Podcast Question of the Week – Episode 168

“We seize control FOR THE GREATER GOOD.”

In his letter to Grindelwald, Dumbledore says they should take over for “the greater good” and Hermione goes on to say that Dumbledore abandoned his beliefs on this subject. But did he really abandon the idea of doing things for “the greater good?” Or did Dumbledore’s definition of the greater good evolve?

Let us know what you think in the comments below or by sending us an Audioboom!

  • Draco Malfoy, for many years, prances around gloating about his pure blood and ties with Ol’ Voldee. Before he actually has to deal with any of it, he has no problems being such a cruel person. Even in book 5, before his father lost his high status with Voldee, Malfoy still had no problem with working for or with his Dark Lord. It wasn’t until Malfoy experienced the casualties of his ways that he realized what he was doing and thinking was wrong. I think it’s safe to safe Malfoy moved on from his way of thinking.

    Dumbledore and Malfoy are extremely similar in this sense however, Dumbledore had his world domination thoughts for a good 2 months as opposed to Malfoy’s roughly 17 years. Malfoy was far more invested in his cruel ways and managed to come out of them a different person. We know how awful Ariana’s death was for Dumbledore. Those short 2 months of “greater good” talk haunted Dumbledore for the entirety of his life. It was an impossibly heavy reminder about what the “greater good” leads to. Dumbledore definitely abandoned that way of thinking. What he does with Harry is on a personal level. It is not “for the greater good.” Dumbledore does not think this way anymore.

    • Flying My Ford Anglia

      Side note: I thought Dumbledore had snape kill him in order to transfer ownership of the elder wand?

      • Dumbledore has Snape kill him to save Draco. Save him from Ol’ Voldee’s wrath and to save him from the mental scaring of killing a man. I don’t believe the Elder Wand’s allegiance could have passed his Dumbledore and Snape had knowingly set up the killing. The wand passes over to those who defeat it’s master and would you say Snape defeated Dumbledore or continue to follow Dumbledore’s orders?

        • I agree, I don’t think the elder wand would pass from Dumbledore to Snape because it was planned, but it was said that the elder wand would only pass ownership through murder, if Draco obtained it through disarming Dumbledore wouldn’t that make the elder wand just a regular wand? And if it can only transfer through murder that means the power of the elder wand would of died with Dumbledore and not go onto the ownership of Harry because harry didn’t kill Draco he just forcefully took Dracos wand from his hands.

      • UmbridgeRage

        Dumbledore believes that if he and Snape conspire to kill him for humane reasons then the power of the Elder Wand will die with Dumbledore. The wand wont accept Snape as its new master because he didn’t truly defeat Dumbledore or murder him for power. Without a master to be defeated the wand will not “work” for anyone the way it doesn’t “work” for Voldemort during the Battle of Hogwarts.

        I have wondered if all had gone to plan if the Elder Wand would have simply sensed the magical power in Voldemort and accepted him as its new master when he took the wand from Dumbledore’s tomb.

        And They’ve Taken My Wheezy has replied while I typed this. (damn two finger typing)

        • You explained it better than I did!


        • Flying My Ford Anglia

          I’n sure that saving malfoys soul was part of the plan, but was it the whole plan?
          I don’t have the books in front of me, and I can’t quite remember how it is explained in DH after/during the Battle at Hogwarts, but Harry does acquire a fully functional elder wand, correct? If so then the wand wouldn’t have stopped working like Dumbledore may have intended.

          Also, how much does the wand care for intention? As much as it does seem to hold stock in magical prowess (I mean, it is a wand after all), I feel like its ownership is more straightforward than how difficult it was to get the wand/how willing the previous owner was to relinquish it.
          Isn’t it that you just have to disarm them, not kill the owner to take it? I believe in the Three Brothers he kills the brother for good measure, but he had already taken the wand.

          Also also are there any other precedents for giving the wand to someone? Or is it always assumed that no one would ever willingly give away a wand of that power…

          P.S. Dual commenting powers! Go team!

          • UmbridgeRage

            As far as Snape is concerned saving Malfoy’ soul was the only goal. However, I’m fairly certain that Dumbledore never told Snape about the Elder Wand. Harry does indeed get a fully functional Elder Wand but that was because the plan failed and Malfoy was able to disarm Dumbledore before Snape could get there. Dumbledore never planned on having to face Malfoy in such a weakened state while needing to protect Harry at the same time.

            Wandlore is tricky as even Ollivander states. All we know for sure is the wand chooses the wizard. J.K has stated that the Elder Wand was particularly “blood-thirsty” and would only accept a wizard who was magically powerful, however, it still seemed to respect the idea that a wizard who won it in a duel was it’s rightful owner. As I pondered before, would the wand have simply accepted Voldemort when he took it from the tomb? We’ll never know since Draco was already it’s rightful master at that point. Some have theorized that Voldemort would have never sort out the Wand if the “7 Potters” plan had worked as intended and Harry didn’t face Voldemort until the proper moment. Dumbledore may have been counting on that fact when devised his plan for the Wand to die with him since Snape would not have defeated Dumbledore in anyway the Wand would have realized as a proper duel or power grab. That’s the assumption.

