It’s been about a month or so since I posted the original “Is Pinkie Pie an Ethical Hedonist” article, and I’ve gotten some good feedback about it. In fact, this feedback has hit the point where a follow-up article is needed to discuss a few points brought up by others, particularly about the episodes “Green Isn’t Your Color” and “Luna Eclipsed” that help to flesh out more of Pinkie Pie’s potential ethical hedonism.
In the original article, I argued that Pinkie Pie’s behavior and statements in several of the Pinkie Pie oriented episodes seem to suggest that Pinkie Pie follows some kind of ethical hedonist belief. After posting the article up on several sites, I got some feedback on the idea The most interesting feedback, of course, were questions that analyzed Pinkie Pie’s behavior in non-Pinkie Pie oriented episodes that seem to suggest some inconsistencies. While I addressed them in part in those original comments, some of the questions themselves were interesting enough to warrant a full on article.
Two episodes in particular brought up some really interesting questions; “Green Isn’t Your Color” and “Luna Eclipsed.” The latter was something I had been wanting to look over anyway on this question, but the former was something that I didn’t even consider. So let’s take a look at just how these episodes help give us a better idea about just how Pinkie Pie thinks.
“Green Isn’t Your Color” and Rule-Utilitarianism
One of the points stressed in my other article was that hedonistic philosophies generally do not place any inherent value in other philosophical goods, such as truth, and only hold pleasure as intrinsically good. Yet, in “Green Isn’t Your Color”, we see just how strongly Pinkie Pie believes that breaking promises is a bad thing. How strong? She literally seems to be stalking Twilight to ensure that she doesn’t break any of the promises she makes to Spike, Rarity, or Fluttershy about their feelings. Whenever Twilight seems about to break it, Pinkie Pie appears out of nowhere, glares, yells out “FOREEEVERRR”, and occasionally menacingly eat an apple. Similar behavior occurs in “The Last Roundup” where Pinkie Pie goes ballistic when she finds out that Applejack broke a Pinkie Promise.
So if promises are that important to Pinkie Pie, then doesn’t it follow that she seems to place value in truth and dependability for its own sake? After all, it’s arguable the conflict of “Green Isn’t Your Color” could have been solved a lot faster if Twilight had sat down and just told Rarity and Fluttershy how the other felt about the situation. Doing so would have increased happiness, yet Pinkie Pie blocked this action with her insistence on keeping the promise. Dependability and keeping your promises, then, seems to have an intrinsic value of some sort to Pinkie Pie.
But let’s take a closer look at the reason Pinkie Pie gave for why breaking a promise is bad:
Pinkie Pie: Twilight! You promised Spike you wouldn’t say anything. He trusts you. And losing a friend’s trust is the fastest way to lose a friend forever!
As discussed in the other article, friendship is generally believed by hedonistic philosophers to have a very high instrumental value in increasing pleasure. Here she doesn’t state that breaking a promise is bad in of itself; it’s that breaking them comes with the risks of losing a friend and, by extension, the happiness that comes with friendship. This seems to suggest then that for Pinkie Pie the value of trust and promise-keeping comes not from an intrinsic value but instead an instrumental value. Understandable enough; honesty is an important component of friendship, as reinforced by the Elements.
So why, then, is she so dang strict about it to the point of possibly causing unhappiness to ensure it is enforced? After all, don’t hedonistic philosophies encourage people to not follow such strict rules? Well…no. And to discuss why that is, we’re going to take a look at utilitarianism again.
Generally speaking, utilitarianism can be broken down into two main categories: act utilitarianism and rule-utilitarianism. Here is the difference between them:
- Act Utilitarianism: Emphasizes the idea that an individual act is wrong if it produces less good than some alternative act.
- Rule Utilitarianism: Emphasizes the idea that an act is wrong if and only if it is forbidden by rules justified by consequences.
