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Moral Ambiguities



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  #41  
Old August 11th, 2007, 3:39 pm
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Re: Moral Ambiguities

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Originally Posted by fruitia pickleweed View Post
"For the greater good" is presented as a cover slogan for a totalitarian tyranny. Yet bythe end of DH, it seems to be Dumbledore's working motto.
I think because it can mean different things to different people. When Dumbledore said "For the greater good" I think he honestly meant that there was something bigger at stake. When totalitarian regimes use it, they are merely using it as an excuse for whatever atrocities they choose to commit. In each instance it means something completely different, and shows how ideals can be warped, to make something that is fundamentally "evil" appear "good"
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Originally Posted by fruitia pickleweed View Post
Dumbledore seemed to show exemplary respect for others, even when he strongly disagreed with their choices. Courtesy was a matter of principle, even at the point of death. And then he turned out to be using the others as tools, even Harry -- not respectfully at all.
I don't think he was actually using Harry. He was fairly certain that Harry wouldn't die, and he had set the situation up so Harry would defeat Voldemort but not die. (Hence the gleam of triumph) He couldn't tell Harry that he wouldn't die - Harry had to believe that he would die in order for it to be a genuine sacrifice. So while he didn't give Harry all the information that was the way it had to be.
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Originally Posted by fruitia pickleweed View Post
Killing is bad, unnatural, and highly dangerous because it rips the soul apart. Dumbledore tries to protect Draco from such a disaster. Yet, everyone goes at it happily in the Big Battle, with no apparent concern for their souls.
I think this is one of the most misunderstood parts of the whole series.
It is murder that splits the soul.
It is explained very carefully - it takes a supreme act of evil to split the soul - murder i.e. Killing someone for personal gain.
Killing someone in battle, killing someone to save more lives, killing someone who is on the verge of death - these are not the same as cold-blooded murder. I know that many people (myself included) do not see them as morally acceptable, but they are still not the same as first degree murder - which is what splits the soul and enables someone to make a Horcrux.
That is why Dumbledore says that only Snape will know if killing him will damage his soul because only Snape knows what is in his heart and whether he is committing an evil act.

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Originally Posted by fruitia pickleweed View Post
Harry chose to lie to Griphook. (He had alternatives, at least he could have tried them. He could have made it a condition that Griphook would lend him back the sword for a specified period, for instance.) If Griphook had actually been faithful, Harry would have, essentially, cheated Griphook. Is Rowling condoning that too, "for the greater good"?
I think this was a great part of the story - and shows how cultural differences can throw up difficulties in these situations. There was no simple answer. And Harry would have returned the sword when he had finished with it so was he really cheating Griphook? Although I agree that he could have arranged to borrow it a bit longer. I think JKR is showing us that in war (and frequently in life) there are no simple answers.

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Originally Posted by fruitia pickleweed View Post

Harry uses the Unforgiveables. And he "means them." Maybe he had no choice at Gringotts, but after that? Is "meaning" an unforgiveable curse a good thing to Rowling? Are they so unforgiveable after all?
I don't think Rowling is trying to say that unforgiveables are a good thing. I think she is showing us that Harry is flawed - that he is not perfect. She is also showing us how difficult it can be to maintain your principles at all times.

Harry (I think) believes that unforgiveables are wrong - yet he uses them himself. This to me is a perfect illustration of human nature. We all have values, but we do not always live up to those values. More and more these days it is seems to be the opinion that if you can't live up to them then lower your values, but I disagree with this. Society seems to have a developed a morbid fear of hypocrisy as if it is the worst "sin" ever. On the contrary I believe that it is better to say "That was wrong; I shouldn't have done that." than change your values to suit your behaviour.
When it comes to Unforgiveables - their very name implies that they cannot be forgiven. Is this a good thing? I think not - and the name has never sat well with me.
People under stress behave in ways that even they themselves can find surprising. I think the fact that you are looking at the behaviour of the characters in moral terms is a good thing and is probably what JKR intended when she made it morally ambiguous.


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  #42  
Old August 11th, 2007, 4:50 pm
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Re: Moral Ambiguities

I did hate Harry's unwavering good, it was so boring. I don't care who you are, you have evil in you somewhere, or you have to do something bad. If you didn't, the world would be completely evil right now and ruled by Voldemort.


