Part 15 The Joker is the Hero of Moral Relativism

Heath Ledger as the Joker
Image via Wikipedia

Today I was watching the movie “Dark Knight” and I realized the Joker was the great moral hero of relativism.  Why?  The Joker was a sociopath; he did what he wanted to do. His only objective rule was there are no objective rules.  He did what his heart desired and for the Joker that was right and good. This is exactly what the moral relativist does.  He does what he wants to do.  There are no universal rules.  There are no essential differences between the beliefs of the sociopathic Joker and the relativist.  Today many sociopaths are in prison.  This doesn’t mean all relativists are sociopaths but according to their belief system they could be.

The Joker loved to blow up buildings, destroy cars, kill people slowly, and cause as much pain as possible because those things gave him great pleasure.  We could call this the “pleasure as ethics” morality.  The relativist follows a similar path.  For the most part they do what gives them the most pleasure.

During the movie the Joker repeatedly demonstrated he didn’t have a conscience. For a person to have a guilty conscience you need a standard of rules that judge your actions and the knowledge you are going to be held accountable.  The Joker had no standard and no apparent accountability. This was why the Joker smiled and laughed all the time, not only because his face was cut, but because he never felt bad about murdering people.  In order to feel guilt you need someone to hold you accountable for doing wrong.  According to the Joker no universal standard existed and therefore he had no accountability to a transcendent law giver.

An action can only be wrong if an outside transcendent standard exists.  If objective morality doesn’t exist then there are no universal laws.  If a moral relativist does what he thought was wrong all he has to do is change the rule.  If the Joker at one time thought murder was wrong, he could change his rule to murder is right and good.  Thus he is guiltless because killing people is right and good.

Does anyone want to follow a moral system where the Joker is the moral hero?  This is why most moral relativists love to live next to people who believe in objective or universal moral right and wrong.  Who would want to live next to a Joker?

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{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Matthew August 25, 2010, 3:16 pm

    Interesting thoughts, very interesting. I suppose you could say he’s a very skewed version of a moral relativist. But I think a better example would be Batman as a moral relativist. Batman at one time would see spying on people as “wrong”, but if it can help him to catch the Joker, then it’s right in the context of that situation. And in near the beginning of “Batman Begins”, he saw letting Ra’s Al Ghul fall to his death as wrong, but at the end he clearly did not when he told Ra’s, “I’m not gonna kill you, but I don’t have to save you.” I think that’s why Batman is a better example of moral relativism: because he DOES have morals, but they do change at times depending on the context. Whereas the Joker has NO morals whatsoever, which doesn’t really strike me as moral relativism. I’d say he’s completely AMORAL instead, meaning he doesn’t believe in any sort of moral code. He believes nothing is right or wrong, that morals are silly little buzzwords and codes which ultimately mean nothing. A moral relativist could not really agree because they believe that when they do something that would normally be considered “wrong” they are at least doing it for a good purpose within the context of the situation. If we’re to compare comic book villains, I’d say LEX LUTHOR is the king of moral relativism. He does a lot of good for the world but also does so much evil. Whenever he does an evil act, he justifies it in his head somehow as “doing what’s right for humanity”. So I see Lex as an evil version of Bruce Wayne in a way, whereas Bruce still has lines he will not cross despite his moral relativism. The Joker would mock both of them trying to analyze the ends justifying the means for what’s best for the world and ask them, “Do you really believe you’re making a difference?” Then he’d laugh at them spitefully.

  • Steve August 28, 2010, 5:50 am

    Matthew,
    Thanks for your interesting reply. I still contend the Joker is a stronger candidate for the hero of moral relativism. He is the ultimate sociopath; doing whatever he wants. You say he is amoral or without morality. I don’t believe any person can achieve amoral status; they cannot be neutral. The Joker has a moral basis; whatever gives him pleasure is his morality. Some call this “pleasure as ethics.” For the Joker he tries to derive pleasure from doing evil to others and incurring personal pain. He doesn’t want Batman dead because with him alive and based on Batman’s objective morality, he makes all the evil he does increasingly pleasurable. What the Joker lacks is any objective standard for morality, which by definition qualifies him as a moral relativist. His decisions are based on what gives him the most personal pleasure, which I believe makes him the ultimate hero of moral relativism.

    Here is an interesting thought. What is the difference between a person who is amoral and a moral relativist? The amoral person does what he wants. The moral relativist does what he wants. There is no difference. Hence a moral relativist = a person with no morality and therefore, moral relativism is not an ethical system. It is no different than a person without morality.

    Batman has a standard of good and evil. Situations do change and he has to apply the moral standard differently in certain situations. He once saved Ra’s Al Ghul and the result was more violence and death. Ra was an evil person. In that final sequence he was under no moral obligation to risk his life to save a murderer. This is not a change in his moral stance. He believes murder is wrong and not risking your life to save a murderer does not go against what Batman believes.

    I enjoyed your additional examples of moral relativists. An entire book could be written on the morality of comic books.

  • ALEX October 19, 2010, 8:19 pm

    Moral relativism also relates to religions, tribes and nations, not just individuals.

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