Book Review: Batman And Philosophy

Batman And Philosophy:  The Dark Knight Of The Soul, edited by Mark D. White and Robert Arp

Being fond of the Dark Knight [1], dark nights of the soul [2], and the Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture series, this book was an obvious choice to read.  For those who are fans of both Batman and philosophy, this book delivers.  What it delivers, though, it should be noted, is not entirely straightforward, since the book dwells heavily on questions of identity, given the fact that this is an essential question concerning Batman.  As is true in previous volumes of the series, it is clear that many of the authors are writing out of a love of pop culture geekiness as well as the understandable desire to pay off college loans and have some sort of publishing in their curriculum vita by writing insightful articles that reveal at least as much, if not more, about the philosophers themselves and their worldviews as about Batman itself.  Such a phenomenon is to be expected, and ought not to bother anyone who reads this book, or any other book in the series.

The contents of the book are pretty straightforward.  The book consists of a little less than 300 pages of material divided into six parts that contain 20 essays.  The first part consists of questions about the morality of the dark knight, asking why Batman doesn’t kill Joker despite many chances, whether it is right to make a Robin, and the virtuous hatred of Batman.  The second part looks at where Batman fits in regarding law, justice, and the social order, with essays about No Man’s Land comparing Gotham to post-Katrina New Orleans, the problems of governing Gotham, and whether Joker can be considered of sound mind and therefore morally responsible.  The third part looks at the origins and ethics of Batman, including the promise of Batman to fight against evil, whether Bruce Wayne should have become Batman, and the question of Bruce Wayne as a moral exemplar.  The fourth part of the book has four chapters on the identity of Batman, including essays on how anyone can become Batman, whether Batman could have been the Joker using a possible worlds analysis, the use of Wittgenstein’s family resemblance approach to solve a supposed identity crisis, and what is it like to be a Batman.  The fifth part of the book contains insights from existentialism and Taoism to examine the approach of Alfred as a supposed dark knight of faith, the call of conscience, and Batman’s confrontation with death, angst, and freedom.  The sixth and final part of the book looks at the many roles of Batman, including a discussion of why Batman is superior to Superman, the nature of friendship between Batman and Superman, Aristole, Kant, and Dick Grayson on moral education, and the Tao of the bat from the point of view of a disguised Alfred.

Compared to the previous volumes of the series that I have read, this is a much darker volume, but perhaps that is to be expected given the moral darkness of the Batman universe as a whole.  Batman, as a heroic figure, is a very gray figure, a vigilante whose legitimacy is doubtful and who is often scarcely better than the villains that he fights against.  It is only in the context of the darkness of Gotham City that he even comes out on the side of good.  Keeping up such an identity requires a schizoid approach with regards to other people, a keeping of distance, an inability to feel comfortable with anyone too close, a tendency to desire sidekicks but to have few genuine friends.  If Batman does not end up looking evil, he ends up looking sad and somewhat lonely, a poor moral exemplar, and a sign of the darkness of the world that we live in that such characters as he is can be viewed as among the pinnacles of goodness.  Yet for those of us who are somewhat darker characters ourselves, Batman is a reminder that being dark need not make one evil, even if it does make one a more complicated character than many people would rather deal with in a dark alley.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

[3] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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4 Responses to Book Review: Batman And Philosophy

  1. Pingback: Book Review: James Bond And Philosophy | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: The Matrix And Philosophy: Welcome To The Desert Of The Real | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Book Review: The Simpsons’ Beloved Springfield | Edge Induced Cohesion

  4. Pingback: Book Review: Philosophy In The Hellenistic & Roman Worlds | Edge Induced Cohesion

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