"Implicit" Morality

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Post by Sam Gamgee » Sun Feb 01, 2004 5:00 pm

Woah, sorry there. The "ends never justifies means" thing was so obvious to me that I forgot to mention it. :oops: I'm sorry. Quite right you are, you can't just say "I meant well," and then do some horrible action. It's never ever right to perform an evil action. The evil action is always wrong. But you may not necessarily be held accountable for it, if you didn't know any better and had no reasonable way of knowing. In the same way, the good action is always right, but you may not be held responsible for it. (better?)

Speaking of which, Gollum may have performed a right action, but it was entirely by accident. I agree with Brian - maybe Gollum was the only one who could do it, but it was certainly not willingly, so we can't consider his actions heroic.
I really like what he said about Frodo too. You guys can hash that one out if you like, because I personally do not want to get into it.

It's true Tolkien never said, "a hero will be defined as follows: ..." That's why it's a story and not some sort of philosophical treatise. While it is true that many of even the most heroic characters have their imperfect sides, that's not always the case. Tolkien sees the good of creating characters that are like us, with faults, but showing that they can overcome these anyway in the end. That's very encouraging to us. But at the same time, there are the perfect heroes, the ones we can look up to as if to say "This is what man should be". I'd say Aragorn was a perfect hero (the book aragorn, who is drastically different from the movie aragorn). He's the ideal, what we should strive for. Yes, we should strive to be perfect, not just a good person who overcomes a fault now and then. So Tolkien gives us both sides. The ancient trend was to have the hero be entirely perfect and without any weaknesses or flaws (Beowulf), while the modern trend (especially seens in PJ's movies) is to let every character have the ablity to be developed (which means they start out with clear faults). I think the combination works way better than either one by itself.

So that's heroes in general. Now think of particular characters. Who was heroic? NOT Fëanor with all his pride. Someone like Aragorn who is courageous, enduring, with a will of iron - and yet he is still humble, and does not seek glory, but the good of his people. The fact that Gollum is forgiven is an extremely important point - that says a lot about Middle Earth's morality. Mercy and pity is a good thing, even on those who have harmed you - it is not the job of the individual to distribute "justice" as he sees fit. Revenge is wrong. Things like that.
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Post by idoron » Tue Feb 03, 2004 9:50 am

Bnielsen wrote:Thoughts
Well, I think clearly there are "other forces." Since Gandalf says so, I would assume he knows what he is talking about. That is a connection, though, that I hadn't put together before. I think that JRRT would agree that overcoming temptation and corruption would require a higher power.

Something else this brought to mind is this: evil is the most apparent "greater power" working in ME; Sauron, et. al. are evil. But the forces that oppose him are not so credited as "good in the unqualified sense." Sauron's opposition seem to be men, dwarves and elves who must fight to survive. So can one say that the resistors are the instrument of the greater good? Of maybe just Frodo/Sam/Gollum serve in this role. Anyway, it is good (meaning "fortunate") that they resisted. And Sauron's defeat was beneficial. And I think that one would be hard pressed to say that the fall of Sauron was not "good in the unqualified sense." But to what extent can we "judge" the actions of the resistors to be right of wrong? I guess that question is answered for us in that Sauron's defeat does not come out of ignoble actions by the resistors.

The only character who willingly gives up the Ring is Bilbo (well, OK, Bombadil, but that notwithstanding...). And that is sort of "under duress" or at least with the encouragement of Gandalf. Isildur and Frodo both lament having it. Not sure what to say about Gollum - except that its hold on him was the most complete and therefore maybe he didn't have the capacity "regret" it - only the capacity to both need and not want it.
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Post by idoron » Tue Feb 03, 2004 12:17 pm

Sam Gamgee wrote:The "ends never justifies means"..It's never ever right to perform an evil action. The evil action is always wrong. But you may not necessarily be held accountable for it, if you didn't know any better and had no reasonable way of knowing. In the same way, the good action is always right, but you may not be held responsible for it. (better?)
So:
Good Motive + Good Action = Hooray!
Mixed Motive + Good Action = ???
Bad Motive + Good Action = ??? (does one get held accountable for the motive?)

Good Motive + Neutral Action = ???
Mixed Motive + Neutral Action = ???
Bad Motive + Neutral Action = ???

Good Motive + Bad Action = ???
Mixed Motive + Bad Action = ???
Bad Motive + Bad Action = Boo!

