“My Name is Peter Parker”

The third essay in “Spider-man and Philosophy” is “‘My Name is Peter Parker'” by … hey, it’s Mark D. White again! I swear this was not planned [grin].

Anyway, this essay is an examination of the conflict between the right and the good, examined in the light of Spider-man’s decision in “Civil War” to unmask. White says that Parker first decides to unmask primarily on consideration of the deontological notion of right: Peter feels that he has a duty to support Stark because of what Stark has done for him, and also due to Aunt May’s argument that he has a duty to be true to himself and to acknowledge and act as the person he truly is. This is in sharp contrast to the reason he was so protective of his identity in the first place, which is over the consequences, particularly the consequences to his loved ones. As he says earlier in the series to Susan Storm, it’s fine for the Fantastic Four to reveal their identities, but he risks his family and loved ones — who are not superheroes and so are relatively unprotected — being used by his enemies against him and killed because of that. And he knows this because it’s happened to him before, with Gwen Stacey.

Hence, the clash between the right and the good, between what is objectively the right thing to do and what has the best consequences. It can be argued that Spider-man switches from the deontological idea of the right to the consequentialist view of the good during the series, but considering what the pro-registration side is doing it can easily be argued that he merely switches to a new form of right; it is no longer right for him to support the pro-reg side, even though that will have very bad consequences for him personally. When he makes the deal with Mephisto during “One More Day”, that can be said to be him sacrificing the right for the good … except that the consequences aren’t clearly better either. That is probably best viewed as Peter having a moment of weakness and grasping at a straw instead of doing the right thing, and accepting the way life is.

Can we ever really have a true clash between the right and the good? For consequentialists, we can’t, because the morally right thing to do is always the consequentialist good. For deontologists, again it isn’t an issue because the obvious answer for a moral person is to choose the right and ignore the so-called good. It’s only when we have a clash between people from opposing viewpoints — say, Captain America and Iron Man in Civil War — that they can come into meaningful conflict. Internally, everyone with any consistent moral viewpoint will have their answer … even if they don’t like it.

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