Beyond Good and Evil, Beyond Heroes and Villains

Why write about heroes and villains in days when they seem hard to tell apart?

Posted Feb 01, 2017

With 100 entries in "Beyond Heroes and Villains" behind him, Dr. Travis Langley explores exactly what it means to look beyond heroes and villains.

When philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) wrote his 1886 book Jenseits von Gut und Böse: Vorspiel einer Philosophie der Zukunft (translated as "Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future," commonly known as Beyond Good and Evil in English), he criticized previous philosophers for basing their adhering to traditional, dogmatic conceptions of good and evil. He disagreed with black-and-white dichotimization of right and wrong or treating good and evil as direct opposites. He advised both basing morality on what gives people joy and developing more complex moral systems. 

Friedrich Nietzsche.

His ideas of embracing novelty and transcending traditional moral concepts gained new popularity in philosophical discussion of the late 1900s and early 2000s (Constable, 1994; Rodopi, 2013), when turn-of-the-millennium cynicism crept into popular discussions of morality. Church attendance plunged. Heroes kept falling. After 9/11, people needed heroes desperately even while questioning what heroism even is. 

When I named this online column, this blog, "Beyond Heroes and Villains," it was not with the same motivation that inspired Nietzsche when he titled his book (as translated). He recommended looking beyond the concepts of good and evil. I'm recommending that we look even further, that we go beyond the beyond. This modern age of instant communication may make it harder to distinguish heroes and villains.

We rapidly learn not only about our heroes' shortcomings but also about the villains' humanity as well. Such discoveries, while so important, can get in the way of seeing truths that are deeper or better. When we think we've found the truth, we might stop looking for it.

Popular fiction about fantastic heroes explores their weaknesses, failings, and temptations. Superheroes seem to spend more time lately fighting each other than fighting the villains. People are looking beyond good and evil, seeing areas of gray between the black and white, and yet that still oversimplifies things, still makes it all seem like a single dimension or factor. 

We still need heroes, and the world is full of them. The world has villains, and we need to stop blinding ourselves to the ones we prefer not to see. Nietzsche wanted a post-good-and-evil future. Maybe we're in it. But what comes after that? Can we come out the other side with a more complex view that still recognizes good and evil? If the time beyond good and evil is now, can we go beyond that? I like to think we can. That's why I keep writing about heroes.

Related Posts:


Belliotti, R. A. (2013). Jesus Or Nietzsche: How Should We Live Our Lives? Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Rodopi.

Constable, M. (1994). Genealogy and jurisprudence: Nietzsche, nihilism, and the social scientification of law. Law and Social Inquiry, 19, 551–590.

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