John Stuart Mill and Pinkie Pie: A Crisis of Moral Unfreedom

Pinkie Pie and Moral Unfreedom

In this article I discuss the similarities between the mental crisis of John Stuart Mill in his young adulthood with that of the identity crisis that Pinkie Pie suffers in the episode “Too Many Pinkie Pie’s.” This is done through the use of Mill’s concept on “moral freedom”, which is the state of having a multiple desires capable of trumping others as needed. The Mirror Pool incident, I argue, causes Pinkie Pie to reflect on her own state of moral unfreedom before eventually restoring herself to a state of moral freedom when she shows she can put aside her desire for fun for the desire of keeping her friends.

So as explained in my last video, “Nightmare Night and Utilitarianism,” the episode “Luna Eclipsed” greatly damaged Pinkie Pie’s likability in my eyes until the episode “Too Many Pinkie Pies.”  For some time I had trouble exactly explaining why it was that was the case. At first thought it might have been a sense of appeasement; I never really thought that Pinkie Pie had gotten the calling out she deserved for her behavior, and the existential crisis she falls into during the episode was sort of a delayed cosmic payback. But honestly, that answer didn’t really satisfy me that much.

My recent readings into John Stuart Mill’s life, however, offered me a point of  comparison and some concepts that I realized hit the mark about why exactly that episode: it was the first time that Pinkie Pie truly had to deal with a sense of moral unfreedom.

A Mental Crisis and the Concept of Moral Freedom

John Stuart Mill was born into the life of a utilitarian. His father, James Mill, was a utilitarian and had worked with Jeremy Bentham, the first major proponent of the utilitarian philosophy. JS Mill was educated and trained to think in terms of the hedonistic calculus, and as he grew he believed he was destined for a career in politics, one in which the application of the principle utility would be used to combat the ills of society. He was already an activist and writer, so all and all life seemed good.

One day, however, during a dull mood…

“ …it occurred to me to put the question to myself: “Suppose that all your objects in life were realized; that all the changes in institutions and opinions which you are looking forward to, could be completely effected at this very instant: would this be a great joy and happiness to you?” And an irrepressible self-consciousness distinctly answered, “No!”. At this my heart sank within me: the whole foundation on which my life was constructed fell down.” -John Stuart Mill, Autobiography

Upon further introspection, Mill found himself in a state of contradiction: he still sincerely believed in the principle of utility, yet he felt no motivation or pleasure from following it. He realized that his actions were now being guided not due to his own convictions or desires but nothing more than the force of habit. 

It was from this crisis that Mill developed his concept of “moral freedom” As Mill himself wrote:

“A person feels morally free who feels that his habits or his temptations are not his masters, but he theirs: who even in yielding to them knows that he could resist; that were he desirous altogether of throwing them off, there would not be required for that purpose a stronger desire than he knows himself capable of feeling.” – John Stuart Mill, quoted from the essay “Mill’s Incubus” in John Stuart Mill and the Art of Life

In other words, moral freedom occurs any motivation you have is capable of being trumped by another. This requires that one have a large field of motivations and preferences that are of relative equal weight; which one wins out based on the current situation at hand. 

Now, a full treatment of the idea and its implications in regards to Mill’s larger philosophy is out of the bounds of this article (pick up a copy of On Liberty if you’re interested though). The most relevant aspects of it that we’ll need to analyze “Too Many Pinkie Pies” are the following:

1) Moral freedom requires having a large variety of preferences that are capable of trumping one another depending on the situation. Devoting everything to one, single motivation threatens to turn it from a motivating factor to a force of habit unable to be trumped by anything else.

2) “One whose desires and impulses are not his own, has no character, no more than a steam-engine has a character.” –John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

“Too Many Pinkie Pies”: An External-Driven Reflection on Moral Unfreedom

Initial Problem

So then, the episode “Too Many Pinkie Pies” starts off with Pinkie Pie in a rather tough dilemma; she wants to have fun with all her friends, but all her friends are doing things in different places at the same time. As she wants to have fun with her friends, this is obviously a problem as this means having fun with one pony will cause her to miss out on the fun elsewhere.

This, of course, is where we start to see the beginnings of the issue of moral unfreedom. Pinkie Pie’s sole motivation is fun with friends, but now she finds herself in a situation where she is unable to fulfill this desire completely due to physical limitations. For most of us, this would simply require us to analyze our other motivations and eventually make a choice on who to spend time with. Pinkie, however, is so strongly motivated by the need to have fun with all her friends, is paralyzed by the prospect of choice and instead attempts to find another solution.

Her first try at solving the problem by attempting to break the laws of time and space fails. She eventually resorts to using the mystical Mirror Pool to clone herself in order to be in all places at once. The expectation of course being the clones would have the fun, come back to her, and regale her with tales of the fun they had. This, in of itself, is a reasonable (in a loose sense of the word) enough plan that solves the problem and allows her to, at least indirectly, fulfill her desire for having fun with her friends.

The Pinkie Clones and Moral Unfreedom

And then we find out that the Pinkie Pie clones are themselves bound up in a level of moral unfreedom even greater than Pinkie Pie. This can be seen by the first clone, who is originally tasked with going to the barn raising with Applejack but is thrown into a panic upon running into Fluttershy’s picnic. Like the original Pinkie Pie, the clone is unable to trump her desire for fun in order to make a choice, though in this case it leads to panic that causes her to flee the situation and satisfy no desires at all.

