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Honor Before Reason

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"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 them outright, or similarly leave them a destroyed human being. A villain aware of such a gallant hero is bound to use Flaw Exploitation against them as well.

Characters who adhere to this trope are generally more committed to their code of ethics than to their own self-preservation. They believe in a pre-defined set of rules which universally apply, and will not break them, even if their own death results from adhering to them in one particular instance. For them, acting dishonorably is a Fate Worse than Death.


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. In stories on the cynical end, however, 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 their 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. As another example, a man may be challenged to a duel over something stupid, but if he lives in an honor society where his peers will refuse to do business with him, not let their daughters marry his sons, etc. if he refuses to defend his honor, then he may feel like he has to do it even if he doesn't care about honor for its own sake.

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 dirty approach to fighting often being seen as dishonorable.

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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  • Code Geass: Paladins of Voltron: Something Suzaku held over from the main series, and part of the reason he's the pilot of the Purple Lion.
  • Yoda suffers a near fatal heart attack in Back From the Future, only surviving because Luke arrived in time to heal him. While believing Mace Windu was the one to heal himnote , Yoda's very first thoughts are how he plans to scold Mace for having an attachment to him. At no point does Yoda even consider being grateful that he's still alive.
    • Shaak-ti follows protocol so rigidly that even being shown that the Clone Troopers have chips in their heads that can force them to attack fellow Jedi won't make her act on her own. She continues to insist they bring the matter to the Jedi Council first, even while Plo Koon (having given up trying to convince her) aided Luke in removing the chips from the clones.
    • In a later chapter Duchess Satine is outraged when she thinks Obi-wan (actually Luke) is using a lightsaber to fight off people trying to assassinate her. Even the idea of someone bringing a lethal weapon to her planet infuriates her. Satine only relents when she realizes Luke was using a stun staff.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Supergirl crossover The Vampire of Steel Zol-Am's demon army is about to overwhelm Supergirl, Buffy and the Scooby Gang when Kara demands a personal duel with Zol-Am. Zol-Am accepts because it's Kryptonian law, and he even incinerates one of his soldiers when he tries to interfere.
  • Samurai in Challenger considers using Super Effective moves in Pokemon battles to be dishonorable. Naturally he loses quickly when Ash's Sandile uses Fire Fang against his Pinsir. Though, given that Samurai also blamed the Sandile for attacking him when he drew a sword on Ash, it's likely he's just being a Scrub.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Lampshaded by T'Challa in Enough Rope that by promising to sanctuary to Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes without adding any extra stipulations, he's required by the panther spirit that gives him his powers to honor his promise unless they attack him or someone else under his protection.
  • Fate/Parallel Fantasia: Rin says that battles between magi should be fought only using magic, so she refuses an offered gun even after it is pointed out most magi don't know how to defend themselves against them.
  • In The Fourth Council Race, the governments of the Systems Alliance continue playing political games while Shanxi is under attack from the turians. The Chinese refuse to let anyone else reinforce the forces on Shanxi as it's a Chinese colony and they don't want "interference from western imperialists" while the United States won't spend the political capital to force the issue because they're certain China will fail so waiting will make the US look better and one of their main rivals look worse.
    • Once the Systems Alliance wins the space battle above Shanxi, the leader of the turian ground forces tries to continue fighting regardless, insisting she will not be responsible for the turians' first defeat in over a thousand years. Upon realizing it, her second in command genuinely regrets that (unlike humanity) the turians have no latitude towards bad orders or officers placing themselves above their soldiers, leaving him unable to relieve her of command.
  • Frankie Rules: Despite any past crimes, any imaginary friend that come to Foster's is welcome.
  • The Lunar Rebellion:
    • This appears to be something of a recurring flaw for the pegasi, who value their martial and ethical honor so highly that they will always choose what they perceive as the more honorable path in a given matter, even if their other, less honorable options were objectively smarter, less costly or otherwise more expedient. It’s mentioned at one point that their tradition of never surrendering their city to outsiders and fighting to the last has resulted in a long history of needless Last Stands that got a lot of ponies killed for the sake of pride.
