Moral Dillema

While I think the movie is viewed best as a three hour commercial to get you to buy the graphic novel (and judging by recent sales, a very effective one), it shares what to me was the greatest thing about the original work: it asks you, just for one minute, to be a philosopher.

Who is the protagonist?  Who is the antagonist?  Who is the story about?  Who wins?

You can't answer these questions without betraying your hidden moral beliefs.  And whatever your beliefs, the ending is designed to be such a monumental tragedy that it makes you question them.

You have at one end Rorschach, a man who has only managed to stick to his moral imperative by going completely insane.

You have at the other Ozymandias, a man who has found a perfectly rational justification for committing genocide.

Who's right?

The answer is relevant, because the jurisprudence schools of Retributivism (Rorschach's view) and Utilitarianism (Ozymanias's) have been responsible for shaping the law under which we've lived for the past couple hundred years.  Watchmen takes each theory to a tragic extreme, allowing us to see the faults in both, but still asks the question: which would you choose, warts and all?

Retributivism states that evil must be punished simply because it is evil.  Its greatest proponent is still the long dead Immanuel Kant who said we must treat each person as a rational actor by returning to them and showing them the nature of their harmful actions - not for the purpose of reform, for that would be a from of manipulation, but out of respect.  Humans must never be used as a means to goodness, but as an end, as good, by themselves.

Utilitarianism, started by one Jeremy Bentham, states that what's good for society is the greatest good for the greatest number of people.  In this view, punishing the wicked is cruel and unnecessary, unless it is for the purpose of reform.

Retributivism never condones immoral behavior for moral ends, up to and including lying to a nazi german police officer about the jewish people stowed away in your attic.  Utilitarianism condones any immoral behavior, up to and including mass murder, if it creates some greater good for the people.

Both seem views may seem extreme, but surprisingly most people tend to flock to one and stick with it, if only because something in between would be hard to formulate rationally.  By identifying which one you lean toward, you can start to experience morality as more than just a guttural feeling, and as something authentic to you, rather than something inherited.

So, basically,

Who was right? 


Honir Honir
26-30, M
8 Responses Mar 18, 2009

I will always be on Rorschach's side.<br />
I love him and completely understand his morals and point of view.<br />
He is a masterpiece :D

I actually did not watch the watchmen,but I watched someone watch the watchmen.

I love these discussions, when the philosophies of the Watchmen characters are dissected.<br />
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I have difficulty deciding between the two, because when you reach the extremes that Rorschach and Ozymandias reach both worldviews look abhorrent. At the same time, any ethical system should be pushed to it's logical extent, that's the easiest way to find it's flaws.<br />
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Ultimately, though, I think Veidt's Utilitarianism is fundamentally flawed (as in, the Greatest Happiness Principle is fundamentally unethical due to it being capable of being used to justify Veidt's monster so long as the world as a whole experiences more pleasure and less pain than if it hadn't happened) whereas the problems with Rorschach's worldview comes from the conflict between his Retributivism and his subjectivism. <br />
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I would say Rorschach is fundamentally selfish. He doesn't believe in an ob<x>jective right and wrong, he acknowledges that everyone scribbles their own morality onto a morally blank world, but he still punishes people for not living up to his morality because his code demands it. Rorschach's more concerned about living up to his code than punishing out of respect for other human beings. He's caught in a contradiction: he believes that moral codes must be strictly enforced even while acknowledging that moral codes do not ob<x>jectively exist, that he wrote his own code. I think that's what causes his psychological anguish: he always seems to have held to Retributivism (after all, he excelled at religious studies), but he lost his mind when he could no longer believe in ob<x>jective value. He's enforcing a code that he knows only he fully believes in?<br />
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If Rorschach had the power, influence, and resources that Veidt had, the result would have been far worse that just the loss of New York, but Rorschach's problems come from holding contradictory (or at least positions requiring a reconciliation) positions whereas Veidt has a fundamentally flawed philosophy.

It was a typo, but I believe "Kammic" and "Karmic" mean the same thing just like Tao and Dao and Nirvana and Nirbana. It's whatever english translation you prefer.

I have a lot of respect to authors/comic artists,graphic novelists who place a lot of deep theories in their works. That should be the true purpose of an artist/writer. I especially love the creative ones who play or switch around stereotypic roles (protagonist etc). You can have a lot of fun with this playing with the reader's minds!<br />
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When you said kamic are you talking about kamic nature or was it a "karmic" typo?

HAHA, That is an excellent answer. If determining a proper choice in life only comes down to intention then there may be no immorality within humanity. I rarely believe that someone is acting out of a real need to destroy or hurt someone. Most people see a logical reasoning and justification. This is why the end can't justify the means, nor the intention be the sole judge when looking at a bad outcome. You gave me words for thought. Thanks for that.

Rorschach may not believe all lying is equally immoral, but the converse is true: he does believe the truth must be told, even if the consequences of truth-telling are dire.<br />
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I know I didn't give my own take, but I hate to bias a discussion, even a non-existent one like this turned out to be X(<br />
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I have become more and more a fan of a Kamic understanding of morality, which isn't portrayed in Watchmen and isn't really part of our culture.<br />
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A Karma-based view of morality teaches that we cannot always control the outcomes of our actions - nor can we even be aware of the full range of consequences - the butterfly is in full effect for this theory. Therefore, it focuses all attention on our mental actions - what we intend to do. You can discern the nature of intentions in two ways: either by seeing if the intention is good or bad by itself - if it feels good to have that intention for instance, or by analyzing many kinds of consequences for that action - particularly if it creates a cycle of harming or helping. While these two methods of analysis are comperable to Retributivism and Utilitarianism, it's actually best to use both.<br />
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Vengeance, for instance, feels bad to have, you always suffer in silence for far longer than the ob<x>ject of your anger, and also gives rise to a harmful cycle: it invites retaliation from the person since you gave them what they deserved, but did not impart the understanding of why they deserved it.<br />
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Here, the moral test has nothing to do with action; morality is only something which happens inside the mind, not out in the world. <br />
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So in the case of Watchmen there is no right answer: Rorschach's obsessive approach to justice has distanced himself from humanity - to the point where he doesn't even accept his own face, and Ozy has abstracted humanity into equations and numbers mutilating us - both figuatively and literally - in the process. Neither of these people are moral, so siding with either of them is immoral.<br />
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I always thought the obvious compromise would be keeping the plan a secret but making Ozymandias pay for his crimes. Or, alternatively, letting Rorschach go and just discrediting him. The fact that neither side was willing to compromise, instead favoring the simplicity of a logical argument, is the real tragedy. I think both theories are wrong because they're devoid of human content. They treat morality as a calculation rather than an experience.<br />
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So the answer is: I'd have to have been there to know which I'd choose.

I am definitely a Retributivism follower. Your story is assuming that a person believes that lying is immoral. I follow a far less strict version of morality, but i follow it. You never said which one you lean towards. The entire point of Watchmen, in my opinion, is to get people to ask themselves the very thing you have stated here.