The Plato-Aristotle Debate in Green Lantern Philosophy
"Green Lantern and Philosophy," released May 3 and just in time for the new movie's June 17 release, proves to any fan of the comic book series that there are people out there thinking more critically about it. So says the "esteemed" publication The UTDaily Beacon. The Daily Beacon is the editorially independent student newspaper of the University of Tennessee. Now, I've quoted more prominent sources than this before but I feel it is quite appropriate to quote a student newspaper on an issue related to the philosophy of a comic book character.
In case you are not an aficionado of the comic book, let me clue you in on some important details. The Green Lantern is the shared primary alias of several fictional characters, superheroes appearing in comic books published by DC Comics. The first Green Lantern appeared in July 1940. Each Green Lantern possesses a power ring and power lantern that gives the user great control over the physical world as long as the wielder has sufficient willpower and strength to wield it. The ring is one of the most powerful weapons in the universe, and can be very dangerous. While the ring of the Golden Age was magically powered, the rings worn by all subsequent Lanterns were technological creations of the Guardians of the Universe, who granted such rings to worthy candidates. These individuals made up the intergalactic police force known as the Green Lantern.
You may be wondering why I am exploring a fictional comic book character in an Ethics Sage blog. It's summer time. The students are on break. It's timely and appropriate. The movie based on the book comes out on Friday. In "fact," according to the Daily Beacon, the "book is packed with intimate articles, authored by professors, Ph.D candidates and graduate students. [Most] articles involve some long-winded philosophical definitions and breezy introductions to the thoughts of Immanuel Kant, Plato, Aristotle and the like." I teach this stuff in my accounting ethics class although I use an accounting ethics textbook -- my own titled Ethical Obligations and Decision Making in Accounting: Text and Cases with co-author Roselyn Morris and published by McGraw-Hill Irwin. College professors can obtain an examination copy by contacting their college McGraw-Hill Irwin representative. I guarantee it is a better source material for a course in ethics than "Green Lantern and Philosophy." Enough of the blatant commercialism!
I was mesmerized by the chapter entitled "Another Boxing Glove?: Green Lantern and the Limits of Imagination." It looks at why the character Hal Jordan constantly creates, with his ring, ordinary boxing gloves and giant fists, when he has seen so much of the universe and could come up with anything his mind could imagine. I believe fictional worlds in art create magical visual environments that are believable and real in their own right such as the Harry Potter stories that can carry our imaginations beyond the limit of the text.
This got me thinking about our situation in the U.S. today. If we could make the written word come to life in real world circumstances then perhaps we can apply the right of revolution in political philosophy, variously stated throughout history, of the people of a nation to overthrow a government that acts against their common interests. Do we really believe our government has been representing our best interests for oh, let's say, the last eleven years? Don't get me wrong. I am not advocating treason or sedition. That is illegal. But, I do try and inform through my blogs so I want to let you know that rebellion against wrongful acts by a government is a right that extends back to ancient China, and it has been used throughout history to justify various uprisings, including the American and French Revolutions.
The right of revolution is often first associated as part of an official state philosophy by the Zhou Dynasty (1122-256BC) of China. To justify their overthrowing of the earlier Shang Dynasty, the Zhou kings promulgated the concept known as the Mandate of Heaven, that Heaven would bless the authority of a just ruler, but would be displeased and withdraw its mandate from a despotic ruler. The Mandate of Heaven would then transfer to those who would rule best. Chinese historians interpreted a successful revolt as evidence that the Mandate of Heaven had passed on. Throughout Chinese history, rebels who opposed the ruling dynasty made the claim that the Mandate of Heaven had passed, giving them the right to revolt. Now that I think about it, the mythical Green Lantern sounds a lot like the Mandate of Heaven.
Ruling dynasties were often uncomfortable with the idea of a Mandate of Heaven, and the writings of the Confucian philosopher Mencius (372-289BC) were often suppressed for declaring that the people have the right to overthrow a ruler that did not provide for their needs. This almost sounds like what may be going on in China today with the suppression of opposing political beliefs and the fear that the Arab spring might influence Chinese people to rise up against violations by the Chinese government of privacy and free-speech rights.
The Green Lantern book may spawn a whole new fictional genre I'd like to call Comicosophy. In fact, on June 28 the publishing house of Rowman & Littlefield will release Dr. Seuss and Philosophy: Oh, the Thinks You Can Think! I bet my accounting ethics students would prefer this book to my own.
Well, you've been quite patient so here is your reward. The official trailer for The Green Lantern. It's 2 minutes and 33 seconds. Enjoy!
Blog by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, June 15, 2011
Video from YouTube