Home > Warhammer Fantasy > Beyond Good and Evil

Beyond Good and Evil

15 October, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Well, that last post prompted some well thought out responses. I read them with interest. The marvellous Pyroriffic also triggered a parallel discussion here. Head over there if such metaphysical musings float your boat.

I’m interested in people with very relativist positions about morality (i.e., it’s all just a matter of your point of view, etc.). Not sure I buy that. In the real world, there just are some things that are good or bad. Pork pies are good. Mobile phones in cinemas are bad. Texting incessantly in cinemas while the film is playing is very bad. No debate there.

Anyway, back to Warhammer. One of the complications, with regard to morality, is the presence of radically different races. Humans in the warhammer world embody all the traits we’re familiar with. They can be noble, corrupt, lazy, heroic, and everything else (or all of them at the same time). But Dark Elves have an entirely different moral code. It’s built into their nasty, cold-blooded hearts. Even dwarfs, the closest non-humans, have a very different racial view of the world to ‘us’. So what standards should they be judged by? Their own? Humans’? Or is there some objective yardstick we can use?

Best answers win a prize!*

* And the prize is: no more annoying posts about morality in this blog.

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Categories: Warhammer Fantasy
  1. 15 October, 2009 at 16:53

    ‘The marvellous Pyroriffic’? *preens*

    What the Warhammer world really, really needs is Nick Griffin, obviously.

  2. Ghurlag
    15 October, 2009 at 19:13

    The whole idea (that i subscribe to, at any rate) is that there is no objective yardstick for morality.

    Sure, you like pork pies. I do, too. But does that mean that a pork pie is inherently good? There are many people (and a few major religions) out there who would say that pork pies are BAD. Do you have a greater right than them to decide the ‘truth’ of the matter? Are they RIGHT for everyone? What justification is there for your viewpoint being better than theirs?

    Sure, that’s a kinda silly and obscure way of approaching the subject, but it gets you to the driving force behind a matter. Different people hold different values to things. Ditto for cultures. A fair majority of modern society would agree that a life is a precious thing, to be treasured at all cost. There are however many who would disagree with this judgement – some might go as far as to say life is an inherently bad thing.

    So, are these people WRONG because they have a view which differs from the norm? Is morality a numbers game? The weight is heavily on one side on the ‘life’ issue, but there are plenty of other issues where the numbers are less clear. Abortion, for example. If 51% of the world believed that abortion was wrong, would that make it wrong?

    So, let’s wind this back around to Warhammer. We are human. There are characters in Warhammer who are also human, so we feel we can judge them based on our own moral code. In reality, this is unfair. Their culture is different to ours (‘ours’ being the somewhat widespread liberal western philosophy) and so what we percieve as right or wrong will be wildly different to what they see as such. Is killing a baby because it might be tainted by evil spirits ‘wrong’? Our culture would think so, but the human cultures of the Warhammer universes would not. Are we right? If you’re playing the numbers game, remember that the Imperium holds trillions of human souls, effectively trumping us on that one.

    So, if we cannot even judge the humans of the Warhammer universes, what right have we to point fingers at the Dark Eldar, or the Dwarves? It is their culture, after all, and whatever THEY percieve as the ‘right’ course of action is as close to the definition of that word as it is possible to get.

    There is no objective ‘goodness’ meter, so saying that the Dark Eldar are ‘bad’ for slaughtering a human child and decorating the room with his insides is really just saying ‘this is wrong, in my opinion’ – the important part being the last bit – and really, why should they or anyone else care about your opinion?

    I suppose the summation of my argument is: why, objectively, should it matter if one person, or culture, or collection of cultures does not agree with an action? Is it not enough to say ‘this is OUR morality, you have YOUR morality?’

    • chriswraight
      19 October, 2009 at 09:25

      Phew! Thanks Gurlag – that’s a detailed post.

      I must say, I wasn’t being entirely serious about pork pies, but you’re quite right – the morality of different cultures is difficult to square with our own sometimes. I think what your post does illustrate is how rich an environment Warhammer is. There’s room to sympathise with the moral system of the Dark Elves, as well as see the point of view of the average Empire trooper. The key thing for writers in this genre is to make whatever point of view we’re taking on make sense. Which is why reading Mike Lee and Dan Abnett on Malus, or Clint Werner on Thanquol, is such a rewarding experience.

  3. Xhalax
    15 October, 2009 at 21:16

    I have to admit that this is part of the reason why I struggle a little with Warhammer more than 40K….things are a little more grey than they are due to the other races and, as you mentioned their culture. What is extreme to me/the average member of the Empire is common place to other races.

    So finding a measuring stick for morality that it not your own is difficult enough when pointed in the direction of another human. To another race….I’m not even sure it is truly possible as we are, to our very core…..human.

    • chriswraight
      19 October, 2009 at 09:18

      Yes, *exactly*. It’s part of the complexity of Warhammer – what makes it both interesting and (as the comments here demonstrate) thought-provoking. I find Warhammer Fantasy slightly less extreme than 40K in this respect (it’s a BIT more like the real world than the wonderful madness of the far future), but it still has its fair share of grey areas

      • Xhalax
        19 October, 2009 at 16:13

        Personally I’d be inclinded to say that Warhammer is more extreme than 40K in terms of complications in morality and such (with the possible exception of body count) as 40K is pretty cut and dry in terms of it’s morals as they’re enforced so strictly. True from an outside observer stand point the Imperium is a disgustingly horrid place but it’s more tailored towards to reader being a good, loyal Imperial citizen so that the morally grey makes you gasp in shock because how
        could a member of the Imperium fall so low.

        I don’t get the clean cut distinction in Warhammer was every region is so distinct and there doesn’t seem to be the stringent uniformity there. So with everyone so wildly different the thoughts of morales because more real as we’re faced with a similar thing in actuality.

  4. 17 October, 2009 at 12:12

    Also. And these things have to be said.

    “Pork pies are good.”

    Not if you’re a pig.

  5. 17 October, 2009 at 12:13

    Bah, stupid lack of forum-related markup taggage. *grumbles off into the distance*

    • chriswraight
      19 October, 2009 at 09:21

      Fixed! I think WordPress insists on ’em’ tags for italics (for some reason).

      And yes, pigs probably have a different perspective on pork pies than I do. Doesn’t mean they’re right, though…

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