            I think it’s safe to assume no one would have willingly given up the Elder Wand to give it to another person. Of course it would also appear no one (other than Dumbledore) had it long enough to even consider giving it away. Wands can be given to other people. Ron had Charlie’s old wand in PS and CoS when it was broken, Harry used Hermione’s in this chapter, Nevile uses his dad’s until the end of OotP and Draco will use his mother’s later in this book. But, they don’t work quite the same or as well as their own. The “power” of the Elder Wand would not have transfer to the new owner if it was simply given to them.

          • Flying My Ford Anglia

            Awesome explanation 🙂 I knew that normal wants could be given so I was speaking more to giving the elder wand. But you got to that too 🙂 You’re right that there are so many things that happened that Dumbledore had not accounted for. Having everything go “according to his plan”, regardless of what that plan was, at this point is certainly unlikely.

          • UmbridgeRage


  • daveybjones999 .

    I don’t think it’s about abandoning the idea of the greater good but more about not using that as an excuse for his actions. All of his actions during this time period are because he’s finally met someone whose around his level on not just an intellectual level, but also someone whose just as talented and capable of magic as him as well. And because of this he starts having these thoughts about being better than muggles so therefore they must lead them for their own good. The things that he and Grindlewald are planning and the way that they want to achieve these goals are pretty heinous. I don’t think that Dumbledore ever really believed in a greater good but that he was really just using this as an excuse such as, it’s ok if I do all of these horrible things because it’s for the greater good. The greater good is really just something that some people who do horrible things use so that they don’t feel guilty for their actions because if they’re for a “greater good” than they will ultimately be redeemed for their actions. Arianna’s death opens Dumbledore’s eyes so that he finally sees all his talk of a greater good for what it really is.

    So why does he start fighting back against Grindlewald and then later Voldemort if it’s not for the greater good? It’s because he feels guilty and responsible for the atrocities they commit because if he had stopped Grindlewald when he was a kid, or had actually succeeded at turning Voldemort away from his evil tendencies than these horrible events never would have happened. Much has been made about the lengths Dumbledore goes to stop Voldemort so I’m not going to go in to them in depth here. The difference between his actions here and his actions back then is that he doesn’t use the greater good as an excuse for all of the unsavory things he does in service to his goals. Or at the very least this time he’s not trying to oppress anyone this time and I don’t think many people would argue that Voldemort needs to be stopped.

    • daveybjones999 .

      This question really opens up a gigantic philosophical can of worms, that I originally didn’t want to open because I felt that it would muddle my point too much. However after reading through the comment thread I’ve decided to add a slight addendum to my previous comment because now I feel like through opening that proverbial can I can expand on and thus clarify my point a lot better. When I said that the phrase “the greater good” is just an excuse that people who do horrible things use to justify their actions I really mean that the phrase is so vague that it might as well be utterly meaningless and that’s why it becomes nothing more than an excuse for some people. That might make it seem that I don’t believe that a greater good exists, but I think it’s more that the greater good is so different for each person that almost no one has the same definition and thoughts on that subject. In fact I think that Dumbledore’s early thinking of the “greater good” is mostly due to him being young, in love, and also arrogant enough to trick himself into believing that what Grindlewald is ultimately planning is acceptable, which ultimately as we all know leads to the Arianna’s death.

  • Casey L.

    We never find out for sure what the young Albus Dumbledore’s life plans were before his mother and sister died, but he does tell Harry later, “I wanted glory.” I don’t think Albus ever envisioned himself as a teacher/headmaster at Hogwarts. At the very least, I bet he wanted to be Minister of Magic, and possibly the head of the International Confederation of Wizards, whatever that title is . . . and he had the ambition and self-confidence (maybe even hubris?) to believe he could do it.

    Grindelwald’s influence, at least for that one summer, probably expanded the possibilities for Albus at first. Certainly, leading a wizard revolution and taking over the world would bring him glory, but he would probably feel at least somewhat uneasy about treating muggles the way his colleague wanted to – remember, Albus is a half-blood, so we get what we see in that letter – a cocky young man willing to rule, but unwilling to exert anymore force than absolutely necessary to achieve that end.

    I don’t think Albus ever truly believed in the greater good in the form we see in this chapter. In a way, he reminds me of Percy Weasley before he reconciles with his family. He wasn’t really a bad person – he just thought he knew what he wanted and was naive about how others might try to manipulate him. At first, he was willing to look the other way in exchange for the regard and attention of someone at his level, but he got a cruel wake-up call that ultimately set him straight.

    Overall, though, I don’t think the idea of the greater good ever left Albus, as we see numerous times through the books. He was perfectly willing to let Harry die, after all, for a completely different greater good – the defeat of Voldemort. He asked Snape to kill him for the greater good of not tarnishing Draco Malfoy’s soul. He was willing to leave Hogwarts in Order of the Phoenix for the greater good of searching horcruxes. He let Harry and Hermione go back in time for the greater good of saving Sirius and Buckbeak, and those are just a few examples.

    • Mischief Managed

      You said much of what I was going to! Dumbledore may have realized that magical supremacy was not “for the greater good” and that Grindelwald was a bad person, but he constantly makes decisions that affect others, often without their input or even knowledge, in order to further the cause of defeating Voldemort. He constantly keeps secrets from others-especially Harry-because he believes it is for their own good. He essentially leaves Snape with no other option but to kill him. While he may not be into the idea of ruling over all muggles, he still has no problem dictating the paths of several individuals.

