Kantian Frowns and Skyrim

With my several million magicka and health point ring, I think I’m going to roam Skyrim as a superman. I’ve yet to explore the majority of Markath, so, first stop: Markath. As I entered the Markath gate market place, I suddenly hear a battleroar “For the Forsworn” and see a man stab a women in the back. Looks like it’s time for Twice-Vehk, the I of the tower-circle! As I raised my hand, a streak of lightning sheared through the criminal’s skull and his corpse bounced off a nearby wall. As the Forsworn’s body tumbled lifelessly around and the adrenaline subsided, I began to hear the screams in the background. Immediately, I am accosted by the guards for murder. “But- But- But-” I stammer, as they began hauling me away.

Because I was roleplaying as some sort of good superhero, I did not resist the guards. I’m a good guy, right? Yeah sure, why not. But was what I did really right? I was following a natural rule of the universe, that if a man kills than he must die. This is what a philosopher called Immanuel Kant would call an example of the Categorical Imperative, that certain circumstances compel certain actions. However, while it seems natural that a man very clearly guilty of murder should recieve the death penalty, his actions do not necessarily compel his exeuction. After all, we have not followed due process. The circumstances of the existence of crime within the confines of a society requires one to deal with crime within the setting of society, and in this case, the guards should have made an example of the Forsworn. Perhaps one of the beheadings the Imperials seem so fond of, but nonetheless, it is not the province of citizens acting as vigilantes to dole out justice as they see fit. It is the place of an impartial society setting another example of law and order, another example of doing-it-by-the-book, because only this will ensure a truly sustainable justice system over civilization-time.

ALMSIVI damn it, this hero stuff is harder than I thought.

I woke up in a prison and was informed that I need to dig for silver. I informed the informer that I am actually a demi-god and that he should probably worship my benevolent Love. He laughed in my face and gave me a pick ax. Excellent. … A few prison shivs later, I found myself face-to-face with the kingpin of local criminal operations, and actual king of the Forsworn. Not wanting to be thrown into solitary confinement, I decided to cooperate with King Madanach, who subsequently tells me to ice a rat if I want to get out of this hell-hole. I sighed and grabbed a shiv.

As I was gruesomely murdering Grisvar the Unlucky and ignoring his whimpering pleads for mercy, I realized that Kant was wagging his finger at me again. Just because I am imprisoned does not mean I am compelled to free myself through the Categorical Imperative. I was thrown into this pit for the rather good reason of being a homoicidal vigiliante, and each gory thrust of my shiv into Grisvar’s abdomen just proved that I am completely unreformed of my psycopathic ways. The circumstances of me being a societal misfit compels society to entrap me and reform me, and society’s right to not have its members murdered on whims overrides my right to freedom. If not because of the utilitarian idea of more people being benefited by my avatar’s incarceration, then the fact that I am undeniably guilty of vigiliantism. This guilt of crime forms a true Kantian Categorical Imperative, and the cirumstances of my avatar being guilty compels my avatar’s incarceration. There is a very good reason why prisons exist, and they do not form a moral dilemma because society’s natural right to living free from violations of the natural rights of its members by criminals is far more important than a single individual or a limited collection of individual’s right to freedom. However, execution is not condoned under Kantian philosophy, that is to say, guilt of homicide compels prolonged removal from society and incarceration satisfies this compulsion far better than execution. Execution of criminals, what my avatar is now twice guilty of of, is an immoral act simply because incarceration is based on removal from society and only on the removal of society, so is always a definitive good. On the other hand, revenge is based on not just removal from society, but the satisfaction of Lex Talionis (that is, an eye for an eye). Any arbitrary number of wrongs don’t make right.

After I was finished with the Unlucky one, I joined the prison break, and Kant started wagging his finger more vigorously at me.

  1. I always find it slightly unnerving when open-world games try to combine realistic examples of societal rules and unrealistic characters or situations. The resulting middle ground is never really satisfying. Here, for example, the whole root of your problem arose when you killed the Forsworn member at the gates of Markarth (Personally, I was too confused to act when I saw this happen in my game). In reality, someone may try to stop it by, say, tackling the Forsworn before he reached his target, neutralizing him without any blood shed. This isn’t possible in Skyrim, a place where every choice is black or white with small hints of grey. You can either stand by, an implicit accomplice, and watch a woman get murdered, or you can kill the Forsworn before he reaches his target. I suppose you could also kill the woman first, but that would also get you arrested the murder just the same as killing the Forsworn.
    I haven’t done that “No One Escapes Cidhna Mine” quest myself, but I’m wondering – is the only way to progress in that quest the murder of Grisvar?

    • amiesi said:

      Nope, you can kill Madanach with a pickax, aggro literally everyone in the mine and fight them with no equipment, steal a note that reveals the location of the secret entrance and make a run for it past an uncomfortable amount of Dwemer rolly-things. I think you pick up your lost equipment somewhere down the line.

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