Looney Tunes and Aristotle
The incontinent Daffy Duck is the ultimate moral villain of Looney Tunes and the continent Bugs Bunny our ultimate moral hero. That is to say that the continent psychological type is better than the temperate and the incontinent is worse than the vicious and even the bestial. On the surface this is an extremely contentious assessment and in order to make sense of this intuition we need to first construct an account of moral worth by which such an evaluation can be based upon. This account of moral worth will open our discussion and will centre around the idea that those worthy of higher moral praise are those that do the right thing after overcoming their desires to do wrong. Equally, those that do the wrong thing against their better judgment and succumb to their desires should be morally condemned. A description of Aristotle’s types including the temperate, the continent, the incontinent, the vicious and the bestial will follow using some familiar characters to paint a clearer picture. We shall then turn our attention to evaluating these types. Aristotle and Kant have both offered their opinions and consequent evaluations on these categories of people. Through an analysis of their ideas we will note that they seem to agree on their rankings in terms of which character type is subjectively preferable but disagree in terms of which character type is worthy of moral praise. After considering Aristotle’s and Kant’s arguments in terms of which character type deserves our moral praise it will become clear that our evaluation of moral worth resides closer to Kant’s evaluation. A justification of this quasi Kantian ranking of the character types will wrap up our discussion and deem the continent Bugs Bunny better than the temperate Tweety Bird and the incontinent Daffy Duck worse than the vicious Yosemite Sam and even the bestial Taz.
Evaluation and supervision are the core processes in determining standards and maintaining quality in education. The assumption is they enhance teacher’s performance and boost the learners’ achievements. Evaluation is a function of policy while supervision administrative tools. This paper is focussing on the definitions, types, purposes, roles, differences and similarities of these two key ...
I. Moral worth as overcoming bad desires
To make a judgement for better or worse must depend on exactly what one values. Intuitively, I believe moral worth involves a strength of will to overcome the bad and uphold the good. I cannot escape this intuition. Those that are worthy of moral praise are those that act with reason and against bad desires to do the right thing. That is to say that it is truly virtuous to act against our bad desires and still do what is right. Let us use an example to display why strength of will is important when judging moral worth. Suppose an old woman drops fifty dollars on the street. Man X immediately wants to return the money and has no emotional inclination to keep it for himself. Thus his emotions and reason are aligned. Contrastingly, Man Y struggles internally with the decision. He wants to keep the money for himself but decides through reason that the right thing to do is to return the money and does so. Deliberation has triumphed over passion in the case on Man Y. Surely then Man Y deserves more recognition due to having to overcome his natural will for the bad. He has done good despite his passion for bad. That is not to say that Man Y is subjectively preferable. It is also intuitively impossible to wish that we all suffered the internal conflict faced by Man Y. If the world were populated with those whose will, emotions and reason were all in alignment for the good it would be preferable. However, we are concerned with making a moral evaluation and as such must ascribe the greater moral worth to the actions of Man Y. Thus those worthy of greater moral praise will, for our purposes, be those who have overcome their natural desires to do bad and managed, through strength of will, to do good.
A good person is someone that is charitable, honest, and moral. A good person always tries to do the right thing, regardless of the consequences of their actions. They treat everyone the same regardless of differences between them and other people. They judge everyone fairly. They do not prejudge people because of their circumstances in life. A good person is someone you can trust to be honest. ...
II. Aristotle’s Types
a. The Temperate
Aristotle describes the virtuous or temperate person as one whose passions and deliberation are aligned for the good (Aristotle, NE, 1152a 35).
The temperate person takes pleasure in, or is not, at any rate, disinclined toward, doing what she thinks is best (Walsh, 1963, p. 47).
Let us call this person Tweety Bird. Tweety Bird does what is right and is not even tempted to do what is wrong. She lives in a caged world full of good desires aligned with her reasoning. She has appetite trained toward the good and has correct moral reasoning. Thus, for Tweety Bird, reason guides action in accordance with her desires. She suffers from no internal conflict.
b. The Continent
The continent person maintains correct reason whilst experiencing desires to do bad things (Aristotle, NE, 1145b 11).
That is to say that the continent person can recognise which things really are good despite having an appetite not wholly trained towards the good (Russell, 2011).
The character of Bugs Bunny takes on the role of the continent type. For example, Bugs may desire to steal the farmer’s carrots. However, through deliberation, decides that it would be the wrong thing to do. Bugs Bunny manages to overcome his misguided desires and act appropriately. Bugs Bunny overcomes his internal conflict through a strong will. Bugs Bunny is tempted to do wrong but does not succumb.
c. The Incontinent
The incontinent person is similar to the continent in the sense that they do not have an appetite wholly trained towards the good, therefore has some desires to do bad things but has correct reason (Aristotle 1152a 5).
