“What If?” and the Multiverse

“What If?” and the Multiverse

Comic Lore as Introductory Primer on Modal Logics

By Jeremy E. Scarbrough

It might be said that all the arts are thought experiments, exercises in pondering possible worlds or possible states in the actual world. It just so happens that some aspects of art and storytelling in contemporary pop-culture have gotten really good at getting us to ponder possible worlds containing a multitude of other possible worlds—that is to say that the notion of a multiverse has become a particular point of interest in the last half century. This concept is now explored through a plethora of stories and films, but it is really to the legacy of comic lore that we owe the popularization of this fascination en vogue. This can be seen in Japanese manga since the turn of the twentieth century—consider Dragon Ball Super’s Tournament of Power arc, where warriors from eight universes must battle for the winning universe’s right to continue existing—but it is Marvel and DC who seem to have been exploring questions of the multiverse the longest (since the mid-twentieth century), even if they did not always realize the depth of the questions they were asking. But in recent years, it seems they have both labored to expand and define the nature of their multiverses.

Consider Marvel Comics’ Loki (on Disney+), or its What If? Series, a long-running comic series which asked questions like, What if Hulk killed Wolverine? What if Wolverine became Lord of the Vampires? and What if the Punisher became Captain America? It was more recently adapted to a series for Disney+, exploring questions like, What if the Avengers became zombies? and What if Agent Carter became Captain America, and Steve Rogers became the first Iron Man? In both the Loki and the What If series, we see some beings who have access to the truth values of other possible worlds (e.g., the Watcher; the TVA), even if the beings within those individual worlds being monitored have no knowledge beyond their own perspectives. Many things from within the smaller perspective may seem necessary, and yet those with access to other possible worlds are supposedly able to distinguish necessity from possibility to a greater degree.

Or consider how the Avengers-related films and off-shoot series have created their own sort of universe (as things play out differently in the film-verse than they did in the original comic-verse). Moreover, the directors took care to create a sense of cohesion between stories so that we can appreciate how one storyline can impact another. So too, what is possible in one story may be impacted by what is necessary or possible in another story.

This essay will attempt to use certain references to pop culture (namely comic lore) in order to introduce the reader to the basics of modal logic. Logic can be demanding for the beginning student and overwhelming for the amateur philosopher—and modal logic is an even deeper topic, but it can also be a lot of fun, even with only an introductory knowledge. Yet even introductory Logic courses can often come across in a dry and seemingly irrelevant, even inaccessible, manner. The hope here is that pop culture will help to make deep logical content more accessible and interesting to the novice student and the lay reader. When used purposefully by the educator, pop culture has a way of revealing to students that they already have a working knowledge of philosophy; they simply do not realize how they are engaging it (and even having fun doing so!). We are all on a sort of philosophical journey, pondering deep questions and trying to piece together the logic of our situations (and even pondering alternative possibilities).

If the reader is unfamiliar with the basics of propositional logic (upon which modal logic builds), it will be helpful to understand these basics: P can stand for a proposition or statement. So can Q, or other letters. So, “P” simply means “statement P is true” or “P is the case.” The symbol [¬] represents negation. Thus, ¬Q reads “not-Q” or “Q is not the case.” We can also state things like, P or Q is true (meaning at least one, though perhaps not both); P and Q are the case; or ¬ (P & Q), meaning “it is not the case the P & Q are both true” (perhaps both are false, but they cannot both be true). Finally, → represents a conditional relationship, “if… then,” where P → Q is understood to imply that “if P is true then Q is true.”

The value of symbolic logic lies in the fact that it helps us to clean up our language, so to speak, in order to see more clearly the particular connections that we are attempting to make between more complex ideas. Rather than trudging through wordy sentences, like “Bruce Banner was exposed to massive amount of gamma radiation, and we’ve now reason to believe Banner is the Hulk. So, we need more funding for studying gamma radiation as the key to an effective Super Soldier Serum,” symbolization can help up to clarify the argument that is really being advanced:

“If (A) Bruce Banner was exposed to a massive amount of gamma radiation, and if (B) after this exposure he became a hulking monster then (C) the key to an effective Super Soldier Serum lies within gamma radiation. And if this is the case then (D) we need to invest more funding in the study of gamma radiation. That is: [(A & B) → C] → D.