  • Efthymia

    I believe everything Dumbledore does in the series is for the greater good, and he does it knowingly for the greater good.
    I don’t know if his perception of the greater good changed -perhaps he didn’t really believe what he called “greater good” in his letter to Grindelwald was such, and he was trying to excuse it to himself. We’ll never know.
    While, I’ll admit, I was disappointed to find out that in his youth Dumbledore considered magical supremacy, he remains one of my favourite characters, largely because he was able to make the difficult decisions and take the necessary steps for the greater good.

    Unlike Harry, who said it but didn’t really live up to it, I AM Dumbledore’s (wo)man through and through. 🙂

    • travellinginabluebox

      Thank you so much! Dumbledore remains my favourite character in the series and I even think that his flaws make him an even greater character. Otherwise he would just be the good guy and genius leader. Let’s all appreciate that Jo gave us far more fleshed out and realistic characters than that.

      So I will join you and with saying: I AM Dombledore’s (wo)man through and through!

  • ThatTimeRemusWaddiwasiedVoldy

    It is sort of difficult to get to the bottom of this without really knowing more detailed information on Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s exact plans. To what extent did they want to subjugate Muggles to Wizard rule? By what means did they plan to achieve their ends? What did this idea of a new world order actually look like to them? This would help us understand Dumbledore’s thinking and convictions in his youth much better.

    That being said, Dumbledore does provide us with some insight within context of the letter. With his talk of “responsibilities” he seems to view Wizards, perhaps even he and Grindelwald themselves, as filling the role of a benevolent King, wherein those in charge have supreme power but rule with the needs of their subjects in mind. He embraces this position with the idea that it is “for the greater good”. Good though his intentions may be, this idea is problematic in that it is an assumption of one’s ability to correctly determine what is good for all and then use their power to exercise that judgement. It is those with power (Wizards) exacting rule over the powerless (Muggles). In terms of moral high ground, this notion is still wrong.

    Over time Dumbledore completely shifts his understanding of what it means to act for the greater good. He seems to recognize the intrinsic problems with this, and so the Dumbledore Harry meets has a different approach. Young Dumbledore’s way required that the powerless sacrifice their autonomy, for their supposed own good, to the whims of the powerful. By contrast, old Dumbledore’s methods suggest that to be a true protector, the powerful must make sacrifices of themselves to do what is necessary to defend the powerless. This is his acceptance of those inherent responsibilities without seeking to hold supreme power in order to carry those duties out. We see this in that he sacrifices not only his own life in his fight for good, but also encourages his fellow wizards to take the same risks, i.e. the Order and Harry.

    So he has abandoned this idea of “right to rule” entirely, but has evolved in his own summation of what it means to act “for the greater good”. He seems to question his own ability to judge the best course for all, especially when dealing with Harry. He no longer claims to know what is best for all and makes the best calls he can, knowing he is capable of mistakes and therefore is unfit for supreme power. He merely offers up his considerable talents and cleverness to give The fight for good the best chance possible.

    To me he has also shifted in judgement from the ends justifying the means to realizing that the means are worth equal consideration to the ends.

    • ThatTimeRemusWaddiwasiedVoldy

      Sorry my response is so terribly long, this was such a good PQOTW though 🙂

  • I think this is the best place to mention that Grindelwald is the name of a small skiing village in Switzerland that I visited once on a skiing holiday with my family. Maybe Jo did the same and thought it sounded like a good villain name. Just a thing.

  • Narsista’s Mista

    I think that Dumbledore never really lost the mindset of ‘for the greater good’. I feel he simply exaggerated and fleshed out the plans of taking over muggles because of his love – maybe even worship – of Grindlewald. He might not ever even intended to carry these plans out, but was simply extended his mind, challenging himself and trying to impress Grindlewald. He sort of believed that things should be done for the greater good, but never truly wanted to rule over muggles. He was merely trying to appeal to Grindlewald, not able to see that he might actually want to put those plans into effect.

  • Dumbledore absolutely believes in the ideal of the “greater good” right up until his death. He manipulates the entire situation with Harry–as Snape puts it, raising him as a pig for slaughter–in order to defeat Voldemort *and* consciously brings about his own death by using Snape to his own advantage (putting him in the Defense Against the Dark Arts position amid a charm that meant Snape would only be in that position for the duration of a school year and rumors that he didn’t want Snape in that position in the first place, ruining Snape’s reputation in the eyes of the students and other teachers who for all he knew would never find out the truth behind his “murder” of Dumbledore, etc.). He is willing to push on despite the collateral damage that results because of this idea (Remember that he told Snape to “play [his] part” in the battle that occurs after Harry leaves Privet Drive for the last time, which means that Dumbledore was giving Snape blanket approval to kill if it meant staying in Voldemort’s good books and that it’s kind of lucky Snape only took George’s ear off). Really, the answer to this question is all laid out when we visit Snape’s memories and see his conversation with Dumbledore. The latter outright states that Harry must die and must be killed by Voldemort in order to defeat the dark wizard for good (or for the “greater good,” if we wanna go there). Ariana’s death was the foundation of this shift in his life, not merely his friendship with Grindelwald. It’s sort of like how Bruce Wayne sees in “The Dark Knight,” after the Joker facilitates Rachel Dawes’ death, that he would have to become like the Joker in order to defeat him. Dumbledore is faced with a similar challenge after his best friend and the love of his youth turned into the terrible person Dumbledore was always in denial about (and he lays this out again in Harry’s purgatorial visit to King’s Cross, including his decision to present Hermione with the clue to the Deathly Hallows instead of simply dumping it into Harry’s lap and distracting him from his goal). He just chose differently: to calculate unseemly choices against the far, far worse things that would happen if he didn’t make them.

