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How Can Batman Be Used To Compare And Contrast Utilitarian And Deontologists Approaches To Ethics

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This essay introduces us to the ethical approaches of deontologists and utilitarianism, and compares and contrasts their beliefs through the study of Batman. So who is Batman and what makes Batman appealing for so many people out there? He is human just like the rest of us, But not quite like us. He has devoted his entire life fighting for justice, protecting his city of Gotham and avenging the brutal deaths of his parents. We as humans are constantly faced with making moral choices. However, the demanding choices that Batman faces are a matter of life and death.

So why doesn’t he kill the Joker? How can he justify his actions? In the process, the essay will critically study Batman and his actions with the application of deontological and utilitarian approaches to ethics. In review of the essay we find out whether deontological or utilitarian approaches to ethics are best, and which perspective is best suited to the actions and thoughts of Batman. We begin with a simple outline of each ethic. Utilitarianism is a moral theory which is primarily associated with philosophical thinkers, Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John Stuart mill (1806-1873).

This ethic is based on the ‘Principal of Utility’ as mentioned in the book by both philosophers, ‘Utilitarianism and other essays’ (1987), ‘… we shall do on the other hand the standard of right and wrong, on the other chain of causes and effects are fastened to their thrones. ‘ (pg 25). A basic explanation of this is, utilitarian’s believe in maximizing happiness and reducing acts of evil, in a society in which everyone is equal. Deontology is another moral theory associated with philosophical thinker Immanuel Kant(1724-1804).

He refined the very idea of the ‘moral life’. The word ‘Deon’ comes from the Greek word meaning ‘duty’, and that’s exactly what deontology is all about, ‘Morality was a matter of doing our duty just because it was our duty and for no other reason whatever’ (Mill, J. S. 1987 pg 23). It’s all about doing the right thing. Even if it’s something we may not agree upon, it’s right for rights sake. By interlinking the approaches with Batman we ask ourselves, was his decision to go out and save the city of Gotham a good idea?

Batman made a promise after witnessing the murders of his parents in the 1939 Bob Kane and Bill Finger version f the Batman story, ‘and I swear by the spirits of my parents to avenge their deaths by warring all criminals’ (White, 2007: 88). In relation to recent utilitarian Peter Singer (1946 – ), ‘if it’s in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything comparable moral importance, we out to, morally, do it’ (White,D. Mark 2008). The promise will only be valid if it maximises the good.

Utilitarian also addresses ‘moral sense’, which is principally ‘everyone, has a natural sense of compassion when encountering someone who is suffering… e have a moral sense to restore their happiness. ‘ As mentioned in Thompsons ‘an introduction to philosophy and ethics’ (2008 pg 161). According to this, utilitarian’s will say that it was right for Batman to make that promise because his priority is to get rid of evil. Furthermore create happiness for the majority so no one has to go through what he did. The only way he could put end to evil is to fight crime.

On the other hand Deontologists perspective of making the promise is an element of Kant’s’ Pure practical reason’ theory, ‘positive act we take in order to shape our orld as we think is right; it is the act of our will… ‘ (Thompson, 2008: 168). Out of the three forms available one of them is the Maxim, which is ‘a subjective principle of action, that is, a principle on which a man in fact acts’ (Wolff, R. Paul 1968 pg230) based on the ‘universal law’, meaning, someone can make a rule for themselves, but can only use it if they can apply it to everyone.

So Batman’s decision to fight all evil and get rid of crimes will be of his goodwill if it can be universalised. So if he can fight crime then so should others. Both moral ethics agree upon Batman’s decision o fight crime and keeping his promise. Even with these agreements, both agree but on different angles on Batman’s decision to become who he is today. Deontologists will view this in aspects of his intentions. It doesn’t matter if the outcome of his actions fails, he will be praised upon his goodwill and intention and not be viewed as immoral.

