James Bond and Philosophy

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Is there any philosophical merit to the James Bond series at all? Yes, of course there is. And it's there plainly for all to see if they have an understanding of philosophical topics. On this page I will be answering three questions:

1. Is James Bond Nietzsche's Übermensch?
2. What moralistic party does James Bond stand for?

Is James Bond the Übermensch?

Fredrich Nietzsche (1844 - 1900) the author of such philosophical books as the Gay Science, Beyond Good and Evil and the Geneaology of Morals was a philosopher who believed whole heartedly in the concept of outdated moralistic values being ignored for the possibility of self progression (and therefore the positive progression of the human race).

Nietzsche believed that the Ancient Greeks were the ultimate race in history (just as James Bond is the greatest fantasy) bar none. He placed this perfection on the Greek's one the Greek's ability to balance the moral and immoral. On the moral side the Greeks happened to be the founders of democracy (something that Bond stands for), philosophy and were great artists (the poet Homer, Greek sculpture and so on). On the immoral side the Greeks could throw a wild party (and I mean wild). On occasions they would throw a party to the Greek God of wine and excess Dionysus which involved gluttony, lust and general drunkeness. This careful balance of moral and immoral allowed the Greeks to be the greatest race in all history.

Nietzsche pinpointed this to the Greek's abillity to be sublimation. Sublimation has to do with desires. We all have desires of some kind or another. Nietzsche believed that it's how we reacted to these desires that mattered rather then the desire itself. He concluded that there where three ways to deal with them:

  • 1. The Christian Approach: (sorry to our Christian/Catholic members I'm calling it as Nietzsche called it and this is is no way an attack on your beliefs and morals in any way). According to Nietzsche the Christian was approach is to ignore your desires, surpress them, drown them in religious dogma. All desires are bad, bad, bad, bad. They should be crushed by the moral hand of catholic vengeance. Nietzsche hated this and concluded that:
    • This approach is incredibly bad for you. Both psychologically and physiologically. For example the Roman Catholic church is against the consumption of alcohol even though scientists have proved that one glass of red wine a day is beneficial and that Bond's choice of Martini shaken not stirred may be the source of his general fitness and wellbeing.
    • Vital oppurtunity for self progression has been lost. Let's say you've got the desire to become rich and powerful. If you take the Christian Approach it'll never happen. In fact if the whole human race took this approach then we'd all be up a certain creek searching for that all important paddle. So the Christian approach is obviously out of bounds.

  • 2. The Hippie Approach: In other words give your desires free reign. You feel like drinking yourself under the table? Go ahead? Feel like gorging yourself on chocolate? Go ahead. If you feel like doing it then you should just go ahead and get it over and done with. Nietzsche also hated this approach. He felt that you are in fact just enslaving yourself and that this approach can only lead to devestaton. Nietzsche argued that there was only one thing to do be done about the whole affair:
  • 3. Live Your Life as a Work of Art: That's right ladies and gentlemen. Nietzsche believed that we should all turn our desires into sculpture, paintings, books, poetry or some other artistic endevour. Or, at the very least, turn our desires into worthwhile endevours. The desire to drink beer three times a day can be turned into a succesful brewery, the desire to be gluttonous despite being financially insecure encourouges one to engage in an apprenticeship, further into their studies or climb even higher on the corporate ladder. Neeldess to say this approach can also be beneficial to the people around you. This third approach is essentially sublimation.

From this Nietzsche drew up his most famous creation ever. The Ubermensch (otherwise known as the Overman or Superman [not to be confused with the man of steel]). The Ubermensch is the person who can perfectly put sublimation into practice. He or she can do this because they are beyond good and evil and above human morals. Nietzsche felt that the Ubermensch may just be the next step in the evolutionary ladder. The perfect will to power. To better aid your understanding I have found some quotes from Nietzsche:
"I teach you the overman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?" - Thus spoke Zarathustra.