    • UmbridgeRage

      Actually it’s unlucky that Snape hit George at all since he was aiming at the back of a fellow Death Eater at the time. He had no intention of hitting George at all. I think it’s a bit of a stretch to suggest Dumbledore gave Snape “blanket approval to kill”. He couldn’t stop Voldemort killing Charity at the start of DH and if Voldy had ordered Snape to kill anyone but Harry there and then I guess Snape would have had to comply. However, to suggest Albus expected Snape to kill Order members during “The 7 Potters” is a bit much.

  • DisKid

    I’m murky on what Dumbledore’s thoughts were in the first place. It is possible he didn’t really believe this stuff and only got involved to make Grindelwald like him, but it’s also possible he could have been so in love with Grindelwald that Grindelwald convinced Dumbledore this was the right thing to do.

    Of course, it’s possible Dumbledore was in it with Grindelwald before he fell in love with him.

    If his motive was love (whether that’s pretending to be for it or Grindelwald convincing him) I daresay any of his beliefs about it died when he defeated Grindelwald. It’s kind of like being married to an animal rights activist, you weren’t interested in it before, you are while you’re married to them, then after a bitter divorce you never get involved in it again. You don’t even want to think about it again.

    If his motive was not love and he already had this same idea of taking over for a greater good before falling in love, then yes it evolved. Perhaps he carried an idea in the back of his head that wizards are better than muggles, but he no longer agreed it was for the greater good to take over or no longer saw it as a priority. There were other things in the wizarding world that needed to be done for “the greater good” first. He probably decided those were more important.

  • Snufflebeast

    I find utilitarianism to be an alarmingly dangerous position. You need only look at the monstrosities advocated by people like Peter Singer to see to what murky depths it can lead you, so it’s nice to see Rowling address the issue, if fairly subtly. Because, when you think about it, utilitarianism is a very strange thing. It rejects the more traditional notion of certain actions being, in an absolute sense, inherently right or wrong, but then goes on to appeal to some new arbitrarily-selected standard of right or wrong, only applied to a larger scale. In the end, it allows the individual to choose an end-goal that they consider ‘good’ for whatever reason (and it might even be a traditional good, like the reduction of suffering) and use to it justify all manner of evils along the way.

    Interestingly, we don’t really see much of what this ‘greater good’ actually is in Dumbledore’s case. He clearly believes that wizard dominance would leave Muggles ultimately better off, but we don’t get a clear idea of what this means. What this means for us, however, is that we can’t really say if Dumbledore’s idea of the greater good really changes. Perhaps he simply no longer believes that wizard dominance is the best means for achieving the same good. That being said, I don’t think Dumbledore remained a pure utilitarian.

    What Rowling gives our heroes is a more nuanced view of moral reasoning. In Chapter 28 Harry tells Aberforth, “sometimes you’ve got to think about more than your own safety! Sometimes you’ve got to think about the greater good!” I think there’s a watertight argument to be made that this is Dumbledore’s later view, too. Both Harry and Dumbledore are willing to sacrifice a great deal to stop Voldemort. What prevents them crossing into Grindelwald territory is that they also believe in the rightness or wrongness of individual actions. That is to say that while some things, good in themselves, like one’s comfort or even one’s own life, are worth sacrificing for ‘the greater good’, no cause will justify the doing of actual evil.

    This is why Harry wasn’t willing to go along with Aberforth’s hostage idea, why Ron saw it wouldn’t be right to order the house-elves to fight with them, and why Dumbledore would have never considered, say, stabbing Harry with the sword of Gryffindor to kill the seventh horcrux (as might have been prudent under certain circumstances to ensure victory). Harry always had to choose to make his own sacrifice, with Dumbledore merely setting things up so he was equipped to make the right choice when the time came. Otherwise it would have been mere murder.

    Young Dumbledore believed that his ‘big picture’, if you will, was important enough that the quality of individual brushstrokes were irrelevant. And had he succeeded, he would have found that though he had ensured the completion of his picture, it would have been a mess and a monstrosity. Old Dumbledore understood that the quality of each stroke was important enough to risk the entire picture for their sakes, and so he created a masterpiece.

    I should note that I’ve been speaking in a very general, idealised way. Of course, our heroes aren’t perfect in their moral reasoning. Dumbledore’s concern for his mission does mean he adds a few hasty brushstrokes here and there, and I agree that these are a problematic hangover from his utilitarian days. My point is that I think these are exceptions rather than the general rule.

  • Flying My Ford Anglia

    As discussed in the podcast, Dumbledore seemed to be swept away with the idea of domination for the greater good during his infatuation for Grindelwald. However, the distinction that Dumbledore himself makes is that with power comes equal responsibility.
    I believe that this idea is what Dumbledore has held on to.

