troperville

tools

toys


main index

Narrative

Genre

Media

Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
random
Honor Before Reason

"Shepherd Book always said, 'If you can't do something smart, do something right.'"
Jayne Cobb, Serenity

Being a good and honorable person is anything but easy; it requires personal sacrifice that most normal people aren't willing to make, either out of self-interest, self-preservation, selfishness or any other number of reasons.

Heroes who abide by this trope more often than not act in a manner that, while morally sound and honorable, is far from the most practical solution. Quite often this kind of decent, chivalric behavior will come at a great cost to the hero's happiness, kill him outright, or similarly leave him a destroyed human being. A villain aware of such a gallant hero is bound to use Flaw Exploitation against him as well.

Put another way, a character who adheres to this trope, is someone who is more committed to a particular code of abstract ethics, than they are to their own self-preservation. They subscribe to the Kantian, rather than the utilitarian model of ethics; which is to say that they believe in a pre-defined set of rules which universally apply, and they will not break said rules, even if their own death results in adhering to them in one particular instance. These types will usually justify that, by claiming that living with the shame that results from having broken said rules, is worse than death itself.

In other words, they have character.

As the name of this trope suggests, in war and politics, an ethical utilitarian will almost always overcome a hard Kantian; and this is because while a Kantian is primarily motivated by a desire to do the right thing as he sees it, a utilitarian may not have any altruistic or positive intentions whatsoever, (at least, relative to others) and thus, the utilitarian's range of permissible actions is almost entirely unrestrained.

Unless our Kantian hero is a Badass.

Honour tends to be defined far more according to what you are not permitted to do, rather than what you are. Effectiveness in warfare is the destruction of one's opponent at the least cost to oneself. It doesn't mean following rules, especially given that rules usually exist for the specific purpose of preventing people from destroying each other in the first place.

The above statement is not an advocacy of amorality, as much as it is a recognition that war itself is inherently amoral; a person committed to absolute positive morality, who literally could not do evil, would be a pacifist. 'Martial honour' only applies to one on one duels not actual wars since a person who goes to war is participating in an activity where amorality is a prerequisite for success. Attempting to impose moral rules on oneself within the context of war, therefore, does nothing other than reduce one's chances for success at an amoral activity. The point of war is (winning) to begin with. You are either an effective pacifist with morality, or an effective warrior without it. As said in Game of Thrones, you either win or you die; there is no middle ground.

Real-life however, is never that simple, The Geneva Conventions could be considered a "code of honor" adopted by the Western World in times of war. So even if war is inherently amoral that doesn't stop people from at least trying to apply rules to it. Additionally, there's a pragmatic reason for not seeking an enemy's total destruction in every conflict, one that has been recognized at least as far back as Sun Tzu himself: If you can convince your enemy to surrender before you destroy him (and preferably before the fight even begins), you can use the same resources to strengthen yourself for the next enemy that comes along. Otherwise you would have had to both destroy those resources and risk the destruction of your own assets as well, which might weaken your position for the future.

In stories on the idealistic end of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism, the more the insistence of honorable behavior seems impractical, or even insane, the greater the chance that it becomes the thing that turns a hopeless situation into victory. As a result, the honorable hero is vindicated and the cynics are left completely stunned at what happened.

In stories on the cynical end... well, not so much.

An especially poignant situation is Turn the Other Cheek. Often, and perhaps running counter to the theme of honor besting all, the hero has to be aided by Big Damn Villains, who are able to cross that final line that his integrity would not allow.

When done well and/or consistently, such acts of decency fan the flickering flames of idealism in the viewers' hearts; they make them cheer even harder for the hero and inspire a desire to be just as pure and honorable. When done poorly... well, the term "Lawful Stupid" comes to mind, as does Martyr Without a Cause.

This trope is also subject to some degree of Values Dissonance, as some actions will be seen as both honorable and reasonable to a society with a certain set of beliefs. For instance, a society which believes in an afterlife ruled by a Higher Power that judges according to a rigid code of morality would see the "honorable" choice as being also "reasonable" by virtue of the fact that the person making it is sacrificing a temporary advantage in this life for a permanent one in the life to come.

Often features in I Gave My Word, In Its Hour of Need, Rebellious Rebel; the Proud Warrior Race Guy typically follows the rule, as well. What You Are in the Dark always reveals the same character as when they are seen. When a character does this to the point that it angers their more corrupt superiors, expect them to become The Last DJ. The McCoy is the personification of this trope. More Hero Than Thou disputes are sometimes this, when only one character is really suitable for the sacrifice. Can lead to the hero being prone to fall to things like the False Innocence Trick. See also Victorious Loser and Small Steps Hero.

Shoot the Dog is this trope's opposite: Reason Before Honor. Usually not a trait of a Combat Pragmatist due to their approach to fighting.

Compare/contrast with Incorruptible Pure Pureness, Good Is Old-Fashioned, The Fettered, Noble Demon, Martyrdom Culture, Revenge Before Reason. Contrast No-Nonsense Nemesis and Blind Obedience.


Examples


Holy Hand GrenadeKnight In Shining TropesIdeal Hero
Honor Among ThievesDignity TropesHonor Related Abuse
Home Sweet HomeMotivation IndexHumble Goal
Hero BallGood Is DumbIdiot Hero
Everything's Better with SamuraiBushido IndexIaijutsu Practitioner
Heroes Fight BarehandedMartial Arts MovieImplausible Fencing Powers
Horrible Judge of CharacterCharacter Flaw IndexHumans Are Bastards
Honor Among ThievesMorality TropesHumans Kill Wantonly
Risking The KingSliding Scale of Leadership ResponsibilityDeath Seeker
Heroic VowLoyalty TropesI Am Spartacus
Guilt By Association GagThe Only Righteous Index of FanaticsHonor-Related Abuse
Gothic HorrorRomanticism Versus EnlightenmentHumanity Is Insane
Holy Is Not SafeOlder Than FeudalismHope Springs Eternal
Honest AxeStock AesopsNot Cheating Unless You Get Caught
Honest Corporate ExecutiveAdministrivia/No Real Life Examples, Please!Honor-Related Abuse
High School RocksIdealism TropesHope Bringer
Jerkass WoobieOverdosed TropesLove Triangle
The AlcoholicCharacters/The AwesomesBig Bad

alternative title(s): Honour Before Reason
random
TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from thestaff@tvtropes.org.
Privacy Policy
17255
1