N asks:

Do you think there is a case for objectuve morality exsisting in the Pokémon world given that a literal creator god exsists?

I think I reject the premises of the question, which is something I have a bad habit of doing and try not to do, but sometimes I’m just too stubborn and argumentative to avoid it.

‘cause, like, 1) most people alive on Earth today would say “but a literal creator god does exist in the real world,” and that hasn’t solved the problem for us, 2) some people who don’t believe in a supreme being still think that morality is objective anyway, and believe you can discover moral truths through scientific means, and 3) apart from anything else, I’m not convinced that Arceus is a literal creator god – just that some people in the Pokémon world have claimed that it is, which to my mind is not conclusive proof of anything (and this is something I used to be willing to accept but have become steadily more and more sceptical of in the years I’ve been writing for this blog).

The thing is… I think philosophy is important, but I’m not myself a philosopher, and I’m not super well-versed in any philosophy published in the last… oh, 1800 years (if you want some entertaining and educational discussion of philosophy, I recommend Philosophy Tube, by UK actor and philosophy MA graduate Oliver Thorn, and on the topic of moral relativism, particularly his recent video “Jordan Peterson & the Meaning of Life”).  Personally I think that arguing about whether morality is relative or objective is actually a bit of a red herring, because there is no sane conception of morality that is entirely one or the other: you can believe morality is objective all you like, but you still have to express moral ideas via the absolute clusterfµ¢£ of subjectivity and ambiguity that is all human language, and even the most die-hard relativist believes that some things are just wrong no matter who does them, or when, or why.  Maybe morality is objective, but its rules are currently (or permanently?) beyond the reach of humans!  Maybe morality is relative, but the common context of being human is enough to produce some rules that are objective for all intents and purposes!  Maybe lots of things!

…so let’s talk about Arceus.

Honestly I think a lot of people forget just how very little we actually know about Arceus.  It has no role in the plot of any of the games that I know of, except for (of all things) Pokémon Conquest.  In Conquest, there’s a legend that Arceus will appear to the one who can conquer all of Ransei; Nobunaga thinks that people’s belief in that legend is what causes the endless conflict in the region, and wants to defeat Arceus in order to break the cycle, so to me that is a story which is… not super positive towards the idea of believing uncritically in the literal truth of myths.  In Diamond and Pearl Arceus is practically absent, and even in Platinum it’s strictly a background figure, whose actions and role in the cosmology are only speculated about by characters like Cynthia on the basis of ancient artistic and literary evidence.  We’ve never even been able to visit the area where it lives because Nintendo never distributed the item that unlocks it (riddle me this: is the existence of the Hall of Origin above Mount Coronet “canon” if it’s programmed into the game but no one has ever been able to legitimately visit it?).  For what it’s worth, Cynthia does seem to at least flirt with the idea that Arceus really did create the world, but her postgame monologue at the Celestic Ruins also presents this perspective: “To the people back then, those Pokémon really must have appeared [my emphasis] to rule over time and space. Seeing them must have shaken the people to their very core.”  She’s interested in myths because they present a window into the worldview of the people who told them, not because she thinks they’re literally true, and even after coming face to face with Palkia and Dialga and seeing their power, she’s not a convert.  Even Arceus and the Jewel of Life (which is a terrible movie and you should not watch it) doesn’t seem to consistently hold that Arceus created the universe, or the world, or even the Sinnoh region. Hell, it doesn’t even claim that Arceus created the town in which the movie is set – Arceus saved the town from a meteor strike in ancient times, and gave it a special blessing (the titular Jewel of Life) that helped the people and the land recover from their brush with disaster, but no one treats it as a creator god.

[EDIT, 20/8/19: I have recently rewatched Jewel of Life, and I think I owe it an apology. I still don’t think it’s a good movie, but on balance I do think that it’s less bad than most other Pokémon movies, and deserves some credit for that. Also, there is one line about Arceus creating the world near the beginning of the movie, but it’s couched in one of those vague Pokédex-style “said-to-have”s, and it doesn’t really seem to have informed the movie’s conception of what Arceus is or how it works. Moreover, I think there’s a strong argument that, as with Conquest, willingness to question and reevaluate historical and mythological accounts is actually one of the movie’s themes, so I feel like I’m still on firm ground here.]

