Darth Vader vs. House: Did Chase Do the Right Thing?

The difference between what Dr. House does on a regular basis—flouting the rules and endangering people’s lives in order to save them—and what Chase has done in murdering Dibala, is a matter of ontological distance.

Well, we can now understand “Chaotic Good” to mean “Brave Altruism.” As an altruist, this type of person believes that to do good, one has to have a “genuine concern for the welfare of others”—moral actions are selfless ones. And as a “Brave” altruist, this type of person is willing to weigh the consequences when acting morally, in order “to generate the most good for the most people.” That often means breaking rules. Without a doubt, we know Dr. House is a Brave Altruist: he has no respect whatsoever for the “rules,” and always tries to maximize the good for his patients. When Cameron chides Dr. House for taking risks with his patients in their final exchange at the end of the episode, Dr. House reminds her that what matters is that the patient is alive at the outcome of the procedure: the ends justify the means.

In killing Dibala, it can be argued that Chase was striving to generate the most good for the most people, because he believed that if the dictator died under their care, he would be preventing genocide. At the same time, however, we know Chase’s motivations were conflicted at the outset: on the one hand, Chase feared Dibala and didn’t understand the full complexity of the situation in the dictator’s country; on the other hand, he hated Dibala for his callousness, his calling Chase a coward, and his criticizing Cameron. So it can also be argued that Chase’s actions were not entirely altruistic.

James Earl Jones as African dictator Dibala
James Earl Jones as African dictator Dibala

Whether Chase’s actions qualify as “chaotic good”—or bravely altruistic—do not hinge on whether saving someone’s life counts as morally good. The difference between what Dr. House does on a regular basis—flouting the rules and endangering people’s lives in order to save them—and what Chase has done in murdering Dibala, is a matter of ontological distance. Both doctors are consequentialists. Both determine the rightness or wrongness of their actions based on the end result. But for Dr. House, the intended outcome is always only a few steps away: create risk to save an individual whose fate is immediately tenable. Chase made the mistake of extrapolating the consequences of his actions so far into the future as to make his justification for maximizing the good untenable. Chase can’t know if there will be a 1:1 correlation between his murdering Dibala and lives saved in Africa. He can’t know if by killing Dibala he has saved lives or allowed an even worse dictator to assume his job. Therefore Chase’s actions are neither brave nor altruistic.

I hope this has been an interesting exercise in rethinking some of the basics in role-playing. Since I’m no philosophy major, I can’t say my integration of some of the real ethics involved in this recasting of alignment is entirely accurate; like any academic discipline, there are bound to be semantic disagreements and misinterpretation, and I’m sure I’ve made my fair share. The goal, I think, is to create depth where there wasn’t before, so the floodgates are open.

Rethinking Good & Evil

On Ethics in Role-Playing Games

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  1. Jenny 8 years, 1 month ago

    Well, I think Dr. Chase’s character was an example of chaotic good. Although you make a definite point that his judgment may have been clouded by his personal exchanges with the dictator; I do not think the character would act lightly. We know that Chase was a seminarian and he told a nun that he had “failed the test.” This is an indication that Chase takes his own moral and ethical compass very seriously. A key to his character is the scene where he confesses the killing to a priest and the priest (who is never seen but is just a voice) tells him that he cannot have absolution without turning himself in to the police first. Chase believes, as a chaotic good should, that he should follow his own discernment. However, after the killing, as in seminary, he doubts his own discernment. As an aside, I don’t know what to think of what is happening to his character this season. He has gone from the serious ex-seminarian sincerely courting his future wife to sleeping around. Clearly Chase does not care if something is legal (for example breaking and entering is okay to diagnose a patient). However, his confession indicates that he believes in some absolute morality when it comes to God’s law.