Batman, the Joker, and Moral Philosophy: Perfect Together!

Much to my family’s chagrin, I majored in Philosophy in college. I chose philosophy because I loved everything about it, especially the thought experiments. Basically, we’d look at a situation or an example, and debate the underlying moral/metaphysical/ethical/political themes until we either came to a conclusion or talked ourselves in circles. Philosophy taught me the importance of standing behind my beliefs, of expressing myself in a clear fashion, and of making sure any argument I laid out could be defended (often in front of the rest of my class, and while my professor tore into me until I gave in or proved I was right). But none of the issues we debated in philosophy classes were nearly as weighty as the one posed by Comics Alliance: Should Batman Kill the Joker?

In this philosophical debate, they take the perspective of five different philosophers: Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill, Thomas Hobbes, John Rawls, Friedrich Nietzche. Yes, all my favorite philosophers were in one place answering THE question of our age! And the analysis is actually quite good. This isn’t a cheap, watered-down version of “Batman and Philosophy”. No, they really do look at how these philosophers approached moral issues and what they might have said about the Dark Knight. For example, from the Kantian analysis:

Kantian ethics hinges on the idea of categorical imperatives, meaning that there are universal ethical standards in the world that cannot be violated. Batman’s code of conduct isn’t an arbitrary set of rules that can be broken or bent in service to a higher power — it is the higher power. It’s what makes Batman, in his own mentality, the anti-criminal. Batman has resolved that killing is wrong, and so not killing is an inviolable imperative.

However, that doesn’t mean that Batman is a model Kantian. After all, Kant asserted that actions should be performed from duty rather than passion. That sense of duty may keep Batman from killing the Joker, but wasn’t the whole notion of Batman born from passion? After all, it was the sorrow of that little boy watching his parents die in an alley that spawned a lifelong obsession with crime. And Batman engages in all sorts of behavior that wouldn’t exactly come Kant-approved, especially his constant deception.

Ah yes, Kant. Not much for costume parties. In all seriousness, the entire article is great, and they are very straight-faced in their application of Batman’s mythology with ethical philosophy. I do wish there were more than five listed, and I would have loved to see them use a philosopher to argue for the Joker continuing to live (maybe a Buddhist viewpoint on not taking life) just as a counterpoint. It’s still a fun read where real life views and values collide with a well-known fantasy world!

Via Comics Alliance


About the Author

Carly Z
Carly has been a gadget fiend for a long time, going back to her first PDA (a Palm M100). She quickly went from researching what PDA to buy to following tech news closely and keeping up with the latest and greatest stuff. She loves writing about ebooks because they combine her two favorite activities; reading anything and everything, and talking about fun new tech toys. What could be better?