Up@dawn 2.0

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Batman, Superman, and Philosophy: Installment 1 by Cayce Morris #9

One of the most infamous rivalries of the entertainment industry, people are always arguing who is better, and more specifically, who would win in a fight: Batman or Superman? Editor of Batman, Superman, and Philosophy, Nicolas Michaud states that he learned a lot from each superhero. He said that he learned about sacrifice, hard work, and perseverance from Batman and that Superman taught him what it means to give everything for people that you love, and even if people that you do not know. Michaud asks the question, “Who should we try to be like?” and asks several philosophers their opinion of this issue.

In Chapter One, “Where Have All the Supermen Gone?”, by philosopher A.G. Holdier, Holdier questions exactly why people tend to pit Batman and Superman against each other. He wonders why it is such a popular rivalry, even though Batman and Superman are fighting for the same side—the good and heroic side. By analyzing the work of the highly controversial German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, Holdier explains his opinions on why Superman and Batman are such rivals. The answer to his question essentially lies in the basis of Nietzsche’s philosophy, the concept of an Übermensch. According to Nietzsche, “the Übermensch would be the true pinnacle of human existence, both physically and mentally superior to all…”. This semester we learned a little bit about Übermensch. We learned that it is closely translated to “overman”, which can be comprehended as another word for “Superman”.

This means that Superman is the perfect textbook example of Nietzsche’s Übermensch, right? His name not only is the literal translation, but Superman also embodies physically and mentally superior qualities when compared to human beings. Unfortunately, the argument is not that simple. Others argue that Batman is the stronger and better concept of Übermensch, since he is the “genuine product of nothing but human grit and integrity”. So maybe, this is the real reason behind their endless rivalry: Which superhero is the true Hero?

If you translate the definition of Übermensch literally, Superman would seem to be the perfect fit. His abilities are simply normal human abilities permanently on steroids. They also “remain faithful to Earth”—meaning his talents are biological. However, Superman has a handful of qualities that Nietzsche would not agree with, in terms of Superman being declared the almighty Übermensch. One of these reasons is the very basis of Superman’s “Clark Kent” persona. Although Superman has the ability to travel anywhere in the universe and rule any planet, he decides to stay on Earth and live humbly in society as a normal human being would. Holdier claims that this is a perfect example of Nietzsche’s “slave morality” and that by hiding his superiority from society, Superman can never be a true Übermensch.

Instead of the Übermensch, Holdier asks his readers to consider Superman as an example of another one of Nietzsche’s ideas. The idea he is referring to is what Nietzsche called the “Apollonian force”. Nietzsche saw this force as “simple, transparent, and beautiful”. This force promotes cheerfulness and works as an illusion to shield people from the daily chaos of life while still making sure people are able to appreciate the beauty of it. Holdier claims that this definition is exactly what Superman stands for.


  1. I kinda disagree with Holdier's claim of the Ubermensch being an "Apollonian force". Nietzche's view of a "superman", I think, was someone with great power, like a person with a large IQ or someone who has great strength. Nietzche believed that we should stop looking to a "god" and look to these "Ubermensch"instead because they're more real than God.

  2. I agree ^^ Latham, really good point!
    I think what Nietzche was getting at was that there are real people among us, and even ourselves who are doing amazing things, and that maybe even everyone is capable of amazing things - if only they would look inward instead of up to the sky.

  3. Holdier's right, in his best moments Nietzsche's ubermensch is superb because he'd rather not fight, he's on the side of right and that's his greatest strength. At other times Nietzsche is ambivalent between rational Apollonian virtue and Dionysian excess.The question for us, though, is not what Nietzsche thought but what WE mean by strength and right. It's not (I hope) just might and self-promotion.