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The Virtues of Captain America: Modern-Day Lessons on Character from a World War II Superhero

Mark D. White (Original Author)
ISBN: 978-1-118-61926-1
256 pages
February 2014, Wiley-Blackwell
The Virtues of Captain America: Modern-Day Lessons on Character from a World War II Superhero (1118619269) cover image


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.
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Table of Contents

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

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Author Information

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.

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“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)

“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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