Created By: Desertopa on April 2, 2011 Last Edited By: Desertopa on May 21, 2012

Pragmatism Is Bad

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"What sense does it make to trade LIVES to save the world?!"

A true hero never leaves anyone behind. Not even if the fate of thousands hinges upon it. A sure sign of the far ideal end of the sliding scale, protagonists of this stripe will refuse outright to make sacrifices for the greater good, no matter how much greater it might be. Whether it's a transparently ill-advised Hostage for MacGuffin trade, or a choice between putting down the Big Bad and saving some innocents, they'll always do the "compassionate" thing, even if it will realistically entail a far greater extent of destruction or loss of life than the more levelheaded option. Expect to see reality bend over backwards to accommodate their attempts to Take a Third Option, and their Heroic Resolve to carry through the most merciful available plans in the face of assurances that they cannot possibly work. More cynical characters may counsel a more pragmatic approach, or berate them for their poor decisionmaking, but the protagonists' success will either bring them around to their way of thinking, or prove that the protagonists were morally superior all along.

Subtropes include No One Gets Left Behind and Always Save the Girl. Compare Death by Pragmatism, where pragmatic characters are disposed of for narrative convenience.


Grandia: When Gaia is revived, the protagonists insist on going to Zil Padon to protect the civilians, in defiance of the military plan which calls for a direct strike at the heart of Gaia to destroy it as quickly as possible.

Seen It a Million Times. I'm almost certain that Lunar and Lunar 2 were both examples, but I no longer remember the specifics.
Community Feedback Replies: 13
  • April 3, 2011
    • In Battlestar Galactica, Adama has refused to save his whole ship while leaving just one fighter pilot behind, quite a few times. In fact, this specific one is called No One Gets Left Behind, and is a subtrope of this.

    In fact, Honor Before Reason and Incorruptible Pure Pureness are very much related to this.
  • April 3, 2011
    • This comes up a lot in Mass Effect 2. Cerberus's methods are pretty ruthless, but effective. Pretty much every time you question or defy Cerberus's methods in favor of helping people or avoiding casualties, it wins you Paragon points, which are the equivalent of "good" points according to the game's Karma Meter.
  • April 3, 2011
    In One Piece, one of the reasons Cipher Pol 9 are portrayed as being evil is that they're willing to "sacrifice a hundred lives to save a thousand". I believe that general theme has come up regarded the World Government at least a few times.

    Also it's come up in various incarnations of Star Trek at least a million times.
  • April 3, 2011
    Putting an exclamation point in front of Examples will give it that cool line.
  • April 4, 2011
    Interestingly applied in Kaze No Stigma. Kazuma is a Jerk With A Heart Of Gold, and at the core of that golden heart lies a simple statement: "I did not obtain power so I could choose who to save." He NEVER makes sacrifices, and he utterly hates anyone who does. (This mostly comes back to his girlfriend getting sacrificed in a very literal, very bloody fashion, but still.) No matter how insane the situation, he'll apply his enormous power not just to seek victory, but to ensure that EVERYONE is saved.
  • April 4, 2011
  • April 4, 2011
    ^ Which means this trope Needs A Better Title, as it makes it seem like a Super Trope to that trope, but it's actually a Sister Trope.

    Pragmatism Is Not Heroic?
  • April 4, 2011
    Always Save The Girl is a specific version of this related to the hero's Love Interest.
  • April 4, 2011
    Discussed in the Discworld book Thief of Time. Lobsang chose to save his master instead of preventing the books villains from breaking time, when Susan found out about this she chewed him out and complained that heroes always have a terrible grasp of mathematics in these situations.
  • April 4, 2011
    In Final Fantasy X 2, Yuna gets angry at Nooj for coming up with a plan which entails his own Heroic Sacrifice, and tells him his plan "sucks." Yuna's opinion is an informed one, since she'd previously spent much of her life planning to make a Heroic Sacrifice herself only to eventually learn that it had no chance of changing anything, and then her love interest had to sacrifice himself instead.
  • April 4, 2011
    "Which means this trope Needs A Better Title, as it makes it seem like a Super Trope to that trope, but it's actually a Sister Trope."

    I wouldn't be averse to changing the title if someone can think of a good alternative, but do you really think it would cause much confusion? I would add to the page

    "Compare Death By Pragmatism, where pragmatic characters are disposed of for the sake of narrative convenience."
  • May 21, 2012
    I think Pragmatism Is Not Heroic works. In most cases, the pragmatic characters would probably think making the heroic choice is weakness that causes more death, and if the narrative didn't bend over backwards to make The Hero right, it would be.
  • May 21, 2012
    Does anyone else want to weigh in on the name? If more people prefer Pragmatism Is Not Heroic, I'll change it.