The only time in the games that we see Arceus actually do something is in Heart Gold and Soul Silver’s Sinjoh Ruins sequence, where it seems to have a special connection with the Unown and the culture that built the Ruins of Alph (who may have been Sinnohan in origin, or adopted elements of Sinnohan culture). According to Cynthia, texts describing the function of the Mystri Stage in the ruins say that, when Arceus stands there, “time, space and antimatter, or what we call the world, shall be born” – but it’s clear from what actually happens that this doesn’t mean Arceus will create a new universe of space, time and antimatter, but that it will create one or more of the Pokémon that the ruins’ builders believed were associated with those phenomena.  Once Arceus has done its thing, Cynthia seems less awed by the fact that she’s seen the creation of a godlike legendary Pokémon than by the fact that she’s seen the creation of a Pokémon egg – because, remember, all things related to Pokémon reproduction are shrouded in a perpetual fog of mystery, which is a theme of the generation II games and their remakes.  People are pretty sure Pokémon lay eggs (because they hatch from eggs), but no one’s ever seen itThis is what amazes her, and this is what Cynthia focuses on when she subsequently tries to interpret what’s just happened.

And here’s the really weird thing: the game actually allows for the possibility that you might come to the Sinjoh Ruins twice, once with an Arceus from the Hall of Origin and once with a “fateful encounter” Arceus from a different event.  If you visit a second time, Cynthia isn’t there and you can choose one of the two legendary dragons that you didn’t get the first time.  Of course, this can’t actually happen legitimately because, again, the Hall of Origin event was never legitimately unlocked (when the possibility of a second visit was discovered, it was thought for a while that it indicated Nintendo was planning an event where the Azure Flute would finally be distributed, but no), so you might question whether it “counts,” but apparently the developers deliberately prepared for more than one Arceus – which… well, are both of them the creator of the universe?

See this $#!t is why I need to actually do that series on legendary Pokémon that I keep talking about

2 thoughts on “N asks:

  1. On the topic of objective morality, I think the question of “does it or does it not exist?” isn’t really the important thing about morality. I would argue that objective morality can be defined as synonymous with altruism. Essentially, objective morality is always making the decisions in life that yield the highest positive outcome for all individuals involved, i.e. any sentient beings. In the event the highest possible outcome between two parties conflict with each other, such as a predator hunting prey where the prey doesn’t want to be eaten but the predator must eat the prey to survive, then there is no objectively moral answer because both parties suffer equally regardless of the outcome.

    But here’s the real thing: Who said abiding by morality is what absolutely should be done?

    In our world, where we’ve created laws and systems designed to protect the living rights of humans, there are certain thing we would define as immoral that have legal consequences. Killing someone, unless out of self-defense, is an example of civil immorality where it’s not just seen as an immoral act, but is punished by the community. But that’s all artificial.

    If we were to remove that concept, what are the consequences if you were to murder someone else? The world will still turn. The sun will still shine. The powers of the universe wouldn’t smite you on the spot.

    Morality is not a standard that the forces of nature dictate you abide by. Whether or not you choose to be moral, or even think it matters, is entirely your choice. Other people may react to that in different ways, but that’s a consequence of the decisions you make and is not a representation of what you must or must not do.

    It’s not a concept exclusive to humanity either, as we know some other species, such as whales, dolphins, and gorillas, can all display different perceptions of morality. Some dolphins are assholes who find it fun to kill or rape other creatures they come by. Other dolphins will go out of their way to help others even if it doesn’t benefit them. Why else would they if they didn’t believe that doing what benefits the most individuals was something they feel individually inclined to do? The fact that not all agree proves that, I think.

    Regardless of whether or not that’s something any one person believes should or should not be followed doesn’t change the concept of what it is.

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    1. Even if you just take a strict utilitarian view, though, you still need to define what makes an outcome positive or negative, as well as what counts as a sentient being. If you don’t think that being alive is intrinsically good, then maybe the pain suffered by the prey outweighs the continued survival of the predator, and the predator should choose to starve to death. On the other hand, maybe you decide to define some things as non-sentient or minimally sentient, so killing them is morally neutral. Is a spider sentient? An insect? An amoeba? A plant? What’s the threshold, and why does it matter?

      And, well, we can say all these things about morality being a social construct and how there’s no absolute force saying you need to have a moral code, but we still have to live in the world and make decisions in it. It’s your choice, sure, but you still have to *make* choices and own their consequences, because you aren’t a passive and unthinking blob – and the forces of nature are clearly not very good at giving advice. Even deciding to take actions at random would be a stance on morality, and a fairly radical one at that. You can’t opt out of moral philosophy – you can only decide to be uninformed about it.

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