And a whole 'nother category:
compulsion + any action = ???
(this applies to times when one is overpowered or forced to do something against one's will)

How do we define an action as good or bad? And what about consequences? What if a good action done with good motives has "bad" consequences. Like the forging of the Silmarils? Lots of bad stuff happened because of them, but their forging wasn't (in essence) evil. can Feanor be faulted for forging them?
Sam Gamgee wrote:Tolkien sees the good of creating characters that are like us, with faults, but showing that they can overcome these anyway in the end...I'd say Aragorn was a perfect hero (the book aragorn, who is drastically different from the movie aragorn)...The ancient trend was to have the hero be entirely perfect and without any weaknesses or flaws (Beowulf), while the modern trend is to let every character have the ablity to be developed (which means they start out with clear faults). I think the combination works way better than either one by itself.
Personally, I prefer imperfect heroes. Perfect ones (with a few notable exceptions) strike me as flat and unrealistic. Prepare to be incensed but on a personal level I like PJ's Aragorn more than JRRTs Aragorn. Though that is because Tolkien originated this hero in modern literature so we have all seen Aragorn before, but this time Aragorn is the originator, not the copy.

I agree that the two methods work best when combined or used together. But I think there is more to be said for imperfect heroes. We won't be perfect. Obviously. And I think that in fiction a perfect hero doesn't present readers with an accurate picture of "perfection" in daily life. I mean, how does reading Aragorn's story make me a better software designer? I can take certain aspects of his character and find ways those apply to my life, which is wonderful. But I can't take everything about him. Which is how hero stories are usually applied. Giving him faults helps me identify with him. And, even better, we can learn from the faults of heroes as much as their virtues. It is obvious to a reader when a hero's weakness or decision is harmful or unwise. It is much easier to see than in my own life. And if the story is well written and applicable, it can make me more aware of those things in my life. If you have to be perfect to be a hero, I never will be, so how could I attempt anything heroic?
Sam Gamgee wrote: that's heroes in general. Now think of particular characters. Who was heroic? NOT Fëanor with all his pride. Someone like Aragorn who is courageous, enduring, with a will of iron - and yet he is still humble, and does not seek glory, but the good of his people. The fact that Gollum is forgiven is an extremely important point - that says a lot about Middle Earth's morality. Mercy and pity is a good thing, even on those who have harmed you - it is not the job of the individual to distribute "justice" as he sees fit. Revenge is wrong. Things like that.
I would argue that in ways Feanor was. He wasn't the wisest of Elves, but he was a great man (elf?) nonetheless.

Well, the Gollum situation is tricky. By whom is he forgiven? We don't read of forgiveness by any of "the powers." My individual actions don't always indicate the morality of my world, nor do Bilbo's, Frodo's, etc. The Valar held a two Age long "grudge" against the inhabitants of ME despite attempts to return to Valinor and beg forgiveness. They even held the fathers of men in unforgiveness (for what?) even though the Valar had never even seen or spoken with them or even sent a representative to ME. They left men to the devices of Morgoth. It was not until they encountered the Elves that men ever had any knowledge of the Valar. And Sil. says that as a result men only ever feared them. The Valar never revealed who they are to men, so they only know them a exilers, judges and war makers.

I would argue "the powers" probably did not grant Gollum forgiveness. And that says a lot more about the morality of ME than the forgiveness and compassion of the other characters.
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Post by Sam Gamgee » Sun Feb 08, 2004 7:49 pm

oops. Sorry for the delay. I forgot.

Actions: First of all, let me clear one thing: a good action is entirely separate from the accountability of the actor. We can define "good action" in a lot of ways, but I was thinking of if the immediate results are positive. (If we looked at the end result, you wouldn't even be able to distinguish between action and motive, because the world only works right when people are moral, and if they weren't, the things that looked good really aren't in the end.)
From your little list, there, eliminate "mixed motive". "mixeed" is only another way of saying "posesses a limited amount of good, and thus they are held accountable to the degree that they intended good". It's kind of redundant.
Yes, one is held acountable for the motive. That's what I meant all along. The motive, not the result holds the responsibility of that person. If they intend to do a good thing, but by accident something bad happens instead, are they to be blamed for that? No, that doesn't make any sense. Yes, they did a wrong action, but they weren't at fault because they did not intend it, and there was no way for them to know any better. (i'm trying to make sure willful ignorance does not count as not knowing)
Neutral action? Let's not go there.
compulsion? When are you ever forced to do something against your will? If someone moves each limb to make you do something, ok, you're not responsible for that. If someone holds a gun to your head and tells you to do something, you still have a choice, though perhaps a wrong deed may be less accountable under such circumstances than it otherwise might be.

No, Fëanor's forging of the Silmarils was not evil. HIs posessiveness of them was, though...