The difference is that the incontinent person is not driven by reason but is driven by feeling against reason to do the wrong thing (Aristotle, NE, 1149b 2).
Let us call this incontinent person Daffy Duck. Daffy Duck can be described as weak willed. He is often tempted and succumbs to these bad temptations. Daffy Duck acts against his better judgment. ‘He knows that his actions are base but does them because of his feelings’ (Aristotle, NE, 1145b 14).
Alice Furnari 24 /2/97 Freedom and Reason in Kant Morality, Kant says, cannot be regarded as a set of rules which prescribe the means necessary to the achievement of a given end; its rules must be obeyed without consideration of the consequences that will follow from doing so or not. A principle that presupposes a desired object as the determinant of the will cannot give rise to a moral law; that ...
d. The Vicious
The vicious person both desires and judges it best that they do the wrong thing (Aristotle, NE, 1150b 35).
He does have some capacity for reason but this reason is trained towards the bad. Yosemite Sam is a vicious character. Yosemite Sam does not have any part of his soul directed at the good. He is not conflicted nor weak willed. He wants to do wrong and reasons toward this wrong. An intemperate or vicious person, such as Yosemite Sam, is simply mistaken (Russell, 2011).
His reasoning is false. Hence Yosemite Sam both desires and reasons to do X when in fact X is not best.
e. The Bestial
Aristotle comments that the bestial ‘have neither decision nor rational calculation, but are outside [rational] nature, as the madmen among human beings are’ (Aristotle, NE, 1150b 35).
The bestial type does not have the capacity for reason. The character of Taz – The Tasmanian Devil – can appropriately be labelled a bestial type. He acts without the capacity of human reason and hence is like a beast. Aristotle gives an example of the bestial state as ‘the female human being who is said to tear pregnant women apart and devour the children’ (Aristotle, NE, 1148b 20).
Taz is simply frightening and without the capacity for reason.
III. Moral worth: Aristotle’s Tweety Bird or Kant’s Bugs Bunny?
Which state of character is best described as virtuous? The famous disagreement between Aristotle and Kant sheds some light on this question. The virtuous person, according to Aristotle, is one whose passions and reasons are aligned (Aristotle, 1102b 13-20).
For Aristotle, the virtuous person is superior to the continent person, in whom bad passions are in conflict with reason, and in whom reason manages to defeat the passions (Aristotle 1151b 35).
However, it is the continent person whom Kant calls virtuous and to whom Kant ascribes moral worth (Gregor, 1980, pp. 393).
For Kant, moral worth is exhibited in the victory of deliberation over passions (Kant, 1785, pp. 398).
So we can infer that Aristotle and Kant would rank our characters as follows in terms of virtue from most to least:
ARISTOTLE | KANT |
Philosophers live and encourage others to live according to the rules of practical wisdom. Aristotle, Immanuel Kant, and Emmanuel Levinas were three philosophers who sorted out various ethical approaches. They investigated complex human actions and theorized what is the ethical thing to do. For instance, Aristotle contemplated the aim of human life, Kant observed duty and obligation from respect ...
1. The temperate Tweety Bird | 1. The continent Bugs Bunny |
2. The continent Bugs Bunny | 2. The temperate Tweety Bird |
3. The incontinent Daffy Duck | 3. The vicious Yosemite Sam |
4. The vicious Yosemite Sam | 4. The bestial Taz |
5. The bestial Taz | 5. The incontinent Daffy Duck |
As we can see, a Kantian appraisal is more likely to esteem those for whom a good life is not an easy one. Kant is clearly making a case for strength of will in overcoming bad passions. This is why the incontinent character has been ranked last based on a Kantian appraisal. The incontinent Daffy Duck is weak willed and as such, according to Kant, is the least deserving of moral esteem. This might seem a somewhat harsh appraisal, placing the incontinent below the bestial or vicious, yet as we said at the outset such an evaluation depends on one’s concept of virtue or moral worth. For Kant, the continent person is heroic. Kant believes that holy beings are those that do not have hindering impulses (Gregor, 1980, pp.404) and as such believes continence to be the highest character type a human being can hope to achieve. Kant might say that the Tweety Bird type lives in a cage and could not exist in the real world. Strength of will in overcoming bad desires is what is important for Kant. In contrast, Aristotle is willing to praise the person of continence, but only in relation to incontinence (Aristotle, NE, 1145b 8).
Aristotle seems to encourage the victory of reason over passion yet has no sense of praise in which the continent person is more deserving of it than the strictly virtuous or temperate person.