The situation only worsens, however, as the amount of clones increases. It quickly becomes obvious the Pinkie Pie clones are driven simply by the need to instantly gratify their sense of fun, completely without regard for the desires of others. To draw on the mechanical metaphors of Mill, the Pinkie Pie clones are nothing more than “fun machines.”

Pinkie’s Mental Crisis: Identity Wrapped in Moral Freedom

The most interesting aspect of this episode, however, and the part that was enough to regain my interest in Pinkie Pie as a likeable character, was the crisis of identity. When analyzed through Mill’s concept of moral freedom, her crisis of identity becomes rather clear. There are some distinctions that must be made, however, between Mill’s own crisis and Pinkie Pie’s, ones that make Pinkie’s situation an even more interesting one to watch.

Mill’s crisis of moral unfreedom was brought on through introspection, but Pinkie Pie’s, it can be argued, was brought upon through observation.

At first this act of observation is rather superficial; neither Pinkie Pie nor anyone else is unable to distinguish herself from the others on physical characteristics since all of them were of course clones. Yet this doesn’t seem like a reasonable reason for Pinkie Pie to fall into the levels of despair and crisis that she did; after all, even if they all looked the same, Pinkie Pie should know she’s the real one simply because she isn’t a “fun machine” driven solely by fun. We should also chastise her friends for not being able to recognize this either since even after witnessing her in despair her friends weren’t confident she was the real Pinkie Pie.

But consider for a moment what Twilight says when Spike states “Maybe that one’s the real Pinkie.”

Twilight Sparkle: Please. The real Pinkie Pie never sat that long in one place her whole life!

And this, my friends, is where the brilliance of the episode  lies, and why it helped to save Pinkie Pie as a character for me: in this episode, Pinkie Pie is faced with realizing that she may, in fact, be no better than her clones. Or in Mill-like terms, Pinkie Pie is faced with realizing she is living in a state of moral unfreedom.

The Paint-Drying Test as a Test of Moral Freedom

The climax of the episode is a test: the Pinkie Pie clones have to watch paint dry, and whoever is able to do so without doing anything else is allowed to stay. In moral freedom terms, the paint-drying scene is testing whether or not the Pinkie clones are able to trump their desire for instant fun with the desire to stay with the rest of the Mane 6.

It is interesting to note that it is Pinkie Pie who comes up with the idea for such a test, though the specifics were left to Twilight Sparkle. This is the first sign that Pinkie Pie is coming to terms with her moral unfreedom, and is figuring out what distinguishes her character from that of the “fun machine” clones. In doing so, Pinkie Pie is showing she is making her first steps to moral freedom.

And by the end of the episode, it seems that the Paint-Drying Test did in fact do its job. The clones quickly fall into the temptation to enjoy the fun of the various distractions around them, but the real Pinkie Pie never budges from staring at the drying paint:

This image right here pretty much sums up the episode: Clone is distracted by fun, Pinkie Pie determined to suppress it to stay with her friends.

This image right here pretty much sums up the episode: Clone is distracted by fun, Pinkie Pie determined to suppress it to stay.

And from this incident, Pinkie Pie learns that while having fun is great, having friends is even greater. Granted, the desire to have friends has been present in Pinkie Pie since day one, but this is the first time the two desires were ever in conflict. In showing that she is indeed able to suppress the desire to have fun in order keep her friends, Pinkie Pie shows she does in fact have more than one desire and that they are capable of trumping the others. In showing this, Pinkie Pie escapes the trap of moral unfreedom, while the clones inability to do so shows otherwise.

Conclusion and Implications for the Writers

Both John Stuart Mill and Pinkie Pie found themselves in the midst of a great mental crisis. They differed in some senses, with Mill’s being one of motivation and Pinkie’s of identity, but they shared a common root. Both of them found themselves with the realization that they in a state of moral unfreedom as they were so dedicated to one desire they were unable to trump it with another. For Pinkie Pie, the crisis, brought on by the appearance of clones that at first glance seemed to be like her both in appearance and desire for fun, was resolved by showing that she was indeed able to trump the desire for fun in the name of another, more pressing desire; the desire for friendship.

At a meta-level, then, the episode of “Too Many Pinkie Pie” reaffirms that Pinkie Pie is in fact capable of being a deep and complex character. All it takes is the realization that there is more to her than simply being “fun loving and random,” a trap that the writers sadly often fall into at a great detriment to her character (ex: “Swarm of the Century” and “Luna Eclipsed”, for me at least). For a  look at this tendency, read “The Pinkie Pie Principle: Humor from Characterization” by Metaright.”  I also suspect Mill’s concept of moral freedom as a state of having a large but balanced set of motivations may have lead to some other interesting ideas about what makes a character interesting, but sadly that would have to be a discussion for another article.


Filed under Episode Analysis

3 responses to “John Stuart Mill and Pinkie Pie: A Crisis of Moral Unfreedom

  1. Pingback: John Stuart Mill and Pinkie Pie: A Crisis of Moral Unfreedom | Steam and Shields

  2. mlc894

    This article really made me think! I have never been exposed to the idea of moral freedom before. I’m going to have to read up on it.

  3. Pingback: Peridot and the Meep-Morp of Life | Analysis is Magic

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