Created By: KingZeal on June 9, 2013 Last Edited By: KingZeal on May 14, 2016

Moral Pragmatist

A character stops doing evil, because they realizes it hurts their (non-evil) goal.

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Trope
"I surrender to you because if this so-called plan of yours succeeds, then you will certainly be the one who's right. But that is as far as it goes, I assure you. [snip] If you make even the slightest of blunders, then I will reactivate [the Evil Plan] immediately."
Fate Averruncus, Mahou Sensei Negima!

Sometimes doing bad is, well, bad. Not just immoral or unethical, but flat out impractical.

A Moral Pragmatist character starts out doing something wrong, because they believe it's the most practical way to achieve their ultimate goal. In the end, though, they ally with the side of good because it's more efficient.

A Moral Pragmatist's goal isn't what we'd call "evil"—in fact, some cases can be downright good. However, they've been using evil or unethical means to achieve it. One of the good guys realizes this and points out that if they want to be rich, why not just do things legally? Or if they want to kill the Villain with Good Publicity that murdered their parents, hurting innocents will only improve the villain's PR and damage their own. Or, why would they try protecting their village using The Dark Side when The Dark Side Will Make You Forget, and they'd probably wind up killing the people they're trying to protect anyway? When presented with this information, the other party switches sides because they were simply wrong.

However, that automatically doesn't mean that they've changed. Sometimes, they still want to achieve the same goals, and they'll gladly go back to the bad side if yet another means presents itself. Where this trope differs from Pragmatic Villainy is that the pragmatic villain still has an ultimately sinister goal, but doing good helps them achieve it. As mentioned before, the goal for this character isn't really bad—they just did bad things to realize it.

A character who follows this trope may eventually make a full Face turn in the future, if they find that Good Feels Good.

Tropes this can overlap with:


Examples

Anime & Manga

Comic Books
  • In Thunderbolts, some of the team (villains disguised as heroes) find that doing heroic acts gives them what they always wanted—such as fortune and fame. They start being seduced by the power of good.
  • In the Marvel Universe Alternate Timeline of Earth-1191, Doctor Doom has become old and unsound in mind and body. He chooses to help the heroes simply because it allows him to stretch his still-impeccable intellect and retain mental lucidity for greater periods of time. He makes it clear, however, that if he ever became healthy again, he'd probably go back to his old ways.
  • This is how Avengers Academy tries to reform the teenage would-be supervillains. They try to show the kids that doing evil and supervillainy will only hurt themselves and their goals in the long run, while heroism or playing within the law can be lucrative. It sticks with some, but not so much for others.
  • This is canonically the reason why the British comic book character The Spider fights crime. As a bored rich man, he first became a cat-burglar then found that was too easy so he returned everything he'd stolen and became a crime-fighter instead. He sticks with it simply because it provides him with the excitement in life that he'd wanted.
  • When portrayed as a Well-Intentioned Extremist, Poison Ivy typically sides with whomever is most willing/able to help her goals to protect endangered plant and animal life from human neglect and greed. In her 2016 series, she tries to reform and return to being a scientist since the academic community is more than willing to throw money and resources at her project because of the huge potential it possesses.

Live-Action TV
  • Peter Hale in Teen Wolf is somewhere between this and Pragmatic Villainy. He's more than willing to murder, manipulate and harm others to achieve his goals... until he loses his position as Alpha Werewolf and the Big Bads of season 2 and 3 effectively force him to ally with the heroes who brought him down and killed him; though he doesn't hold a grudge. While he's still the Token Evil Teammate, he's not bloodthirsty and actually rather prudent.
  • Zack Addy in the "Bones" Season 3 Finale. After being revealed to be the Gormogon's Apprentice. He justifies his actions, arguing that the strategy of the killer is the logical means to achieving a better society. Dr. Brennan points out a single flaw in his logic and he immediately abandons team evil and gives the good guys everything they need to defeat his former mentor.

