Death Note: The Moral Stance of L, Near and Light on Crime
Death Note explores profound philosophical and moral questions that often go unrecognized by the fans of the show. The deuteragonists L and Near, have quite a lot of similarities, and it does add up in the end since Near’s fight for justice, and his ideals follow the same path that L has laid for years. The antagonist Light has a firm, confrontational and intolerant view on crime and criminals. He is a brilliant student with a very bright future ahead of him, but all of that changes when he gets the Death Note.
It would not be wrong to presume that Light Yagami had bad intentions when he started dishing out justice to criminals. In the beginning, we watch him save a girl. In a situation that is desperate, which needs immediate on the spot action to save a life, it seems justifiable and morally permissible that he uses the Death Note. But according to Kantian philosophy of morality, it is always the intention or goodwill that counts in determining the moral worth of an action. Considering this, we can even question his actions when he saved the girl. The ends don’t always justify the means, even though he did save that girl but was she just a guinea pig for him to experiment with the Death Note? Or did care about her? It is tough to make assumptions on what went on in his head; in fact, it’s almost impossible to guess what he was thinking.
But there are some clues that creators leave which can help in delving deeper into the psychology of Light. In the first episode of the show, Light says that he is doing a favor to the world by killing criminals and that using the Death Note he will become “The God” of the new world that he creates. His intentions don’t seem to be driven by a sense of justice or compassion for other people’s suffering but instead a selfish desire to rule the world. He even says,” Now, what will happen?”, after writing the names of the criminal who was harassing the girl. It clearly shows that he is more curious to know if the Death Note works or not, instead of ensuring that the girl is safe.
This pattern is not an aberration but normality for Light throughout the show. For Light, murder is justifiable as long as the greater good (according to his philosophy) is taken into account. He is the embodiment of Utilitarian philosophy which says that morality depends only on ends and not the means. So, under the Utilitarian overview, his actions are justifiable. But Utilitarianism is a very narrow-minded view of looking at things. It violates individual rights. On one hand, we have Light, who ends up murdering hundreds of men including his father for his holier-than-thou selfish motives, while in contrast, the deuteragonists of the show L and Near put a very high value on human life. Their worldview is not hypocritical since they even value the life of the criminals who Lights kills indiscriminately. They are firm believers in the rule of law and make sure that it is upheld.
Death Note is a clash between these two philosophies and has done tremendously well in presenting the arguments of both sides. L has suspected Light to be Kira (the public name Light uses to remain anonymous) from the beginning of the show. He had very intelligently looked at all the clues left behind by Light to come to this conclusion, and he had maintained his stance till his death. If L followed Light’s philosophy, he could have easily solved the case by Light’s extrajudicial murder. It is so interesting to see how L never considered killing Light an option. He never goes against his philosophy of strong individual rights and focused on getting irrefutable evidence to make the case stronger against Light.
After L dies, his successor Near takes over his position in the fight against Light. Near never gets his emotions in his way, and even though for him, L was his ideal, he ensures that he does not make revealing Light’s true identity something personal to him. Near just like his successor rejects the Utilitarian notions and moral justifications, that are underlying principles of Light’s murder spree. He, too without ever saying it, upholds the rule of law and in doing so, ensures that the individual rights of the suspects are protected. Their fixation on not doing anything that challenges their philosophy puts them at a significant disadvantage in front of someone like Light. But their stance, therefore, is even more praiseworthy as it comes at an even greater risk. L was killed by Light, and the same can happen to Near, who is well aware of the personal risks he is taking.
Near succeeds in putting an end to Light and his indiscriminate extrajudicial murders. But it is interesting to see that people in the world of death Note overwhelmingly support Light. Does it make his actions morally justifiable? Does their support make the crimes morally permissible? Every society chooses moral principles that become the basis of the laws that govern it, so it’s always up to the people to decide. But it is observed that countries that uphold the rule of law and resort to much more humane treatment of its criminals with a strong focus on individual rights, usually do a better job of curbing crimes than countries that act tough on criminals. An excellent example of this is the Scandinavian nations which have done an outstanding job of controlling crime by a humane treatment of its criminals.
So, even though people in the world of death Note support Light more than L or Near, the moral stance of the deuteragonists stands superior to the corrupted version of justice of Light.
Aida Martin has diverse interests that range from writing to video games. She has always had a strong passion for writing. She likes to write about games, tech events, security, and whitepapers. Her vast and varied knowledge aided by her supreme writing skills, have made her a powerful writer at office.com/setup.