You're free to prefer imperfect heroes. I need both though. As human beings, we are not called to be good people who press on in spite of imperfections. We are called to be perfect. That is really our goal. Yeah, it's impossible, but so what? It still our duty to strive for it with every fiber of our being. (I'm not saying that you think it's perfectly ok to be a mediocre person. I'm just making a slight shade of distinction.) I'm not trying to say that imprefect heroes are pointless. I'm just saying that you need both.

Fëanor? A great elf? I hate the jerk. Maybe once a very long time ago he was a good elf, but as soon as he created the Silmarils he became utterly obsessed with his own creation and totally self-absorbed, just like Morgoth.

Frodo is the one who has mercy on him. Frodo does not slay him. That's all I meant.
What do the Valar have to do with this? Who says it's their duty to babysit middle earth by riding around on it all the time?
The powers are free to do whatever they like with Gollum. Well, the Power. Eru is the only one who can fully read hearts, I believe, so if anyone else tried to judge in that sense, it wouldn't work so well. I was only trying to say that Frodo does not administer judgement, but has compassion on Gollum.
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Post by Sam Gamgee » Mon Feb 09, 2004 6:48 pm

wait a minute. Why are we discussing perfect heroes vs. imperfect ones? sorry, that was way sidetracked of me. it doesn't matter whether a hero is perfect or not: whatever their faults may be, tolkien is very clear about what is considered virtuous in a character and what is not.
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Post by idoron » Tue Feb 10, 2004 12:41 pm

Sam Gamgee wrote:Actions: First of all, let me clear one thing: a good action is entirely separate from the accountability of the actor...eliminate "mixed motive". "mixeed" is only another way of saying "posesses a limited amount of good, and thus they are held accountable to the degree that they intended good"...one is held acountable for the motive. That's what I meant all along. The motive, not the result holds the responsibility of that person. If they intend to do a good thing, but by accident something bad happens instead, are they to be blamed for that? No, that doesn't make any sense. Yes, they did a wrong action, but they weren't at fault because they did not intend it, and there was no way for them to know any better. (i'm trying to make sure willful ignorance does not count as not knowing)
What I am probing (not trolling, promise) for is this: does the "judged on intentions" model sufficiently describe the reality we see in ME? I would argue that in the "fallen world" we see in ME no one has totally good motives. Totally evil, I'm not so sure. But that means that almost every decision is made in the grey area.

And there a actions that motive cannot really describe very well. What "motive" could Frodo have had for pitying Gollum? I don't think you can say there is a motive for pity. What motive did Frodo have in forgiving him? Again, can't really say there was. So those actions had no degree of "good motives" so they weren't good. And therefore the forgiving hero is not so strong an idea. Now, do I agree with that? No. My point is that something is not right or wrong based only on motive.

Another example: what if Frodo had killed Gollum in self defence? Certainly justified. Would it be good? Frodo didn't have this information at the time, but it would have prevented the destruction of the ring. That would bad. how does that work?

Again, you said earlier that the ends don't justify the means, but didn't postulate how to determine the difference for those situations. But you saw above that good actions (and I assume evil) are seperate from motive. So what defines a good or bad action if not motive? If the answer is "a good actions lines up with the 'way Eru designed the universe'" which I think is what you would say, then we finally get back to what started this thread: how is that 'handed down' in ME? These is no communication of it that we see. And being a "fallen world" it is not likely JRRT intended everyone to "just know" what is right or wrong.
Sam Gamgee wrote:Neutral action? Let's not go there.
I am going to, but very quickly. Is this because you don't agree that there are neurtal actions, or because neutral actions are ammoral (i.e. a decision that does not involve moral choice)?
Sam Gamgee wrote:compulsion? When are you ever forced to do something against your will? If someone moves each limb to make you do something, ok, you're not responsible for that. If someone holds a gun to your head and tells you to do something, you still have a choice, though perhaps a wrong deed may be less accountable under such circumstances than it otherwise might be.
This question means both "duress" (gun to head) and "forced actions" (grabs your arm...). Duress is more interesting. Self defence and self preservation are "good" right? So my motive in carrying out some action generally believed to be evil can be good in that case if judged solely by motive, which you suggest.

