Most great fictional heroes fall into one of two broad categories: the Ideal Hero, such as The Cape or a Knight in Shining Armor who is pretty much exactly what one would hope for in a hero - skilled, courageous, morally pure, etc., and the Anti-Hero, who lacks one or more qualities normally considered necessary for an Ideal Hero. For example, a Classical Anti-Hero lacks ability or self-confidence. A Knight in Sour Armor lacks a positive attitude, and a Nominal Hero lacks morally pure intentions.
A Pragmatic Hero lacks the "moral cleanliness" of an Ideal Hero. When fighting evil, they often commit acts that might seem more characteristic of a villain than a hero. However, Pragmatic Heroes have morally good intentions and often hold themselves to strict moral standards—it's just that those standards aren't always what others might expect from a hero. This type of hero tends to be much more concerned with whatever heroic business the plotline has assigned them than the niceties of proper heroic etiquette. However, with the exception of unintentional mistakes, they will rarely if ever commit a villainous deed that doesn't further the cause of good in a way.
This character is one step further toward the dark side of the Anti-Hero from the Knight in Sour Armor. Wheras the Knight in Sour Armor complains but does the right thing anyway, the Pragmatic Hero is more about doing the right thing whether anyone likes it or not, and will shove aside more idealistic heroes who give them a What the Hell, Hero? moment.
At the end of the day, their justification is typically I Did What I Had to Do, they love giving "The Reason You Suck" Speech to a poor Wide-Eyed Idealist, and they mostly evolve into cynical mentors. However, they will never say "Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!". Deep down, they want the best for others, and this character will often be the one to defend a captured minion or fallen hero. Being pragmatic, they also have both the flaws and strengths a more passionate hero lacks, so are less likely to let personal or spiteful intentions get in the way of their job. In this sense a Pragmatic Hero usually contrasts a Blood Knight or He Who Fights Monsters.
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Anime and Manga
Code Geass' Lelouch falls into this category occasionally, but his desire for revenge often pushes him further down the scale.
Kiritsugu Emiya from Fate/Zero is a Pragmatic Hero of the extreme kind. Originally, he wanted to be "a hero of justice" who would help the weak and needed, but this led him to become an assassin capable of committing many atrocities in his belief is that choosing the smaller sacrifice is always the best outcome, for him sacrificing a hundred people to save a thousand is something that is done with barely a twitch of an eyebrow down to the point were he killed his own father for messing with vampires, and his trainer and mother figure due to a botched assassination
To clarify on the 'botched assassination', his trainer was on an airplane full of zombies and bees that would zombify—irreversibly—anyone they stung. To allow the plane to land would endanger an entire city or worse. So he blew it up. By all appearances, his trainer approved of the decision.
Harry Potter is constantly breaking the rules and ultimately uses two out of the three unforgivable curses, and robs a bank to stop Lord Voldemort's schemes.
Edmund Pevensie from The Chronicles of Narnia is this, especially when compared to the chivalrous, idealistic Peter. Edmund seems to have a more cold-natured thinking, a sharp mind and logic. He is rarely driven by emotions and is mostly collected and down-to-earth, having an acute sense of justice, going to the point where he becomes unsympathetic towards enemies and downright cruel, as opposed to Peter, who is more impulsive and emotional. This is proven when Peter battles Miraz, because Edmund tells Peter not to be chivalrous and to strike Miraz. The scene suggests that, if Edmund had been in Peter's place, he would not have hesitated and would have killed Miraz in a heartbeat.
Warrior Cats features violent fight, tough decisions, and cats betraying the warrior's code, but some of the cats implicated do it for the right reasons.
The good guys in David Weber's Safehold are clearly good anyhow, but they justify and present their actions and motivations as purely pragmatic moves. Better to be merciful and honorable to defeated enemies so future foes will be more willing to surrender rather than fight to the last, better to treat your people well so they'll be loyal to you in turn, and so on.
frequent remarks are made along the lines of "Isn't it nice when the moral thing to do and the pragmatic thing to do are the same thing?"
Ciaphas Cain insists that, contrary to his image, he's an abject coward, and almost always seems to have an explanation as to why a given course of action seemed to best ensure his personal safety. He also tries to complement and be nice to his subordinates, because many a Cowboy Cop hard-driving Commissar has been "accidentally" shot by the men he was leading into battle. Note that the series hints that the claims of cowardice aren't always true; there have been plenty of times when he's been unable to come up with a pragmatic explanation, and blames it on shock or injury when it's clear he's acting out of actual caring.
Joseph Carrion from the Mediochre Q Seth Series. Mediochre at least tries to be an Ideal Hero but isn't very good at it. Joseph, by contrast, never saw any need to restrict himself to "good" actions in the first place, and is perfectly fine with gunning people down if it's for a good cause and there's no better option available.
Some Jedi in Star Wars do not object the creation of clones genetically engineered to defend the Republic from the separatists. Then again, they have strongly held ideals, and think the Republic is the best possible regime, but YMMV on whether this is this trope or an isolated case of Utopia Justifies the Means.
John Wayne played many, many Pragmatic Heroes with guns, who rarely verge on Unscrupulous Hero, but can easily be judged a bit too tough.
Live Action TV
In Angel, the eponymous character thinks he has to take down the forces of evil by any means, and tries to distance himself from humans because they make him more remorseful, and ultimately, less ruthless. He also joins a dubious organization. Possibly momentarily downplayed when he tries to turn into Angelus, his Enemy Without.