    Dumbledore is often the most knowledgable, most magically talented, and most respected individual in the room. This means he holds a great deal of power, and as such he sees it as his responsibility to use this power for good. Where the “greater good” comes in is a combination of Dumbledore’s issues of sharing responsibilities, and others idealization of Dumbledore and thinking that he has all answers. Though he has had more say in this than Harry, they both find themselves in situations where they are expected to just solve everything. When given that power, how can you morally justify not doing what is best for the most people?

    In sum, I believe Dumbledore still holds on to the idea of doing things for the greater good, because he is put in a position of impossible power and is forced to awknowledge that not everyone is always going to be okay in the end.

    P.S. Long time HP fan, first post!

    • UmbridgeRage

      “In sum, I believe Dumbledore still holds on to the idea of doing things
      for the greater good, because he is put in a position of impossible
      power and is forced to acknowledge that not everyone is always going to
      be okay in the end.”

      Great 1st post. Sums up my feelings on Dumbledore and something the “Dumbledore was an evil schemer as bad as Voldemort” crowd don’t seem to understand. I think Dumbledore understood from the moment he got his scar that Harry was a Dead Man Walking. Voldemort (once he returned) would do everything in his power to kill Harry and Harry would have to die to ultimately defeat the Dark Lord. It’s an impossible position. Sending Harry to live with the Dursleys was nothing compared to what he would end up having to ask him to do.

      • Flying My Ford Anglia

        Agreed. I mean I don’t think he had the whole picture right away, but I think he had a good idea right away, after all, that is no ordinary scar. Harry sees Dumbledore as any child would, but as he gets older and as we learn more about him from other adults we learn that Dumbledore is,in fact, human.

      • Flying My Ford Anglia

        Also, I meant to say
        Thank you! I’m really excited to be part of the discussion ☺️
        But I was in a rush and made poor choices lol

  • TickleThePear

    The fact that Dumbledore knowingly keeps Harry in the dark, to an extent, about his destiny proves that he never REALLY lets go of the idea of the greater good.

    In Dumbledore’s mind, the greater good is a peaceful society. In his youth, that meant wizard rule over muggles. In his older age, it means the defeat of Lord Voldemort. He believed both would ultimately benefit society as a whole.

    Dumbledore is all but certain Harry will need to sacrifice himself in order for Voldemort to be defeated. Every one of Dumbledore’s actions is ensuring Harry will be able to fulfill his role (“die at the right time”). He sees Harry’s death as a necessary and unavoidable part of the downfall of Voldemort. You could argue that he hoped Harry would be able to survive this sacrifice, as he ultimately does, but he certainly does not know that for sure when making his plans.

    Though I do believe he cares for Harry, he is not willing to allow Voldemort to rule to save him.

    • But Dumbledore isn’t sending Harry off to his death “for the greater good!” Harry is a Horcrux and needs to be destroyed to take down Ol’ Voldee. This is an unavoidable fact. Dumbledore left Harry in the dark for HIS own good, not the greater good. If Harry had known at any other moment that this was his destiny, everything could have changed. If anything Dumbledore did these things not “for the greater good,” but “for love.”

      • TickleThePear

        I don’t think Dumbledore left Harry in the dark for his own good. I think he wanted the information revealed to him at the right time so he would understand the sacrifice that needed to be made and make it (to defeat Voldemoet for the greater good). Hence why Dumbledore asked Snape to reveal it only when Voldemort started keeping Nagini close.

        If Dumbledore ONLY had Harry’s best interests in mind he would have been free to discuss Harry’s destiny with him before his death. But he’s not, he’s bound by the greater good to ensure Harry receives this information at the right time.

        • UmbridgeRage

          Can it not be both?

          • TickleThePear

            It’s a good question. If Dumbledore didn’t care at all about the greater good and ONLY about Harry, would he have acted differently?

            I think the answer is yes. Dumbledore wouldn’t have kept this “ultimate secret” from Harry until the “right time.” If a person you care about is destined to die, I can’t imagine being able to keep that a secret if you were free to tell them (granted it would be a difficult conversation to have, to say the least).

          • But Dumbledore knows that “there are things much worse than death. “Don’t pity the dead, pity the living…” Death is something of beauty to Dumbledore so it would be easier to keep that information from somebody he loved. He loved Harry and to let Harry know he had to die would caused a number of events to play out differently. Harry has been fighting to stay alive knowing that HE must be the one to defeat Voldee and who knows how much more reckless Harry would have become if he knew he had to die. It was for Harry’s own good that he did not know this information until the right time.

            Dumbledore isn’t happy about it either and he isn’t forcing Harry into it. I think that if Dumbledore himself had taken Harry’s life THEN you can say it was “for the greater good.” But because he left it up to choice, Harry made the decision to sacrifice himself to end the war. Certainly that sacrifice is for the greater good, but how is that a bad thing?

          • TickleThePear

            You are correct that Dumbledore doesn’t fear death, but he’s 150! Harry is only 17, even if death is “something of beauty,” there is no way Dumbledore feels the same way about Harry’s death as his own.

