriously morally wrong, while the A-Mians do. All the time. With great relish.


Date: 03 Nov 1998
From: Ross Smith

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

I tend towards the "victim of circumstance" side of this one. I'm certain he was genuinely trying to do good for the Kingdom; I don't believe he was psychopathically evil in the mould of, say, Vorbis (a superficially similar but, I think, really very different character).

Come to think of it, I think Dios had basically the same sort of turn of mind as the Patrician, but, tragically, without the mental flexibility required to make it work.

(Some ancient dramatist said something to the effect that "true tragedy isn't when good is destroyed by evil -- it's when good is destroyed by good".)

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.

Basically true, but I don't think De'Ath and Ipslore were quite that much alike. Ipslore had an (IMHO) quite justified grudge against wizardy in general -- but (like many real world terrorists) his response was way out of proportion to the original wrong. I don't think he started out evil, but he went that way by the end.

Edward De'Ath is an interesting case. The wrong he imagined was against the city rather than himself; basically, he was trying to fix something that wasn't broken. And remember how Dr Cruces described their final meeting; Edward was horrified by what had happened. As someone else in this thread mentioned, I think it's entirely possible that, if Cruces hadn't killed him, Edward might have seen the error of his ways and reformed.


From: Kheldar

Come to think of it, I think Dios had basically the same sort of turn of mind as the Patrician, but, tragically, without the mental flexibility required to make it work.

Oh he had it once. Dios's problem was more, to quote an author or something in some book (I think) 'that special kind of madness caused by simply being yourself for so long...'


Date: 08 Nov 1998
From: Miq

People (esp. characters in fiction) may do things because they wish to harm others. This is to me, the same as being Evil. I can't think of any DW references, Teatime may come closest, but I think he just didn't understand harm, but that's not so different. Maybe Ipslore, is better since his motivation was revenge and a part of that was to cause others harm.

Vengeance is a very natural instinct, in RL as well as in fiction. I may, of course, be an exceptionally wicked person, but I'm quite familiar with the impulse to do harm for its own sake. I really don't think this is synonymous with evil, though. I think people can be evil, or even Evil, while firmly convinced that they are doing absolutely right.

In fact, as I understand history, the nastiest people are often those who know, beyond any shadow of doubt, that they are right. See Vorbis.

IMO, there doesn't have to be a battle for a thing to be evil.

I think you're taking too narrow a view of the idea of a 'battle'. The real battle in Jingo is not the war between Klatch and Ankh- Morpork, but the conflict between those who, for various reasons, want there to be a war (Lord Rust and Prince Cadram) and those who don't (Vimes, Vetinari, Khufurah).

PTerry's writing is deeper than simply: he's nice, he's not...they disagree, have a fight and the nice one wins, but lets the bad one live because he's nice... If it wasn't, then we wouldn't be here discussing it.

All writing is more complicated than that, except in the ultra- simplistic Star Wars type universe, which is really aimed at children. Pterry is good in that he gives us some chance to empathise with the bad guys, but he still makes it abundantly clear which ones we're supposed to side with.

In a free environment, the intellectual discipline of history is a study of the past. Of course, this is muddied by interpretation

History is not 'muddied by' interpretation. History is interpretation.

To take a very simple example, and veering off-topic for a moment:

On 1 September 1939, Germany invaded Poland, precipitating WWII.

On 3 September 1939, Britain declared war on Germany, precipitating WWII.

On 2 September 1939, France declared war on Germany, precipitating WWII.

On 7 December 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, escalating what had hitherto been essentially a European war into WWII.

All four of these statements are factually correct, but I hope you can see that the interpretation is absolutely inseparable from the fact. And I've not even mentioned the perspective of, e.g., a Czech or a Russian. Or a patriotic German, who might plausibly argue that WWII was really a continuation of WWI...

The point I was trying to make in relation to Stoneface vis-a-vis Carrot was that however they are seen by the people on the Disc, PTerry gives us readers more insight into their characters than the people on the disc have. Therefore, we can be more objective in our assessment of them than the people they meet day to day

This is true of Vimes, but I think the previous poster was talking about the original Old Stoneface - him wot executed King Alphonse the Kind.