Now, most act-utilitarians will generally suggest that people follow rules of thumbs about actions based on consequences as trying to calculate every individual act would be extremely difficult. Just being rules of thumbs, however, they can be broken when it is obvious engaging in an alternative action will lead to better outcomes but should generally be followed. “Keep your promises”, then, could be a rule of thumb because not doing so generally causes bad things to happen (like losing friends). If a situation arises where following this rule is causing obvious harm, however, there is no moral wrongness occurring if the rule is broken.
Rule-utilitarians, however, will generally state that failing to follow these rules is a moral harm. This stringency may be familiar to anyone who is familiar with more rule-based ethics such as Kantian deontology, but the justification for these rules are still based upon the consequences. I’ll link some articles at the end that discuss about the larger discussion and details of this. The important thing to focus on is that rule-utilitarianism argues for the following of the rules even if in an individual situation breaking them may increase happiness. Generally rule-utilitarianism is dealing with the societal level and act-utilitarianism an individual level, but it’s a minor point for this discussion.
Now that those two are defined…what about Pinkie Pie? Is she an act or rule utilitarian? That actually seems like a bit of a difficult question. Based upon her Pinkie Promises, it seems that Pinkie Pie is partially a rule-utilitarian. The rule itself is absolute, and breaking it will cause her to be rather upset. This seems to fit the concept of rule-utilitarian. The lack of other rules like this, however, does question just how strong of one she is. Furthermore, she does have moments that point to more act-utilitarian, like this exchange from “Winter Wrap Up:”
Pinkie Pie: Twilight, you did a great job your first time around. I’m sure my first time was just as wobbly and bobbly and crasheriffic as yours.
Twilight Sparkle: Really?
Pinkie Pie: No.
Pinkie Pie: But did I make you feel better?
Twilight Sparkle: Mm-hmm, yeah, I guess.
In this situation Pinkie Pie didn’t make an attempt to tell the truth right away and instead attempted to cheer Twilight Sparkle up with a lie. Of course immediately afterwards she told the truth, but still, in this situation she did lie. This seems to contradict the importance of truth and honesty that Pinkie Promises seem to have. Then again, there is a difference between promises and the minor issue in the conversation. It could be then that Pinkie Pie, for some reason or another, could be an act-utilitarian that happens to have a really, really strong rule of thumb when it comes to promises that cause her to act as a rule-utilitarian whenever they are made.
“Luna Eclipsed” and the Hedonistic Calculus
Get ready people, because we’re about to do some math! Now, this section is less analysis of an episode and more of expanding and explaining on concepts already discussed in the last article. Particularly, Point 3 of ethical hedonism that I mentioned, which was “Everyone’s Happiness is of Equal Value.” In the other article I mentioned that I considered “Luna Eclipsed” to be a low point of Pinkie Pie’s behavior. Someone else, however, pointed out that if Point 3 is correct, then Pinkie Pie’s behavior was okay because while Luna (and to a lesser degree Twilight) was sad, all the foals and Pinkie Pie were happy.
I’ll admit that it seems I may have simplified too much with that point. The main thrust of that was that an individual’s happiness is not inherently more important due to their position in society, their relationship to you, etc. So, for example, Luna’s happiness was not more important than the foals simply because she was an alicorn princess. Other common examples would be that the happiness of a family member is not more important than a stranger simply because the family member is related to you. Granted it’s a controversial point, but it was one worth mentioning as it tends to get brought up.
Here is where the correction comes in; while the point means everyone is equal in terms of the importance of their happiness, not all happiness is equal. Now, there are generally two way to go about dealing with that fact, and presents two more general categories of utilitarianism; quantitative and qualitative. The quantitative school is best represented by Jeremy Bentham while the qualitative school is best represented by John Stuart Mill.
A simple way to describe the differences between them would be to state that in quantitative schools there is no inherent superiority in, say, an opera over a game of tiddlywinks that makes the one a better pleasure than the other. The only thing that matters are, well, quantitative measures (that I’ll get to in a bit). Qualitative schools, however, generally give some things an inherent superiority in terms of the pleasure they can give, usually based on said things being intellectually or creatively stimulating. To paraphrase John Stuart Mill, “It is better to be a Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.”