"My idea is that every specific body strives to become master over all space and to extend its force (--its will to power:) and to thrust back all that resists its extension. But it continually encounters similar efforts on the part of other bodies and ends by coming to an arrangement ("union") with those of them that are sufficiently related to it: thus they then conspire together for power. And the process goes on--" the Will to Power.
Now with sublimation explained and hopefully understood we can come to the fun part. Is James Bond Nietzsche's the Overman? Essentially the answer is no. Although he does come damn close. Bond is argually guilty of taking all three aproaches in many points of the series.
In terms of the Christian Approach damning proof can be found in the movie Die Another Day. In the final scene with Bond and Jinx Bond is playfully toying with millions of dollars worth of diamonds. Rather then sell them, making himself rich and settling down to a life in the country Bond decides instead to return them to the British Government and therefore back to their owners (even though Bond, arguably, has no idea as to what the British will do with them). Presuming that the wonderful idea of selling the diamonds for a profit crossed Bond's mind at one time or another then Bond is guilty of the first approach.
Bond is also guility of the second approach. The Hippie approach. He commits this Nietzsche sin in every Bond movie ever made. An alluring woman scantily clad stands in front of him inviting a night of joyous passion of an adults only nature Bond's desirous pulse skips a beat and before we know it he's in bed with her. Bond just can resist the desire of taking a beautiful woman into bed with him for a night of heated romance.

Bond's guilty of sublimation and it's written all over the place. It's in every film. For instance in Casino Royale Bond has a desire to win a poker game. For the reasons of it being his mission, Bond likes to win, Bond stands to become extremely rich, Bond hates Le Chiffre and Bond feels a moral obligation to win. Bond therefore works all the harder and becomes more resilient as the game progresses.

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Therefore Bond is not the Übermensch. Although, if Nietzsche was alive today he'd probably have cited Bond as a role model that the Übermensch might have based himself.

The James Bond Moral

We can all agree. James Bond is essentially a moralist. He seems to stands for and upholds the morals that most people stand for (which is one of the reasons he's the greatest fictional hero that has ever existed) but exactly what are Bond's moral standings. Is he a hedonist? Does he believe in consequentalism? Or is he into Immanuel Kant's Categorical Imperative? Finding out exactly

To first understand where Bond's morals lie we must first figure out what he is. There are several groups: hedonism, cyrenaic hedonism, epicureanism, Stoicism, Categorical Imperative and consequentalism. . Let's get started!

Hedonism: Hedonism is the belief that an action of free will is only a good action if it decreased pain and increased pleasure. This is an invitation towards over indulgance and self gratification no matter what the costs? Sounds like certain Villains doesn't it?

Cyrenaic Hedonism: More or less the same as Hedonism. But further exploited by the world famous view that tomorrow we may no longer be here. "Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die" sort of attitude. Does, somewhat, have a bit of a point. Here's a James Dean quote that says something similar: "dream as if you'll live forever, live as if you'll die today."

Epicureanism: The philosopher Epicurus rejected the beliefs of Cyrenaic Hedonism on the grounds that some pleasures can have negative effects and consequences. Drinking yourself to pass out point might seem fun on one night but in the long run you end up with liver damage and may end up in jail or something.

Stoicism: The belief that self mastery of pleasures, desires and emotions to achieve spiritual peace. It has a lot to do with the "unconquerable will" and has been adopted by many different religions. Incidentally it's also something that Nietzsche condemmed in his philosophy of Sublimation.

Categorical Imperative: An invention or theory of Immanuel Kants. The original way he put it was: "act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law." For anybody who doesn't understand (and that's most people) this roughly translates into "do unto others as you would have done unto you."

Consequantlism: The belief that it's the actions outcome that decides whether the action was good or bad. Similar to the means justifying the act.

And now, those all important Philosophers.

So what exactly is James Bond morally? Well, it depends on when you catch him.
At home, in a Casino, with a girl or during relaxation periods (which are very far and between in occurence) Bond is purely a Cyrenaic Hedonistic. He never skimps on stile or pleasure. When it's time to order that all important bottle of Champaign or Wine it's always the most expenisve and best tasting one on the rack. Has anybody here ever seen Bond driving a wreck of a car (okay perhaps he did in For Your Eyes Only but like he had choice) or staying anywhere other then a five star hotel?
In the field he is strictly a consequantalist and stoicist. He's quite willing to die and sacrifice the lives of his friends if the situation calls for it. If it must happen for the greater good. This is shown in the Goldeneye when General Ouromov threatens to blow the brains out of his friend Alec Trevalyen unless he surrenders, Bond refuses. In the field is also a stoicist. As shown in the torture scene in Casino Royale when Bond refuses to give up vital information despite being tortured to near breaking point.