Now I'll try to give you a definition of good and evil in fiction: Good persons: The persons from whose eyes the story is mainly told (e.g. Mort, Susan, Pteppic, Magrat,...) and the persons who are on their side (i.e. help them against the Evil Persons in the certainly existing conflict) (e.g. Ysabell, Death, Ptraci, Nanny, ...). Evil persons / things [1]: The ones on the other side of the conflict (e.g. the Universe, Teatime, Dios, Lily,...) and sometimes the ones that help them [2].

Totally wrong. There are loads of books in which the central character is not supposed to be understood as 'good'. See, for instance, G M Fraser's Flashman series, or some of Anne Rice's vampire books, or most of Shakespeare's tragedies.


Date: 09 Nov 1998
From: Sam

Vengeance is a very natural instinct, in RL as well as in fiction. I may, of course, be an exceptionally wicked person, but I'm quite familiar with the impulse to do harm for its own sake. I really don't think this is synonymous with evil, though. I think people can be evil, or even Evil, while firmly convinced that they are doing absolutely right.

You don't act on your vengeance in such a way as to cause harm to another. At least, I hope you don't. I am suggesting that an act is evil, if not only do you wish to cause harm for harm's sake, but you actually go through with it. Having said that, I would only label any act Evil in fiction...

The real battle in Jingo is not the war between Klatch and Ankh- Morpork, but the conflict between those who, for various reasons, want there to be a war (Lord Rust and Prince Cadram) and those who don't (Vimes, Vetinari, Khufurah).

Accepted. I still think that it is people rather than sides who are evil though.

All writing is more complicated than that, except in the ultra- simplistic Star Wars type universe, which is really aimed at children. Pterry is good in that he gives us some chance to empathise with the bad guys, but he still makes it abundantly clear which ones we're supposed to side with.

You see it that way, I would say that you side with those because you see their actions as good. We are arguing two-sides of the same coin. You are arguing that the author sets out to put the characters on opposing sides. I say the author is creating a character and we decide whether she is good or evil based on our interpretation of the acts of that character. Neither way of looking at the books is any more correct than the other.

History is not 'muddied by' interpretation. History is interpretation.

Yes, but a good historian is aware that there are multiple interpretations of events and that they must try and look at all sides of the argument.

A historian who looks at one version of events and doesn't consider things from the other side's POV is not studying history, they are simply regurgitating propaganda. It is only after the event that we may have access to all the facts.

To take a very simple example, and veering off-topic for a moment:
[start of WW II]

But that proves my point. A historian should look at all these events and present as accurate a picture as possible. You have just presented several different versions of events which questions who was to blame. If you were writing propaganda, you would have only written one. That is the difference between History and Propaganda. One is objective (or tries its hardest to be) the other is not. When looking at the Discworld, we should try to be objective rather than look simply at the one version of events as remembered by the general populace. Old Stoneface is a good example of this.

I think the previous poster was talking about the original Old Stoneface - him wot executed King Alphonse the Kind.

As was I. I said a few posts back that we didn't have enough info on Old Stoneface to judge him. The people on the Disc have judged him one way, but I have not made up my mind.

Totally wrong. There are loads of books in which the central character is not supposed to be understood as 'good'. See, for instance, G M Fraser's Flashman series, or some of Anne Rice's vampire books, or most of Shakespeare's tragedies.

Well at least we agree on the validity of the definition. I'm not sure how you can disagree so strongly though, when you've been arguing on the same side as he for the rest of the post.

You are saying on the one hand that PTerry creates his characters as being either on the Good side or on the Bad side and then you say Joerg's definition is Totally wrong. He may not have phrased it very well, but you seem to have a similar POV, so which is it?


From: Joerg Ruedenauer

a good historian is aware that there are multiple interpretations of events and that they must try and look at all sides of the argument.

I think the argument about historians started because someone (was it me?) thought that there could be circumstances where only one POV, i.e. one interpretation is left from the past to look at by the historians of today. If there is only one interpretation, even the most objective historian has no choice but to call it truth.


From: Andrew Janssen

The best example of this, AFAIK, is Thucydides' History of the Peloponessian War. He's the only major source we have on the war, and in fact he's considered to be the first modern historian. We don't have any sources whose level of detail approaches that in Thucydides; although we know based on circumstantial evidence that he's imposing his own interpretations on events, we don't have any alternatives to what he wrote.


