The Way Things Are

SOMETIMES IT’S EASY to dismiss a kids’ movie. After all, films featuring cute animated talking animals voiced by not-exactly-kid-friendly actors are easy to not take too seriously.

Existential dread isn’t exactly the kind of subject matter suited for a film geared towards the pre-school set.

But every once in awhile a kids movie goes and gets all philosophical on everybody.

Something you wouldn’t expect in a movie about a talking pig.

Aristotle wrote that all beings act according to their nature.

Aristotle calls it our characteristic function.

Aristotle says human characteristic function is the use of reason in accordance with virtue

What is the function of man? For as the goodness and the excellence of a piper or a sculptor, or the practiser of any art, and generally of those who have any function assigned to him by nature? Nay, surely as his several members, eye and hand and foot, plainly have each his own function, so we must suppose that man has some function over and above all these

(Man’s function then being, as we say, a kind of life — that is to say, exercise of his faculties and action of various kinds with reason — the good man’s function is to do this well and beautifully [or nobly]. But the function of anything is done well when it is done in accordance with the proper excellence of that thing.) Nicomachean Ethics, I 7.

Dogs, cats, bumblebees, frogs – According to Aristotle, nature not only designs a purpose for all beings, but also it is unnatural to deviate from that being’s designated purpose.

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NOT ONLY IS THIS AN INCREDIBLY TACKY PAINTING, IT IS ALSO UNNATURAL.

A fish’s characteristic function is to swim in water.

A bee’s characteristic function is to pollinate flowers.

A cat’s characteristic function is to be an asshole.

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THE LABEL ON THE BOX SAYS IT ALL

Aristotle states that thing’s characteristic activity (whoops, function), can be performed well or performed poorly.

Not only does a species have an characteristic function, but individuals do as well.

In humans, we can determine one’s characteristic function by observing one’s natural inclination, that is, your characteristic function is what you’re good at:

Mariah Carey’s characteristic function is to sing.

Rembrandt’s was to paint.

Mine is philosophy because frankly, I’m not good at doing anything else.

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PRETTY MUCH HOW I ROLL THESE DAYS

Aristotle attempts to define the Good in terms of characteristic function.

And by the capital “G” Good, Aristotle means Eudaimonia.

Loosely translated, eudemonia means “flourishing”.

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Wait – I think I’m straying off topic. I was talking about characteristic function.

If you want to read all about eudemonia read Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. You don’t even have to pay for it. It’s all over the internet in print and audiobook. FOR FREE.

Now, I’d like to think that I’m too old for kids’ movies, but truth be told, I’m not. I’d rather watch Daffy Duck’s Fantastic Island over The Seventh Seal any day of the week.

For the record, I think Daffy Duck’s Fantastic Island is a very philosophical movie.

The reason why, I think, I’d rather watch a kids’ movie is because unlike movies made for adults, where philosophical subtext is often handled with the subtlety of a pillaging berserker wielding a cudgel, kid-oriented entertainment can’t really overwhelm its target audience with deeper meaning.

Because they’re kids.

And most kids don’t know Hegel.

At least l hope most kids don’t know Hegel.

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THIS KID’S LIFE IS RUINED

But kids do know about talking pigs.

This talking pig in particular.

The movie Babe, directed by Chris Noonan, based on the book The Sheep-Pig by Dick King-Smith, and adapted for the screen by George Miller (yes, the guy who wrote Mad Max!) is the story of a pig… named Babe.

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BABE

Orphaned as a piglet, adopted by Farmer Hoggett, and raised by Hoggett’s sheep herding dogs, Babe is condemned to the short (and inevitably tragic) life of a pig: to one day become the farmer’s next meal.

Babe, however, wants more for his life than to become Christmas dinner.

Babe wants to herd sheep.

Naturally, Babe’s efforts to redefine his role on the farm meets with opposition from the other farm animals (including his adopted canine family), and Farmer Hoggett, who does not believe that a pig is capable of herding sheep.

The farmer’s cat explains to the would-be sheep pig nature’s rules of life on the farm – that each farm animal has a purpose – and that pigs have no purpose.

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The cat says this because cats are assholes.

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A CAT WILL ALWAYS SHOW YOU EXACTLY WHAT HE IS

It’s their characteristic function.
The small pig is not deterred by the cat or anyone else on the farm. He ignores the naysayers and strives to prove that a pig can indeed herd sheep. Babe follows his heart even though everyone around him, including Farmer Hoggett, doubts that he can defy the laws of nature.

