Element of Laughter. Crazy. True Party Pony. Just being Pinkie Pie. These things, and more, have been said about everyone’s favorite pink party pony, Pinkie Pie. But can we add ethical hedonist to that list?
“Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain, and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do” –Jeremy Bentham, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation
If there is anything that Pinkie Pie is known for, it’s for throwing parties. We all know, however, that there is a lot more to her than just being a party-freak. As established in “Cutie Mark Chronicles”, and reinforced by a certain song, Pinkie Pie seems to have the goal of trying to make everypony happy as the purpose of her life. While it is a rather nice sentiment, is it possible this goal of part of a larger philosophy of life? Well, if it is, then Pinkie Pie is in rather good company, because it sounds rather similar to the idea of ethical hedonism.
What is hedonism?
The first thing that people probably think of when they hear the word hedonist is someone who is indulgent beyond belief. They just gorge on food, drink, and whatever other pleasures they can get their hands on. And in some sense Pinkie Pie does seem to indulge in this; her diet does seem to primarily consist of baked goods after all. But in philosophy, hedonism means something else completely. In simplest sense, hedonism is the belief that pleasure is the only intrinsic good while pain is the only intrinsic bad. Other things can have value, but said value is only instrumental; their value is only important in relation to their ability to increase pleasure or decrease pain.
As a philosophy, hedonism has a rather long history, ranging from the ancient Greeks in the form of the Cyrenaic school and Epicureans to more modern renditions such as Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill in the form of utilitarianism. If interested in reading more on these, I’ll have some links at the end. For now, we’re just going to focus on a few core ideas of a modern sense of ethical hedonism, which draws primarily from the more utilitarian style:
- Pleasure is the primary or only intrinsic good; pain the primary or only intrinsic bad.
- The right action is one that produces the greatest happiness for all concerned.
- Everyone’s happiness is of equal value
You may notice that there is no definition of pleasure here, which is actually one of the common issues of hedonistic philosophies. While all of them would generally agree that over-indulging in short-term pleasures, such as eating, is bad as it causes long-term pains, such as weight issues, there is some fuzziness on everything else. Still, for the sake of this discussion we can probably get away with a vague concept of just the feeling or sensation of happiness, a state of well-being, etc.
There is one thing that tends to be specified, however, as being important in some sense or another; friendship. Epicurus was especially vocal about the importance of friendship and companions in creating happiness, and most hedonistic philosophers would agree friendship has a very strong instrumental value. Mainly mentioning this since, well, we are talking about Friendship is Magic.
Pinkie Pie and Ethical Hedonism
So now that we’ve briefly covered what hedonism is, let’s relate it to Pinkie Pie. As already mentioned, there is quite a bit of support behind the idea that Pinkie Pie places happiness as an important thing.
First, the “Cutie Mark Chronicles” gives us her backstory. Living on a rock farm with her family was not a happy existence for Pinkie Pie; no talking, no smiling. When the Sonic Rainboom occurred, the sheer beauty of the thing poofed up her hair and made her feel a joy she never felt before. More importantly, it made her want to share that happiness, leading her to throw a party to make her family happy as well and getting her cutie mark.
Second, there is the episode “A Friend in Deed” and the “Smile Song”. The song itself was prompted by a conversation where she discusses how everyone is her friend and she loves to make her friends smile. And the song, well, it’s all about how she loves to make ponies happy. Kind of self-explanatory, no? The episode itself was about Pinkie Pie relentlessly going all out trying to make Cranky Doodle Donkey happy.
So, point is, Pinkie Pie places happiness at a very high priority and actively goes out of her way to try and make others happy, even at a cost to herself. Now, obviously, we can’t say with 100% certainty that Pinkie Pie is a pure ethical hedonist since we don’t know if she would say pleasure is the only intrinsic good. If anything, it would be safe to say that she would find friendship and other related things as intrinsically good as well. Still, she obviously places it as important, and she attempts to increase happiness for as many ponies as possible. So even if she’s not a pure hedonist, she does seem to at least act in a manner that a pure hedonist would suggest.
Problems with Hedonism
Episodes with Pinkie Pie, however, also have ways of demonstrating some of the downsides of hedonism, or at least why hedonism may have developed as a theory the way it did. Best episode to point to for this is the episode “Too Many Pinkie Pies.” The cloned Pinkie Pies are great examples of the sort of short-term, self-centered pleasure seeking that is commonly thought of when “hedonism” is brought up. They placed instant fun and pleasure above and beyond, well, anything really. The “watch-paint dry” test was a rather interesting look at the ability to trade short term pain for a potential long-term pleasure. The clones, failing to be able to control those impulses for instant gratification, failed. Pinkie Pie, determined to stay with her friends – and probably get through her existential crisis – was able to override her own tendencies for instant fun for the greater joy of staying with her friends.
The episode, in its own way, also dealt with another issue of ethical hedonism; that it is too demanding of an ethical system. At the start of the episode, Pinkie Pie was trying to figure out how to hang out with all her friends that day. Theoretically, the way to create the greatest increase in happiness in this situation would have been for Pinkie Pie to hang out with all of them. The problem was that the events often overlapped in time or were too far away from each other. In short, she didn’t have enough time, which is a practical limitation that no ethical hedonist would mark against her if she failed to hang out with them all.
But let’s assume that she could have just barely fit everyone in without requiring intervention by Doctor Whooves. Would she still be required to hang out with all of them? It would be safe to assume that she would have still been ran ragged if she did. Furthermore, we also have evidence that Pinkie Pie goes through tremendous mental efforts to try and make everyone happy by remembering everyone and everything that makes them happy. Is it really good to require this? Unfortunately it’s a debate that we’re not going to settle here. Responses can vary from simply biting the bullet and require it, arguing the burden isn’t as terrible, or just arguing that requiring such superhuman efforts would cause pain and lessen the required burden. Whatever the case, it’s an interesting concern to think about.
Now obviously this was just a brief look at hedonism and philosophy; heck, it’s just a brief look at Pinkie Pie for that matter, and I know I got another thing or two to say about her. Still, I hope that I at least provided some interesting food for thought. As a character, it could be rather easy to dismiss Pinkie Pie as just being an overly energetic goofball. When looked at closer, however, it can be argued there’s much more to her, including a rather coherent system of ethics and philosophy.
So, now that we’re all done here, in the spirit of Pinkie Pie and hedonism:
Edit: I posted this on the MLP Analysis subreddit and there are some rather interesting conversations going on there: http://redd.it/1exhpe
Edit2: And apparently I got put up on Storming the Ivory Tower’s Tumblr blog and didn’t know about it ^_^”. Quite nice actually; there are some rather interesting MLP articles there that I’ve linked to in other posts. Interesting comments to, and I wouldn’t put it past Pinkie Pie to purposefully act nonsensical to get ponies to lighten up and just be happy instead of getting bogged down (see: Twilight’s attempts to figure out Pinkie Sense?): http://stormingtheivory.tumblr.com/day/2013/05/24/
For more on hedonism: