Philosophy and the Superhero

Sunday, October 23, 2022
First Aired: 
Sunday, April 12, 2020

What Is It

Philosophy is replete with thought experiments featuring characters like Descartes’ “Evil Genius” and Davidson’s “Swampman.” Some of the scenarios philosophers conjure up seem like they could’ve been plucked from a superhero comic. Or is it the other way around? Why do philosophy and superhero comics employ such similar thought experiments? Is there something about the comic book—a medium that is both visual and lexical—that particularly lends itself to philosophical thinking? And what would a philosophy of the superhero look like? The philosophers save the world with Nathaniel Goldberg from Washington and Lee University, co-author of Superhero Thought Experiments: Comic Book Philosophy.



Josh Landy  
Can comic books reveal deep truths about human nature?

Ray Briggs  
What can Marvel's Miracle Man teach us about metaphysics?

Josh Landy  
Should kids really be learning ethics from Batman and Superman?

Comments (2)

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Wednesday, March 4, 2020 -- 11:39 AM

Having been a comic

Having been a comic aficionado for decades before even thinking about philosophy, I have to credit that early love with my eventual transmutation. Comic books are replete with philosophy---it is just that, much of the time, it is disguised and/or down played. Comic book readers are not ordinarily associated with hard philosophy, and, obversely, philosophers are not likely to be advocates for the comics. At least not overtly, anyway. The thing about the world is this: things in it are so constituatively interconnected, it is difficult sometimes to absolutely segregate those that are not. Sit back and enjoy the ride! Now that my taste for philosophy has been awakened, I'll probably go back to some other good reading as well. Can't imagine why exactly I 'gave it up'.---Intellectuals are so bound up about so many things. They can lose track of, well, fun.

Daniel's picture


Sunday, October 2, 2022 -- 2:17 PM

They can, but how frequently

They can, but how frequently can it be veritably said that they do? Illustrated narratives first appear in the Sumerian period as an information-distributor of propaganda-contents for the purpose of assistance of governance-security as result of favorable outcome of military contest. The twentieth century character of Captain America serves a similar purpose in personage-interplay and graphonarration. Authoro-illustrators such as Gene Gerard (Mobius), Barry Winsor Smith, and Esteban Marato, on the other hand, serve to instantiate by indirect promotion libertarian principles to the point of direct advocacy of reform, removal, and replacement of existing social institutions. In the context of Richard Corban's seminal work in air-brush together with John Severin, Bernie Wrightson, and Gil Kane, one can speak of adequate indicators of epic processes so that today's graphic novel gathers effortlessly around the ground of expectation governing consumer behaviors generated by visionary associations. One is then left to consider what arguably can be described as the greatest single contributor of philosophy to graphonarration practices and their active use: the unassailable work of Wally Wood, who in his "Prelude to Armageddon" outpaced in visually aided reference-extension his able contemporary: Frank Frazetta. At those ranges of contemplative horizons, graphonarrators such as John Buscema, Alfred Alcala, and Jack Kirby become mere pedestrians, shining in the borrowed light of their superiors. When the Pander Brothers produced a Batman edition, the scope was expanded beyond what the habitual readership could hold, whereas the inclusion of colorist Chris Chalenor in Dark Horse's line brought the science employed by Albers and Hans Hoffman into consideration as one of the very few genuine fruits of the otherwise failed theory of color elaborated by Goethe, as boundary of scope together with intension of hue are describable as a brightening effort towards a darkened base or a darkening effort on a brightened base. The reader's "effort" occurs in the context of typical literary structures, for which personages are either heros, villians, or those threatened by villians and saved by heros; which leads to my question: What about an autobiographical comic book? If you wrote one, say about your years in government, would you be the hero or the villian, or one of the other group?

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