Date: 10 Nov 1998
From: Miq

I am stating that I think human nature naturally finds acts such as those described abhorrent. But it is only my opinion, so you're welcome to disagree.

That's a rather loaded offer.

Look at it this way. For centuries, one of the most naturally abhorrent things to human nature was the idea of racially mixed marriages. The notion of changing your nationality or religion was considered just about the most evil thing you could do. Attitudes do change.

A historian who looks at one version of events and doesn't consider things from the other side's POV is not studying history, they are simply regurgitating propaganda. It is only after the event that we may have access to all the facts.

One of the very first things a historian has to learn to live with is that s/he will never have access to all the facts. About anything. Ever. The very idea is a chimera.

To take the previous example, nobody will ever write a final, definitive and conclusive account of the beginning of WWII. To demand such a thing is like asking: "So what colour is an electron, then?" - it shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the subject. (From the historian's POV, of course, this is a Good Thing - there's always something more to be said.)

Literature is quite different. If someone asks, for instance, "Why did Rincewind go to the Agatean Empire?", we can answer that in a finite number of words. There's only so much information in the universe that is relevant to the question, and we know where to find it.

If the same person asks "Why did Cromwell go to Ireland?", we might know where to start looking for the answer - but how would you decide where to stop?

I said a few posts back that we didn't have enough info on Old Stoneface to judge him. The people on the Disc have judged him one way, but I have not made up my mind.

Well, Nobby and his mates have made up their minds, but they're hardly the most thoughtful people on the Disc. I don't know what, e.g., the Wizards of UU think about him.

You are saying on the one hand that PTerry creates his characters as being either on the Good side or on the Bad side and then you say Joerg's definition is Totally wrong. He may not have phrased it very well, but you seem to have a similar POV, so which is it?

I'm not on anyone's 'side'. I think that Joerg has confused 'evil', which is a moral term, with 'unsympathetic'; and I think you're misunderstanding the nature of fiction.

Fiction is not history, it's not mythology, and it's not philosophy. It may touch on all these, but it is, most importantly, a world in its own right. A radically simplified world, in which - to borrow your own point from above - we only see one side of each character. The author does, more or less deliberately, colour our opinions of each character.


Date: 11 Nov 1998
From: Sam

For centuries, one of the most naturally abhorrent things to human nature was the idea of racially mixed marriages.

Racial segregation has been around a long time too. And stepping over those boundaries was also something that Jesus did. Although of course, he did not marry he was certainly against prejudice. I do not think that the idea of racially mixed marriages was naturally abhorrent. I think that idea was put around by prejudiced individuals who wished to suppress other races. Again, only my opinion...

nobody will ever write a final, definitive and conclusive account of the beginning of WWII.

I think that the whole history thing is a bit of a red herring. [...]But the point I made was that we can only judge the DW books in their own context anyway and as external observers could be more objective than a modern day historian about WWII.

Literature is quite different. If someone asks, for instance, "Why did Rincewind go to the Agatean Empire?", we can answer that in a finite number of words

Quite. What I was getting at way back before we got sidetracked.. I used the Old Vimes example of someone where we were relying on Disc history and hearsay rather than direct narrative..

Well, Nobby and his mates have made up their minds, but they're hardly the most thoughtful people on the Disc. I don't know what, e.g., the Wizards of UU think about him.

Probably not a lot, they tend not to concern themselves with such matters. IIRC things start to go a bit pear-shaped when wizards start expressing opinions on matters of governance..

I'm not on anyone's 'side'. I think that Joerg has confused 'evil', which is a moral term, with 'unsympathetic'; and I think you're misunderstanding the nature of fiction.

I didn't say you were on anyone's 'side'. I was simply saying that you were supporting the view that was the main part of his defn when you said:

Pterry is good in that he gives us some chance to empathise with the bad guys, but he still makes it abundantly clear which ones we're supposed to side with.

Now, the fact that Joerg calls the one's that PTerry wants us to side with Good and the bad guys Evil, is not that far removed from your statement. He had holes in his definition, but this just meant that it needed improvement, not that it was 'Totally wrong'. He may have been using evil differently to you, but he set out a definition (now new and improved) which sets out how he was using it.

