Scales Of Malice

That we as members of a society must judge the actions of others is a fact. While there is no need – beyond the pragmatic or utilitarian level – to “pass judgment” upon a person or his actions, we must judge the import of those actions and frame them in the context of their intent and within the framework of the other person’s goals in order to predict future behaviors and their possible effect upon us.

The question arise though – how do we judge another’s intent and goals? What scales do you use to derive our measurements? Do we weigh the actions of others on our own scales of malice, or do we weigh them on what we can perceive of their scales of malice?

For he is very wise, and weighs all things to a nicety in the scales of this malice. But the only measure that he knows is desire, desire for power; and so he judges all hearts. Into his heart the thought will not enter that any will refuse it.

— Gandalf
J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, p. 203

It a common thought that we judge others by own desires and from solely within our own framework of goals and perceptions – or at least it’s a common rebuttal in many arguments. Somehow I doubt this assertion is anywhere near universal in its accuracy.

I think it is important for people to determine by which and whose scales they judge the actions and malice of others though.

Our Scales:

If we are judging the actions of others based upon what we would do in a similar circumstance, then our judgment is bound to be very subjective. It also would, at that point, say as much or more about ourselves as it does about the object of our judgment.

It would also be a flawed basis for judgment in many cases. People are not all the same and – beyond the primal needs – do not necessarily have similar motivations. By judging others only by own goals we leave ourselves open to being outmaneuvered by our enemies, as the quoted passage above asserts.

Still, it’s a consistent framework for judgment and one that can be rapidly brought to bear on a situation. Therefor it is not wholly lacking in merit – if one accepts its limitations and plans accordingly.

Their Scales:

If we are judging the actions others based upon their own goals and capabilities, then our judgment is not going to be subjective in the same manner as if we judged based on what we would do in the same or similar circumstances. The subjectivity would be more a case of targeting the assessment to the situation and individuals or groups involved.

It would also be a basis of judgment that has to be predicated on either prior knowledge of the individuals or groups involved or a high degree of empathy. Lacking a sufficient amount of either would render judgment based upon their intent, goals, capabilities flawed to the point of uselessness.

Still, it has the capacity for greater accuracy than basing one’s judgment on ones’ own intent, goals, capabilities. Therefor it is not wholly lacking in merit – if one accepts its limitations and plans accordingly.

It is certainly beyond me to determine which framework of judgment is better in the long run; I’m not even sure if either one is better than the other in an overall manner. Both scales of malice, internal and external, have the strengths and weaknesses.

It is not beyond my capabilities though to conclude that it is best to know, or at least consider, by which one – or at what level of combination – one is assessing the ramifications and intent of others’ actions in any given situation.

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2 Responses to “Scales Of Malice”

  1. Josh Brandt Says:

    I love this article, very insightful and well thought out. However, I hope you realize that J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings was a religious allegory, if not I fear you may have missed the point of that quote entirely.

  2. jonolan Says:


    J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings has been described as an allegory for so many things – religion, WW2, nuclear deterrence / threat, and US foreign policy to name just a few.

    Tolkien himself described the work as both a “meta allegory” and as an “master” allegory “of the inevitable fate that waits for all attempts to defeat evil power by power.”

    Christianity is woven through the work though. Tolkien said that Lord of the Rings is “a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.” Though, to me, it seems a odd version of Christianity with a very Anglo-Saxon “Old Testament.”

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