Honor Before Reason
aka: Honour 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, although morally sound and honorable, is far from the most practical solution. Quite often this kind of decent, chivalrous 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 he is to his own self-preservation. He believes in a pre-defined set of rules which universally apply, and he will not break said rules, even if his own death results from adhering to them in one particular instance. These types will usually justify this by claiming that living with the shame that results from having broken said rules is A Fate Worse Than Death.

In other words, they have character.

In stories on the idealistic end of the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. 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, this trope will overlap with Too Dumb to Live.

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 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, 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, Martyrdom Culture, Revenge Before Reason, and Noble Demon (the Evil Counterpart). Contrast Combat Pragmatist, No-Nonsense Nemesis, and Blind Obedience.


Other Examples

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    Fan Works 
  • Blood and Honor: As a light side Force user in the Empire, Sanguis occasionally catches flack for this from her fellow Sith. She keeps her word, refuses to turn on her superiors and never seeks personal glory. She also refuses to force herself on Quinn - when he rejects her advances, she respects his wishes.
  • In Origin Story, several of the Avengers chew out Black Widow for "letting [Alex Harris] go" despite Alex having beaten Ms. Marvel, Iron Man, and Wonder Man quite easily. Combining this with the fact that Alex shrugs off Hulkbuster bullets, Natasha asks if they expected her to beat Alex by breaking some of her bones on the girl.
  • A Teacher's Glory
    • Kin refuses to wear her deceased teammate's clothes, despite having been stripped naked and left to fend for herself in the forest of death. Also, Sasuke finds himself obliged to take Ino on a date because he said he would, no matter how easily he could duck out of it, because the Uchiha Head keeps his promises.
    • Team 7 decides that this does not apply in the Chunin exams when Naruto gets injured. Rather than give him what treatment they can scrape up while looking for a scroll, they know that the exams are not a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and opt to get him professional medical attention even at the cost of failing.
  • In Sekirei: Guardian of the North, Minato refuses to use the MBI cards with no spending limit because of how much he hates MBI. Likewise, he won't let the girls do any chores or get jobs to help out because it's his job to support them all. This leaves Minato trying to support several women and himself on just his wages as a construction worker.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! The Thousand Year Door, there's a situation similar to the one mention in the anime section. Maria demands a duel against Francesca by using the whole town of Keelhaul Key as a hostage. Maria cheats during most of the duel, using an enchanted eyepatch to view Francesca hand, until her mother appears in a hologram of her true, intimidating form of the Shadow Queen (the first time the protagonists have seen her as such) to disqualify her and scold her for the action. (While Fran's defeat is essential to her plans, cheating isn't allowed due to magical constraints.) However, Fran interrupts, saying she'll forgive the offense and let the duel continue if Maria simply stops doing so. This, despite the terms of the contest that she and the others were pretty much conned into accepting. Both Maria and Queen think she's a fool, but the duel does continue and she wins anyway. (In the rebooted version, Fran presses her luck further, sympathizing with Maria and telling the Queen - to her face, with witnesses - that the biggest reason she turned out bad was because she had bad parents. Maria and her other siblings seem to take this to heart later.)
  • Several characters note during the Chunin Exam prelims in Destiny Is A Hazy Thing that some of the genin have this problem when they refuse to forfeit their match despite being clearly out of their league.
  • In one of the many Slytherin Harry stories, Harry retrieves his egg by using illusions and a disillusionment charm to sneak past the hydra guarding it. Dumbledore gives him a two because Harry's method wasn't "brave or noble".
  • In Dead or Alive 4: The Devil Factor, during their battle, Dante manages to steal Hayate's sword, but returns it to him after a few exchanges. Later, when Dante's gun Ebony is at Hayate's feet, he asks Hayate to return it, citing how he earlier returned his sword. Despite Jann Lee begging Hayate not to, he returns it, though he does try to attack Dante while he's distracted picking up the gun.
  • Played straight and subverted at different points in Soldier of Zero. Played straight when Prince Wales wishes to martyr himself and die alongside his men even after Saito tries to convince him that it's far more important that he live. Subverted when Saito sneaks into the Reconquista camp by stealing someone's uniform and is leery of killing a soldier of the right size as the man is currently having sex, but decides to anyway as war is no place for such things. He also prevents Wales' death and brings him back to Princess Henrietta alive, though injured. Apparently, Wales tried to throw Saito out a window for it afterward.
  • Choji in Team 7's Ascension: Blood Wings holds very firmly to his policy of Thou Shall Not Kill during the Chunin Exams after he (accidentally) kills an enemy, while the other members of the Konoha 12 hold to the declared "No Survivors" policy as there's several alliances bigger than their own. This comes back to bite him when an enemy he knocked out gets back up, kills Akamaru, severs Shino's arm, and leaves Ino temporarily crippled. Ino later gives him a What the Hell, Hero? for sparing an enemy at the expense of his comrades.
  • A Brighter Dark: Ryoma chooses to accept Xander's request to single combat, despite out-numbering and out-gunning the Nohrian army. His ninja retainers are able to mitigate the damage but if they hadn't, Nohr's conquest would have been a lot shorter.
  • Some of Victoria's more compassionate judgments are viewed this way in All This Sh*t is Twice as Weird. It eventually reaches a point where it's questioned whether she should be allowed to continue to sit in judgment.

Alternative Title(s): Honour Before Reason