Fiction is not history, it's not mythology, and it's not philosophy. It may touch on all these, but it is, most importantly, a world in its own right. A radically simplified world, in which - to borrow your own point from above - we only see one side of each character. The author does, more or less deliberately, colour our opinions of each character.

Fiction is not history, agreed. Fiction not mythology? well, mythology is generally fiction and today's fiction could well be tomorrow's mythology,... Not philosophy agreed..

The author creates the characters. The author breathes life into the characters. So of course this is true. But PTerry is a good writer whose characters are far from one-dimensional and he lets them act out of character from time to time as we all do IRL.


Date: 10 Nov 1998
From: C. Clark

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).

Maybe I missed something - I would have tried to categorize Cohen the Barbarian somehow. He is frequently ruthless and kills rather casually. I don't think he is meant to be among the villains, but how do you define evil to not include him?

I like Cohen, but that is not an argument.


From: Hamlet Haegarsson

That's the relativity of evil. On the disk a barbarian's ethics compell him to kill and pillage (and probably rape as well though Pterry spares us this - the books are meant to be fun after all). Cohen's actions are O.K. for the barbarian society - other try to kill the barbarians and that's certainly O.K. for them. I mean they don't qualify as evil.

I like Cohen, but that is not an arguement.

No, since it's fantasy we can afford to like characters on the disk we want to go to prison/drop dead IRL.


Date: 11 Nov 1998
From: rosentha

Cohen doesn't kill people. It's just that a lot of people commit suicide in his vicinity. Committing suicide in Cohen's vicinity is very easy.


Date: 13 Nov 1998
From: .Nisaba Merrieweather

After all, being so aged and unsteady with it, he finds it hard to hold his sword still, and unfortunately rather a lot of people tend to get in its way whilst he's harmlessly minding his own business...


Date: 10 Nov 1998
From: Sam

Maybe I missed something - I would have tried to categorize Cohen the Barbarian somehow. He is frequently ruthless and kills rather casually. I don't think he is meant to be among the villains, but how do you define evil to not include him?

Agreed, Cohen is a tricky one! I like him because of the way PTerry portrays him. He is clearly meant to be a parody of the typical Fantasy hero.

What are his motivations? Greed? Or does he do it to save the girl? Or do we just strike it up to narrative causality...


From: Joerg Ruedenauer

According to my definition, Cohen's not evil (you like him). But, still, some or even many of his deeds can be evil.


From: An Thi-Nguyen Le

What are his motivations? Greed? Or does he do it to save the girl? Or do we just strike it up to narrative causality...

He does it just 'cause. It's the only thing he's ever done. It's, in effect, the principle of the thing.

Barbaric principles, anyways.


Date: 11 Nov 1998
From: Trent Hill

Originally I think that he became a hero because he was fit, dumb and greedy. As he survived he has grown a bit more intelligent to the stage where he can read, write and discuss limited philosophy. Now I think he continues heroing because he's lost everything that he's ever stolen and has to eat. Really, heroing is all he knows.


From: Paul Johnson

I think it started with finding money and saving the girl (usually saving her for later). But these days he does it simply because its what he does, and he's too old to break the habit of a lifetime.


Date: 12 Nov 1998
From: valdis

Maybe you guys should try the categories used in AD&D [Advanced Dungeons & Dragons - a role playing game], that is Lawful-Good, Neutral-Good, Chaotic-Good, Lawful-Neutral, True Neutral, Chaotic-Neutral, Lawful-Evil, Neutral-Evil, Chaotic-Evil.

That would put most of the 'ruthless organisers' in LE and the 3rd category in CE. Category 2 would probably end up in NE while most of the people you have been discussing would end up in either NG or LN. Example: Mort is a NG because he means well, but he doesn't always follow the rules. On the other hand Dibbler is a LN because he thinks more about himself than others, but he usually follows the rules, in the broadest sense of the word. I would put Vetinari in LN because he does not really care about good or evil, but he wants everything to work like a clock and that everyone follows the law. After all, he has reduced the crime rate in the city a great deal by simply making the crimes legal.

Note: be careful of not putting to many people in True Neutral. It is not really a very common category.


Date: 13 Nov 1998
From: Joerg Ruedenauer

Would you please say how these categories are defined, i.e. how you can tell of someone in which category he should belong?

E.g. what laws are meant by Lawful - ...?

