The Virtues of Captain AmericaModern-Day Lessons on Character from a World War II Superhero
The first look at the philosophy behind the Captain America comics and movies, publishing in advance of the movie release of Captain America: The Winter Solider in April 2014. In The Virtues of Captain America, philosopher and long-time comics fan Mark D. White argues that the core principles, compassion, and judgment exhibited by the 1940’s comic book character Captain America remain relevant to the modern world. Simply put, "Cap" embodies many of the classical virtues that have been important to us since the days of the ancient Greeks: honesty, courage, loyalty, perseverance, and, perhaps most importantly, honor. Full of entertaining examples from more than 50 years of comic books, White offers some serious philosophical discussions of everyone’s favorite patriot in a light-hearted and accessible way. Presents serious arguments on the virtues of Captain America while being written in a light-hearted and often humorous tone Introduces basic concepts in moral and political philosophy to the general reader Utilizes examples from 50 years of comics featuring Captain America, the Avengers, and other Marvel superheroes Affirms the value of "old-fashioned" virtues for the modern world without indulging in nostalgia for times long passed Reveals the importance of the sound principles that America was founded upon Publishing in advance of Captain America: The Winter Soldier out in April 2014.
Introduction vii Acknowledgments xiii Notes on Source Material xiv About the Author xvi 1 Superhuman Ethics Class 1 Utilitarianism 2 Deontology 6 A Civil War … of Ethics! 10 Virtue Ethics 13 Virtuous Deontology … No, Deontological Virtue … Maybe “Deontovirtue”? 18 2 Captain America as a Moral Exemplar 25 Can a Fictional Character Be a Moral Exemplar? 26 Aren’t Fictional Characters Liable to Be Perfect? 29 Fifty Years, Dozens of Writers … One Captain America? 34 3 Five Basic Virtues 45 Courage 46 Humility 50 Righteous Indignation 54 Sacrifice and Responsibility 58 Perseverance 63 4 Honor and Integrity 76 The Honor of Captain America 76 External Honor as Respect 78 Internal Honor as Integrity 85 Principle and Compromise 88 Duty and Sacrifice (Again) 96 5 Judgment 109 Making the Hard Decisions 110 Whose Right Answer? 115 Tragic Dilemmas and How to Avoid Them 118 “Black-and-White” or Red, White, and Blue? When Judgment Evolves 122 Hitting the Threshold 131 6 Principle and Politics 143 Patriotism: The Captain and America 143 Cosmopolitanism 146 The American Dream Versus the American Reality 150 “I’m a Hero, Not a Politician!” 153 Principle over Politics 156 Captain America in (Principled) Action 161 Secret Empire/Nomad 161 The Captain 163 Civil War 166 7 Can Captain America Help Us Achieve Greater Unity and Civility? 178 The “Divided States of America,” Then and Now 178 The Three Core American Ideals 181 Justice 182 Equality 184 Liberty 186 Debating What We Disagree On While Recognizing What We Share 188 Now It’s Our Turn 193 Appendix: Why Are There Seven Volumes of Captain America and Five Volumes of Avengers? 198 References 202 Index 221
“And, as was the case with his previous works, this book is particularly interesting, stimulating, convincing, well-written, and well-documented—using an incredible number of examples, illustrations and quotations from Captain America’s adventures.” (The Journal of Popular Culture, 17 August 2015) “If ever there was a need for a philosophical book on a super-hero then Captain America certainly deserves one and I think you’ll find this will fill you in on his motivations and his popularity and how it has been embraced in the recent films.” (SFCrowsnest, 1 May 2014)
Mark D. White is Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy at the College of Staten Island/CUNY and co-editor of Batman and Philosophy.
Clad in an American flag, the patriotic comic book character Captain America was first portrayed battling against the forces of evil unleashed during World War II. Today, however, Captain America is often seen as a throwback to a simpler time, embodying a black-and-white ethical code poorly suited to the complexities of the modern world. In The Virtues of Captain America, philosopher and pop culture expert Mark D. White argues that “Cap” is indeed a hero for the contemporary era and someone to be emulated now more than ever. White reveals that Captain America’s focus on core principles and ideals, combined with his sound judgment, compassion, and iron will, is anything but simple—and is precisely what we need to navigate 21st-century problems in our personal lives, our communities, and our country as a whole. White shows us that while Captain America is often regarded as a jingoistic flag-waver, he has been written consistently as representing a kind of patriotism that adheres to basic tenets of liberty and equality while staying above partisan politics. On several occasions, in fact, Captain America’s devotion to these principles has led him to defy the American government when he feels it doesn’t live up to its own ideals. Infused with philosophical insights couched in humor, The Virtues of Captain America shows us that by following "Cap’s" example, people on both ends of the political spectrum can learn to put their differences aside and focus on their common ground—the basic principles that all of America embodies.
“An illuminating, well-written volume that gives a whole new insight to Marvel Comics's Star-Spangled Avenger and what he stands for in the 21st century.” Mark Waid, Marvel Comics writer “An intriguing look at one of the most iconic and misunderstood characters in the history of comics. This book proves that ‘Cap’ is no one-dimensional flag-waver: he’s a fascinating and complex character who has continually reflected the changes in the equally complex nation he represents.” J.M. DeMatteis, Writer—Captain America, Moonshadow, Brooklyn Dreams "Captain America matters more now than ever, and this book proves it. Digging deep, Mark White excavates ‘Cap's’ complexity, highlighting lessons and virtues that can help heal America." William Irwin, General Editor of The Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series
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