nancylebov: (green leaves)
[personal profile] nancylebov

This is really excellent-- it compares Manichaean evil (evil is a force) with Augustinian evil (evil is the absence of good) and demonstates that the plot of LOTR-- and especially the climax at the Cracks of Doom are solidly consistent with the idea that victory comes from doing the right thing, even when it seems completely impractical.

Link found here. Sherwood Smith is doing a reread of LOTR.

Date: 2017-04-05 11:58 pm (UTC)
madfilkentist: Photo of Carl (Default)
From: [personal profile] madfilkentist
It's an interesting and plausible analysis of Tolkien's intent, and similar to Shippey's. However, Shippey notes that there are two different views in tension with each other, and Tolkien is "Manichean" in many respects. For instance, the idea that all orcs and trolls and Uruk-Hai are evil indicates a world in which the Forces of Evil and the Forces of Good are lined up against each other. And curiously, while some races can be purely evil, none (not even the Valar or the Maiar) can be purely good.

The analysis suggests a false alternative in ethical theories. The Manichean approach is "consequentialist" and says that "we may even need to indulge in a little short-term evil in order to be able to achieve the greater good." The Augustinian approach is "deontological," i.e., duty-based, and calls for "doing the right thing regardless of the outcome."

Both of these approaches have the same flaw. A deontological view of ethics regards the rules as externally imposed, by God or perhaps by the Categorical Imperative. "The right thing" is that which follow the rules, regardless of its consequences. The Manichean view is tribalism writ large; there's our side, which is permanently at war with the other side. But what makes "our" side good and "theirs" bad? That view indeed leads to both sides adopting the same methods.

The third alternative is that the good resides in us and is identified by the principle that life is the basis of the good. It's worked out in principles, not strategies, because being good is fundamentally a matter of what you are in your thoughts, actions, and choices.

In supporting the third view, I agree with the Augustinian idea that evil is an absence or a twisting of good rather than a force of its own. No one really forms an Evil League of Evil. When people do evil things, usually they're clinging to something which could be good, such as having nice toys or helping their country, but ripping it out of the context where it is good. I grant that there are some cases where people hurt others for the sake of hurting and nothing else, but that kind of evil usually stays small and can't gain followers.

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