Examples are good, but I can't get the definition out of it, also because you don't quite explain why e.g. Mort is NG and not perhaps CN or CG.

I also expect that some people here would say that the three main categories good, neutral and evil over-simplify too much (no offence meant).


Date: 15 Nov 1998
From: Carol

Lawful means he/she always lives by certain rules whether those rules are ones they have chosen for themselves or ones set by their god/community does not matter.

Chaotic means he/she decides things as he/she goes along and may never make the same choice twice.

Good means he/she is motivate by the desire to help others and do what is right

Evil means self orientated or the desire to make other suffer.

Neutral means he/she falls between the two extremes. As the previous poster said true neutral is very rare as almost everyone is motivated in at least one direction. BTW the categories do not rule out occasional variations in nature they just describe the main traits.

Examples are good, but I can't get the definition out of it, also because you don't quite explain why e.g. Mort is NG and not perhaps CN or CG.

Mort is NG because while he wants to do what is right he doesn't always stick to the rules to achieve that - he just does what he thinks best.

I also expect that some people here would say that the three main categories good, neutral and evil over - simplify too much (no offence meant).

The categories are as wide as you want to make them and it certainly gives more scope that simply saying Good or Evil.


Date: 01 12 1998
From: Shryll

As I've admitted, my idea of good and evil is terribly unscientific, and probably wouldn't stand up to the kind of in depth logical analysis which is such a glorious tradition here.

Any idea of good and evil is terribly unscientific. Why do you think this kind of problem has never been solved. In fact, fictional characters are the only people to who you can apply the distinction. Would you try to designate your next door neighbour LN or CE. Of course not. What about, oh, Bill Gates? President Clinton. Still too hard. Right, heres an easy one: Adolf Hitler. Aaah you sigh, evil, or at least CN. But... he obviously thought he was doing the right thing, even if he defined 'right' as 'the only rule is to survive, at any cost'. That's still a moral philosophy. And was everything he did bad?

Some of the thoughts on religion from CJ apply here, about how if you believe something is really, really right, you'll do anything for it, even if it means hurting other people. We can't know how things appear to others, what events have shaped them, their mood, and often not thought of: how they perceive the atmosphere of the situation. Next time you're in a complex social setting, analyse the atmosphere. Now think: it only applies to you.

So I get to the (a?) point- things like justice, as PterryOBE has attributed to Death, don't exist. They are constructions within our heads. Possibly evolutionary, possibly products of society. From a scientific view, they don't exist. Certainly you can classify people as cooperative or destructive, but only for specific actions, and you don't know what alternatives you had.

I prefer, like Granny, to consider which way people face rather than where they stand. Even then that only gives two directions. We could figure out whether people did the right thing, if not for lack of data. I eagerly await my meeting with any omnipotent beings out here, to find some answers.


Date: 14 Nov 1998
From: olavfn

Maybe you guys should try the categories used in AD&D, that is Lawful-Good, Neutral-Good, Chaotic-Good, Lawful-Neutral, True Neutral, Chaotic-Neutral, Lawful-Evil, Neutral-Evil, Chaotic-Evil. On the other hand Dibbler is a LN because he thinks more about himself than others, but he usually follows the rules, in the broadest seance of the word.

Theres a description of Dibbler early in MP. He is very good at thinking in straight lines; he thinks "I want to be Rich", then on the Economical Mappe of the Discworld he finds the point where he is now (A) and the City of "I am now Rich" (B), and immediately sets out from A to B.

He never succeeds, because on the way he has to cross the numerous Rivers of "Sell something (inna bun) to somebody", and is bogged down in the (ehhh) bog of "Euhh, what part of the pig is this made of?" or the thorny thicket of "Buggrem, I feel sick!".

He not only doesn't care about other people, he don't know how they feel about his methods. If he could he would pick less straight, but faster paths to (B), through the rolling plains of "Oh, a Genuan Hogswatch Saucisse de Porcelet, its probably supposed to look like that!", or even the high road of "Thanks Mr Dibbler for selling me this Klatchian Medicine against stomach disorders, made from an Ancient Recipe handed down through the Ages of Time (with a thousand elephants)."

As he is now, his tunnel visioned momentum will usually carry him some of the way, but sooner or later the accumulated bad will backfires. Even if he has Never Lied Figuratively Speaking, everybody knows he lies non figuratively speaking all the time.

