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.
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who know me will not be surprised to find out that I did, indeed, think immediately of the movie in terms of something outdated, in this case: Aristotle.
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.
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?
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.
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!
“A country is only as good… only as strong as the people who make it up and the country turns into what the people want it to become… I don’t believe any longer that we can afford to say that it is entirely out of our hands. We made the world we’re living in and we have to make it over” – James Baldwin
Been planning a full-on blog post that goes into detail with the 2013 superhero masterpiece Man of Steel and the philosophy behind the movie, but here’s another question that in light of recent events makes it necessary for me to make the point that The Legend of Borach is a very modern and relevant book.
How so? How can replicating ancient warfare techniques in a fantasy novel ever be relevant?
Well we’re having a crisis here in the United States. So is the rest of the world, but one of the candidates in this country has said something very interesting.
Of course, it was Donald Trump. And as usual per the “two-party” media, they totally ignored what he said so they could focus on discussions of hands or Gov. Kasich’s eating pancakes.
Mr. Trump, a while back when Rubio was still a candidate and Florida was yet to be lost, was questioned on how he would get American soldiers to commit heinous crimes against the law. His answer: he tells them what to do, “because that’s what a leader is, someone who tells people what to do.”
I don’t know about you, but that’s not what I thought a leader was?
That’s why The Legend of Borach is relevant. Two years ago when I wrote it, I had just spent an entire year studying some of the greatest leaders known to mankind. They taught me to ask the questions.
That’s right. I’m not saying that my novel will have all the answers for you. It has some answers, but what it does is explore the nature of being a leader. The central conflict is how a man, a noble can convince a group of soldiers who don’t know him to get behind him and follow him into a battle where it is certain that some of them will die. How do you convince someone to get behind you and do that?
Let’s start off by looking at this article where a man takes ordinary blocks of marble and turns them into architectural sculptures. What Matthew Simmonds does with marble is pure genius and some of the most beautiful sculptures I have seen in recent times.
Here are some pictures to those of you who just want to see the stuff:
There are many more examples in the article I linked to.
I have always been fascinated by the line between sculpture and architecture. There can be so many instances where they cross, such as the Gates of Heaven by Ghiberti. Each panel is quasi “sculpted.”
Or notice the myriad of sculptures adorning the Vatican’s beloved St. Peter’s Basilica:
This almost gets us back into our gesamterwerk ideas. Something else to note about Simmonds’ work other than its combination of two different arts, is that the marble that is used to make beautiful masterpieces of art are not perfect blocks of stone. They are hunks of marble, revealing the beauty that is inside the marble. It is almost as though we need to go into the rock to find the beauty within. You know who else took a poor piece of marble and pulled the genius from out of it? You guessed it:
Yep, the great one himself: Michelangelo.
So here’s the question. As an author (fantasy or otherwise), how do we take ordinary objects and refine them in new ways to upset the balance between two arts?
Symbolism is a great doorway to this question because it focuses on an object. For instance, let’s take marble. Marble is probably the theme for today, connecting almost all of the artwork listed above (with the exception being Ghiberti). What is the significance of marble? Why marble? What is it about marble that causes it to have such a beautiful luster or to attract these various artists across time to work with it? Marble is the link between the architecture and the sculpture in this case.
So going to Aristotle, it’s about the matter in this case, instead of the form (though marble does have “form,” but in terms of the art we can see the marble as the material here). The material (or the “stuff” of the object, instead of its shape/function) is what connects our two arts.
It’s the same thing that links poetry to stories: paper.
So here’s the question, does our matter hold us back or help us to link art-forms in new and interesting ways?
And music is written on paper, but no one would say the music is the paper, the same was the literature is bound to the book. Music, if anything, is the most abstract of the bunch. How can it connect to anything else without being the center piece as it was in Wagner’s “dramas”?