Questions like these are what make philosophy and ethics interesting because there is no easy answser. And perhaps because our choices fall into complicated realms like these more often that they don't.
Sam Gamgee wrote:You're free to prefer imperfect heroes. I need both though. As human beings, we are not called to be good people who press on in spite of imperfections. We are called to be perfect. That is really our goal. Yeah, it's impossible, but so what? It still our duty to strive for it with every fiber of our being.
Can one strive for perfection without being a good person pressing on in spite of imperfections?
Sam Gamgee wrote:Frodo is the one who has mercy on him. Frodo does not slay him. That's all I meant.
What do the Valar have to do with this? Who says it's their duty to babysit middle earth by riding around on it all the time?
The powers are free to do whatever they like with Gollum. Well, the Power. Eru is the only one who can fully read hearts, I believe, so if anyone else tried to judge in that sense, it wouldn't work so well. I was only trying to say that Frodo does not administer judgement, but has compassion on Gollum.
My point is that, sure, Frodo and others pity him. But to what end? The powers are in charge of all Arda under the authority of Eru. They make nearly all the decisions of judgement we read about in ME. And we don't see much pity from them. So, seperating ME from JRRT's religous beliefs for a moment, how do we know pity is an important quality? We don't see it from Eru. We don't see it from the powers. For all we know it could be that pity is the twisted artifact of the "corrupted" or "influenced" minds of the Children of Illuvatar.

Off topic: Tolkien forum activity seems to have all but ceased.
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Post by Sam Gamgee » Tue Feb 10, 2004 6:16 pm

I am quickly losing all sight of where this is going. I will try to condense your comments in a brief reply, but if I don't include everything, then I'm sorry.

Action vs. Motive... OK, maybe I wasn't being clear. The action can be clearly separated from the motive and judged based on just the action alone. It is a good action to save someone who is drowning. There is also the motive to be taken into account, however. Why did the person do it? For glory, for personal gain? Or were they actually trying to drown the person, but accidentally saved them? (so this example doesn't work so good for that, but abstract it and apply it elsewhere) This motive does not affect the fact that saving someone is good, but it does affect their own personal responsiblity. If I tried to kill my grandmother and accidentally shoot a deer, i am still hold the same guilt as if I actually shot her, because that's what i intended. But, if I meant to kill the deer and accidentally shoot my grandmother, then I am not held responsible for murdering her.
So there's three parts: acion, motive, and responsibility. My claim is that responsibility is judged on motive rather than on action.
Does that clear anything up? Can you illustrate your position?

Neutral: I just hate discussing this. I haven't fully made up my mind if there is such a thing as neutral actions, and it's really not relevant to our discussion to talk about that. Way more trouble than it's worth.

What motive did Frodo have? Frodo had some sort of respect for life and creation, and hope that Gollum would perhaps change his ways if pardoned. So Frodo had some sort of love for Gollum. I don't think it was just random, like "Hey, Sam, let's let the little bugger live, just for kicks!"

The end doesn't justify the means. Just because Gollum accidentally saves MIddle Earth doesn't make him free from all consequences from actions or punishment of any kind. If Gollum had attacked Frodo in such a way that Frodo really could not resist, either Gollum would ahve killed Frodo, and taken the Ring and destroyed Middle Earth, or Frodo would have killed Gollum, and probably died somewhere in the wilderness. it doesn't matter though.

idoron wrote:So what defines a good or bad action if not motive?
Are you asking what it is we judge to determine its value? Or are you asking what "good" or "bad" means? Or what?

Compulsion: Well, how specifically are you defining action? I wouldn't label the action of self-defense as "killing someone". I would label it as "killing someone in self-defense." It's a whole separate categroy, just like "killing someone in cold blood" vs. "killing someone in a rage" vs. "killing someone by accident", etc...

idoron wrote:Can one strive for perfection without being a good person pressing on in spite of imperfections?
Huh?? Your grammar is a bit vague, modifiers a bit misplaced, and meaning thus a bit obscured. Are you asking: Can someone who is not a good person strive for perfection even though they are imperfect? If so, uh... that's my whole point. We're not perfect, but we should be. So we'd better get moving toward perfection, and fast! Our goal should be perfection, not just "being a mostly good person"

Pity: What? The Valar pity Morgoth! They have mercy on Eärendil and all of Middle Earth! Pity? You could make an argument as to whether it is the Valar or Eru, but what is this divine intervention that shows up all over the place? "Above all shadows rides the Sun and Stars forever dwell; I will not say the day is done nor bid the stars farewell." What moves Sam to say that? He is inspired by something, and then when he says it he is hoping that some greater power is more powerful and eternal than evil could ever be. Eru has mercy that he hasn't entirely destroyed his flawed creation yet. And also, if you read LotR, could you possibly come off of it thinking pity was bad? The story is set up in such a way that you could not possibly make a case for eliminating pity. especially if you read JRRT's writings on the matter. The quote Steve found again. I don't feel like finding it, but it's up there.

idoron wrote:Off topic: Tolkien forum activity seems to have all but ceased.
A pity.
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Post by idoron » Sat Feb 14, 2004 10:55 am

Sam Gamgee wrote:So there's three parts: acion, motive, and responsibility. My claim is that responsibility is judged on motive rather than on action. Does that clear anything up? Can you illustrate your position?
Ok. So when, for example, Gollum stands before Eru after the last battle, how do those three aspects work? Is he condemned for his "evil" action regardless of the motive and responsibility?

