Pragmatic Hero YKTTW Discussion

Pragmatic Hero
A hero who is willing to use morally ambiguous means to achieve good ends. (Up For Grabs)
(permanent link) added: 2011-08-29 11:40:40 sponsor: FrodoGoofballCoTV edited by: randomtroper89 (last reply: 2013-11-18 01:42:29)

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NOTE: This YKTTW has been discarded for the following reasons:

This Page Action crowner was called in favour of splitting into:
  • A Hero who is The Unfettered. They commit villainous acts to further the cause of good, and generally regard having values as a weakness, but their goals are always on the side of good.
  • A Hero who is pragmatic, but not The Unfettered. They have their own principles, they just reject the normal heroic ethics as practiced by The Cape or a Knight in Shining Armor.

NOTE: Per this conversation, we are splitting the Sliding Scale Of Anti Heroes into its component types and replacing the numeric ratings with non-numeric tropes:

  • The examples from the Type III Anti-Hero page are a real mess IMHO, and if there are no objections, they will be moved to the discussion page of the trope, and people can re-enter them on the main page as they see fit
  • Since there are so many examples, please limit examples only to cases where the trope is clearly “played straight”.
  • All examples should have explanations showing how (1) the character is on the heroic side, (2) the character’s actions are morally ambiguous, and (3) they commit these morally questionable acts for unambiguously morally good reasons.


Type III: Dangerous Anti-Hero

While some of these share the snarkiness associated with a Type II Anti-Hero, they are somewhat darker than the previous version, as their Anti-Hero status is associated with their willingness to do good through "not nice" actions. Also, as is demonstrated by Granny Weatherwax of Discworld, this character can very easily be humorless while still being rather Bad Ass. Essentially a meaner version of Type II. Type III antiheroes may get nicer and turn into straight heroes over the course of the story, but they just as likely may not.

There is some division in this slot as to the acceptability of lethal force. Some will side against it, but others deem it a viable solution. In the latter case, it is generally a matter of last resort, but they will do what they have to do.

Good Is Not Nice has more info on this trope.


A Pragmatic Hero is a hero who stands at the intersection of Anti-Hero and The Unfettered. If that's what it takes to save the world, the Pragmatic Hero Would Hurt a Child. But a Pragmatic Hero is still a hero first: if it wouldn't hurt the overall mission to go on a sidequest to rescue a kitten out of a tree, the Pragmatic Hero would do that, too. In short, the typical Pragmatic Hero is a firm believer in utilitarianism, though he or she might not call it that.

Therein lies the difference between this chracter and both lighter and darker heroes. While heroes at all points on the Sliding Scale Of Anti Heroes will have certain lines they won't cross, the Pragmatic Hero marks the point at which those lines begin to go much further into moral ambiguity than a typical Ideal Hero would be willing to consider. Take away a Classical Anti-Hero's weaknesses and a Knight in Sour Armor's cynicism, and you still have two characters who won't Shoot the Dog except as a last resort. A Pragmatic Hero will wait until it's clear that pulling that trigger is in fact the right thing to do, and then he'll fire. However, unlike characters still further down the scale, the Pragmatic Hero won't enjoy these forays into moral ambiguity, except perhaps for the satisfaction that when others Refused The Call, the Pragmatic Hero chose to confront evil, seeing their role as a Dirty Business to a heroic end.

These characters often are portrayed as an embodiment of Good Is Not Nice. Like the Knight in Sour Armor, this type of Anti-Hero doesn't usually play well with others, but while the Knight in Sour Armor tends to gripe about needing to do heroic deeds, this character is typically much more stoic. This, combined with their tendancy to occasionally be involved in activities you'd normally expect the villain to do, will occasionally result in a What the Hell, Hero? moment, which may in turn result in those calling this hero on their behavior being given a stern warning to stay out of the Pragmatic Hero's way.

However, this doesn't mean Pragmatic Heroes never suffer from crippling apprehension, indecision, angst, depression and sorrow. It's just that they will do what they can to not allow their emotions to get in the way of what they believe is the right thing to do.

