12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
John V. Karavitis
- Published on Amazon.com
Okay, so I was at a suburban Barnes & Noble last Sunday, which is how most independently wealthy gentlemen spend their Sunday mornings (young ladies, please take note), aiming straight for the Philosophy section. My goal: Sartre's "Being and Nothingness". (Don't ask.) As I approached the appropriate stack, I espied, at just above eye level, in bright red and silver on a black background, Wiley-Blackwell's latest entry in their Philosophy and Pop Culture series, "Spider-Man and Philosophy".
WHAT?!?! There's a HYPHEN in "Spider-Man"??? When did THAT happen??? In a few moments, after my shock had subsided, I knew that I would be taking this book home with me. Undeterred (but slightly peeved) that I would (a) have to pay FULL PRICE for this (ha-rumph!), and (b) have to deal with the snooty, petulant and officious Barnes & Noble cashier, who would make it his BUSINESS to make me aware that I could have saved 10 percent if I had a Barnes & Noble card (GOD HOW I HATE THAT! WILL YOU PEOPLE JUST STOP THAT ALREADY!!!), I girded my loins and sallied forth. Today, I am ready to share with you, gentle reader, my thoughts about this latest entry in the Wiley-Blackwell series.
All in all, this is a decent entry in the series. It's not spectacular by any stretch of the imagination, but it hews without hesitation to the tried-and-true Wiley-Blackwell formula. There are six sections, with typically three essays per section. Each essay is about a dozen or so pages in length, and ends with a Notes section. The editor of this book, Jonathon J. Sanford, has done yeoman's work in setting the direction and designing the structure of this collection. Mr. Sanford sets the direction when, in the "Introduction", he notes that this isn't a book about metaphysics, or any of that other philosophical junk. Spider-Man's story is about how he tries to "figure this world out and find his place in it". So, the theme throughout the entire collection is ethics, and what it means to live the good life.
As usual, there were a number of excellent essays, a few duds, and most were in-between. Neil Mussett starts the show off with an excellent essay, "Does Peter Parker Have a Good Life?" We are introduced to four different philosophers, each with his own angle on what the good life is, from Epictetus to Ayn Rand, and then end with Aquinas, who, it is shown, combines all of the previous viewpoints. It was a good comparative survey on the question of what the good life is, and wrapping it up with Aquinas put an almost "tallmanesque" spin to this essay.
Andrew Terjesen's "Why Is My Spider-Sense Tingling?" used Spider-Man's "spider-sense" as a springboard for exploring the world of perceptions and the three schools of thought: indirect realism (Locke), idealism (Berkeley), and phenomenalism (Hume). A superb compare and contrast essay.
Meaghan P. Godwin's "Red or Black: Perception, Identity and Self" took the perspective of Pragmatism (William James, Charles Sanders Peirce, John Dewey) to look at the "social self", and how one's identity is a web (*sigh*) of conditions that contribute to the notion of the self.
Mark K. Spencer's "With Great Power: Heroism, Villainy, and Bodily Transformation" is the shining gem of this collection. Mr. Spencer looks at how changes (modifications) to the body result in corresponding changes to one's perceptions. That is, one is not simply a passive/pure mind, but rather a mind and a body. Mr. Spencer invokes Husserl, Merleau-Ponty and Levinas, and uses their ideas to point to a "holistic version of virtue ethics". This leads Mr. Spencer to ask "What kind of responsibility flows from great power?" A great essay, one that you will go back to read again.
Other essays held their own quite well. Ron Novy's "Transhumanism: Or, Is It Right to Make a Spider-Man?" begins with the story of the cloak of invisibility from Plato's "The Republic" and looks at the effect of technology on what it means to be human. Will transhumanism damage the principle of human equality? Will radical modifications of the body fundamentally alter our human essence? Does a human essence exist? (Hint, Mr. Novy: Sartre says "Non.") Daniel P. Malloy's "The Quipslinger: The Morality of Spider-Man's Jokes" was a unique and refreshing essay that explored ideas about humor and making jokes. Mr. Malloy explores three theories on why we find something funny: the superiority theory, the incongruity theory, and the relief theory.
On the flip side, a few essays were bad. The one that stands out is Adam Barkman's "'With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility': Spider-Man, Christian Ethics, and the Problem of Evil". This essay on Christian ethics read like a Sunday school catechism. It was not philosophy, but more like Christian religious ideals masquerading as philosophy. I don't think I've seen "God" mentioned more times in a single essay outside of a church setting. Had Mr. Barkman invoked Augustine or Aquinas, I would have been more likely buy into his essay. As it stands, this essay never should have made it into this collection. Charles Taliaferro and Tricia Little's "Justice versus Romantic Love" is noteworthy if only for the fact that it took TWO people to screw this essay up. This essay, which looked at how Peter Parker has tried to balance fighting for justice versus maintaining his personal relationship with Mary Jane, never went anywhere, had no philosophy, or philosophers, and no logical argument to support the alleged choices decided upon. Another one for the trash heap. Mark D. White's "The Sound and the Fury behind `One More Day'" read like social commentary, and not like an essay on philosophy. Why and when would someone do something out of character? A great question, but this essay lacked any firm philosophical grounding.
The last essay, by Editor Sanford, was a good ending to this collection. "Spider-Man and the Importance of Getting Your Story Straight" looked at how telling the story of one's life can help one be more self-reflective, and in the process encourage one's moral development. Mr. Sanford invoked Aristotle and Alasdair MacIntyre while trying to tie together involuntary obligations and free choice. "Success or failure in our lives will be measured by how well we respond to them, which is to say, how virtuously we act." (p. 252). Indeed.
John V. Karavitis