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  #43  
Old August 11th, 2007, 5:15 pm
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Re: Moral Ambiguities

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Originally Posted by foxywitch View Post
I did hate Harry's unwavering good, it was so boring. I don't care who you are, you have evil in you somewhere, or you have to do something bad.
But Harry wasn't perfectly good. Granted, he never went over to the "dark side," but he wasn't a saint either. Whether you agree or disagree with using unforgivables, he used them and was succesful at it. In all of the books, he made mistakes and acted rashy. JKR said herself that Harry had flaws.
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If you didn't, the world would be completely evil right now and ruled by Voldemort.
I'm not sure what you mean by this. If you mean sometimes you have to do "bad" things to fight the bad guy, I contend to agree. I feel that Harry did do somethings that can be seen as morally wrong. The first thing that pops into my mind is using cruio on the Carrows.


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  #44  
Old August 11th, 2007, 6:09 pm
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Re: Moral Ambiguities

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Originally Posted by fruitia pickleweed View Post
"For the greater good" is presented as a cover slogan for a totalitarian tyranny. Yet bythe end of DH, it seems to be Dumbledore's working motto.
Dumbledore - like most human begins - changed a great deal over the course of his life. The meaning of "The Greater Good" to him, in turn, also changed.

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Dumbledore seemed to show exemplary respect for others, even when he strongly disagreed with their choices. Courtesy was a matter of principle, even at the point of death. And then he turned out to be using the others as tools, even Harry -- not respectfully at all.
Dumbledore recognized that he alone had the combination of knowledge, power, and influence to set plans into motion to rid the world of Voldemort. He used people out of necessity, and I don't think he had any less respect for them because of it. He literally had no choice, because if he chose NOT to use those people, the result would have been far too terrible to comprehend.

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Killing is bad, unnatural, and highly dangerous because it rips the soul apart. Dumbledore tries to protect Draco from such a disaster. Yet, everyone goes at it happily in the Big Battle, with no apparent concern for their souls.
I may be wrong, but I am under the impression you have to WANT to rip your soul apart in order for it to happen. The reason Harry became a horcrux when Voldemort did not intend it was simply due to the instability of Voldemort's soul at the time due to the repeated tearing it had endured to that point.

But if someone kills another person, I have come to believe based on canon that his or her soul will only tear if that person desires it to tear.

With that said, I also don't think the "good guys" were recklessly killing everyone in sight... I'd be inclined to assume, although there is obviously no canon to support this assumption, that they only killed in dire circumstances where it could not be avoided.

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Harry took a principled stand against the incarceration of Stan Shunpike without due process. Yet in the end, it appears that Stan may have been a Death Eater -- at least the matter is left very unclear, so that people on this forum are arguing about it. Was this an unimportant matter to Rowling after all, or did she mean Harry was wrong?
She may have meant Harry was wrong... She may have meant for people to assume Shunpike was imperiused... Maybe it was just something she didn't think about much and she made a mistake in making it so ambiguous... I don't think anyone here can really answer this particular question in a satisfactory manner.

Quote:
Harry chose to lie to Griphook. (He had alternatives, at least he could have tried them. He could have made it a condition that Griphook would lend him back the sword for a specified period, for instance.) If Griphook had actually been faithful, Harry would have, essentially, cheated Griphook. Is Rowling condoning that too, "for the greater good"?
I think this is precisely it. I think Rowling was trying to draw a parallel between Harry and Dumbledore. Sometimes the most moral path is not the best. Sometimes - like in this case - absolute morality simply will not get the job done.

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Harry uses the Unforgiveables. And he "means them." Maybe he had no choice at Gringotts, but after that? Is "meaning" an unforgiveable curse a good thing to Rowling? Are they so unforgiveable after all?
They are unforgivable by law. I think people are taking the word "unforgivable" too literally. They are unforgivable because you go to jail for using them unless absolutely unavoidable. I think everything that happens in this book can be classified as a situation in which any and all actions were unavoidable. The ministry was done. There were no laws anymore, except what Voldemort wanted. Period... People were trying to bring down a tyrant and were doing whatever they could to accomplish that goal.

