Clifford the Big Red Aristotelian

It’s not all-politics-all-the-time. Today in my “Happiness and the Meaning of Life” class I showed them an episode of Clifford the Big Red Dog. In “Dog for a Day,” Emily Elizabeth’s friend Charlie complains about having to do chores. He notices Clifford playing with his friends Cleo and T-Bone, and it occurs to him that dogs don’t have to do chores, but in fact do nothing besides play and sleep and eat. He wishes he were a dog. That night, he dreams he is a dog. At first, he is delighted! He doesn’t have to do chores! He goes to play with Clifford. At first it’s fun, but Charlie realizes quickly that he can no longer ride his bike, play soccer, talk to his dad or to his friends – even school. In short, he misses all the constitutive elements of a human life. Clifford notes that they get to roll in the sand and dig for bones and chase their tails, but Charlie finds this not entirely satisfying. He realizes, as Aristotle noted long ago, that human happiness is distinct from the happiness of other animals. Each type of thing has a different nature, and so flourishes in a different way. To be sure, the human good is itself pluralistic: Charlie and Emily Elizabeth may have distinctly different modes of flourishing. But the human good is generically different from the canine good. Clifford doesn’t quite get why Charlie isn’t satisfied with dog-pleasures. But Charlie gets it very quickly: despite the necessity of doing homework and chores, the human life consists of all sorts of pleasures that dogs do not appreciate. When Charlie wakes up from his dream, he is happy to discover he is still a person, and runs to find his dad so he can help with chores. His dad is surprised at this turn of events and comments “you don’t seem yourself.” Charlie replies “no Dad: I am myself!” Lesson learned.

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