This character will sometimes appear to be a villain to other heroes, but in the eyes of the audience their actions are usually clearly justified by the situation. That doesn't mean we have to like them. A Pragmatic Hero can be a Hero Antagonist we only root for reluctantly because we know the Pragmatic Hero is right and the Villain Protagonist is wrong. Conversely, the Pragmatic Hero might be the most sympathetic character on the show, as they're the one that gets stuck with all the dirty work, and can be counted on to do what has to be done no matter how much they might not want to.

Compare and contrast Well-Intentioned Extremist, Pragmatic Villainy.


Anime and Manga:
  • In Soul Eater, Mifune is quite clearly defined as a Pragmatic Hero from episode 2 on. He is undeniably strong (one of his souls equals ninety-nine regular human souls), though he will not do harm to anyone, save those that threaten the person he's sworn to protect. His soul is blue, which, in the series, means he's a good guy, and he absolutely refuses to commit any wrong. However, his vow to protect small children lead him to protecting the young witch Angela (who, it turns out, was innocent), and because of his strength, being recruited along with Angela by big bads like Medusa and Arachne.

  • In the Harry Potter fanfic Backwards Compatible Harry convinces Fudge that he's been poisoned with a VERY slow-acting poison that only Harry can cure to blackmail him into resigning as Minister of Magic. He also tortures Draco in front of the entire school, breaking all his fingers and dislocating his arms, after Draco helps with a Death Eater scheme that sees Hermione kidnapped by the Death Eaters as that appears to be the only way to find out where Hermione has been taken. Dumbledore is horrified by some of the things Harry does, though his friends are more accepting. Harry isn't happy about it either - in fact he's so disgusted by what he had to do that he throws up in a bin afterwards, and has to be reassured by his friends that it was necessary.

  • Discworld's Granny Weatherwax, whose entire career is making difficult decisions so others don't have to, doing the Right Thing regardless of personal consequences, and snapping at people. In Maskerade, Granny is in the position to decide what to do with some injured robbers. While a darker Anti-Hero might just leave them to die, a lighter hero would treat them the same as anyone else, Granny has to do the Right Thing, which is stitch up their wounds, but she doesn't feel the need to be gentle about it.

Live-Action Television:
  • On the original CSI, Laurence Fishburne plays a investigator named Ray Langston, who is originally portrayed as a hero, but as he persues his nemisis, the serial killer Nate Haskell, He admits that he has a very special gene that usually carries sociopathic, murderous, and immoral attitudes. and he admits that he has to struggle against it to not become He Who Fights Monsters. Asked why he wanted to become a doctor, he answers "If I'm helping People, I'm not hurting them."
  • Kahlan from Legend of the Seeker. She sacrifices her chances to get her immediate happy ending with the man she loves, her safety and the right to have the normal life she dreams of, since so long ago. However, when she learns that her baby niece is actually a baby nephew, and discovers he'll be a terrible dicator of the Always Chaotic Evil men Inquisitor kind, she initially wants to drown him. She is also ready to kill a dangerous, potentially apocalypse-causing, yet innocent young lady Inquisitor.
  • Merlin and Morgana (pre-The Crystal Cave, post return after being poisonned), from BBC's Merlin could be seen as this. Merlin poisons the innocent Morgana to save the good future he works for, and after her return in Camelot, Morgana does the same, attacking those who after her endanger the future in which magicians would be treated well in Camelot. Mitigated as she alternatively feels pleasure and guilt about what she does, thus making her sometimes unsuited for this qualification, and sometimes perfectly fit for it.
  • The Doctor is this in Doctor Who, at one point sacrificing a city to prevent the world from being ruled by the villains.

Tabletop Games:
  • In Warhammer 40K, the Imperium at it's most morally pure reaches this level.

Video Games:
  • Mass Effect brings us Renegade!Shepard. Batarian terrorist? Let him blow up the hostages so you can apprehend / kill him to prevent him from killing again. Grandstanding braggart in the way? Light him on fire. Press running a smear job on you? Break the reporter's jaw.
  • Gabriel Angelos in Dawn of War who commit a slaughter to purge a planet full of his demon to protect other planets from being conquerred by Complete Monster.
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