Videogames
  • Mass Effect
    • Urdnot Wrex is this way. His goal is to ensure the survival of his doomed species, the krogan. He has developed very pragmatic ideas to help the krogan recover from the Genophage, but they're too proud and violent to listen to him. In the first game, when Saren finds a way to breed new krogan, he seriously considers betraying you, and you can only change his mind by either threatening to kill him or making him realize how stupid it would be to join Saren. In the third game, if he survived, Wrex refuses to help in the war against the Reapers unless you cure the genophage first, and if you sabotage said cure, he immediately withdraws all krogan support just so that humans will go extinct just like the krogan.
    • Likewise, Zaeed Massani. If you're playing a Paragon Shepard, the only way to complete his loyalty mission is to convince him that letting his hated archenemy get away is less important than focusing on the main mission. If you do, he'll agree to leave that behind him until the job's done. Then, in the third game, he still happens to be on the same side as Shepard because he's got a common enemy in Cerberus.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles X: Most alien races fall into this trope. Since virtually all of them have been press-ganged into joining the Ganglion, they leap at the chance to rebel once they realize that A) they're stranded on Mira and the Ganglion are without most of their reinforcements and B) humanity actually has a good chance of defeating the Ganglion and thus freeing them. The Orphe and the Wrothians, in particular, make it clear that their alliance with humans are strictly a tool for survival (the Wrothian prince even flat out tells you that if there ever comes a time that Wrothian interests oppose human ones, he will void the truce immediately), but both species come to respect humanity in the meantime.
  • Dawn of War
    • In Winter Assault, the Imperial Guard and Eldar work to keep the Titan out of Chaos hands, though the first to the gate leaves the other to be torn apart. The orks and Chaos forces have an evil version where the mass landings of the Imperial Guard causes Crull and Gorgutz to stop fightig, though they have no illusions that it's out of convenience and intend to kill the other as soon as possible.
    • In Retribution, the ork campaign is kicked off when Inquisitor Adrastia shoots down Bluddflagg's ship and hires him to take out Kyras, pointing out that if he ascends and destroys the entire sector, there'll be nothing left for the orks to fight and steal from.

Community Feedback Replies: 51
  • June 9, 2013
    crazysamaritan
    Why snow clone for Face Pragmatism Turn?
  • June 9, 2013
    KingZeal
    Huh?
  • June 10, 2013
    Arivne
    Added a Namespace to and deleted some of the excessive spoilage from the Naruto example and corrected an improper Example Indentation in the Mass Effect example.
  • June 13, 2013
    MattStriker
    Xanatos (he of the many gambits) from Gargoyles might count as an example.
  • June 15, 2013
    Melkior
    ^^^^ Unless I've misunderstood the terminology, this is the inverse of Face Pragmatism Turn. That would be "person who does good is willing to do something morally questionable or outright wrong in order to accomplish a purpose", while this trope is the exact opposite, "person who does evil is willing to do something good in order to accomplish a purpose".

    Comic Books:
    • This is canonically the reason why the British comic book character The Spider fights crime. As a bored rich man, he first became a cat-burglar then found that was too easy so he returned everything he'd stolen and became a crime-fighter instead. He sticks with it simply because it provides him with the excitement in life that he'd wanted.
  • July 7, 2013
    Unknown Troper
    • Belkar from The Order Of The Stick began as the Token Evil Teammate and Heroic Comedic Sociopath. Later in the series, his allies basically abandoned him in a dangerous situation while he was in a helpless state due to some magical revenge by one of his recent victims. This led to a Vision Quest where he realized that in order to survive, he needed to play along with the rules of society.
      • Some time before that, an assassin told Belkar he was going to kill Hinjo. Belkar hated Hinjo, but Hinjo had the power to remove a curse that prevented Belkar from killing in many circumstances. Belkar experiences a version of Good Angel Bad Angel, only in his case they were both bad. One told him to let Hinjo die, the other convinced him that stopping the assassin would better serve his long term interests.
  • July 10, 2013
    KingZeal
    Not sure about Belkar. His goal was to kill people. He just realized he could ultimately kill more people if he targeted the ones everyone was okay with.
  • July 10, 2013
    MorningStar1337
    How different is this from Pragmatic Villainy? is it an inversion of that trope. A Heel Face Turn resulting from that trope?
  • July 11, 2013
    KingZeal
    It says how in the description.
  • July 11, 2013
    Topazan
    "Not sure about Belkar. His goal was to kill people. He just realized he could ultimately kill more people if he targeted the ones everyone was okay with."

