In this heavy hitter of a topic, I would like to discuss Ozymandias from an altruistic and consequential morality perspective. Watchmen tackles a lot of issues and morality types. From Rorschach’s black and white absolutism to Dr. Manhattan’s all knowing nihilism. The Comedian is a realist who who is well aware of the evils of the world, but instead of pouting over it, treat it like a joke. Silk Spectre does not have much of a philosophy she falls under and Nite Owl falls under a more optimistic approach.
Then there’s Ozymandias. He falls under a different kind of philosophy. While he certainly has an ego, and sees himself relating to Alexander the Great, how they approached his philosophy is not as black and white. And despite being the “antagonist” of the story, his reasoning has merit from both a morally right and wrong perspective.
I, by no means am a philosopher, and would consider myself a novice in that area. However, I think I was able to narrow down what Ozymandias’ philosophy is. While looking around for where he would fall, I think Adrian Veidt falls into consequentialism with altruistic roots.
In this post I will go over what altruism and consequentialism are, providing examples with in Watchmen if it applies outside of Ozymandias, before going into how they relate to Ozymandias.
What is Altruism?
By definition, altruism is the “the belief in or practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others.” An example of this (to a lesser extent) would be how Silk Spectre and Nite Owl went into an apartment building on fire to save people. Jumping into a building on fire isn’t a safe thing to do, but saving the people inside was worth it.
Another example, in a roundabout way, would be when Rorschach decides that he will tell people about what Ozymandias did. While Rorschach certainly has a black and white, absolutist approach, he wanting to tell others could be interpreted as selfless or noble. Even self-sacrificial given how he died trying to do so. Now, Rorschach isn’t a perfect character, nor is he necessarily “morally outstanding”, but his choice to do this could be seen as altruistic from a certain angle.
What is Consequentialism?
Consequentialism is the “the doctrine that the morality of an action is to be judged solely by its consequences”. An example could be what Rorschach did with Blair Roche’s killer. Of course, killing is wrong, but considering what the man did, his death would have benefitted the city. It might not be the best example, but it was something I thought of when thinking of a non-Ozymandias action.
Another example would be breaking Rorschach out of prison. Of course, breaking someone out of prison, who is there for a good reason, would not be morally right. However, given that Dan was concerned that Rorschach was in jail, it could have been seen as morally right at the time. And by removing him from jail, it also, in theory, would save other prisoners from having to deal with Rorschach’s unpredictability (i.e. “I’m not locked in here with you, you’re locked in here with me” after burning an inmate).
How is Ozymandias an Altruistic Consequentialist?
Back to Ozymandias. With Altruism and Consequentialism now defined, how does he fit into this distinction? To put it simply, his whole plan.
While one could say Ozymandias has an ego, world’s smartest man and all, the motive behind his destruction was valid. Of course, no one would agree that killing millions is a good thing to do, in the grander scheme of things, Ozymandias thought he was doing something right. Everyone at Karnak disagreed with him, wanting to let the people know. However, they grimly realized that by telling anyone could result in a renewed nuclear war and chaos.
Because there was a looming threat of nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia, a way to prevent it had to be discovered. While there was no way to determine if his efforts would ultimately work from then on, something even Dr. Manhattan was a bit uncertain about, Ozymandias made a decision. Killing millions of people by way of alien squid (or Dr. Manhattan laced explosions) in order to save billions.
This plan would fit into altruism, because, in a twisted way, Ozymandias’ cause was noble and for the good of the world. Again, one could argue that such a calamity would not have been good from a moral standpoint. However, with the exception of Nite Owl and maybe Silk Spectre, no one in Watchmen is really what you’d consider heroic or outstanding individuals. In his own way, Ozymandias was being altruistic in order to prevent a nuclear war with Russia.
Ozymandias fits into the Consequentialist philosophy because of what actions he took. Killing millions to save billions. While the normal person would agree that killing that many people would be wrong, but he did so to help the majority. This is what would land Ozymandias in utilitarianism, a sub category of consequentialism that states actions are right if they benefit the majority. What he did fits utilitarianism since it was to benefit billions of lives. The consequentialist side of it comes in the form of Ozymandias believing there was a good outcome to his action.
In conclusion, Ozymandias, though a flawed and egotistical intellect, was a man trying to better the world and resolve a potentially worldwide problem. He took an action that is seen as wrong, but did so hoping to help billions of people. In his mind, his action would result in something better: diverting a nuclear crisis and saving lives.