I watched The Avengers a few weeks back. You know, when it comes to thinking about things philosophically, especially anything pop culture-wise, superheroes are pretty much the easiest way to go. You got the good guys (Superman, Spiderman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Batman sort-of) on one side, and you got some bad guys on the other. In the realm of the superhero separating the good guys from the bad (except maybe for Batman) and deciding moral rights and wrongs is pretty danged easy.
The Avengers was no exception.
Here’s the tip-off to finding the good guys: The Avengers, collectively speaking, are better looking.
So, while I was watching this movie, I started to think about something: I know that Captain America, Thor and whatever the hell that character Scarlett Johansson played was named, are the good guys. They’ve got loads of muscles and they’re blond, and they’re all fairly easy on the eyes. But, while I was watching the CGI enhanced cinematic spectacle that is The Avengers, I found myself not rooting for the heroes, but rooting for Loki. I asked myself why am I rooting for Loki? Loki is the bad guy. We’re not supposed to like the bad guy. And if we’re thinking about The Avengers philosophically, we’re in no way supposed to root for a character who is the embodiment of all that is evil (or at the very least anti-good guy).
As a philosopher, I know that the love of wisdom also means a love of the Good. According to philosophers, loving the Good means that a philosopher or one who is inclined to think philosophically wants to do what is morally right. A philosophically good life is a life that is not based on things that would contribute to the corruption of one’s character. The ancient Greek philosopher Plato said this about good and bad people:
“Good people do not need laws to tell them how to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws.”
Good people don’t just obey the laws, they also adhere to them — because they’re good people.
Aristotle also tells us that good (Aristotle calls moral good “virtue”) is an activity of the soul. This means good isn’t just what we do, it is who we are. Aristotle informs us that we are not born good. We have to work at becoming good (virtuous) people. In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle writes:
The moral virtues, then, are produced in us neither by nature nor against nature. Nature, indeed prepares in us the ground for their reception, but their complete formation is the product of habit…
Men acquire a particular quality by constantly acting in a particular way… you become just by performing just actions, temperate by performing temperate actions, brave by performing brave actions.
See, the reason why we think (or even know) Loki is the bad guy is because, as Aristotle would say, Loki has a bad soul. The reason why Loki’s soul is bad is this: Loki’s got issues. Daddy issues. Loki’s got this whole being pissed off at Thor because Odin’s not his real dad-thing going on. Loki wants to rule Asgard, the home of the gods, but Odin’s (real) son Thor is next in line to the throne of Asgard. As a consequence, Loki’s heart is filled with malice and vengeance. If you haven’t been on the receiving end of either of these two emotions, I’ll have you know that malice and vengeance are not virtues. Loki spends all of his time being angry and doing bad things that he neither takes the time to perform good acts nor does he engage in activities that will cultivate a good soul.
In short, no matter how snazzy Loki’s outfits are, no matter how slick his jet-black hairdo is, no matter how snappy his dialogue is, Loki is not a good person.
This is the reason why we shouldn’t root for Loki.
(By the way, if you have no plans for the next two weeks and you’re really curious as to why Aristotle says maliciousness and a heart full of vengeance are not considered virtues, read Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. if you don’t have time to waste you can read this Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_mean_(philosophy)).
Although we can all agree that the Good is often boring and is often difficult to do (philosophers from Aristotle to Mill agree that being good isn’t easy), if we truly love wisdom, we must not indulge our base natures. When our minds are filled with hate, anger or vengeance, we are distracted from looking towards the attributes that make our lives better; that make us better people.
Being better people is what’s important, right?
You know, now that I’m on the internet, I gonna go see what Aristotle looked like.
I’d bet he was very sexy.