Modal logic adds to this the language of possibility and necessity.

Modal Logic

The term Modal Logic can be used in a broad or a narrow sense.  In a broad sense, it refers to different logical systems for drawing out differing “modes” of truth—that is, different ways in which truth statements embed themselves naturally into language. These systems of logic build upon the standardized systems of propositional and predicate logic, but they attempt to account for things which propositional and predicate logic alone cannot address in a satisfactorily comprehensive manner. These systems of Modal Logic (i.e., “Modal Logics”) include the following:

Alethic modal logic digs at issues of necessity and possibility, and it introduces two new operators/symbols: the box (□) representing necessity, and the diamond, or lozenge (◊) representing possibility. Thus, □P reads. “it is necessary that P” or “P is necessarily true,” while ◊P reads, “it is possible that P” or “P is possibly true.” This is the most basic aspect of modal logic, and it has become the most popular way of using modal logic, so that it now represents the term “modal logic” in the narrow sense. So, in the narrow sense, we can say that modal logic refers to propositional calculus which includes the operators □P and ◊P. The talk of necessity and possibility naturally lends itself to the consideration of possible worlds, and so the contemplation of multiple worlds, or systems (or universes/dimensions) is a natural (even central) part of modal logic.

Here are the basics of modal logic (in the narrow sense):

P       P is necessarily true.

This is the same as saying (¬¬P), that it is not possible for P not to be true

¬P     It is necessarily the case that not-p. (Necessarily, P is false).

This is the same as saying (¬P); it is not possible for P to be true.

P        Possibly, P. (It is possible that P is true).

This is the same as saying ¬P); it is not necessarily the case that P is not true.

¬P     It is possible that P is not true.

This is the same as saying (¬□P); it is not necessarily the case that P is true.

Philosophers also distinguish between necessity de dicto and necessity de re. Necessity de dictorefers to a statement that must be true in all possible worlds, while Necessity de re refers to a thing’s having a necessary (or essential) property in all possible worlds. While superpowers may not be required to be a hero, it would seem that, in any given world, a superpower is an essential property of one who is to be called Superman. On the other hand, Marvel’s One-Above-All is the Supreme Being (i.e. God) of the Marvel universe. And as St. Anselm would remind us, since One-Above-All is essentially described as that than which no greater can be conceived, he must exist in all possible worlds (because existing in only a handful of possible worlds is not as “great” as existing in all possible worlds). The statement “God exists” would therefore represent necessity de dicto for any given world within the Marvel multiverse.

Modal logic enables us to say the following kind of things in a symbolized language:

P & ◊¬P

P is true, but it is possible for p to have been false. P is not a necessary truth; it is contingent. The world could have been otherwise.

◊(P & Q)

It is possible that p and q are both true. That is, p and q are compatible.*

¬◊(P & Q)

It is not possible for p and q both to be true. They are incompatible; one of them must be false.*

*Side note: As a point of interest, compatibility and incompatibility represent both the arguments from evil against the existence or nature of God, and arguments in defense of God’s nature or will (called theodicies). The Problem of Evil argues ¬◊(P & Q), that it is not possible for (P) an all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving God to exist and for (Q) evil to exist. That is to say, the Problem of Evil claims that P and Q are incompatible. Theodicies, on the other hand, such as the Free Will Defense, argue ◊(P & Q), that the two are compatible—that it is not the case that p and q are incompatible: ¬□[¬◊(P & Q)]. The problem of evil is also a philosophical question observable across the arts.

□(P → Q)

It is necessarily the case that if P is true Q must be true. This is called necessary entailment.

Doxastic and Epistemic modal logic are concerned with clarifying statements not about truth per se, but rather about what truths are believed or known by a given person, in a given world. Consider Marvel Comics and the Spider-Verse, for example. In one universe, Peter Parker is Spider-man. In this universe, Spider-man once loved Gwen Stacy, but she was killed during a battle with the Green Goblin. In another universe, Gwen Stacy becomes Spider-woman. In yet another dimension, Peter Parker was Spider-man, but he died, and Miles Morales became the new Spider-man. In one of the possible worlds explored via the What IF? Comic series, Peter Parker never became Spider-man; his Aunt May was the one bitten by the radioactive spider.