My position is that for all the morality in LotR and Sil, we know less about this than we do about Balrog wings.
Sam Gamgee wrote:Are you asking what it is we judge to determine its value? Or are you asking what "good" or "bad" means? Or what?
I'm asking what you think the standards for distinguishing a good action from an evil action in ME are.
Sam Gamgee wrote:Pity: What? The Valar pity Morgoth! They have mercy on Eärendil and all of Middle Earth!
Yes, but how many attempts are made to travel to Valinor and beg forgiveness and pity before Earendil makes it? I think it was 6 or 8 (without looking). Great odds for getting the pity of the gods.

Sam Gamgee wrote:but what is this divine intervention that shows up all over the place...what moves Sam to say that? He is inspired by something, and then when he says it he is hoping that some greater power is more powerful and eternal than evil could ever be.
There isn't that much divine intervention. And what little there is tends to be not so miraculous. List of divine interventions in LotR: sending the istari (and we know how that turned out), inspired cries of Frodo and Sam, and...um...uh...
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Post by Sam Gamgee » Sat Feb 14, 2004 3:16 pm

Gollum: No, he is condemned for his motives rather than the result of his action. He's not praised for destroying the Ring - that was an accident. He meant to claim it and rule middle earth and get his fresh fissshes. That does not deserve to be praised. (BTW, i'm using Aristotle's model here, not just making this up.)

True that Tolkien did not write the Ten Commandments of Arda. But so? What I've been trying to say is that we should be able to find them by looking at which characters are called heroes, and which are condemned, and examining why they were.
Specific Text Examples to back this up: Gollum does not deserve praise for accidentally destroying the Ring.
Frodo desrves praise for being the Ringbearer, even though he failed, because by the end the Ring overcame his free will. He intended to destroy the Ring when he had his will, and he went to great lengths to carry that action out.
Denethor is looked down on for his despair. Even when one loses hope, he should still press on. Gandalf and Eomer deserve praise for sticking with thing in battle, even when they truly believed they would lose. Thus end does not justify means - it's not ok to give up just because you think you'll die anyway. You must fight to the bitter end and never give into evil. Fingolfin is another example.
Fëanor was condemned for his pride. Though he believes himself to be Morgoth's enemy, there are really only two sides, and by his depraved actions he actually sides with the darkness.
Beren is praised for his courage, and his firm dedication to Luthien, that he would travel even to Angband for her. Luthien is likewise praised for her love of Beren. Thus love is something very powerful, that can transcend even death.
Shall I go on?

Distinguishing a good or bad action is generally clear in the stories. Look above. Yes, there are mixtures of good and bad, but they're not "gray". They're partial goods. It's still black and white, but now you have a white paper with black holes in it instead of a whole white paper. So those are degrees of goodness, not a grayscale where white and black exist only at the extremes. Picky distinction maybe, but still. The very fact that you say there are mixed actions show that you are able to judge certain degrees of good versus evil.

The others did not have the Silmaril. Thus they could not get past the ocean. Did you expect the Valar to violate the phyiscal boundries of the world they helped create? They probably could, but they aren't obligated to.

You're only looking at the big, flashy divine intervention. But there's more there. Frodo is inspired to take the Ring. The Ring came to Bilbo in the first place. In any case, who says that the Valar have to keep showing up manifest in their glorious forms to beat up Middle Earth's every enemy? That's just not the way they work. That's not the way the Music of the Ainur worked. Illuvatar let Morgoth sing, he did not order him to be dragged away. But as the story goes, the most glorious moments of Morgoth's song were swept away into a more triumphant beauty of the deeper music. Evil is allowed. But evil only increases the good, in the end. So it makes sense that the Valar don't come kick Sauron out of Middle Earth, but they send others, like Gandalf. They work through people. Eru works through Frodo. Indirect, yes, but their intervention is still guiding them.
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Post by idoron » Mon Feb 16, 2004 9:31 pm

Sam Gamgee wrote:Gollum: No, he is condemned for his motives rather than the result of his action...Distinguishing a good or bad action is generally clear in the stories...The very fact that you say there are mixed actions show that you are able to judge certain degrees of good versus evil.
That is what I am getting at. You say:

1. There are actions that are good, evil, and intermediate (i.e. mixed)
2. Rather than that, Gollum is judged based on motive.

