Captain America Isn’t (And Never Will Be) A Deontologist

(n.) philosophy – a theory that suggests actions are good or bad according to a clear set of rules.

In other words, deontology is a strict ethical theory that forces people to abide by morality-bound rules that have been laid out to them, and these rules can’t be broken if it goes against those good morals. Basically, you look at whether the action is good or bad, and if it’s bad, you don’t do it. The consequences of your actions are irrelevant; in fact, you shouldn’t be thinking about them at all when you make your decision.

My favorite example of deontology in action comes from “Deontology | Ethics Defined.” They outline how a software engineer learns that a nuclear missile is launching and will inevitably result in a war being started. The software engineer has the ability to hack into the system and stop the missile from launching. Since the ethics that the engineer holds for themself go against breaking into any software without permission, they don’t stop the missile. It’s a form of lying and cheating, which are morally wrong, and go against their deontological ethics.

I’ve recently been enlightened with the knowledge that some people believe Captain America is a deontologist, and I have to be honest with you, that doesn’t sit right with my soul. All I have to say to that is –

Avengers: Endgame (2019) Image via Marvel Studios

Movies like Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers are likely why people think the hero’s ethical standard lies in deontology. In these two movies, Steve Rogers is a simple, old-fashioned guy and definitely acts like it, — “show some respect” needing a plan or structure — so why wouldn’t he choose the black and white ethical standard? He’s stubborn to change and impulsivity, and most of the time he just wants to do things by the book. Remember how he didn’t like when Tony Stark was doing things his own way in The Avengers? The stubborn pair butted heads the entire movie, and they often got personal with their insults to each other. These lines come to mind –

But I’m here to tell you that those early movies in the series aren’t really a good example of Rogers’s character. He wasn’t fleshed out, he hadn’t gone through enough experiences with the Avengers team, and forgive me for saying it, he was a little boring. Don’t hate me for that – he’s actually my favorite out of the entire Avengers team. However, Rogers’s true ethical standard is shown on full display in Captain America: Civil War

Following the aftermath of The Avengers: Age of Ultron, the Avengers (minus Thor and Banner) are torn apart in Civil War when it comes to the signing of the Sokovia Accords. Signing the Accords meant that the Avengers were no longer allowed to be an independent entity. They’d be overseen and controlled by the United Nations. Right off the bat, there’s a division between Stark and Rogers over whether or not the Accords should be signed. While Stark believes that the Accords should be signed and the Avengers should be controlled, supervised, and only allowed to fight when given permission by the UN, Rogers believes that they shouldn’t sign the Accords and the Avengers should leave everything up to their own judgment. 

If you haven’t seen Civil War but you have seen The Avengers, you’d think that Stark didn’t want to sign the Accords while Rogers did. It would go along with the type of personalities shown for Stark and Rogers in that earlier movie. However, it’s Rogers who refuses to sign the Accords. Why? He says it himself here –

Captain America: Civil War (2016) Image via Marvel Studios

Why did he say that? Because he wanted to take responsibility for his actions that led to the consequences, whatever they may be.

This is who the real Captain America is. A man who meticulously thinks over what his plan is, what kind of consequences his actions might cause, and whether or not those possible consequences are worth acting upon depending on their severity. Go ahead and reread that definition and that example of deontology again. Why would Captain America subscribe to that ethical theory? The mere fact that he considers the consequences of his actions when making a decision immediately invalidates any argument about him being a deontologist. People with that ethical standard wouldn’t take the consequences into consideration because to them, it wouldn’t matter. 

Steve Rogers might be a simple man, but his ethical standard isn’t.

Images via Marvel Studios

Edited by Camille Duhon