            You are also correct that “to let Harry know he had to die would caused a number of events to play out differently.” This is precisely why Dumbledore’s actions are for the greater good. He keeps this information from Harry so that his actions take the course Dumbledore knows they must: to his willing sacrifice. Yes, that sacrifice is Harry’s choice, but Dumbledore has brought him to that point in such a way that it’s not a choice at all. He knows the man Harry is because he’s helped mold him into the man that will sacrifice himself for the ones he loves. Could we even imagine an ending where Harry, learning of his destiny, hides away to save himself at the expense of others? Of course not!

            I’m not arguing that Dumbledore’s actions for the greater good were bad. Actions can be both “for the greater good” and “the right thing to do.” But maybe that’s a different PQOTW 🙂

          • I suppose that, yes, Dumbledore’s actions are truly for the greater good, but so are Harry’s, Hermione’s, Neville’s, and anybody really. Everybody is fighting towards ending Ol’ Voldee, but I wouldn’t consider this fight “for the greater good.”

            Dumbledore’s teenage dream was to rule over muggles and this dream was the greater good itself. This is the idea that Dumbledore has abandoned.

          • TickleThePear

            Oh yes I agree Dumbeldore is no longer fighting for wizard rule over muggles. That was how he interpreted the greater good when he was younger, not now.

            The greater good now is the fall of Voldemort.

          • UmbridgeRage

            I take the opposite view. If Dumbledore only cared about Harry and not at all about “the greater good” then he wouldn’t have told him anything ever. He would have simply let him get on and enjoy his life. Dumbledore doesn’t seem to believe in destiny or put that much stock in the prophecy so why burden Harry with any info at all?

          • TickleThePear

            I see your pont, but Harry still would’ve been faced with Voldemort’s wrath. Regardless of what Dumbledore does or does not disclose to him, Voldemort is coming after Harry.

            Dumbledore could do everything he could to prepare him for his fate or he could pull the wool over his eyes. If his only motivation was caring for Harry, I don’t think keeping him completely on the dark would be in his best interest.

          • Actually, UmbridgeRage makes a good point. If Dumbledore was working for the greater good he could simply let Harry by murdered as a necessary casualty. He wouldn’t have to waste so much time training Harry the way that he does. Instead Dumbledore does indeed share an incredible amount of information with Harry. Enough information to defeat Ol’ Voldee. He doesn’t keep Harry completely in the dark. I believe his actions are solely to see Harry succeed. If he has to die to succeed, then thats what needs to happen.

          • TickleThePear

            I’m not saying Dumbledore was ONLY working for the greater good. The question was whether he abandoned that idea in his older age and I think its clear he did not.

            He did want Harry to succeed but it was because his succeeding also contributed to the greater good (downfall of Voldemort).

            All I’m saying is that the fact that Dumbledore leads Harry to his death (which is his success and also for the greater good) shows that he does not ONLY care about Harry’s well being, otherwise he wouldn’t have let him die.

            Dumbledore’s motivations are anything but simple but its clear some part of him still cared for the greater good.

          • UmbridgeRage

            So, we’re back to why can’t it be both?

            “The greater good” is one of those phrases that means everything and nothing at the same time. As Palpatine says to Anakin in Revenge of the Sith: “Good is a point of view”. Voldy thinks he working for the greater good and so do both Fudge and Scrimgeour in their own way. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

            While this PQOW has sparked some great discussion the question itself is kinda stupid (sorry Alohamora team) because what “the greater good” means is always changing for everyone.

          • TickleThePear

            I’m not sure I’d agree that Voldemort thinks he’s working for the greater good. He’s working for his own good and screw everyone else.

            Fudge I would say is working for the greater good (or thinks he is) but is an excellent example of a misconstrued idea of what the greater good means. He believes that denying the truth will make it go away and prevent a panic. Dumbledore knows better though: though it will be painful, accepting the truth of Voldemort’s return and in turn taking the necessary steps to stop him before he rises again to his full power WOULD be for the greater good.

            Not to get sidetracked though…

            I know we’ve gone down a bit of a rabbit hole here, but I wanted to reiterate my original point (which, admittedly got a bit lost while posting from work).

            Dumbledore DOES care for Harry but he never truly let’s go of the idea of working for the greater good. Even if you go out on a limb a bit and say that Dumbledore was able to foresee that Harry may be able to survive and was somehow able to ensure the exact circumstances by which he was able to do so (willing sacrifice to save his friends versus casualty of war), we’re still left with this undeniable truth:

            Dumbledore knew Harry would need to die for Voldemort to be defeated and actively took steps to ensure this outcome. The fall of Voldemort for Harry’s life.

            Therefore, at some level, and yes, along with other motivations as well, Dumbledore never truly abandons the idea of the greater good.

          • UmbridgeRage

            I don’t think anyone ever abandons the idea of “the greater good”, they just change their idea’s on what that is. That’s why I think this is a bit of a silly PQOW (again, sorry team).

            Do you not think that Voldy believes that pure-blood rule of the world with him at the top is “the greater good”. Not for Muggles but he doesn’t care about them. That he would unite the entire wizarding world under one banner is not a noble cause in his mind. He has selfish reason as well but I think this is also a motivation for him just as Fudge also had selfish reasons to think the denial of Voldemort’s return was the best course of action.