Now, let P represent the proposition, “I am a superhero with spider powers.” Let S = Peter Parker; T = Miles Morales; U = Gwen Stacy; and V = Aunt May. With Epistemic modal logic (dealing with statements about who “knows” what), we could say that S “knows” P in World-1. With “K” representing knowledge, we might write that like this: K(s)(p)w1, meaning “it is known by S that P, in World-1. Similarly, for Miles, Gwen, and May, we might write:




It is important to note here that none of these statements could be true in the other worlds. S knows P in World-1 because Peter Parker (S) is Spider-man in World-1. He is not Spider-man in Gwen’s universe. (He actually became the Lizard in that world!). He is not alive to know anything in the world where Miles Morales has already become Spider-man. Nor was he Spider-man in the world wherein Aunt May assumed those powers. On the other hand, if we were to speak of the knowledge of the average news reporter (N) in any of these worlds, and if we let P now represent “the identity of the Amazing Spider-hero” we could write





For in no world does (N) the average news reporter truly know (P) the identity of the Spider-hero. They may believe that they do, however… In this case we are not really speaking of “knowledge” (K) but rather of belief (B). This brings us to Doxastic modal logic. Let P now represent “I know the identity of the Amazing Super-hero. If N believes P in World-1, then we might say that B(n)(p)w1.

Another form of modal logic (one of the “logics”) is Deontic modal logic. If you’ve ever taken a course in ethics, then you know that deontology has to do with duties, and duty distinguishes between what is immoral or forbidden, what is obligatory (it is your duty; no exceptions), and what is not immoral/forbidden and yet neither is it obligated—it is permissible. You are not wrong if you do not do it, nor are you obligated to do it. While it may be wrong to harm others, and while helping others may be good, you are under no obligation to become your city’s friendly patrolling hero… Of course, if you have superpowers, Spider-man might disagree since he believes that one with powers to act has a duty, a moral responsibility to act. Here, philosophers distinguish between Op (“P is obligatory,” or “it is obligatory that P”), Pp (“P is permitted”), and Fp (“P is forbidden”). One might clarify OpPp (If P is obligatory then P is permissible), or Fp → ¬Pp (if it is forbidden then it is not permissible to do). One might similarly argue that ¬Op (it is not the case that P is obligatory) & ¬Fp (it is not the case that P is forbidden). From this we can derive the conclusion, Pp; it is permissible to do.

Because the reasoning which first moved Spider-Man to become his city’s defender was “With great power comes great responsibility”—that is, P → Q, if (P) one has great power then (Q) one has a great (moral) responsibility—he (along with other superheroes) now seems to hold the belief that it is obligatory for him to act on behalf of those in danger and in the name of justice. While he might encourage others to help their neighbors in whatever way they can, he does not hold them morally accountable for not rushing into danger as would superheroes. We admire the acts of “ordinary” heroes precisely because they go above and beyond the call of duty. Yet Spider-Man holds himself morally responsible to act on behalf of others, and he seems to stand against the practice (common to criminals) of using others as a means to one’s own end. After all, his beloved Uncle Ben was a means to a burglar’s self-interested ends. His seeming respect for others as ends in themselves even shows in the way he treats criminals once he has stopped them. For rather than taking revenge upon that burglar when he had the opportunity—and eye for an eye—he left the criminal for capture.

Let A = Always act altruistically, helping others in need or in danger.

Let S = Always act out of self-interest, using others as a means to your own ends.

Spider-man’s convictions seem to be as follows:

For one who has no superpowers, Pa: A is permissible, though not obligatory.

For one who has superpowers, Oa: A is obligatory. Yet regardless of one’s power or lack thereof, ¬Ps or Fs: S is not permissible; or it is forbidden (wrong).

Venom, on the other hand, is a more interesting case. Initially, he seemed to embrace a moral position of ¬Oa: it is not obligatory to help others. Yet, when fighting Spider-Man, even though his sole concern was to eat Spider-Man’s brains, he would occasionally let Spider-Man get away while rushing to save an innocent person from harm. Once he eventually let go of his hatred for Spider-Man and became the Lethal Protector, he seemed to hold to more of a conditional Oa: If (P) the people needing help are innocent and homeless persons, then Oa. (P → Oa). The symbiote itself, however, often seems to act from a position of Ps: it is permissible to use others (especially criminals, when Venom was Lethal Protector) as a means to the symbiote’s own ends (e.g., its appetite for violence or even its hunger for brains).

Sometimes it is necessary to work through tense in language. Thus, it is necessary to speak in modes about time. This is called Temporal modal logic. What is true of the present is not necessarily true of the future. Nor is it necessary that if it is true in 10 minutes that it must also be true now. And yet, if it will be true in 10 minutes, or if it has been true at some time in the past, then our truth statements must be able to account for this. So, logicians use modal operators like G, F, H, and P when speaking of time:

Gp (“P will always be the case” or “it will always be the case that P”)

Fp (“it will [at some time in the future] be the case that P”)

Hp (“P has always been the case” or “it has always been the case that P”)

Pp (“it was [at some point in the past], or has been, the case that P)

For example, also, spoiler alert: in Netflix’s new film, The Adam Project, a mature Adam travels back in time and meets pre-teen Adam. The two Adams must travel farther back in time, together, in order to stop someone from taking control of the future. This could have played out in a number of ways, but since the person they were trying to stop dies, we can now say that an event has occurred which will always have been the case. (Now dead, and with the future memories of the old past changed, it is highly unlikely that anyone from the future would know to return to this time and stop the Adams from destroying the Adam Project). Thus, we could say GP(Two future Adams and their father destroyed The Adam Project), meaning “(G) It will always be the case that at some time in the past it was the case that (P) two future Adams and their father destroyed The Adam Project.

Similarly, in the X-Men series Days of Future Past, everything hangs upon Pp. What was the case at some point in the past (an assassination, P, was the case) caused a series of events resulting in a new situation Pq (an anti-mutant panic, Q, was the case), which results in a new reality for mutants (R; spending one’s life hunted and on the run or else detained in a concentration camp). For mutants born in the future, Hr; R has been the case for as long as they can remember… unless someone can go back and change Pp, what was the case at a particular moment, time t, in the past.

Finally, there is Counterfactual logic. Admittedly, this is an area of modal logic which may not show up in many introductory Logic textbooks, but it is especially useful for pondering possible actions within possible worlds. As explained by James Garson (2018), “David Lewis (1973) and others have developed conditional logics to handle counterfactual expressions, that is, expressions of the form ‘if A were to happen then B would happen’.” It was Lewis who first introduced the symbolic operators for counterfactual modal logic.

‘If Kangaroos had no tails, they would topple over’ seems to me to mean something like this: in any possible state of affairs in which Kangaroos have no tails, and which resembles our actual state of affairs as much as Kangaroos having no tails permits it to, the Kangaroos topple over. I shall give a general analysis of counterfactual conditionals along these lines….I shall introduce a pair of counterfactual conditional operators intended to correspond to the various counterfactual conditional constructions of ordinary language; And I shall interpret these operators by saying how the truth value at a given possible world of a counterfactual conditional is to depend on the truth values at various possible worlds of its antecedent and consequent.

…. Let us employ a language containing these two counterfactual conditional operators:


read as ‘If it were the case that ____, then it would be the case that…’, and


Read as ‘if it were the case that ____, then it might be the case that…’.”

 (Lewis 1973: 1).

I think the importance of counterfactual logic is best explained and presented in the most accessible manner by J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, in their tome, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (2003). Because most of the text is digging at systematic philosophy from the lens of philosophy of religion, they see the need to present a concise overview of introductory logic—including modal and counterfactual logic, since these are relevant for pondering how God would or might not act in other possible worlds. They explain:

Counterfactuals are conditional statements in the subjunctive mood, and they have a logic of their own. Such conditionals are interestingly different from their indicative counterparts. Compare, for example

  1. If Oswald didn’t shoot Kennedy, then somebody else did.
  2. If Oswald hadn’t shot Kennedy, then somebody else would have.

The indicative conditional (1) is evidently true in light of Kennedy’s death. But the counterfactual conditional (2) is by no means true; On the contrary it seems very likely that if Oswald had not shot the president, then Kennedy’s motorcade would have proceeded uneventfully. Counterfactuals are so called because the antecedent and consequent of the conditionals are contrary to fact” (Moreland & Craig 2002: 52).