For this discussion, I’m primarily going to focus on the quantitative school. The main reason is that this was prompted by my oversimplification of the equality point making it seem like utilitarianism is just a headcount when in fact even when it is just a “numbers” game it is rather complex. Also, just don’t have much to say on the qualitative point, even if I consider myself more of a Mill-type utilitarian than Bentham.
So then, what are Bentham’s “quantitative” measures of happiness, which together are also called “the hedonistic calculus”? Well, Bentham’s method had seven points, which can be summed up as:
- Intensity (I)–How intense is the pleasure or pain?
- Duration (D)–How long does the pleasure of pain last?
- Certainty (C)–What is the probability that the pleasure or pain will occur?
- Propinquity (nearness or remoteness) (N)–How far off in the future is the pleasure or pain?
- Fecundity (F)–What is the probability that the pleasure will lead to other pleasures?
- Purity (P)–What is the probability that the pain will lead to other pains?
- Extent (E)–How many persons are affected by the pleasure?
So as you can see, even a pure quantitative analysis of a pleasure or pain requires thinking about not just how many people, but questions of probability and time of the pleasure or pain.
What exactly does this mean for the situation in “Luna Eclipsed?” Well, I’m going to copy/paste my comments from the discussion about this topic on the MLP Analysis subreddit:
This is how I would apply it to the Luna vs Foals case. The foal’s pleasure of being scared is a short-term pleasure that probably is very mild. You get scared, you laugh a bit, and then you run off. So there is low Intensity and low Duration. But there is a lot of them so it has a high amount of Extent. And on Nightmare Night, there is a pretty good amount of Certainty they will be scared and it’ll be pleasurable, but on any other day it’s a low Certainty.
Now let’s look at Luna. If you add in Twilight, like you said it’s only two ponies so it’s a low Extent. However, Luna’s pain is a pre-existing one and comes out of her guilt issues regarding the whole Nightmare Moon. So it’s a long-Duration pain. It’s also a very Intense pain; rejection, depression, loneliness, etc. is a very painful emotion. Since those feelings led to the cancellation of Nightmare Night…and were the original cause of her becoming Nightmare Moon, we can say that her pain has high levels of Purity. And since every time somepony ran off she got depressed, the chance of the pain being caused is very Certain.
In short, while the foals were having fun with the frightening, it was not a particularly long lasting or intense fun and it would only last for one night. Luna’s pain at basically being a monster for children to run from, however, was not only an already present pain that would probably continue past the night if not addressed, it would probably lead to a lot of other pains. And that we know with quite a bit of certainty since we already have an example of what happens when Luna becomes depressed, angry, and feels unloved and rejected; Nightmare Moon.
What would a qualitative utilitarian say about it? Probably simple enough; the adrenaline rush of being scared is an inferior happiness when compared to the emotional pains and damage to self-identity that Luna was experiencing.
In both cases, the pleasure of being scared that the foals and Pinkie Pie got from running away from Luna screaming about how she was going to eat them was morally wrong as it came at the cost of serious pain on Luna’s part. Considering that Pinkie Pie was the leader of the group in the whole affair, morally she seriously messed up. And while I would argue she’s morally responsible for it, I don’t think her actions here seriously damage the argument of Pinkie Pie being an ethical hedonist. Instead, her actions are probably just a failure of empathy and communication than any real malice on her part.
I honestly didn’t imagine I’d right another article on this subject, but, well, here we are at the end of another article. But when people ask you good questions, well, you just can’t help but want to respond with the level of respect it deserves. Looking at “Green Isn’t Your Color” and “Luna Eclipsed”, alongside the Pinkie Pie-centered episodes, it becomes rather clear that everyone’s favorite party pony has a lot more depth to her than first appearances suggest. Her random antics, cupcake-centered diet, and constant parties all seem to be an expression of a rather complex, underlying system of ethics. Even if she doesn’t necessarily say she is one, and she has plenty of times where she messes up, I think it is safe to conclude that Pinkie Pie is one of the best examples of an ethical hedonist/utilitarian in media today.
For more information on the topics discussed, please read: