Does Peter Parker Have a Good Life?

The first essay in “Spider-man and Philosophy” is by Neil Mussett, and tries to answer the question of whether or not Peter Parker can be said to have a good life. He examines five basic ways of judging whether one is living a good life: Paul Kurtz’s secular humanism, Ayn Rand’s Enlightened Egoism (or, perhaps, Randianism), Epictetus’ Stoicism, Victor Frankl’s ideas of a life with meaning, and Thomas Aquinas’ view, each of which might or might not say that Peter Parker has a good life. For example, for Kurtz Parker does well enough for others but doesn’t pay enough attention to his own concerns, while for Rand Parker shouldn’t be caring at all for others. Ultimately, each of them has slightly different answers for why does or does not have a good life.

But the really interesting point of this essay is how it demonstrates five widely differing views, but also the problems that each has that the others are trying to solve. Kurtz takes what is likely the most obvious track, arguing that a good life should include duties to others as well as getting pleasures for oneself. But since those two might be incompatible — and the argument is that for Peter Parker they are — Rand argues that the problem is that Kurtz is demanding sacrifice to others, and that Parker should think more about himself, but not in a stupid, short-sighted way. Epictetus points out that no matter how hard they try they may never be able to achieve what they want, even if that’s only their own pleasure, and so to have a good life one must focus on what one can control, and not be concerned about the consequences at all. Frankl points out that none of the previous options really define a meaning of life, and that a good life requires a known meaning. Aquinas tries to combine all of the previous options into one system, but would then import all of these tensions into that system, making for a complicated system that appears difficult to actually implement.

This, I think, provides an interesting example to counter relativistic and even error theory claims. All of these systems are well-motivated and argued. We can see why they are proposed and proposed objectively as defining what it means to have a good life, and therefore in some sense our moral obligations. But we can also see the objective flaws in them, and thus why they are argued against and rejected. And we can see where the alternative theories fail as well. So it looks far more like something that we have to work out the answer to rather than something that has no answer. So the intuitive idea that the amount of disagreement indicates that maybe there is no answer seems less plausible when we realize that people aren’t just disagreeing, but disagreeing over specific ideas and components, and raising problems that even those who support the system can accept as a potential problem. To me, it indicates more than anything else that what we need is to do more work, and not to abandon the search for an answer altogether.


One Response to “Does Peter Parker Have a Good Life?”

  1. Superhuman Ethics Class with the Avengers Prime « The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] weeks ago, I talked about Peter Parker having a good life, and pointed out that it demonstrated the difference between some of the candidates for various […]

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