    Well, if that's not an example then I must not understand what this trope is about.
  • July 11, 2013
    KingZeal
    As it says, the person's goal in itself isn't evil. They have a good or amoral goal, but switch sides because evil is an inept way to go about it. Belkar's goal was still evil.
  • July 11, 2013
    313Bluestreak
    This would make the character a Nominal Hero since he switches to the side of good, but not for the sake of the greater good, right?
  • July 12, 2013
    crazysamaritan
    He is a Nominal Hero, the sub trope of Heroic Comedic Sociopath. He never switched sides.
  • July 22, 2013
    KingZeal
    Bump.
  • July 22, 2013
    crazysamaritan
    ^^ aka, Pragmatic Villainy, because his goals are still evil.
  • September 10, 2013
    Ryusui
    It doesn't help matters that it's been hinted that Belkar is having genuine character development instead of just faking it. So it's his goals themselves that are shifting, not just his means of achieving them.
  • September 11, 2013
    crazysamaritan
    No, it doesn't help, but even with Word Of God telling everyone Belkar is evil, misguided fans try to justify his behaviour. So instead of jumping on the idea that Belkar might be doing good, I think it's better to remember he is EVIL. Just working with the heroes instead of against them.
  • September 11, 2013
    KingZeal
    Can we list a few more examples instead of harping over one specific case?

    Aside from two, this YKTTW so far only has examples the OP has provided, and that doesn't give me any confidence.
  • September 11, 2013
    abateman
    • Peter Hale in Teen Wolf is somewhere between this and Pragmatic Villainy. He's more than willing to murder, manipulate and harm others to achieve his goals... until he loses his position as Alpha Werewolf and the Bigger Bads of season 2 and 3 effectively force him to ally with the heroes who brought him down and killed him; though he doesn't hold a grudge. While he's still the Token Evil Teammate, he's not bloodthirsty and actually rather prudent.
  • December 2, 2013
    abateman
    Added an example.
    • Zack Addy in the "Series/Bones" Season 3 Finale. After being revealed to be the Gormogon's Apprentice. He justifies his actions, arguing that the strategy of the killer is the logical means to achieving a better society. Dr. Brennan points out a single flaw in his logic and he immediately abandons team evil and gives the good guys everything they need to defeat his former mentor.
  • December 2, 2013
    DAN004
  • December 2, 2013
    KingZeal
    Yup.
  • December 3, 2013
    DAN004
    Add that to the list then.
  • December 3, 2013
    crazysamaritan
    Why is Belkar still on there?
  • December 3, 2013
    KingZeal
    Because the story marched on. Shortly after the above conversation, he has an epiphany and states that he's fighting to protect someone (his cat), which helps him understand the heroes.
  • December 3, 2013
    crazysamaritan
    He was trying to abuse a heroic trope. There was no epiphany. His goals are still not heroic, and he still hasn't stopped trying to do evil.
  • December 3, 2013
    KingZeal
    But he genuinely is fighting for the sake of his cat. At least, for now, anyway. The point of the trope is that fighting for the heroes allows him to achieve a non-evil goal (protecting the cat). Yeah, he has other evil goals besides that, but that's at least one where he's following this trope.
  • December 3, 2013
    KingZeal
    Rich might be leading Belkar to eventually do a Heel Face Turn, but for now, he is the (first) Token Evil Teammate because Rich doesn't want "evil" to mean "kill on sight".