As you can imagine, this sort of modal tool might come in quite handy when pondering alternate realities and all the “what-ifs” concerning other possible worlds within a multiverse. Marvel’s “What If?” series began with the only Marvel universe available at the time and then began to ask counterfactual questions. If things had been different, what would a character have done and what might they have done? What might they not have done? If Wolverine had killed the Hulk in 1974, Magneto might have forced Wolverine to die by his own hand, but we know that even in that world the Watcher would have watched it happen and refrained from intervening.

Even if something is possible in a given world, there may be reasons to believe that it might or might not occur, given some particular circumstances. Similarly, something need not be necessarily necessary for us to conclude that if a certain series of events occurred then a particulate consequence would result. In Disney’s The Little Mermaid, we have every reason to think that if Ariel can be with Prince Eric and if Eric realizes that Ariel is the girl for whom he has been searching—the one who rescued him and whose voice he adores—that, as long as there is no interference from Ursula, they would get married. Yet their getting married is not a necessary feature of the world and the mere fact that it is possible in itself is not enough to draw the conclusion that it would happen.

Counterfactual logic uses the same operators as basic (Alethic) modal logic (□ and ◊). The difference is in the placement. Whereas modal logic (i.e. alethic logic) deals with the possibility or necessity of statements themselves (such as “P”), counterfactual logic deals with the necessity or possibility of conditional operators. Rather than saying that q follows from P (P→Q)—that Q does take place if P—the philosopher may want to make clear that if P is true then it would be necessary for Q to follow. Thus P □→ Q might clarify (speaking of a possible world or scenario) that, if P had obtained then Q would, necessarily, have also obtained (to say it another way; if P were to be the case, then Q would become the case), whereas P ◊→ Q claims that Q might be the case if P were true. Likewise, P □→ ¬Q means that if P obtains then this would result in ¬Q, while P ◊→ ¬Q states that if P obtains then it might be the case that Q does not.

Necessity, Contingency, & Possibility

While each approach lends itself well to comic lore, Alethic logic, hereafter referred to simply as “modal logic” (using the narrow sense), and Counterfactual logic show up a lot. While Marvel Comics has an expansive multiverse worth exploring more deeply, we will now turn to consider only a few questions which arise from the DC Multiverse, in order to ponder (at the introductory level) the modal logic of possible worlds.

The Joker has a fascination with pushing people to their limit—more specifically, pushing them over the edge. He is convinced that all it really takes for someone to choose the path of the villain rather than the path of the hero is one really bad day. The only real difference between, for example, him and Batman is a single choice at a single moment in time. And if the pressure is just right, if the day is just bad enough, the hero would be no more, and the antihero would rise from his shadow.

In one world within the DC universe, Joker chose commissioner Gordon as his target. He attempted to push Gordon to his breaking point. In other universes, however, the stakes were much higher. The DC storyline entitled Injustice recounts what happens in a possible world when the joker causes superman to have a really bad day. (This is all it took for the Joker to snap, after all). In that world, after killing Clark’s best friend, Jimmy, and tricking Superman (with a gas that causes illusions) into killing his own pregnant wife, the Joker’s action prompt Superman to cross a line that he had always refrained from crossing—an abuse of his power in taking justice into his own hands; to serve as judge and jury, to kill those who deserve to die. Indeed, Superman kills the Joker, slamming his hand through Joker’s chest.

Here is the IMDB synopsis of the 2021 animation adaptation:

Who will stand against The Man Of Steel? When his world is shattered by tragic events set in motion by the diabolical Joker, Superman becomes hell-bent on enforcing peace.. [sic] at any cost. The Man of Steel begins a reign of tyranny that can only be stopped by one hero : Batman. The splintered Justice League divides its ranks as the two former allies wage a deadly battle for freedom. In this alternate world of chaos, loyalties are tested, and the line between friend and foe blurs. Based on the critically acclaimed Video Games, and graphic novel, Injustice unleashes an all-out war fought by DC’s mightiest. Can the world survive?

In the Injustice universe, as in ours, P and ¬P cannot both obtain (in the same way, at the same time). It is not logically possible for Superman to kill Joker (P) and to refrain from killing Joker(¬P) [That is, ¬◊(P & ¬P); it is not possible for P and not-P to both be true. In other words, □¬(P &¬P); necessarily, it is not the case that P obtains and ¬P also obtains]—although either scenario alone is possible [◊P & ◊¬P].