          • TickleThePear

            The only greater good I could see Voldrmort considering is the preservation of pure wizarding blood. But I really don’t think he gives a hoot about anyone else really, even pure blood wizards.

            He’s in it for himself and just wants the most power he can get.

  • SlytherinKnight

    I do think that Dumbledore’s idea for ‘The Greater Good’ did change/evolve from his teen years to the ‘present’, mainly due to his experiences after Ariana’s death and seeing/reading about what Grindelwald was doing in mainland Europe. He didn’t want to rule the world, or lead wizards to rule over muggles as stated in his letter to Gellert but I do think that Dumbledore retained some of his wizards-first mentality as evident by his meeting with the Dursleys in HBP (the floating drinks) and his ‘forcing’ the Dursleys to take Harry in by playing on their fears (stating that they will be protected if they take Harry into their home, leaving the thought open that they could be attacked it they didn’t take Harry in).

    In the end Dumbledore grew up, much like the hosts talked about in the episode, how he was a teenager and how as a teenager, people will have wild and grandiose dreams that have no real chance of coming true. Dumbledore saw the consequences of his wild dreams with Ariana’s death and revised his ‘For the Greater Good’ thinking from taking direct control of the world to keeping to the background (being the puppet master), always offering advice and being the ‘guiding light of the wizarding world’ (Fudge constantly sending owls to Dumbledore for advice, how the Ministry fell apart after his death). Dumbledore’s one ‘redeeming’ feature is that he was willing to sacrifice his own life to further his plan (though one could argue this was all just a plot to further the martyr complex that he had instilled in Harry), and showed that Dumbledore didn’t completely abandon his ‘Greater Good’ thinking but changed it to a more moderate way of thinking.

  • MoodyHorcrux

    Im not sure if someone has mentioned this yet but, In the beginning of this letter to Gellert, it always sounded to me as if Dumbledore was trying to convince Gellert of something that Dumbledore really wanted to make sure they were on the same page with. In the letter when he writes, “Yes, we have been given power and yes, that power gives us the right to rule…” It sounds like he is quoting Gellert from a conversation they had a few hours earlier, and those are his words, not Dumbledores. Sort of like saying to a friend you care about: ok, yes, I see your point, and I understand what you mean when you say this and say that, BUT… remember this.
    Because then Dumbledore makes very clear to Gellert that, “…it also gives us responsibilities over the ruled. We must stress this point…” I definitely think that this is Dumbledores side of The Greater Good and he was trying to convince Gellert of certain view points the whole time. I feel like they were both trying to convince each other of certain passions that both of these great wizards had, because they were excited about finding each other and were trying to work together, but when they separated and the friendship was no more, the views of the other person seemed to have also left them. I believe that Dumbledores Greater Good has just altered over time. I think when he was younger, he had some values that always stayed with him, but other views that were sort of placed there by Gellert or grew in his mind while having his relationship with Gellert, vanished once Dumbledore saw what Gellert was doing with his Greater Good… and didn’t support it.
    I always thought of this situation like this: … they both wanted to try to combine their power and brains to create The Greater Good, and as young adults do, they talked and planned hypothetically and it was exciting. But once (shit hit the fan…) they were no longer friends, naturally, they sort of became each others enemies and both of them took THEIR versions of The Greater Good and tried to make a difference on their own… and since they were basically two sides of the same card, they had to fight each other and each others versions of their Greater Good in the end.

    • Mischief Managed

      I’ve always thought this way too. Dumbledore eased his own conscience about Grindelwald’s more radical views by convincing himself that he (Dumbledore) could “reign in” Grindelwald and keep him from doing anything too horrible…I think, blinded by his affection for Grindelwald, he honestly believed that he could change Grindelwald enough to make him a benevolent ruler after they together gained power, or at least that he could temper Grindelwald. Perhaps he thought Grindelwald would not do things that Dumbledore asked him not to out of love for him (I assume that, at this point in their relationship, Dumbledore at least harbored the hope, if not the idea, that Grindelwald felt the same way he did). This letter very much supports this, I feel.

      Dumbledore, of course, realizes this is not the case when Ariana is killed. I think this would have been the moment where Dumbledore saw how blind he had been, saw how evil Grindelwald truly was, and realized that Grindelwald did not share his affection. All in one terrible, heartbreaking moment.

  • DreamGalleon88

    One could argue that Albus Dumbledore became a much different person after the multiple deaths in his family. Before this he could easily be described as a self-absorbed teenager hoping to one day achieve a desired leadership role in the wizarding world. However, by the time he’s attended Hogwarts, he has evolved. Dumbledore tells Harry in Deathly Hallows that he realized, after the deaths in his family, that giving himself power would never be a wise decision. He explains that is why he’s never accepted the job of Minister of Magic, where maybe when he was younger he would have leapt at the chance at having so much power “for the greater good.”
    Doing something in the name of “the greater good” has meant something different to varying people in history, from Napoleon to George Washington to Adolf Hitler. In the wizarding world, for Dumbledore this phrase meant distinct ideals throughout phases of his life. At least by the time Harry meets the headmaster at Hogwarts, the reader is introduced to the reputation of Albus Dumbledore as it representing good triumphing over evil in the form of Voldemort and Grindelwald. As readers become exposed to more of Dumbledore’s character, but before we know his backstory, it appears that Dumbledore supports everyone who is not a Death Eater or a Slytherin who has sided with Voldemort. When Dumbledore’s backstory is revealed in Deathly Hallows, I think it was a necessary unveiling given that readers are now met with the final clues to interpret his definition of “for the greater good.” The definition is that: he realized that a day would come (and it does at the Battle of Hogwarts) when wizards must stand up and take control over a world dominated by those (Death Eaters) who wish to harm innocence, discriminate between bloodlines and threaten individual freedoms altogether.