    But when did Belkar stop doing evil? The trope claims the following requirements:
    • A character has a not-evil, maybe good goal
    • That character does evil things to fulfil that goal
    • That character discovers good deeds that bring them to that goal more effectively than their previous deeds.
    • That character is still willing to do evil, but is satisfied with the results of doing good.

    Belkar wishes to protect his cat and his dinosaur. That's requurement number 1. Belkar is still willing to do evil. That's half of requirement number 4. He hasn't stopped doing evil, and hasn't stopped wanting to do evil.
  • December 3, 2013
    KingZeal
    Hm. I see your point.

    Alright, then.
  • January 5, 2015
    DAN004
  • January 11, 2016
    KingZeal
    Bump.

    Can this get hats/examples, please?
  • January 11, 2016
    DAN004
    Would Necessarily Good be good for a redirect? Cuz this trope to Necessary Evil is what Pragmatic Villainy is to a Pragmatic Hero.
  • January 11, 2016
    DAN004
    This may also happen to villains who are Necessarily Evil, but then realized that doing so is Not Quite The Right Thing.
  • January 12, 2016
    Prime32
    Mahou Sensei Negima eventually has Negi defeat Fate, a Well Intentioned Extremist, by coming up with an alternate way of achieving his goals which is riskier but doesn't require any loss of life (and then beating on him until he sits down long enough to listen to it). In exchange, Negi agrees to help Fate's original plan if the new one doesn't work out, saying that he'll be glad to help but only if it's truly the only option.
  • January 12, 2016
    Chabal2
    • Warhammer 40 K: There have been several instances of the Imperium working out a ceasefire with aliens against a greater threat such as Chaos or Tyranids, though when it's over they get right back to killing each other.
    • Dawn Of War:
      • In Winter Assault, the Imperial Guard and Eldar work to keep the Titan out of Chaos hands, though the first to the gate leaves the other to be torn apart. The orks and Chaos forces have an evil version where the mass landings of the Imperial Guard causes Crull and Gorgutz to stop fightig, though they have no illusions that it's out of convenience and intend to kill the other as soon as possible.
      • In Retribution, the ork campaign is kicked off when Inquisitor Adrastia shoots down Bluddflagg's ship and hires him to take out Kyras, pointing out that if he ascends and destroys the entire sector, there'll be nothing left for the orks to fight and steal from.
  • January 27, 2016
    KingZeal
    @Prime: Is there any chance you can find the script for that? That sounds like it might make a great page quote.
  • January 27, 2016
    Prime32
    Might be difficult. Their exchanges on the topic are kind of spread out and mixed with Negi's personal desire to befriend Fate, the details of both characters' plans are complex and spoilery, and Fate is a Tsundere who doesn't have many lines where he straight-out admits he was wrong.

    After a quick skim, there's some potential material in chapters 298-299 and 328-329.

    "Don't misunderstand: I surrender to you because if this plan of yours succeeds, then you will be the one in the right here. Do not be so foolish as to think we are friends now. If you make even the slightest of blunders, then I will reactivate 'Kosmo Entelechia' immediately."
    Fate Averruncus, Mahou Sensei Negima
  • February 4, 2016
    randomsurfer
    In Watchmen Ozymandias decides that the only way to save humanity from all-out nuclear war is to destroy New York City with a fake alien invasion, which will unite the world against a common foe.
  • February 4, 2016
    Prime32
    ^ That's not this trope, that's just Well Intentioned Extremist. It would be this trope if Night Owl convinced him that his plan wouldn't work, and he didn't go through with it.
  • February 4, 2016
    KingZeal
    ^ Prime is correct.
  • February 6, 2016
    randomsurfer
    "A character stops doing evil, because they realizes [sic] it hurts their goal" and "A character stops doing good, because they realizes [sic] it hurts their goal" seem similar enough to me.
  • February 6, 2016
    keyblade333
    ^ That's a Inverted example I would imagine then. That or Being Good Sucks.