Where as utilitarian’s fought on the idea of the results of the action. If an act was done with selfish intentions however, the outcome made others happy, that’s all that would matter. Progressing onto Batman’s view on killing, or even not killing. Batman’s response for not killing the Joker, (White, D Mark. 2008 pg 8) ‘if he ever kills it will make him as bad as the criminals that he fights’. He rejects the idea of becoming like the criminals who killed his parents. Even though killing the Joker will most likely eliminate the chances others getting murdered, it’s the pure fact that killing is immoral.

This has strong emphasis on the moral ethics of deontology. Deontologists do not kill. Whether it’s a murderer or not the universal law states that killing is morally wrong, ‘ends never justify the means… ‘ (Batman and philosophy 2008). Kant, ‘insists that any human being can properly be called a persons knows his actions should satisfy, not only the legality (objective correctness), but also the requirement of morality (subjective worthiness)) from Wolff, R. Paul. Critical essays (pg 316).

Batman is committed to doing what is right because it is right, ‘though he is very open about his strong desire to kill the Joker. ‘ (White. D Mark 2008 pg8). So does that mean his intentions are not pure? According to deontologists whether the outcome is right or wrong, if the intention isn’t pure, and is of vengeance it is onsidered Immoral. So how will Batman’s decision not to kill the villains be seen in utilitarian aspect? Utilitarian’s are very much against killing, obviously with exceptions unlike deontologists.

One must kill if it maximizes happiness, and stops future killings. Utilitarian weakness of their ethic maybe that it’s all about the results and no one can always predict the results. In Batman Begins Rachel Dawes says to Batman: “It’s not who you are on the inside, but what you do, that defines you. ” (http://brianbithertheology. blogspot. com/2008/07/batman-and-deontology. html) This suggests it doesn’t matter what his intentions maybe, it’s the results that will become his identity. This is a very clear utilitarian outlook on making the right choices to maximize happiness.

If Batman had killed the Joker then thousands of lives could have been saved. Clearly the anger felt by one man’s death is much less than the anger felt by thousands of deaths. For example, the terror attacks on the twin towers, if Batman had known about the terrorists then killed them when given the opportunity, the anger wouldn’t been as immense as it was felt for the thousands that died on September 11th. We can see that a utilitarian would clearly say that killing the Joker is morally the right decision.

Yet we can imagine a scenario where by removing the Joker, another villain will claim his place, and still the same people are killed. If Batman had killed the original 9/11 terrorists would someone else have taken their place? Taking into account another ethical theory to get a better understanding of Batman’s morals in contrast to deontology and utilitarianism. One of many ethical morals in White, . D Marks 2008 Batman and philosophy book include, virtue ethics, ‘which mphasizes general character traits… rather than judging specific acts. (pg21).

So we have already noticed a contrast to deontology and utilitarianism. Virtue ethics will look at Batman in aspects of his character (and his culture) than the actions he takes whereas deontologists and utilitarianism emphasizes on the actions itself. So not everyone can become a Batman, ‘society demands different roles from each of us’ (2008 pg 21). Virtue ethics does believe that everyone has their own role in society, some may have the authority in society to use force against others e. g. police.

Virtues ethics will agree that Batman’s decision to become a crime fighter was correct because his society needed that, but a deeper understanding is required in order to recognise Batman’s position in society to kill another. After reviewing the essay both ethical theories have been compared and contrasted in terms of their beliefs and whether the choices that Batman has made was correct. Despite the strengths and weakness in both theories, from a personal view Batman’s duty as a crime fighter is to take any action necessary to prevent unnecessary death of an innocent human being.

Though we hope imprisonment would satisfy this duty, in this case it cannot. This leaves us with only one other option that might take to help prevent civilian deaths; killing the Joker. Taking everything into account is Batman a utilitarian or deontologist? Majority of his decisions that he makes, makes him a decent deontologist. From his promise to make Gotham a safe place, to not killing anyone even a criminal, it all fits well with ‘duty-based’ deontologist. He makes his choices due to the fact it’s the right thing to do. He knows that he doesn’t have the right to take another humans life, no matter how bad the other person is.

Read also:

The Wicker Man
Clue Review
Pulp Fiction, directed by Quentin Tarantino

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