  • TickleThePear

    I notice a lot of folks saying Dumbledore may not have really believed in what he wrote in the letter to Grindelwald, but induldge me for a second here…

    Grindelwald may have had a more extreme version in mind, but when I read the letter I imagined that (in a perfect world) if Dumbledore was actually able to execute his plan, it’d be pretty awesome.

    Imagine wizards and witches living openly amongst muggles. Muggles sharing their technologial advances and wizards sharing their magical solutions. Could a world like this ever exist? If so, would the pursuit of that type of utopia justify whatever happened to achieve it?

    I like to think Dumbledore imagined this type of peaceful future in which muggles and wizards coexisted before he met Grindelwald. After all, Ariana may never have had the problems she did if she had grown up in a world like the one I described.

    Then along comes Grindelwald, young, handsome, intelligent, and spouting some of the same ideas Dumbeldore has? Of course he got wrapped up in it.

    I admire that Dumbledore was eventually able to look past his feelings for Grindelwald and realize that his means did not justify the ends.

  • TheAmazingBouncingFerret

    I actually don’t think he ever really believed it. What happened with Grindelwald and Ariana was no sign that the idea of the powerful ruling the weak for their own good was wrong, only that Grindelwald was not the right one to seize control of anything and that he was a cruel sadist. If Albus really thought this was the way to go, he might have suggested it again in later years, picking the person to rule more carefully, but he never did. He always knew deep down that it was wrong, and the “spell” broke as soon as he realized the kind of person Grindelwald was. I actually think there is a small note of desperation in the first line of the letter. To me, it sounds as though Grindelwald went on and on about how they should take control and at some point, there was a throwaway line about it being for everybody’s good, which Albus seized and held on to. The fact that he sent him a letter hours later saying “we should really focus on this particular thing that you said, the crucial point of everything we’ll do” suggests that he didn’t really think Grindelwald would pay too much attention to that bit, and he wanted to drill it in and remind him as much as he could. I don’t know, to me the line comes on a bit too strongly for something Grindelwald supposedly already agrees to.

  • RoseLumos

    Look how much Dumbledore played with Harry and Snape’s lives, keeping them both in the dark about certain aspects of their life while asking them to both blindly follow what he says. He manipulated major parts of their lives without much of their input or opinion. Look at Harry, who was forced into an abusive home for years so he could maintain the blood protection, and is told to hunt the horcruxes without the full knowledge of them (including the fact that he is one). And Snape, who is asked to go undercover in perhaps the most dangerous undercover job ever and must face the Wizarding World as a murderer, being framed for an act that was not his choice. Then, in the end, they both have to sacrifice themselves in order for Voldemort to be defeated (Harry must literally, Snape knew that at some point in his journey that his closeness with Voldemort would backfire). Does Dumbledore mind asking both of them to risk (and end) their lives so that the Wizarding World can be saved? No, so I think he most definitely believes in the “Greater Good.” Heck, he even let’s Snape kill him to maintain the illusion he painted and to protect Draco. Even his death was for the Greater Good. So no, I don’t think his mind ever really changed. Sure, he now changed the focus from controlling Muggles to protecting the world, but he is still willing to do whatever is necessary for the Greater Good.

  • skgai

    Dumbledore never acted as though he was better then any other person after this brief moment in his life. He politely kowtows to Fudge, Lucius Malfoy, Umbridge, etc. Even though we know he’s a better man, he doesn’t actually act on it. He fights his own battles to be sure, but he doesn’t demand from Fudge to do it his way or else. He doesn’t even punish the Death Eaters he single-handedly ropes up in Order of the Phoenix. He gives them straight over to the Ministry. He never tells Harry that he, and only he, is right. In order to still maintain the belief in the Greater Good one must belief themselves superior, which unless he’s discussing ten-pen bowling or the best candies, Dumbledore certainly does not.

  • Quote_the_Ravenclaw

    I honestly believe he did evolve his “for the greater good” to simply “for good.” Keep in mind that everything that is revealed in this chapter about Dumbledore is more or less opposite of the way we have always believed Dumbledore to be. True, he did keep many people in the dark about a majority of his plans, but can we honestly think that somebody who believed in “for the greater good” would have kept Harry, the only foreseeable chance at defeating Voldemort, ignorant of all that needed to be accomplished? Protagonists in other works that were in similar situations to Harry were put through the ringer and were given as much information as possible, because their mentor believed that was the only way to defeat the antagonist.

    Dumbledore never willingly forces anybody into harms way for this cause, they all do it of their own volition, even Dumbledore himself, because they believe in “for good,” also. Essentially, they are doing the right thing and fighting against evil because they all know that it is the right thing to do. It’s worth willingly fighting for, regardless of the sacrifice.