This is my final paper for my philosophy class. It's a bit contrived, I admit, but done is done.
“Like the unfortunate madman who says he’ll climb down to Dovrefjell to blow up the whole world with a syllogism, what was needed was someone who could, to everyone’s knowledge, climb really deep down into the whole world of mediation, mediocrity and spiritlessness to plant there, for all to see, the explosive either/or.”
–Søren Kierkegaard, (Kierkegaard, 1852)
The world of Batman, as it appears in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight, presents the viewer with a conflict between several competing and sometimes complimentary forces. The city of
To start with, we can say that Batman and the Joker are philosophers since both characters have a clear desire to define and propagate a world view with a specific ethical system similar but not entirely identical to their respective camps of origin (again, law and order versus criminality). The dialog between the two characters occurs mostly through indirect means, each attempting to prove his theory through the reaction of
Viewing Batman and the Joker as Moderate Tyrants, one can better understand the struggle over the District Attorney Harvey Dent. According to Plato, in order for a Moderate Tyranny to become a perfect state the tyrant requires a skilled legislator.
“Cleineus: You would assume, as you say, a tyrant who was young, temperate, quick at learning, having a good memory, courageous, of a noble nature?
Athenian Stranger: Yes; and you must add fortunate; and his good fortune must be that he is the contemporary of a great legislator, and that some happy chance brings them together. When this has been accomplished, divine fortune has done all that it ever does for a state which it desires to be eminently prosperous.” (Plato, 360 BCEb)
Batman’s alliance with Harvey Dent was pivotal in almost completely eradicating the deeply entrenched criminal hierarchy that plagued the law abiding citizens of
The use of secret identities by these philosophers to perpetuate an ideology stems from the need for the perfection of an ideological belief system to be delivered by means of a likewise perfect embodiment of that ideology in order to perfectly govern less perfect people. To reveal their identities would effectively tarnish the perfection of the ideas by tying them to the human flaws of their originators. Kierkegaard’s use of pseudonyms in his writing performed an eerily similar function to Bruce Wayne’s use of the Batman identity to present his ideas: both men are wealthy and noted for their lavish lifestyles, and in order to be taken seriously both had to divorce themselves from the aesthetics of their social personas and adopt an unknown identity. The Joker too, wears makeup to maintain anonymity and frequently revises his personal narrative to confuse his origins. In that sense, the adopted identities remain always true to form in a way that their true identities could not. This is perhaps the same reason that Plato does not personally espouse his philosophy, but rather he attributes it to Socrates who, in death, becomes a perfect embodiment of the ideas free from the failings that a living Socrates might possess. It is perhaps this same reason that Batman and Commissioner Gordan are forced to conceal the collapse of Harvey Dent from the people of
In terms of supporting the two disparate ideologies through the writings of traditional philosophers we can observe that Batman’s view holds up to scrutiny more readily than the Joker’s. Batman enforces justice day to day in
An informal straw poll of the internet, by way of search engine, reveals that a common theme viewers and critics feel is expressed in The Dark Knight is that evil triumphs over good. I suppose it could be viewed in that light since Batman failed to turn over the reigns of justice to Harvey Dent and thus usher in a more perfect state, Dent himself is destroyed, their mutual love interest Rachel Dawes is dead, the police force is shown to have been corruptible, Batman is perceived to have stepped beyond the bounds of his ethics and is hunted for crimes he was forced to accept blame for in order to hang on to the possibility that the society he envisions will come to be. Batman does, however, win some decisive victories over the course of the struggle. His position as a symbol of absolute virtue is transferred to the dead Harvey Dent, whose memory cannot be compromised in the same way that he was in life. His goal of bringing down the criminal underground in Gotham is furthered not only through his own actions, but also the destructiveness of the Joker’s philosophy since the Joker not only kills key members in the criminal hierarchy through his own actions, but also through the actions of the corrupted Harvey Dent, and he essentially bankrupts the massive criminal enterprise through robbery and the burning of their cash reserves. In that regard, the Joker furthered the means by which Batman seeks to bring order to the city by denying the criminal class of leadership and capital. Also, by Batman assuming the blame for Dent’s crimes he was also able to overcome the limitations of his own ethical code since criminals can no longer rely on the fact that he does not take lives in the pursuit of his goals. In the end, Batman was not able to achieve his ultimate goal of a more perfect state, but he is well poised to continue his crusade for order and the end of criminal rule in
Kierkegaard, S. (1909) Søren Kierkegaard’s Papirer.
Kierkegaard, S. (2000) The Essential Kierkegaard
Plato. (c. 380 BC) The Republic (B. Jowett, Trans.). Web.
Plato. (c. 380 BC) Nichomachean Ethics (B. Jowett, Trans.). Web.
Aristotle. (c. 350 BC) Nichomachean Ethics (W.D. Ross, Trans.). Web.