Aristotle and Kant do agree on which character type is subjectively preferable. That is to say that both would prefer the character of the temperate Tweety Bird. However, as we have seen, they seem to disagree on which character types a human being can hope to achieve and also differ about how to structure the concept of virtue. These two differences combine to explain their different rankings of the character types. Importantly, their differing concepts of virtue explain their different attitudes towards continence. Kant, due to his value placed in strength of will, would place continence above temperance and incontinence below the vicious and the bestial. Aristotle sees no such value in a strength of will and places value in not having to struggle with errant passions to do the right thing. Aristotle places value in the alignment of passion and reason. Intuitively I cannot disregard the importance of will power raised by the Kantian appraisal of the character types and cannot escape the thought that as such Aristotle’s evaluation might be missing something.
Immanuel Kant was born in 1724 in the East Prussian town of K"onigsberg and lived there practically all his life. He came from a deeply pious Lutheran family, and his own religious convictions formed a significant background to his philosophy. Like Berkeley, he felt it was essential to preserve the foundations of Christian belief. Kant became Professor of Logic and Metaphysics at the University of ...
IV. A quasi Kantian appraisal of the character types
Strength of will in overcoming bad desires seems to be deserving of moral praise. As we have already seen in our initial intuitive account of moral worth those that are worthy of moral praise are those that act with reason and against bad desires to do the right thing. That is to say that it is truly virtuous to act against our bad desires and still do what is right. This intuition seems to fall within the Kantian appraisal of virtue and captures his importance placed on the strength of will when evaluating the character types. Intuitively, the continent Bugs Bunny becomes the moral hero and the incontinent Daffy Duck the ultimate moral villain. I cannot reasonably state that I deem a person who has no moral qualms in doing the right thing as deserving a higher moral appraisal than someone who overcomes such errant desires and manages to still do the right thing. Equally, I cannot condemn a character who is incapable of reason for committing a wrong act more harshly than a character, capable of correct reason, who succumbs to bad desires and commits a wrong act. As such and due to our earlier account of moral value I have ranked the character types as follows in terms of virtue from most to least:
1. The continent Bugs Bunny |
2. The temperate Tweety Bird |
3. The vicious Yosemite Sam |
4. The bestial Taz |
5. The incontinent Daffy Duck |
The above exploration and subsequent evaluation of Aristotle’s psychological types has revealed that the continent Bugs Bunny is better than the temperate Tweety Bird and the incontinent Daffy Duck worse than the vicious Yosemite Sam and even the bestial Taz. This evaluation has been made possible by clearly outlining an account of moral worth to base our rankings on at the outset of our discussion. This account emphasised the importance of overcoming natural desires to do bad and managing instead, through strength of will, to do good. We saw in our example that although it is subjectively preferable to be Man X, it is Man Y who deserved the higher moral appraisal. We have also been able to uncover a simple explanation of each of the character types and have labelled each with a familiar character to facilitate understanding. Next we uncovered what both Aristotle and Kant value in an account of virtue and compared each of their subsequent rankings of the character types. Interestingly, we revealed that Kant would esteem the continent character above the temperate and deem the incontinent worse than the vicious and the bestial. Aristotle, in contrast, did not place such an emphasis on the overcoming of bad desires and as such deemed the continent person better than the incontinent, the vicious and the bestial but not as good as the temperate person. Following our examination of these contrasting views and with our intuitive account of moral worth in mind it was deemed that Kant’s evaluation of the character types was the more appropriate and our rankings were made. Thus, through the above methodology we have been able to judge the continent Bugs Bunny our moral hero and the incontinent Daffy Duck our ultimate moral villain.
For most people in today’s culture going to college is not even a question. Higher education is perceived as extremely important and is seen as necessary in order to achieve a successful life. A college degree has become known as an admission ticket into desirable careers allowing for access to at least a middle-class lifestyle. With over six thousand colleges in the United States, a professional ...
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Terence Irwin ed., 1999, Hackett Publishing Company: Cambridge, [Online] Available:
Gregor, M.J. 1980, Immanuel Kant, The Doctrine of Virtue, Part II of the Metaphysic of Morals. With the introduction to the Metaphysic of morals and the preface to the Doctrine of law, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia.
Kant, I. 1785, Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, Lara Denis ed., 2005, Broadview Press: Ontario.
Klagge, J.C. 1989, ‘Virtue: Aristotle or Kant?’, speech delivered at Eastern APA, Atlanta, Georgia, December, 1989 [Online] Available: http://www.phil.vt.edu/JKlagge/VIRTUE.pdf.
Russell, L. 2011, ‘Situationism and Virtue Ethics’, lecture notes distributed in Moral Psychology (PHIL 2623) at The university of Sydney, Camperdown on 30 March, 2011.
Russell, L. 2011, ‘Vice, Ignorance and Incontinence’, lecture notes distributed in Moral Psychology (PHIL 2623) at The university of Sydney, Camperdown on 23 March, 2011.
Walsh, J.J. 1963, Aristotle’s Conception of Moral Weakness, Columbia University Press: New York.