    • This is specifically something of an issue with Shadow herself. A good example would be how, when seeking allies against Duke Polaris (a self-centered noble who had been given full command of the armed forces despite being highly unqualified for the role), she persistently refused to ally with Sunbeam Sparkle, whom she saw as distasteful and dishonorable, despite it being her only realistic choice for gaining useful allies, with the avenues she pursued instead gaining her little beyond lost time that allowed Polaris to cement his position.
  • 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.
  • Examples from Pokémon Reset Bloodlines, in regards to the use of certain bloodliner abilities:
    • Heart Bloodliners are able to Mind Control any Pokémon at least partially their type, but from the Pokémon's perspective, this isn't a pleasant experience. Iris always knew she could do it but refused to use it in her family of Dragon types, and after learning from her Goldeen how it felt, Misty also refuses to use it ever again, even when it would give her an advantage.
    • Zigzagged in Ash's case, who refuses to use his ability to give Pokémon temporary power boosts in competitive battles because he considers it cheating and doesn't want his Pokémon to depend on it so they can grow strong on their own. However, he's willing to use it if it's to fight a villain or to help someone in need.
  • Princess of the Blacks:
    • Despite completing the first task the fastest and being one of the only ones to do so without injury, Leroux only ties for second place because he "didn't follow the spirit of the challenge" by simply using a summoning charm on the golden egg.
    • Averted when Jen specifically tells Fudge that she was kidnapped by "someone claiming to be Voldemort" because it'd be easier for him to buy that a pretender was trying to restart the war than Voldemort returning to life.
      • Played straight with Dumbledore who hates that Jen didn't insist it was Voldemort, claiming that "a little discomfort or ridicule now" would be worth people being ready.
    • One of Danny's grievances against Jen was that she "cowardly cursed him in the back instead of attacking honorably" during one of the tasks of the Triwizard Tournament. Later during the final task, he accuses her of cheating for attacking him while he's distracted.
      • Several other Light wizards have shown contempt for attacking someone with their back turned.
    • Averted with Scrimgeour when he hears Jen apparated without a license during her fight with Voldemort. He understands that in a situation like that, pretty much every rule goes out the window.
  • Subverted in Reflex. Upon being offered One For All, Izuku initially considers refusing as he wanted to become a hero using his own Quirk and be an inspiration for underdogs without powerful Quirks. After a conversation with Aizawa where the Pro-Hero admits there'll always be people he fails to save but he comforts himself with the knowledge he did all he could, Izuku decides turning down such an advantage for his own pride is foolish and accepts One For All.
  • 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 Shall Never Kill No Matter What, Batman refuses to kill the Joker even when he knows an innocent child will die in front of him if he doesn't. Afterwards, Superman reassures him that he did the right thing. Green Arrow chews them both out for "enabling psychotic killers" rather than putting aside their moral codes for once. Batman outright accuses Green Arrow of murder, saying he killed people who'd never have a chance to redeem themselves.
  • 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."
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Choji in Team 7's Ascension: Blood Wings holds very firmly to his policy of Thou Shalt 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.
  • The version of William Laurence leading the Temeraire fanfic Black Wings, Black Sails is majorly Unfettered as a result of several events in the backstory souring the guy to the whole concept of duty to king and country that he takes so seriously in canon. Still, when Laurence is ordered by the Tswana to attack Capetown, he waits outside the town for a whole week before attacking, allowing an entire family of Africans to be burned alive by slavers simply because he wants to give the Allegiance (and subsequently Temeraire) time to leave before he attacks the town, unaware that the Allegiance was waiting for Laurence to attack first so it could take him down for good. Like his canon counterpart's many attempts at this, it blows up in his face, placing him in disgrace with the Tswana, and then the Tswana takes the Allegiance prisoner anyways.
  • Twice Upon an Age: 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.
  • 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.)


Alternative Title(s): Honour Before Reason


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