Now, if we were following Aristotle, we might have been on the side of the cat; pigs serve no purpose other than to get fat and feed the farmer and his family.

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FARMER HOGGETT, ON HIS WAY TO MAKING BABE CHRISTMAS DINNER

Luckily for the piglet (and the audience), Babe isn’t Aristotilean; he refuses to allow nature or the expectations of others to define his place in the world.

That’s downright existential.

Existential.

The late 19th – 20th century philosophy of Existentialism, most notably associated with French philosophers Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Albert Camus, and the German philosopher, Martin Heidegger (and also associated with Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, who is credited with being the first Existentialist philosopher).

According to the dictionary,

“Existentialism is the name given to the branch of philosophy which is concerned with the meaning of human existence – its aims, its significance and overall purpose – and the freedom and creative response to life made by individuals.”

If you’re in the mood to think philosophically, Babe can be a philosophical gateway to thinking about more than a couple of philosophical topics (brush up on your Peter Singer ‘cause you gonna be discussing animal rights). It’s pretty much undeniable that the philosophical undertone of the film’s major theme is essentially existentialist. Babe rejects the idea of purpose assigned by biology and society. He defines his own purpose.

His purpose is to herd sheep.

And more importantly, he’s good at it.

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BABE, SHOWING THE DUMB SHEEP WHO’S BOSS

The existentialist French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre wrote

Life has no meaning a priori… it is up to you to give it a meaning, and value is nothing but the meaning that we choose.

Babe finds meaning in herding sheep. It’s almost like sheep herding is his characteristic function.

Take that Aristotle!

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If Babe was a practicing existentialist, he would say that existence preceded his essence.

Sartre says,

What is meant here by saying that existence precedes essence? It means first of all, man exists, turns up, appears on the scene, and, only afterwards, defines himself. If man, as the existentialist conceives him, is indefinable, it is because at first he is nothing. Only afterward will he be something, and he himself will have made what he will be.

Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.

Babe did have a purpose. One that he determined for himself. Babe proves that he is capable of doing something other than his biological destiny.

All’s well that ends well, right?

Well, not quite.

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PHILOSOPHERS ARE LIKE STEPHEN KING NOVELS OR A RELATIONSHIP WITH RICK GRIMES. THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A HAPPY ENDING

Of course, with all things philosophical, there’s a glitch.

Possible glitch.

Existentialists hold that our true essence isn’t assigned to us by society or by our biology and we assign meaning to ourselves – we create our own meaning, purpose, and values in life. This means we are completely responsible for who we become.

Completely responsible.

Sartre writes,

Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does. It is up to you to give [life] a meaning.

See how Sartre says we’re “condemned to be free”? We’re condemned, Sartre says, because without God or biology to determine the meaning of our lives, we are solely responsible for creating meaning. This can be rather disorienting.

 

Or nauseating….

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OR NAUSEATING… GET IT?

Lucky for us, we’re watching a kid’s movie. Babe is spared the agony of experiencing the existential dread of complete freedom. Babe‘s mind is as unencumbered as a pig satisfied.

He is completely happy and at ease once he becomes what he wants to be.

A pig-dog.

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SO… we’re full of tears of happiness, cheers, and assumptions of lives lived happily ever after by the time the barn mice tell us we’re reached “The End”.

And we’ve just been given our first big lesson in existentialism.

There was, however, the inevitable follow up, Babe: Pig in the City.

 

 

I’m just going to leave it at that**.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

** Babe: Pig in the City was criticized at the time of it’s initial release for being a darker, less family-friendly film. the film currently holds a 62% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film is darker than its predecessor, however, it’s arguable that the film, directed by George Miller, is also a more philosophically developed film. The late film critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel both praised the film, with Siskel naming the movie one of the best films of 1998.

 
SOURCES:

http://people.wku.edu/jan.garrett/arisne1.htm

Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Trans. F.H. Peters. 2004 [1893].New York: Barnes and Noble Books.

Mel Thompson. Teach Yourself: Philosophy. 2003. Chicago, IL. Contemporary Books. 184.

Jean-Paul Sartre. Existentialism is a Humanism.

Sartre. Being and Nothingness. (1943).

25 THOUGHTS ABOUT PHILOSOPHY

I’VE BEEN DOING this philosophy thing for a few years now.

I’ve done the college. I’ve done the book. I do the blog.

In fact, this isn’t my first philosophy blog.