He could become a serious menace (in class with Teatime), if he ever learned some headology. No big risk. He did become a serious menace in MP, but that was as an agent of the dream of Holy Wood.

I would put Vetinary n LN because he does not really care about good or evil, but he wants everything to work like a clock and that everyone follows the law.

The Patrician could teach Granny about headology. He is certainly good at finding the most feasible path to (B), rather than the straightest. Luckily he has chosen to go for a reasonably good spot on the Politicalle Mappe of the Disc. Maybe, just maybe, one of the spots marked with "Here be Dragons" is really a just, lawful, nice smelling place, but finding that spot is a job for someone else. Maybe the Air to the Throne.


Date: 03 Nov 1998
From: Sam

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.

But the semantics are important because unless we agree on the meanings of the words we are using then we are rendered unable to communicate effectively with one another.

I reserve the word evil (when applied to a person) as applying only to those who are absolutely rotten to the core without so much as the slightest hint of redemption.

A certain act may be an evil act (but I prefer to use the word bad or reprehensible..) but that does not necessarily make the person evil through and through. I reserve judgemental, allowing the person to redeem themselves later or through another facet of their personality. I put Dibbler in the Lovejoy category of loveable rogues. He is only really bad when under the spell of Holy Wood. He is greedy yes and perhaps not a Good Person, but I wouldn't go so far as to say he was evil.

When it comes to Mort I have some sympathy with his supporters as I don't think he thought his actions through. His intention was not entirely good or just, but it was at least driven by a natural human desire. He is an emotional human being just like the rest of us, and is hence not able to do Death's job in the same cold calculating way as Death. I am sure I would have the same problems as Mort.. Mort was definitely wrong, but I would not call him evil.

In summary:
Semantics important.
An evil person is someone who is past redemption.
An evil act maketh not an evil person - at least not always.


From: Kheldar

Semantics are important. However, yer begging a question here in a very big way. And it is the question I was originally trying to point out as being destitute and abandoned. Which is that in order to keep your semantic model and to maintain the (reasonable) statements in your summary you need to have had the argument which Miq started with his question but which has not been followed: ie. what are the criterion for the establishment of the concept 'evil' to be used in your calibrated model as above. The evil act must be recognizable, whether or not it predicates an evil person. And it is these conceptual criteria which were originally being investigated.


From: Sam

But I was trying to give examples of what 'evil' meant to me. I may not have been very successful, but that's a different matter.

I see what you're getting at, an act may be bad but may be less than evil? So the question is, when does a bad act become an evil act and when is it that we consider the consequences and when the intent?

When looking at actions in themselves, it is often not possible for us to know with any certainty the intention behind the act. This is further complicated by the often unclear relationship between cause and effect.

As I have said, I do not think there are absolutes of good and evil and thus, any criteria are going to be open to interpretation. That is not terribly helpful. Maybe Miq asked the unanswerable?

How would I use the word evil? Well, I would only apply the word to people if they were fictional characters, not wishing to judge real human beings without the necessary knowledge. I'd also require more than just bad deeds. I'd need to know the motivation behind the bad deeds had been malice. That the consequences of those actions could have been foreseen or were unimportant to the perpetrator. Further, I would also require that the person had no[1] redeeming features.

[1] or perhaps negligible

To apply the word evil to an act I will drop my last criterion, but the others I would still require. Based on these criteria, I do not find enough evidence to convict either Mort or CMOT, Miq's original examples.

Mort's actions are more easily justified than CMOT's. Firstly, I do not think that his motivation was malice, lust perhaps. Secondly, I think that he may not have been aware of the extent of his actions. Certainly he knew that the assassin would die, and so clearly not a moral action.. But people have been claiming that he should've been aware of the consequences of his actions on reality and so for this his actions were evil. I disagree with this point. He had been told not to do it, but had not SFAIR been told of the consequences.

CMOT's a tougher one as his actions in MP are pretty reprehensible. Although if I was his lawyer I would probably try to plead insanity as he was mislead by the spirit of Holy Wood. His normal motivation is greed and is this very far apart from the Spirit of Holy Wood? I would not say that being greedy makes him evil, the motivation is a selfish one, but it is not malice. I would also rely on some of the redeeming features displayed in other books, already quoted in some other people's posts.


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