The Care of the Reaper Man
Neely, E. L. (2014) “The Care of the Reaper Man: Death, the Auditors, and the Importance of Individuality.” In J. Held & J. South (Eds.) Philosophy and Terry Pratchett. Palgrave MacMillan.
In Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, there is an ongoing battle between Death and a group of beings known as the Auditors. These beings strive to maintain order in the universe and dislike humanity and all its inherent messiness. Death, on the other hand, is rather fascinated by humans and sees value in the individuality humans exhibit. This causes tension between him and the Auditors, which comes to a head in three novels wherein the Auditors attempt to impose their view of order upon the Discworld: Reaper Man, Hogfather, and Thief of Time.
In each of these novels Death thwarts the Auditors by acting in concert with humans. His motives for this stem from an odd allegiance to the importance of individuality and care. Humans have different desires and beliefs; they are not all the same. While this may distress the Auditors, it is fundamental to the nature of humans –we are individuals and must be treated as such. To ignore this and attempt to deal with humans purely collectively is to be unjust.
This illustrates a more general tension between the individual and the collective. While humans are driven to form communities, we also wish to maintain our individuality; there is thus a question as to how to balance commitments to the group with commitments to the individual. One place this tension emerges is in ethical theorizing. While traditionally there is a push towards universalization in ethics, recently many have come to believe that our ethical thinking must recognize the embodied and individual nature of humans; we cannot impartially treat humans as essentially all the same. This position is echoed by Death in his battle with the Auditors; he knows that humans are inherently individual and this cannot be stifled without destroying humanity.
While there are many examples of this tension between individual and collective in the works of Terry Pratchett, I will focus specifically on the conflict between Death and the Auditors. Not only is Death the unexpected champion of humanity and individuality, he also is explicitly committed to the importance of care. This has unexpected ramifications, not least of which is that it enables Death to create justice on the Discworld; his care for humanity is the catalyst for justice……………………..