Thursday, October 28, 2010

Villains often espouse Compatibilism

Superman: Darseid. Kara leaves with me.

Darseid: She's free to leave. If that is what she desires.

So in the recent direct to DVD sequel to last year's Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, Superman's cousin (Kara) is kidnapped by Darseid and taken to his terrible war planet: Apokolips. There he changes her. Those changes include evil destructive desires which she didn't previously have. But Darkseid thinks she is still free. But is she really? Her desires were changed agaisnt her will but now she is not capable of willing anything other than her new set of desires.

This seems to be a common theme among villains and supervillains, and its interesting that the same basic view of the will is espoused by Edwardian Calvinist theology. Its free as long as you desire to do what you're doing. That seems false. Kara seems as if she's trapped and not really guilty of the bad things she is about to do. And if that intuition seems correct then so much the worse for compatibilism. But God says: I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live. (Deut. 30:19)

So choose life and DC Universe DVDs. They're awesome. Not as awesome as life, but still pretty awesome.


  1. Aaron,

    This is a good point in relation to manipulation scenarios. It is quite intuitive to think that the manipulated agent isn't free, and it is hard for compatibilism to account for this.

    That being said, is there a chance that Darkseid's comment is disingenuous?

    Also, what other villains do you see espousing this compatibilist view of freedom?

  2. Not that my comment is going to surprise you, but that's actually not what Calvinists believe (meet my friend, the dead horse). I won't speak specifically for Edwards as an individual, but the majority of the Calvinistic (I should really say Reformed) tradition would not agree that God imposes desires on someone who is otherwise unwilling to receive those desires.

    Notice that the intuition here about Kara not truly being free comes from the fact that the imposition of desires by Darkseid is in some sense "artificial", there is no real sense in which the desires arose naturally out of Kara herself. Darkseid and Kara were not engaged in a kind of "perfect synergy" if you will, where it could be said that both she and Darkseid are truly the sources of her desires. Plus, more importantly, we assume that the "old" Kara would never have willingly accepted the new desires that Darkseid gives her. In other words, the key word here is coercion. Reformed theology fundamentally denies that God in any way coerces the human will.

    I'm also curious, what other villains did you have in mind?