Here, we also brush up easily against counterfactual logic. Prior to witnessing these events unfold in the Injustice universe, some might have passionately insisted that Superman is the sort of character that would never kill, no matter what. That is: In no possible world will P □→ Q obtain. In other words, ¬◊(P □→ Q) [It could never be the case (it is impossible) that, if (P) Superman were ever to face a great tragedy at the hands of an evil villain, then (Q) he would kill such a heinous villain]. Clearly, not everyone believed this (since the writers were prompted to explore this series of events to serve as a counterexample). Prior to witnessing the events of the Injustice saga, then, the skeptic might have believed P ◊→ Q [if (P) Superman were ever to face a great tragedy at the hands of a villain, then (Q) he might kill such a heinous villain]. Having now observed these events in one possible world, we can now conclude with confidence: There is at least one possible world wherein P □→ Q. Of course, the fact that these events did occur gives us no reason to conclude that they had to—that things could not have been otherwise. So, we cannot conclude that in this universe □(P □→ Q)… unless we are comfortable with removing the variable of Superman’s free will. (Even then, it would be a great feat to demonstrate that Superman’s actions were a necessary part of that world–even if they are a “necessary” part of the Injustice plot).

Either scenario is possible precisely because it is not necessary for Superman to be good, to use his power in an altruistic manner. To say it another way, Superman is not necessarily good; he just happens to be good in certain worlds. But we can easily conceive of a world in which Superman was self-interested, using his power to take whatever he wanted and to bully anyone who would oppose him. A might-makes-“right” world is not so unfamiliar to us; nature itself seems to reward the powerful in the animal kingdom. Additionally, the Superman whom we know and love—“our” Superman—may care about humanity as a whole…and yet, he is a U.S. citizen. Will this not influence him at all? Will he never favor the “good” of the U.S. over the “good” of other countries in the world? It is not inconceivable that, had he crash landed in the Ukraine instead of America, that he would have been a champion of Soviet Russia rather than the American way. As it relates to the proposition (P) “Superman is good” we might write: ◊P, but also ◊¬P. Furthermore, we might clarify: ¬□P. This could be true of any world. Yet even within a particular world (W2) it could be the case that Superman is “good” for Russia (State1) but not so for the U.S (State2). Thus, we might clarify that in W2, in State1, P, while in State2, ¬P. In this case, within W2, because of a difficulty in language with the term “good” (i.e., because it is not being used in the same way), it might be reasoned that (P & ¬P). But again, this is because, for any given world wherein Superman exists, ¬□P obtains.

In yet another universe, we meet an evil version of Batman, called “The Batman Who Laughs”—a twisted hybrid of Batman and Joker. The Joker revealed that he wanted to create the best version of both of them… and to do this they needed one another. After Batman is pushed to cross the line and kill the Joker, a toxic “Joker Gas” is released from Joker’s mouth. With time, it drives Batman crazy, and he eventually kills the entire Justice League—even using black kryptonite to force Superman to kill his own wife and child. The same logic we applied to Superman could be applied to Batman. There a large number of Batmans from a vast number of different worlds, including “Zombie Batman,” and a world in which Bruce is killed instead of his parents, and his father, Thomas Wayne, becomes Batman while his mother, driven to the point of insanity, becomes the Joker. So, letting P now stand for the statement “Bruce Wayne is Batman,” it is not even the case that P is true in every possible world [¬□P], and within the many possible worlds wherein Bruce Wayne is Batman, it is not necessary that Batman be any particular way. If P = “Batman never uses guns” then P is true in some worlds while false in others.

What Batman shows us is that, in any possible world, superpowers are not necessary for being powerful or for being a hero. (Although it could be challenged that in no possible world could Batman do what he does without having access to a lot of money—either his own or someone else’s (Oliver Queen’s?)… In this case, it might be said that Batman can only exist in the sort of world wherein he is privileged to money or lucky enough to have access to it). From all comic worlds (DC, Marvel, etc.), whether we call them “superheroes” or “mutants” we can infer that, while superhuman powers are not a necessary part of any world, superpowers are necessary for superheroes who are unlike Batman. If Superman remained his entire life on Krypton, he would not have been special. It is the fact that he is an alien—unlike anything else on our planet and not native to our planet—which causes him to experience powers unavailable to any other mere human. Wolverine, Hulk, and Captain America would be insignificant without their powers or special abilities. Iron Man, like Batman, on the other hand, a regular person without superpowers (yet with privileged access to a brilliant mind and a lot of money), reminds the Marvel universe that superpowers are not necessary for qualifying as a “superhero”—although they are necessary for qualifying as a “superpowered” hero. Thus, letting P now stand for the statement, “Superpowers are required to be a superhero,” letting Q stand for “Superpowers are required to be a super-powered hero,” and letting R represent the claim, “A lot of money is required in order to be a superhero, in the event that one has no superpowers;” we might conclude:




