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Superman and Philosophy: What Would the Man of Steel Do?

William Irwin (Series Editor), Mark D. White (Editor)
ISBN: 978-1-118-01809-5
256 pages
March 2013, Wiley-Blackwell
Superman and Philosophy: What Would the Man of Steel Do? (1118018095) cover image


Go beyond the cape and into the mind of the Man of Steel, in time for release of Zack Snyder's Man of Steel movie and Superman's 75th anniversary

He has thrilled millions for 75 years, with a legacy that transcends national, cultural, and generational borders, but is there more to the Man of Steel than just your average mythic superhero in a cape? The 20 chapters in this book present a fascinating exploration of some of the deeper philosophical questions raised by Superman, the Last Son of Krypton and the newest hero in the Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture arsenal.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane … It’s Philosophy! 1

Part One The Big Blue Boy Scout: Ethics, Judgment, and Reason 3

1 Moral Judgment: The Power That Makes Superman Human 5
Mark D. White

2 Action Comics! Superman and Practical Reason 16
Brian Feltham

3 Can the Man of Tomorrow Be the Journalist of Today? 26
Jason Southworth and Ruth Tallman

4 Could Superman Have Joined the Third Reich? The Importance and Shortcomings of Moral Upbringing 37
Robert Sharp

Part Two Truth, Justice, and the American Way: What Do They Mean? 47

5 Clark Kent Is Superman! The Ethics of Secrecy 49
Daniel P. Malloy

6 Superman and Justice 61
Christopher Robichaud

7 Is Superman an American Icon? 71
Andrew Terjesen

Part Three The Will to Superpower: Nietzsche, the Übermensch, and Existentialism 83

8 Rediscovering Nietzsche’s Übermensch in Superman as a Heroic Ideal 85
Arno Bogaerts

9 Superman or Last Man: The Ethics of Superpower 101
David Gadon

10 Superman: From Anti-Christ to Christ-Type 111
Adam Barkman

11 Superman Must Be Destroyed! Lex Luthor as Existentialist Anti-Hero 121
Sarah K. Donovan and Nicholas Richardson

Part Four The Ultimate Hero: What Do We Expect from Superman? 131

12 Superman’s Revelation: The Problem of Violence in Kingdom Come 133
David Hatfield

13 A World Without a Clark Kent? 145
Randall M. Jensen

14 The Weight of the World: How Much Is Superman Morally Responsible For? 157
Audrey L. Anton

Part Five Superman and Humanity: A Match Made on Krypton? 169

15 Superman and Man: What a Kryptonian Can Teach Us About Humanity 171
Leonard Finkelman

16 Can the Man of Steel Feel Our Pain? Sympathy and Superman 181
Andrew Terjesen

17 World’s Finest Philosophers: Superman and Batman on Human Nature 194
Carsten Fogh Nielsen

Part Six Of Superman and Superminds: Who Is Superman, Anyway? 205

18 “It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s … Clark Kent?” Superman and the Problem of Identity 207
Nicolas Michaud

19 Superman Family Resemblance 217
Dennis Knepp

20 Why Superman Should Not Be Able to Read Minds 225
Mahesh Ananth

Contributors: Trapped in the Philosophy Zone 237

Index: From Brainiac’s Files 243

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Author Information

Mark D. White is chair of the Department of Political Science, Economics, and Philosophy at the College of Staten Island/CUNY, where he teaches courses in economics, philosophy, and law. He has edited and coedited many books in the Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture series, including Batman and Philosophy, Watchmen and Philosophy, Iron Man and Philosophy, and The Avengers and Philosophy.

William Irwin is Professor of Philosophy at King’s College. He originated the philosophy and popular culture genre of books as coeditor of the bestselling The Simpsons and Philosophy and has overseen recent titles including House and Philosophy, Batman and Philosophy, and Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy.

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"As can be noted from my comments above, any book that will make you think or react makes for an interesting read and ‘Superman And Philosophy’ succeeds in doing that. One should always be glad that Superman sees himself as the good scout otherwise the DC Earth would truly be hell."  (SFCrowsnest.org.uk, 1 June 2013)

“And this delightfully appealing tome does exactly that…”  (Comics Review, 25 April 2013)

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Press Release

April 15, 2013
Superman & Philosophy: What Would the Man of Steel Do?

2013 sees the return of Superman.  Not only is it 75 years since mild-mannered reporter, Clark Kent, transformed himself into one of the most enduring superheroes of the last century but in June, we'll be treated to a brand new film, Man of Steel.  And so, what better time to top up on your knowledge of one of the greatest American cultural icons and discover what our hero, the mean streets of Metropolis and its evil gang of villains can teach us about philosophy and about life?   Exchanging their every-day jackets for their own red capes, Mark White and his team of philosophers take to the skies to tell us more...  


Despite often being seen as too perfect, too noble, too good, scratch the surface and Superman is not, in fact, that simple.  Rather, he raises a lot of intriguing philosophical questions.  If Superman is so good, why does he so often resort to violence?  Why does he tell lies in order to protect his identity, and how does he reconcile this with a reporter's devotion to the truth?  Could Lex Luther be right in telling us that Superman is a threat to humanity?  Just how important is the big red cape and the spit curl to who Superman is?  And is there a good reason why Lois Lane can't tell that Clark Kent is really Superman? 

Making comparisons with great philosophical theories and drawing on the works of great philosophers including Aristotle, Wittgenstein and Nietzsche, each chapter in Superman and Philosophy uses the predicaments that our hero is faced with and the often tough choices that he has to make (save Lois or the bus full of children?  Kill three Kryptonian criminals or risk them invading his own universe and threatening to destroy another Earth?) to guide the reader through a range of fascinating debates on such thought-provoking topics as existentialism, utilitarianism, morality and ethics.  We learn that sometimes things of lesser importance may have to take greater priority in our decision making because we have committed to them or they are the right thing to do, are encouraged to examine our own reasoning, judgments and actions, and discover that, ultimately, there is some superhero in all of us - sadly, this doesn't include the ability to fly, read minds or "leap tall buildings in a single bound"!

A timely, highly-readable and hugely entertaining book, Superman and Philosophy is a must for anyone who has dreamed of sporting the red cape and taking to the skies over the past 75 years - up, up and away!

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