Quote:
In Rowling's world, in short, do the means justify the ends after all? Were the principles I thought so meaningful for Harry's character just plot points or just qualmish scruples to be overcome?

Is Rowling giving us a Henry V, where these are the lessons of leadership?
I think this is precisely it. Often the means DO justify the end, especially in this case, where an evil tyrant is threatening the world and must be defeated no matter what.

This is the very reason I tell people Harry Potter is not just for kids. Far from it, in fact... I think there are VERY mature themes, especially in the last few books.



Last edited by Stumper67; August 11th, 2007 at 6:12 pm.
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  #45  
Old August 11th, 2007, 8:12 pm
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Re: Moral Ambiguities

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Originally Posted by Stumper67 View Post
This is the very reason I tell people Harry Potter is not just for kids. Far from it, in fact... I think there are VERY mature themes, especially in the last few books.
Excellent point.

I don't think that JKR is giving moral instructions to us in her books. She's presenting what I feel is a very realistic view of human life and leaving it up to us to draw our own conclusions.


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  #46  
Old August 13th, 2007, 8:40 am
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Re: Moral Ambiguities

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Originally Posted by Stumper67 View Post
Sometimes - like in this case - absolute morality simply will not get the job done... Often the means DO justify the end....
May be that is her point. I would be more convinced of that, regarding the lie to Griphook, if Harry had tried bargaining before deciding to lie. A couple of possible deals come to mind: You help us faithfully now, and the sword is yours whenever I complete my mission successfully or in 6 months, whichever comes first. Or, you help us and the sword becomes yours, provided that you agree to lend it back to me for a certain period.

Quote:
I think there are VERY mature themes, especially in the last few books.
With you there. For instance, if morality is something you can freely discard when you decide that you need to do so, then is it just a luxury, does it have any meaning at all, or is it arbitrary? Is morality no more than a social convention? If morality can be discarded for the "greater good," then who gets to decide what the greater good is?


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  #47  
Old August 13th, 2007, 8:46 am
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Re: Moral Ambiguities

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Originally Posted by fruitia pickleweed View Post
May be that is her point. I would be more convinced of that, regarding the lie to Griphook, if Harry had tried bargaining before deciding to lie. A couple of possible deals come to mind: You help us faithfully now, and the sword is yours whenever I complete my mission successfully or in 6 months, whichever comes first. Or, you help us and the sword becomes yours, provided that you agree to lend it back to me for a certain period.

I agree that the books do seem morally dubious in several respects (for me the worst one was GoF, which almost seemed to carry the moral that it's OK to cheat in competitions because everyone else is probably doing it anyway.), but in the case of Griphook I took that plotline to be more of a cautionary tale than JKR's approval of what Harry was doing. As I saw it, Harry nearly got himself and the rest of the Trio killed because he thought it was OK to cheat a goblin. Having escaped by the skin of his teeth, he should have learnt his lesson that it was not.


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  #48  
Old August 17th, 2007, 6:15 am
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Re: Moral Ambiguities

As I argued in my earlier post, I think JKR maintains her moral standard through the end. But to take every ethical event and say it reflects JKR's ethical model for the book is a mistake, a she is writting about various people with various ethical principles in trying circumstances. Dumbledore taught Draco the truth about himself in a purposely non-threatening environment. Compare that to Draco's reaction to realizing that Harry is watching him in speak to Myrtle in HBP.

At the same time, it is an Ethical model, not an iteration of law. There is no reason why JKR's ethical position needs to be in line with the law in every country in the world. Quite obviously it cannot be in a world where women like Hermione are legally oppressed, and where there are still laws on the books concerning wizardry.

This is especially the case if the issue is a controversial one such as various forms of Euthanasia. On JKR's model, it is our choices that matter. Dumbledore chooses death of his own design to its alternatives. JKR is putting up a challange to all those who would say "suicide is always wrong," "assisted suicide is always wrong." The challange is to say why it would be wrong, and not simply refer to statutes for justification, because it is ultimately the statutes which you need to justify.