So how do we know if we are judged on the basis of our actions or motives? Is one person judged on motive, another actions? If Gollum is judged on motives, others on actions, is that a just standard? (No) Do the Powers just willy-nilly decide? "Hmmm, Gollum, you're judged on motives, sorry, you lose. Frodo, you're judged on actions, you claimed the ring, you lose, too. Ha ha!" Though the occasional fickleness of the Valar evident in some other places may not rule this out, I doubt this is the system of morality JRRT had in mind.
Sam Gamgee wrote:The others did not have the Silmaril. Thus they could not get past the ocean. Did you expect the Valar to violate the phyiscal boundries of the world they helped create? They probably could, but they aren't obligated to.
I expect the Valar to take responsibility for the world that they created and allowed to fall under the dominion of Morgoth, rather than letting ME go to the Abyss in a Handbasket. But they don't. When multiple journeys to <b>beg</b> for aid fail, the Valar don't bat an eyelash. When sitting on Tantiquentil Manwe can see everything in Arda, so he <b>knew</b> they were coming. Only Ulmo pays any attention.
Sam Gamgee wrote:You're only looking at the big, flashy divine intervention. But there's more there. Frodo is inspired to take the Ring. The Ring came to Bilbo in the first place. In any case, who says that the Valar have to keep showing up manifest in their glorious forms to beat up Middle Earth's every enemy?
They were sent to prepare and nurture Arda for the sake of the Children of Illuvatar. The narrator of the Sil says the CoI cannot defeat Morgorth on their own. Do the Valar know this? Undoubtably. Do they care? I guess not. They "let them eat cake." How many Children of Illuvatar died in ME trying to defeat or defend themselves from Morgoth? A lot. Does that ever seem to concern the Valar? Not for a long time.
Sam Gamgee wrote:That's just not the way they work. That's not the way the Music of the Ainur worked. Illuvatar let Morgoth sing, he did not order him to be dragged away. But as the story goes, the most glorious moments of Morgoth's song were swept away into a more triumphant beauty of the deeper music. Evil is allowed.
Actually, in the Music we read that the most triumphant parts of Morgoths song were taken by Eru and became the most triumphant parts of his song and that they were so mingled they could not be seperated. So, really, the only argument for the Valar (in the context of this discussion) is that since Eru will use evil, it is good that evil exists, so whether they defeated Morgoth and Sauron, Eru would use it.

But, in the context of this argument, that is "bull." If God or Eru can use evil, they I should do evil since Eru will use it too, therefore I am free from personal responsibility. I suspect we both know that is not the moral structure JRRT intended.
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Post by Sam Gamgee » Sat Feb 21, 2004 1:32 am

No, no, no. We can look at an action apart from anything else and rate it as good or bad. But in every situation, the responsibility of the individual must be judged on motive. That's not just a one case thing.
There is a huge difference between intermediate and mixed, and what i mean. "intermediate" and "mixed" give them impression of grey or dualistic entities of good and evil. No. Good Is. Evil Is not. I know I'm picky, but you can't call a motive "mixed", but "good to a limited degree" (but still lacking in total good). We clear there? If you understand that, you can use the word "mixed", just so long as we both understand what you mean. (just trying to prevent further areas of needless confusion over language)

OK, so now you are judging the Valar by the standards of a mortal human being. They're demigods! Their role is different from ours.
(You may bring up my previous words about "right and wrong have not changed since yesteryear, nor are they one thing among men and another among the dwarves..." but that would be misinterpreting me. a) the Valar are not phyiscal creatures like the inhabitants of Middle Earth. They're like angels. They don't have our same role. b) The fact that they have a different role does not negate the universality of morality. Humans fulfil their function, elves fulfill their function, dwarves fulfill their function - these functions look mostly the same. But if the Valar were compelled to fulfill the human function, things would not work. truth is still truth, and morality is still morality. But the Valar have certain powers and duties that a human could never use, and vice versa.)
Do the Valar care? They do save Middle Earth. Yes, they do care. Not for a long time? So what? If God wanted to always end evil immediately by force, this world would have been destroyed long ago. It's so much more beautiful, glorious, and triumphant this way. That's the whole point of the book! Come on!

"Bull"? Wait, since when does Eru's ability to use evil have anything to do with your personal responsibility? You are free to choose evil or not. Whatever you do, you will contribute to Eru's glory. You have the choice to cooperate freely or not. Either way, you are morally responsible for your responses to him. if you decide to be evil, fine. Go to hell. What's it going to do? Do you really think that you, mere creature that you are, have the ability to prevent His divine plan in any way? Basically, what I'm trying to say is, you can go ahead and be evil, but you're the one that's going to suffer. Eru doesn't need you.
Yes, that sounds harsh, and yes, we usually don't state things in this way, but this is an aspect of the truth. If it were not so, what power would good have?