I had another one. It was called The Kantian Egoist. I ended that blog to start up this blog, The Mindless Philosopher. I think I’ll be doing this for awhile.

Earning a philosophy degree, writing a book, and writing a philosophy blog for a few years – that’s a lot of years thinking about things. In particular, it’s a lot of years spent thinking about philosophy.

And after thinking about philosophy for a few years, I’ve come to a few conclusions.

Twenty five, to be exact.

Some of these thoughts I hold to with more conviction than others. Some are just thoughts that popped up in my head and I probably won’t believe in a couple of months.

I think these few things:

1. Don’t get into philosophical arguments with people who aren’t philosophers.

Philosopher/non-philosopher arguments never turn out well – especially for the philosopher. If you feel the need to use some philosophical jargon coming on, just stop talking. Things can only go downhill from there.

2. Everything ultimately is philosophical.

Everything.

3. Philosophy isn’t dead or dying. It’s just having a really bad hair day.

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The very act of declaring philosophy is dead is a philosophical statement. ‘Nuff said.

4. There’s nothing wrong with having a philosophy degree.

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*NOT ACCURATE

5. Everyone is a little bit of a philosopher, and not just when they’re drunk.

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6. Philosophers drink way too much alcohol… and coffee.

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7. There is a real problem with academic philosophy.

Academic philosophy is out of touch with what’s going on outside academia. Professional philosophers spend too much time focusing on theory and not enough time on real people in the real world.

8. Accept the fact that there will always be people who think what you do is useless.

Like they say, haters gonna hate.

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9. Analytic philosophy will make you a better thinker, but continental philosophy will tell you what’s going on.

Or at least to figure out David Lynch flicks.

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WHAT. THE. F@#K?

10. There is a real possibility that the postmodernists won.

11. Dropping Hegel’s name in conversation will never make you appear smarter. Even when talking to philosophers.

12. Whatever you think you know about Nietzsche’s philosophy, you’re probably wrong.

If someone tells you they’re a nihilist, they probably ain’t.

13. If you ever see these on someone’s bookshelf, RUN.

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14. Nobody’s arguments are a declarative statement, supported by a set of premises. Nobody in the real world argues like that. Not even philosophers.

15. There’s more to philosophy than what you read in college.

16. Read the German philosophers. You won’t like it, but you’ll appreciate it after to do.

Well, at least try to read the German philosophers. We’ll understand if you skip Hegel.

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17. Read some Eastern philosophy. Heck, read philosophy that wasn’t written by a man or a western European.

18. Don’t forget that you’re a part of all of this too. Philosophy is not a spectator sport.

19. If you’re on a bus and you want people to leave you alone, read Kant. Better yet, read Hegel.

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YEAH. NOBODY’S GONNA TALK TO THIS GUY

20. If you want to start a conversation, read Marx or Rand.

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CHICKS DEFINITELY WANT TO TALK TO THIS GUY

21. Something may sound profound, but it ain’t always philosophical.

22. All philosophical theories/schools of thought have been depicted in at least one episode of Star Trek.

Name an episode: Second Chances, A Measure of a Man, The Omega Directive… any episode. IT’S ALL PHILOSOPHY.

23. Woody Allen is not the end-all, be-all of philosophical filmmaking. Its ok if you’re not a fan.

You can learn a bit from watching old Toho Godzilla flicks, too.

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THERE ARE INNUMERABLE MORAL IMPLICATIONS OF FUCKING THIS BRIDGE

24. Consulting Wikipedia and/or watching YouTube philosophy videos is acceptable to explain/clarify a philosophical theory or concept (so long as neither is your only primary source).

25. And lastly, I thought this: Never let anyone make you feel like your well-reasoned, philosophy-based ideas, observations, or arguments aren’t relevant or are worth less because you studied “philosophy”.

Philosophy is the mother of medicine. Philosophy also is the mother of science. And philosophy is the mother of political science and economics. Plato’s Republic influence on politics stretches from ancient Greece to Washington D.C. today. Adam Smith called himself a moral philosopher. Aristotle’s philosophy not only shaped the Catholic Church but also shaped western civilization. Whether folks want to believe it or not, philosophers and their irrelevant, navel-gazing thoughts have shaped and influenced ideas and institutions since… well, since forever. If anybody gives me guff about studying philosophy or being a philosopher, I tell them to buzz off.

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Or I can call the nay sayers “flat-headed, insipid, nauseating”, and “illiterate” – just like Schopenhauer said about Hegel.