This is part and parcel with her showing the Ministry abuse its power to legislate. Laws may promote good and reduce evil, but they do not define them. That seems a pretty obvious message of the books. Even elected officials like Scrimgoer have responsibilities as well as powers. And those seem to be pretty good ideas to teach people, even children, if we are going to have a functional democracy. Indeed they seem essential to it.


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  #49  
Old August 17th, 2007, 6:11 pm
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Re: Moral Ambiguities

I disagree with the comment about everyone in the battle of Hogwarts happily killing everyone else - the Hogwartians were defending not murdering and they weren't use AK in most cases anyway: they were stunning, impedimenting, etc. The DE don't think twice before killing, so the moral of "It's wrong to kill" is upheld: the good guys don't kill, the bad guys do.

And Harry didn't lie to Griphook, he just didn't give him the whole truth. Harry would have given him the sword eventually. And JKR made a huge point of showing that Harry was uncomfortable about it. And look at the way Hermione acted when the trio were traveling around the country - when they took eggs from a farm, Hermione left money under the chicken coup, when it would have been so easy not to bother (as many people wouldn't) and she even put money in an open till when she took food from a supermarket, who wouldn't exactly collapse if they lost a few pounds worth of food-stuffs. I was actually really pleased that Hermione did that; she reminds me of me, because I've always been almost too honest.

What you said about "For the greater good": Harry himself said that you sometimes have to think of the greater good. In fact a lot of today's problems would never have happened if people had been thinking of the whole world rather than just themselves.

As for the Unforgiveable curses: desperate times need desperate measures - and Harry only used Imperio and Crucio on Death Eater's who had used them 100 times more, for 100 times worse reasons, and Harry never used Avada Kedavra. There are other threads discussing the increased use of the Unforgiveables, which you might want to check out.


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  #50  
Old August 17th, 2007, 9:45 pm
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Re: Moral Ambiguities

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Originally Posted by JJFinch View Post
I disagree with the comment about everyone in the battle of Hogwarts happily killing everyone else - the Hogwartians were defending not murdering and they weren't use AK in most cases anyway: they were stunning, impedimenting, etc. The DE don't think twice before killing, so the moral of "It's wrong to kill" is upheld: the good guys don't kill, the bad guys do.
Good guys do kill. Lupin said as much when he upbraided Harry for not stunning DEs even though they were hundreds of feet above the ground.


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  #51  
Old August 17th, 2007, 10:21 pm
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Re: Moral Ambiguities

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Originally Posted by Nicky3610 View Post
True, in a life or death situation I think all of our morals would change a little. Besides JK has stated that she never meant for Harry to be a saint, all of her characters are flawed.
Our response to what we are willing to do may change (out of fear), but does MORALITY change?

There are shades of grey but there is still right and wrong.

Quote:
Originally Posted by JJFinch
And Harry didn't lie to Griphook, he just didn't give him the whole truth. Harry would have given him the sword eventually. And JKR made a huge point of showing that Harry was uncomfortable about it.
It is certainly a lie by omission. If not a lie, then certainly deceptive. A good indication that it was morally wrong was that Harry was uncomfortable with it.

To say I will donate $100,000 to a charitable cause in front of whole bunch of news cameras and then say, "Oh, I meant when I died it will come out of my estate" makes the original statement a lie.

He could have given an unbreakable oath that he would return it when the dark lord fell. The moral edge of that question is also dulled by whether Griphook was "honest" with Harry about if the sword really belonged to him or if that was just his "goblin point of view" when it comes to treasure.

Another twist of morals: Does Harry return the sword after it is magicked away from Griphook via the Sorting Hat?



Last edited by Humble_Badger; August 17th, 2007 at 10:33 pm. Reason: sentence clarity
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  #52  
Old August 17th, 2007, 10:27 pm
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Re: Moral Ambiguities

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Originally Posted by Humble_Badger View Post
To say I will donate $100,000 to a charitable cause in front of whole bunch of news cameras and then say, "Oh, I meant when I died it will come out of my estate" makes the original statement a lie.
Not if you never said when the money would go to the charity.


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  #53  
Old August 17th, 2007, 10:50 pm
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Re: Moral Ambiguities

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Originally Posted by WAB
Not if you never said when the money would go to the charity.
But doesn't that begin to get childish?