It becomes a plot point in season 5, when it drives him further and further away of his function of Champion. Eventually, it resulted in the murder of an innocent champion called Drogyn.
A perhaps even larger example of Angel's pragmatic hero complex is in Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight comics. He adopts the status of a masked figure called Twilight under order of the Powers, intentionally putting himself against Buffy and supposedly the Slayer organization to keep her focused and alive for the inevitable Twilight prophecy because he believed Buffy would die, along with the rest of the world. In the end, it resulted in the deaths of 200 slayers and Buffy's watcher, Giles. Though he was possessed in some areas (Long story ... )
Wesley also frequently displayed this trope. He was against rescuing Willow from the Mayor for a box, tortured a woman in a closet to gain information on Angel's wherabouts and stabbed a a girl that was getting high off vampire's feeding off her to find out where Angelus was.
Wesley: "You try not to get anybody killed, you wind up getting everyone killed."
Merlin sees himself as this in Camelot. It is unclear whether he is actually this at the end of the series, but it seems he wants to be this and will succeed later.
In The Closer, Brenda Leigh Johnson is a Pragmatic Hero, verging on the Lawful choice of the dilemma To Be Lawful or Good because she genuinely thinks she has to (but choosing good ultimately, though a rather tough good).
The Doctor is this in Doctor Who, at one point sacrificing a city to prevent the world from being ruled by the villains. However, this tends to vary between incarnation, and sometimes even episodes. In one episode the Doctor will be willing to comment genocide against a destructive race, and in the next he'll be refusing to wipe out the Daleks (AKA, the worst things in the universe). A big theme of the revived series is whether the Doctor is a messianic figure, or whether he's a narcissist hypocrite who looks down on others for not following his high and inconsistent standards.
Jack Harkness too, although he swings widely between this and Unscrupulous Hero, especially in Torchwood. In Doctor Who proper, he is more often between Disney and Pragmatist.
First of all, it is Played Straight with the incorruptible Kahlan. 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, but can be a bit too extreme, even after her Love Interest. For instance, when she learns that her baby niece is actually a baby nephew, and discovers he'll be a terrible dictator of the Always Chaotic Evil men Confessor kind, she initially wants to drown him. She is also ready to kill a dangerous, potentially apocalypse-causing, yet innocent young lady Confessor.
Zedd seemed to show signs of being this, but it gets Subverted when he is willing to get revenge on Panis Rahl while it doesn't help in his quest, nor in his goal, not even helping to fulfill his personal standards, morally or otherwise. Then, it gets Double Subverted, as he refuses to do so when he realizes how bad it would be.
It is played with with Cara, who behaves like one due to Richard's orders (but it is unclear whether she completely or just partly adopted this mentality).
Subverted with Richard, who is supposed to be turned into a Pragmatic Hero by his training but always Takes A Third Option, remaining (depending on your point of view) either a Heroic Archetype, either a hero with shades of type I antihero.
The heroine in Medium, Alison Dubois, uses death threats, emotional manipulation and horrible phobias to make people get caught by the police, or confess their crimes. Sometimes, she even lets murderers die when they can't get caught. She justifies it by thinking they cause a threat, but is several times seen rejoicing, which is justified again because she has many proofs of the afterlife.
Merlin from BBC's Merlin could be seen as this. Merlin poisons the innocent Morgana to save the good future he works for. Gaius encourages him on this way, and they both end up talking about how hard making difficult choices can be, but how it becomes necessary. Morgana is later characterized by her lack of planning and impulsivity, which cause her to go to great length either to make something way too extreme happen, either to prevent one of this situations realize, until the season 4 premiere, in which she accepts to do an enormous sacrifice.
Chloe Sullivan becomes this to protect Clark at one point, but she is guilt-stricken in the afterwhile.
24's Jack Bauer is a highly unconventional government agent who won't hesitate to torture his enemies to find out what he wants to know. Given that knowledge may be the only thing standing between the world as we know it and some very bad things, he falls in this category.
A renegade Commander Shepard can be quite pragmatic in Mass Effect. With a general 'I did what I had to do' philosophy as the core tenet of the playstyle, all kinds of morally questionable actions can be done.
Raiden: There's a saying I like: 'One sword keeps another in the sheath.' Sometimes, the threat of violence alone is a deterrent. Sometimes, by taking a life, others can be preserved. It's the code the samurai lived by...
The new Tomb Raider game has Lara develop into this over the course of the game. While she starts out as a Classical Anti-Hero who must simply kill in self defense merely to survive the extreme conditions around her, she gradually becomes more and more jaded and numb until she's spouting Badass Boasts that imply she's now come to revel in the carnage she reaps. She even has a standard "brushes off of an attempted What the Hell, Hero? " moment.
Although that moment came directly after a friend sacrificed himself to save her and the What the Hell, Hero? speech was used to unfairly blame Lara for his death, so she was both justified in brushing it off and not in the best frame of mind at that point.
Though this is only after she finds out Jake's secret, up until that point she's an Anti-Villain.
Few of the heroes in The Dreamstone seem to really give a flying fish if the Urpneys are Trapped In Villainy, and will take any measure to stop them. This bordered Blood Knight or outright Unscrupulous Hero territory in early episodes, though later seasons made their retaliations more passive, often disinterested in attacking the Urpneys outside the means to protect the stone. They sometimes relapsed however.
Popeye holds himself to a strict moral code, but this doesn't stop him from beating people or animals to a pulp (occasionally for little to no reason, in the early shorts anyway). And a sometimes when he rescues Olive, he does so to prevent Bluto from having her rather than for her own safety.