Captain America and Aristotle (What the?)

Captain America and Aristotle (What the?)

Wow it’s been a while since I posted. Been busy, but it’s good to jump right back into it with another majestic and outstanding pinnacle of cinematic genius: Captain America: Civil War.

Go see this movie, seriously…

Those of you who know me will not be surprised to find out that I did, indeed, think immediately of the movie in terms of something outdated, in this case: Aristotle.

Phronesis: Superpower

As I was coming out of the theaters I texted my friend immediately and told her my theory, which goes as this:

Captain America basically admits to believing in phronesis (φρόνησις), which wikipedia is claiming is “wisdom” or “intelligence,” but it’s more than that. It’s almost a special word, the way Aristotle uses it. Aristotle’s theory of ethics deems that phronesis is a special ability, obtained through habitual action, to determine the right action in a given moral situation.

Now for those of you who haven’t seen the movie, the plot is the Secretary of State of the US and the United Nations are still blaming the Avengers for casualties caused by the bad guys trying to take over the world in the previous films. The solution? Let 117 nations who can’t otherwise get along, many of which are dubiously ruled, control the Avengers. Captain America ain’t havin’ none of that! As he says at some point, the “Sokovia Accords” would only shift the blame to the UN, and if the UN doesn’t allow them to be where they need to be, or if they are sent to a place they don’t want to go, there’s nothing they can do about it.

Captain America’s questioning of the Accords is more on the basis of phronesis than anything else. He believes in his, and the rest of the team’s, ability to determine what is the right choice in a certain situation.

Now obviously, Captain America has shown un-Aristotelian ideals before. No way in heck would Aristotle be as understanding of an enemy as the Cap is, and it is very unlikely Aristotle had a concept of “freedom” in the modern sense, both living in a world of and personally endorsing slavery in the Politics.

That being said, it doesn’t mean that the Cap can’t exemplify an Aristotelian concept.

The Man himself: Aristotle (384-322 BC). He’s totally #TeamCap

The Other Side (Scoffs)

Some disagree, like this guy.

Apparently I was not the first person to connect the Cap to the “Philosophy” as Tommy Aquinas calls him.

The main idea of this article is that the Cap cannot possibly ever in a million years embody Aristotelian virtues. I mean, come on! How can the Cap be generous, courageous, be consistent, and cool-headed in a dangerous situation? I mean, it’s not like Aristotle said a virtuous man has those right?

Yes, I’m being sarcastic.

This is just another of those “if this dead guy got one thing wrong, there’s no way any one could be right about anything” articles. For instance, the author of this article claims that:

That Aristotle assumed his account of the human good could be realised [sp] only by middle-aged, property-owning males is well known.

And? We all know that. Aristotle also said things that would be flat and outright misogynistic in today’s society. Does that mean we can never listen to anything he said and just assume that if he was wrong he was wrong? That would be like saying Determinism can’t possibly be right because Schopenhauer said the woman belongs in the home! Excuse me?

You say my name? (Arthur Schopenhauer 1788-1860)

The author also insists on the Cap’s American-Christian origins are more relevant than the Aristotelian ones (ignoring the huge influence Aristotle had on Christian thought through thinkers like St. Boethius, St. Augustine, and St. Thomas Aquinas, of course. That’d be inconvenient to his argument, wouldn’t it?)

Furthermore, we can accept a lot Aristotle’s ideas without accepting his restrictions. Just because he thought only middle aged men could be courageous doesn’t mean we should say that courageousness is a bad thing. That makes no sense.

What does Aristotle believe?

The basis of Aristotle’s ethics, of course, are virtues. Practicing certain traits over and over until we are better at them and are near-perfect. Only then can we obtain the necessary phronesis, wisdom, to excel. It’s why we refer to baseball players, soldiers, and economists as “veterans.”

They’ve done it. They know it. Doesn’t mean they’re always right, but it does mean they have experienced a lot and will often know the proper response to a given situation. It’s why we talk to our parents about our struggles as children, or why we seek our professors as students. They know. They’ve done it.

To say that the Cap doesn’t exemplify a classic hero is preposterous. The Cap is near perfect, not 100%, but we can trust him to do his best in the face of evil and make the right decision. Even if evil wasn’t a concept to Aristotle in the same way it is to us now, it is not to say that traditional heroes did not have difficulties.

Internet never fails to disappoint

Aristotle’s Dark Side

No one is perfect. We can always keep trying to be (a major theme in my own novel, the Legend of Borach), but that doesn’t mean we can be. Naturally Aristotle wasn’t perfect either. Humility isn’t a virtue to Aristotle (ironically neither was patience!).

People were different in different times and places. Cultures were different. Aristotle most likely had no issues with pederasty. Just because the Cap doesn’t exemplify all of Aristotle’s virtues, doesn’t mean that the concept of virtue ethics as Aristotle envisioned it is not present within Captain America. There are a lot of things that make the Cap the Cap.

No matter what though, the Cap’s got phronesis, you know he believes his own hands are the ones he’s going to trust the world to.

And to be honest, I’d trust those hands too!


Totally Team Cap, by the way, in case you haven’t noticed…


Signing off of my little rant. I feel much better now that I’ve whined for 1,000 words. I just hope you learned something, or enjoyed yourself, or at least killed time!



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