With any kind of agreement there should be a meeting of the minds. There is a reasonable person standard. What would a reasonable person believe your intent was? Harry knew what Griphook expected and intentionally did not try to clarify.

I think part of honesty/lying is a matter of intent.

If I say I am going to pick you up and give you a ride to work tomorrow, and then I become sick and so I can't, I didn't LIE the day before. The circumstances changed.

If I agree to pick you up and give you a ride to work tomorrow, and then come up with an excuse as to WHY I can't take you, then it was a lie.

To say things like, "Can you loan me $20?" Then, when you ask me for the money back the following week, is it right for me to turn around and say, well, I never said WHEN I would give you the $20 . . . it might not be for another 30 years. Is it a lie? You have to certainly believe that it is dishonest.

You tell your boss, "Oh, I'm late today because I had car trouble." When in reality, you got up late, then got stuck in traffic, which to you was sure a lot of trouble involving cars might technically be true. However, it feels like a lie.

So, if every statement that comes out of your mouth is open to a "technicality lawyer" coming in to reinterpret, you aren't going to be trusted any more. You could debate whether or not all that is dishonest, but at the very least the "technically true" will no longer be trusted.

It is like all the stories involving genies who technically give the person what they wish for, but it has some sort of evil twist to it . . . much to the genie's satisfaction. Those genies are generally viewed as evil.

Thus, dancing around technicalities is not moral.

Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no.

If there s a huge misunderstanding on the part of two people, then fine. But it is wrong to play games.


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  #54  
Old August 17th, 2007, 10:53 pm
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Re: Moral Ambiguities

RE: About the use of Cruciatus curse by Harry.

One thing a lot of you is forgetting, is that Harry just spent the last hour or so looking and listening to the gruesome reality of being in Hogwarts under the Carrows.

Re-read the description of Neville and the others at the RoR, and the comments that Neville makes about the punishments that many of them had to endure over the course of the school year under the Death eaters regime.

Don't you think that Harry wanted some pay back and 'gasp' even revenge for the pain that the Carrows inflicted on his friends?, I do. And this is consistent with what he did (or tried to) after Sirius' death. He really meant to punish them for what they've done to Neville and the others. Who wouldn't?

Of course he chooses to inflict temporary pain instead of outright murder, which still tells us a lot about him.


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Old August 17th, 2007, 11:04 pm
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Re: Moral Ambiguities

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Originally Posted by Victorius View Post
RE: About the use of Cruciatus curse by Harry.

One thing a lot of you is forgetting, is that Harry just spent the last hour or so looking and listening to the gruesome reality of being in Hogwarts under the Carrows.

Re-read the description of Neville and the others at the RoR, and the comments that Neville makes about the punishments that many of them had to endure over the course of the school year under the Death eaters regime.

Don't you think that Harry wanted some pay back and 'gasp' even revenge for the pain that the Carrows inflicted on his friends?, I do. And this is consistent with what he did (or tried to) after Sirius' death. He really meant to punish them for what they've done to Neville and the others. Who wouldn't?

Of course he chooses to inflict temporary pain instead of outright murder, which still tells us a lot about him.
Excellent analysis.

Which makes it very realistic and understandable why Harry did this. But it is still immoral.

Killing for revenge is understandable. But wrong.

Torturing people for "the greater good" is rationally understandable (if the information attained from that torture could save thousands of other lives) but torture is still morally wrong.


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  #56  
Old August 17th, 2007, 11:56 pm
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Re: Moral Ambiguities

I strongly agree that there are a huge amount of moral ambiguities in the HP series. However, I don't think as them as destroying the lessons JKR is trying to teach us, but rather her way of demonstrating the complex facets of human nature. Humans are inevitabally flawed and even the 'favorite characters' like Lupin and Albus show this.

BUT that doesn't mean JKR is trying to tell us that it's okay to disreguard our values in war or that it's ever justified to kill! In fact, I think JKR powerfully illustrates how human calculation (AKA utalitarian philosophies like 'for the Greater Good') can easily turn horribly wrong, and I think it's undeniable (even IF Albus changed ideologies), that Dumbledore manipulated Harry.