    • Tsukiyama Shuu from Tokyo Ghoul initial attempts to eat the protagonist Kaneki by using cruel and outright evil methods. However when Kaneki, after his Cold Blooded Torture, decides to go after the Aogiri branch, Tsukiyama decides to go along in order to get closer to Kaneki so he can attempt to eat him later. It backfires horribly because Tsukiyama ends up becoming friends with him and when the raid on Antieku happens, Tsukiyama is begging Kaneki not to go get involved.
  • February 6, 2016
    KingZeal
    ^^ It can also be a Pragmatic Hero, Fallen Hero or Unscrupulous Hero.

    ^ And that looks more like Pragmatic Villainy. His goal was still to eat a person.
  • February 6, 2016
    DAN004
    So here we are, playing with the morality of the method and goal of people. Trying to make this clearer:

    I realize that Necessary Evil does not specify hero/villain or good/bad goal.
  • February 7, 2016
    KingZeal
    A nominal hero's goals and methods can't be judged as "good" or "bad". They're both relatively "good" in that they are considered better than whatever alternative exists.
  • February 7, 2016
    DAN004
    ^ it doesn't change the fact that the nominal hero's methods and goals have to be less than "ideal" to qualify for that trope. They're only "heroes" precisely because they're opposing someone else with either worse goals or worse methods or both than the "hero".
  • February 9, 2016
    KingZeal
    But what about works where there IS no other "hero" to oppose them?

    Nominal Hero is about a character that takes certain actions which may disgust or be coded as "villainous" by the audience, but they can't be called "good" or "bad" in regards to this trope.

    This is what I was saying in the "Outdated Hero" YKTTW. Hero/villain tropes are based on audience-assumed morality.
  • February 9, 2016
    DAN004
    ^

    "But what about works where there IS no other "hero" to oppose them?"

    Them as in the bad guys?

    "Nominal Hero is about a character that takes certain actions which may disgust or be coded as "villainous" by the audience, but they can't be called "good" or "bad" in regards to this trope."

    Yes they can. They totes can. You just refuse to acknowledge it, which you have no reason for.
  • February 9, 2016
    KingZeal
    "Them as in the bad guys?" No, I misunderstood the last point of your previous reply. I thought you meant the Nominal Hero was opposed to a different hero (a non-nominal one). That was my mistake.

    "Yes they can. They totes can. You just refuse to acknowledge it, which you have no reason for."

    Put the claws down. I'm not attacking you, so don't attack me.

    The problem with what you're saying is that Nominal Hero's actions do not fall into the "good/bad goal" or "good/bad methods" thing. Here are a list of goals a nominal hero can have:

    • Killing people (doesn't matter if the person they want to kill is good or bad).
    • Mayhem for the hell of it.
    • Helping someone (may or may not be someone the audience sympathizes with, such as a villain).
    • Money
    • Sex, drugs or other vices.

    Those are all possible neutral goals for a Nominal Hero. None of them necessarily need to be good or bad. But, yes, you can still have any of the above situations and STILL have a "good/neutral" method. For example, a Nominal Hero that wants to cause mayhem and tear down society, but again, said society is oppressive and totalitarian. We, the audience, may code his desired anarchy as "bad" because of any number of reasons (people are hurt, lives are ended or ruined, art and culture are lost) but it can STILL be argued in-story that this is better than the alternative.

    Thus, a Nominal Hero can be TOTALLY neutral across the board, and still be a Nominal hero.
  • February 9, 2016
    DAN004
    "Thus, a Nominal Hero can be TOTALLY neutral across the board, and still be a Nominal hero."

    Wait a minute: I thought that trope takes how bad the villain is into account. It's not?

    Still though, I did say "less than ideal" (else that'd be some kind of Ideal Hero).

    Plus I'm just putting the "method" and "goal" categories for the sake of understanding.
  • February 10, 2016
    Arivne
    • Examples section
      • Add the word "Examples".
      • Corrected spelling (silmply).
      • Namespaced work names.
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