Slight Tangent - If it were not a good thing that evil exists, it wouldn't. There are many different ways to talk about such a broad statement, and most of them are wrong. But think about it, now from our world by analogy. God knew that humans would sin. He made them anyway, and he still gave them free will. He let humans sin. He continues to let humans sin. He did not destroy the world. He shows through his actions that he has enough power that he can give humans free will and let them sin, and yet still work through history to accomplish his plan. It has not come to completion yet, but the glorified fallen man in heaven is better than the original, sinless man in the garden. isn't that incredible? So it is truly a "bittersweet fall" - sad, yes, but so glorious at the same time... That's why I love The Silmarillion so much. It gives me so much hope.
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Post by Sam Gamgee » Fri Apr 09, 2004 7:00 pm

Some quotes form the author which may shed various light on topics we've covered:

On Heroes, Perfect or Imperfect

"But as the earliest Tales are seen through Elvish eyes, as it were, this last great Tale, coming down from myth and legend to the earth, is seen mainly through the eyes of Hobbits: it thus becomes in fact anthropocentric. But though Hobbits, not Men so-called, because the last Tale is to exemplify most clearly a recurrent theme: the place in ‘world politics’ of the unforeseen and unforeseeable acts of will, and deeds of virtue of the apparently small, ungreat, forgotten in the places of the Wise and Great (good as well as evil). A moral of the whole (after primary symbolism of the Ring, as the will to mere power, seeking to make itself objective by physical force and mechanism, and so also inevitably by lies) is the obvious one that without the high and noble the simple and vulgar is utterly mean; and without the simple and ordinary the noble and heroic is meaningless." (Letter 131)

conclusion: you need perfect and imperfect, the sublime and the simple


*Of the Fall of Elves and Forging of Rings*

"[The Elves’] ‘magic’ is Art, delivered from many of its human limitations: more effortless, more quick, more complete (product, and vision in unflawed correspondence). And its object is Art not Power, sub-creation not domination and tyrannous re-forming of Creation. The ‘Elves are ‘immortal’, at least as far as this world goes: and hence are concerned rather with the griefs and burdens of deathlessness in time and change, than with death. The Enemy in successive forms is always ‘naturally’ concerned with sheer Domination, and so the Lord of magic and machines; but the problem: that this frightful evil can and does arise from an apparently good root, the desires to benefit the world and others – speedily and according to the benefactor’s own plans is a recurrent motive. Not in the Beginner of Evil: his was a sub-creative Fall, and hence the Elves (the representatives of sub-creation par excellence)) were peculiarly his enemies, and the special object of his desire and hate – and open to his deceits. Their Fall is into possessiveness and (to a less degree) of perversion of their art to power." (Letter 131)

“The particular branch of the High Elves concerned, the Noldor or Loremasters, were always on the side of ‘science and technology’, as we should call it: they wanted to have the knowledge that Sauron genuinely had, and those of Eregion refused the warnings of Gilgalad and Elrond. The particular ‘desire’ of the Eregion Elves – an ‘allegory’ if you like of a love of machinery, and technical devices – is also symbolized by their special friendship with the Dwarves of Moria.
I should regard them as no more wicked or foolish (but in much the same peril) as Catholics engaged in certain kinds of physical research (e.g. those producing, if only as by-products, poisonous gases and explosives): things not necessarily evil, but which, things being as they are, and the nature and motives of the economic masters who provide all the means for their work being as they are, are pretty certain to serve evil ends. For which they will not necessarily be to blame, even if aware of them.” (Letter 153)

conclusion: the Elves weren't evil for forging the Rings - they were just stupid for pushing the limits of their Art too far.


*Frodo and Free Will*

“Having mentioned Free Will, I might say that in my myth I have used ‘subcreation’ in a special way… to make visible and physical the effects of Sin or misused Free Will by men. Free Will is derivative, and is therefore only operative within provided circumstances; but in order that it may exist, it is necessary that the Author should guarantee it, whatever betides: sc. When it is ‘against His Will’, as we say, at any rate as it appears on a finite view. He does not stop or make ‘unreal’ sinful acts and their consequences. So in this myth it is ‘feigned’ that He gave special ‘sub-creative’ powers to certain of His highest created beings: that is a guarantee that what they devised and made should be given the reality of Creation. Of course within limits, and of course subject to certain commands of prohibitions. But if they ‘feel’, as the Diabolus Morgoth did, and started making things ‘for himself to be their Lord’, there would then ‘be’, even if Morgoth broke the supreme ban against making other ‘ration’ creatures like Elves or Men. They would at least ‘be’ real physical realities in the physical world, however evil they might prove, even ‘mocking’ the Children of God. They would be Morgoth’s greatest Sins, abuses of his highest privilege, and would be creatures begotten of Sin, and naturally bad.” (Letter 153)

