The Theory Behind the Cape: The Ethics of DC Comics' Superman in Relation to Nietzsche's Moral Super-man
For this project, the main question I set out to answer was is the DC Comic character Superman an accurate representation of Nietzsche’s Super-man theory? In his work Thus Spoke Zarathustra which was published in four volumes throughout the 1880s, Nietzsche explored the idea of a moral exemplar who would rise above other moral theories and create a new, superior set of morals for all humans. Nietzsche titled this moral exemplar the Übermensch, or Super-man. Beyond the name relation, it felt appropriate to analyze Superman’s ethics because Superman is a popular public figure that is often seen as a force of good with a strong moral compass, a seemingly perfect candidate to rise above humans and lead them to better morals as Nietzsche’s moral exemplar does. Superman’s dual identity as both a human, Clark Kent, and superhero also allows for a unique comparison between what ethics he has an ordinary citizen versus as a superhero. I argue that while Superman does meet some of Nietzsche’s criteria for the moral exemplar, such as Superman having an ethical advancement beyond Clark Kent, he does not meet all of them because Superman does not wish for all of humanity to adopt his ethics. Superman also differs from Nietzsche’s Super-man in that he never developed his ethical code with the intention to lead humanity into a new moral era, so while Superman may advance past typical human ethics, he does so with the intention of him being an exception not a leader which does not align with Nietzsche’s Super-man.
Primary Advisor's Department
Stander Symposium, College of Arts and Sciences
Institutional Learning Goals
"The Theory Behind the Cape: The Ethics of DC Comics' Superman in Relation to Nietzsche's Moral Super-man" (2023). Stander Symposium Projects. 3243.
Presentation: 2:20-2:40 p.m., Kennedy Union 331