Pride, not ethics - Willow's sense of morality in S6
I recently wrote a couple of drabbles for open_on_sunday which compared Willow in S4/S5 to her in a similar situation in mid-S6, around the time between 'Tabula Rasa' and 'Wrecked'. Part of my idea was that even at her lowest ebb, Willow would avoid using magic to cheat in an exam. beer_good_foamy replied with some very insightful comments on Willow's sense of ethics, and since a fanfic community probably isn't the best place for extended meta discussions, I thought I'd give a fuller reply here.
Willow, not completely unlike Wesley, wants good consequences. She has a very strong view of what is right and what is wrong (I'm sure one could argue that her mother is partially responsible for that) but those rights and wrongs are more situations than actions; she wants everything to BE the way it should be, but she will do just about anything to make it so, including black magic.
I think this is a very good analysis - for Willow, the end justifies the means. And the quicker the better: she's always been fond of the single dramatic gesture to solve problems, and this must help explain the appeal of magic to her. You can imagine her growing up as the quiet, passive but compassionate girl sitting in the corner, observing (and suffering) all the acts of cruelty and selfishness children are capable of, and feeling helpless to do anything about it... and suddenly she develops the power to set anything right with just a word. No wonder it goes to her head.
The complete opposite of Angel, of course, who learns that it's not your intentions and ultimate dreams that make a difference, but what you actually do, this day and every day. The fact that Willow eventually screws up so badly suggests that in the Jossverse at least, Angel's got the right idea...
For Willow, though, I think it's more than just the ends that justify the means - it's the person carrying out the action too. She seems to have a rather simplistic division of the world into good and evil, and anything the good guys do is, by definition, good.
"Oh, there are others in the world who can do what you did. You just don't want to meet them."
"Okay, probably not - but they're bad guys. I am not a bad guy. I brought Buffy back to the world and maybe the word you should be looking for is 'congratulations.'" (from 'Flooded')
It's the same viewpoint that lets her hack into other people's computer systems and read their confidential records; she knows she's a good person and won't do anything bad with the information, so surely there's nothing wrong with what she does?
"I'm just taking stuff and not paying for it. In what twisted dictionary is that stealing?" (from 'Triangle')
Of course, Willow's selective view of morality applies mostly to herself. In the early seasons she's excited by the idea of 'being naughty', 'being a rebel', and she also sometimes shows a vengeful streak, especially towards Cordelia and Harmony; but this is mostly just cute, not sinister. It's pretty clear to everybody - including her friends - that she's too fundamentally soft-hearted and nice to want to seriously hurt anyone. (Of course, once she acquires her dark magical powers all these 'cute' character traits reappear in a very different light). However, she also applies her distinctive morality to Buffy - she's very loyal to her friends, after all, and her first reaction is always to excuse their behaviour, whatever they did. (Non-friends, of course - such as Faith - don't get this break.)
"And it is my fault. I've been a bad friend. I got so caught up in my own stuff."
"You're the Slayer, Buffy. Your stuff is pretty crucial." (from 'Primeval').
Part of this, I'm sure, comes from Willow's exceptional intelligence. She's very, very good at working things out and finding the correct answer: and I'm sure she got used to being right while everybody else was still struggling with the problem. So instead of waiting around for the people around her to decide to do what she's already seen is the best course of action, she just goes ahead and does it anyway.
Finally, there's also the fact that she's - not lazy exactly, but not interested in going the long way round. I think this exchange from
"There's an old conjuration that the ancient Turks used to communicate with the dying -"
"Oh, yeah. I think I've read a translation of that. "
"There's a translation? Oh, great! I'm reading like two words of Turkish a night when I could be..."
Dawn plunges in with an English-Turkish dictionary; Willow looks for the translation. And while she's too nice to show it, I'm sure she felt a little bit smug at using her brains to find the easy way to learn the spell. Just as back in high school, she was impressed by Giles' level of knowledge, not appreciating that he stays up all night to acquire it. It's not that she's afraid of hard work: she loves it, but only if it's something that interests her. If she can, she'll skip straight past the difficult or boring parts: it's all a part of her quick intelligence. And once she acquires the ability, she sees magic as an even better tool to achieve the same ends.
Consequences? They don't really bother her. She's always figured out a way to overcome her problems before, so surely she always will...