“If you re-read all the passages dealing with Frodo and the Ring, I think you will see that not only was it quite impossible for him to surrender the Ring, in act or will, especially at its point of maximum power, but that this failure was adumbrated from far back. He was honoured because he had accepted the burden voluntarily, and had then done all that was within his utmost physical and mental strength to do. He (and the Cause) were saved - by Mercy: by the supreme value and efficacy and forgiveness of injury.
Corinthians I x. 12-13 may not at first sight seem to fit – unless ‘bearing temptation’ is taken to mean resisting it while still a free agent in normal command of the will. I think rather of the mysterious petitions of the Lord’s Prayer: Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. A petition against something that cannot happen is unmeanining. There exists the possibility of being placed in positions beyond one’s power. In which case (as I believe) salvation from ruin will depend on something apparently unconnected: the general sanctity (and humility and mercy) of the sacrificial person…
No, Frodo ‘failed’. It is possible that once the ring was destroyed he had little recollection of the last scene. But one must face the fact: the power of Evil in the world is not finally resistible by incarnate creatures, however ‘good’; and the Writer of the Story is not one of us.” (Letter 191)

conclusion: Brian hit on something important - No one could have succeeded, period.

*Morgoth - Evil before/during the Song*

“In my story I do not deal in Absolute Evil. I do not think there is such a thing, since that is Zero. I do not think that at any rate any ‘rational being’ is wholly evil. Satan fell. In my myth Morgoth fell before the Creation of the physical world. In my story Sauron represents as near an approach to the wholly evil will as possible.” (Letter 183)

conclusion: yes.



*Religion/Morality*

“The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like ‘religion’, to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.” (Letter 142)

“In the Lord of the Rings the conflict is not basically about ‘freedom’, though that is naturally involved. It is about God, and His sole right to divine honour. The Eldar and the Númenóreans believed in The One, the true God, and help worship of any other person an abomination. Sauron desired to be a God-King, and was help to be this by his servants; if he had been victorious he would have demanded divine honour from all rational creatures and absolute temporal power over the whole world. So even if in desperation ‘the West’ had bred or hired hordes of orcs and had cruelly ravaged the lands of other Men as asllies of Sauron, or merely to prevent them from aiding him, their Cause would have remained indefeasibly right.” (Letter 183)

conclusion: none in particular. This doesn't settle any issue, but just sheds more light on the situation.
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Post by Sam Gamgee » Fri Jun 25, 2004 12:22 am

I wouldn't be beating a dead horse, except that metaphor is so inviting to me. So just a few more quick quotes that relate to the discussion:

FRODO and his motives
Frodo undertook his quest out of love – to save the world he knew from disaster… and also in complete humility, acknowledging he was wholly inadequate to the task. (Letter 246)

conclusion: he did indeed take the Ring through a noble motive

MORALITY in general
You speak of a ‘sanity and sanctity’ in the L.R. ‘which is a power in itself’. I was deeply moved. Nothing of the kind had been said to me before. But by a strange chance, just as I was beginning this letter, I had one from a man, who classified himself as ‘an unbeliever, or at best a man of belatedly and dimly dawning religious feeling… but you’, he said, ‘create a world in which some sort of faith seems to be everywhere without a visible source, like light form an invisible lamp.’ I can only answer: ‘Of his own sanity no man can securely judge. If sanctity inhabits his work or as a pervading light illumines it then it does not come from him but through him. And neither of you would perceive it in these terms unless it was with you also. Otherwise you would see and feel nothing, or (oif some other spirit was present) you would be filled with contempt, nausea, hatred. “Leaves out of the elf-country, gah!” “Lembas – dust and ashes, we don’t eat that.” (Letter 328)

I don’t feel under any obligation to make my story fit with formalized Christian theology, though I actually intended it to be consonant with Christian thought and belief. (Letter 269)

Conclusion: He's not trying to translate the bible into a new moral myth, but truth of a higher plane cannot help but shine through.

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Post by Bnielsen » Fri Jun 25, 2004 11:58 am

Sam, about Frodo, a few things I have pondered.

Frodo had the ring before he knew of its power. This, plus 'the will of the ring'; how does that tie in to this topic?
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Post by idoron » Fri Jun 25, 2004 12:53 pm

Bnielsen wrote:Sam, about Frodo, a few things I have pondered.

Frodo had the ring before he knew of its power. This, plus 'the will of the ring'; how does that tie in to this topic?
That is what prompted this whole discussion.

I would argue that the Ring has the most powerful psyche of any character we meet in the trilogy. And it is able to overpower the minds of others. So, then, it isn't really just to lay blame for actions induced by the ring on the poor souls whom it overpowers.

But that's me.
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