Finally, we might consider possible worlds if we ever ask questions like “Who is faster: Superman or The Flash?” The answer may differ according to which world, which Flash, and which Superman we are talking about. In the general Comic-verse, it seems to be the case the Flash is just a little faster than Superman. In the world of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, however, it was suggested that Superman is faster. So then, in pondering this question we would always be speaking in terms of . If, on the other hand, there is reason to think that one of these superbeings would always win a race in any possible world because they are necessarily faster, in that case we might consider □… but then it becomes important to realize that we would only be speaking of necessity de re. For the truth of either being’s winning a race in any given world would not be a necessary fact about the nature of reality; it would be a contingent fact of reality, resting upon the necessity of a being’s possessing a particular property (namely, super-speed). It would be contingent because we can conceive of a world wherein Superman is only super-strong and bulletproof, with the power to fly, but in which he is not faster than a speeding bullet. Similarly, we can conceive of worlds in which the Flash never existed, or Kal-El never left his planet, because it was never destroyed.

Perhaps the most debated question amongst comic book and anime fans is: “Who would win in a fight between Superman and Goku? Here are two worlds inaccessible to one another (the DC Comics universe and the Dragon Ball Z universe). When it comes to questions about Superman vs the Flash, we can look into different DC worlds containing differing Flashes and Supermans, in order to compare and contrast their abilities and super-powered interactions with one another. Yet even here, we may resort to speculation. If we want to ponder Superman’s strength in comparison to that of He-Man, there are possible worlds in which the two have battled, and so our conclusions might be less speculative. With Superman vs Goku, however, all we have is speculation. Both are aliens. Both are super strong. Both have fought “supers” from other dimensions. Both have even fought gods. (Both have even died and returned to life). Again, however fun it may be to ponder such what-ifs, we will always be speaking in terms of , unless it can be established that there is good reason to conclude that some truth-statement is necessarily the case, or that some property of a being or world necessarily obtains. Of course, it is also possible that no such possible world exists. In that case, we might never be able to obtain a satisfactory answer to the question.

So, the next time you pick up a comic, watch an amine or Disney film, read a work of fiction, or go to the movies, you can ponder modal questions by asking yourself things like: Is that a necessary part of this fiction-world of could it have been different? Would that character have that property in any possible world or only if the world were just-so? Concerning a significant action or choice at a particular moment, what might have happened if the character had not done that thing or had made the opposite choice? You may begin to realize that you ponder modal questions far more often than you think! While this may not necessarily move you to go out and become a philosophy major in order to start teaching logic, it might nevertheless make for some fun and engaging conversations with friends and family. That is to say, letting P = “You will now want to go forth, learn more, and teach logic,” and letting Q = “You will now, at least, find logic more enjoyable than you previously thought;” ¬□P but ◊Q! [And if ◊Q, this of course does not guarantee that if (R) “you found this essay enjoyable” then □→ Q, but it does allow for the possibility that R ◊→ Q].

Jeremy E. Scarbrough holds a PhD in music (emphasis in philosophy) from the University of Mississippi, and master’s degrees in Christian Apologetics, Theological Studies, and Music Education. He has taught music and philosophy at the high school and undergraduate levels. He currently resides in Tampa, FL, where he serves as instructor of philosophy for Pasco-Hernando State College. His research explores the intersection of philosophy (especially moral philosophy), theology, aesthetics (especially musical aesthetics), and pop culture.

Works Cited:

Garson, James. “Modal Logic.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2021 Edition). Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Retrieved on April 4, 2022 from: https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2021/entries/logic-modal/>.

Lewis, David. Counterfactuals. Oxford: Blackwell, 1973.

Moreland, J.P. and William Lane Craig. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2003.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s