The key here is, however, that JKR stressed CHOICES - the choice betweening doing what's easy or what is right. Therefore it's the intent, I think, that she tried to teach us mattered most - and to follow a more religious/Christain view, these good intentions would allow her flawed characters forgiveness. I know JKR says that she didn't try to make Harry a saint, and he's not...but I definetly felt some parallels between Christ's sacrafice and Harry mastering death (I mean this more as a general moral statement, then a singularily relgious view...I myself am not religious). During the period in which Harry walked to the forest and was 'dead', I'm pretty sure that he offered forgiveness to some of the most flawed characters in DH/the series including Lupin, Snape, and then Dumbledore himself.


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  #57  
Old August 18th, 2007, 12:14 am
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Re: Moral Ambiguities

Yes DD manipulated but the people he was manipulating always had a clear choice to get out.

Except he pushed Snape quite a lot more in making the choices that DD wanted.

There are no universal moral values. There are some values that we accept easily, but morality is situational...

The winners in a war usually write and justify their atrocities based on their "higher" moral grounds.

But like some have pointed out. Most soldiers fight and die for "queen and country" (or to save/protect lives or families). This is true for BOTH sides in all cases. So they ALL think and believe they are morally justified for what they do.


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  #58  
Old August 18th, 2007, 12:57 am
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Re: Moral Ambiguities

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Originally Posted by Humble_Badger View Post
But doesn't that begin to get childish?
No
Quote:
Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no.

If there s a huge misunderstanding on the part of two people, then fine. But it is wrong to play games.
Good luck in the real world.


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  #59  
Old August 18th, 2007, 1:26 pm
Humble_Badger  Male.gif Humble_Badger is offline
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Re: Moral Ambiguities

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Originally Posted by Wab View Post
No


Good luck in the real world.
I am not sure I understand your comment.

Where in the real world is it desirable to be known as duplicitous, sneaky, and dishonest?

It may give you a short term advantage, but is it a reputation that you would want?

Lawyers are often viewed as “weasely” because they argue technicalities. Though not all lawywers deserve the derision that is poured out on them. For every lawyer that argues the technicality of the law, there is a lawyer that argues for its spirit (thus redeeming lawyers). Ultimately law should be concerned about justice and not technicalities.

Where in the real world do people applaud manipulation in . . .

Business?
Politics?
Friendships?
Marriage?

I’m not saying it never happens, I am just saying it isn’t right and it will not lead to a successful path.

To live such a life would lead to, as the Pink Floyd song goes, "being dragged down by the stone. " http://www.pink-floyd-lyrics.com/htm...ls-lyrics.html

Harry may have gained a short term advantage as he told his partial truth to manipulate Griphook, but the reason Griphook had agreed to help him in the first place was the fact that he had dealt kindly and honorably with non-humans before. Now that Harry has shown himself “just like all the others” he has, no doubt, lost the respect of the goblin community.

Again, I think the writing in the scene was a good one. Jo gave Harry a moral predicament to muddle. Perhaps by the standards a Slytherin he was clever and made the best decision (even a Ravenclaw or two might applaud his actions) but was is honorable and worthy of a Gryffndor? I think that was the reason that he felt so uncomfortable with it.

"Oh the tangeled webs we weave, when first we practice to decieve". - Sir Walter Scott,


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Old August 18th, 2007, 3:22 pm
lorna  Female.gif lorna is offline
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Re: Moral Ambiguities

Well first in the overall...I think the series as whole is a huge coming of age story where you see the growth of the young characters from the "black and white" that kids tend to view the world to the more nuianced view the characters have when they are sending their own kids to Hogwarts. That is the difference between child and adulthood and frankly....some adults hold to that childlike view of the world as "black and white".

And with the various spells/killings maybe it's "the why" that's important. This is implied by DD when he asks Snape to kill him.
Snape asks ..what about my soul and DD basically says Snape will know if the act of helping him die to avoid pain and misery at the hands of the DE would split his soul. In other words...it the intent behind the act.

For me this makes sense because outside of horcruxes and the unforgivables..what exactly is a "dark art". We've seen magic used to hurt and humilate various characters used by more than death eaters. Seems to me magic is a "tool" and it depends greatly on the operator as to whether it's use is moral or not.


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