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Bare Necessities: An Issue of Virtue or Satisfaction?

In Disney & the Moral Imagination, Eric Williamson and Russell Clayton analyze a “Bare Necessities” philosophy. This celebrated song presents an expression of the good life with prescriptions for moral action. But does it suggest an outlook primarily concerned with virtue or, instead, with minimizing pain and frustrations while maximizing pleasure and happiness? While Baloo’s perspective seems to align with Epicureanism on many points, to be sure, the authors argue that Baloo’s actions suggest a moral mindset which aligns more consistently with Augustinian virtue. While these two conceptions of the good life have much in common, it is at the conception of friendship where there is a clearly observable departure. Epicureanism, which views friendship through an egoistic lens, has no room for a substantive conception of self-sacrifice. Yet self-sacrifice is precisely what we see demonstrated in Baloo’s actions.

The lyrics nicely portray Baloo’s positive outlook. Contrasted with other characters, Baloo seems to live the good life. Where Bagheera is shackled by duty, King Louie overextends. In contrast, Baloo is the hipster—the quintessential worry-free protagonist. Bagheera even calls him a “shiftless, stupid jungle bum.” Baloo befriends Mowgli to show him how to live the good life. From his perspective, the good life is one that enjoys the jungle. Worries and stress should be discarded. Baloo shows Mowgli the necessities to live the good life, which is the happy life. In some ways, Baloo could be taken to be an Epicurean figure. There are several points of connection between Baloo and Epicurus. Epicurus (341–271 BC) taught that pleasure is the greatest good and pain should be avoided.[i] A successful navigation of life’s challenges results in the greatest amount of pleasure. Baloo seems to personify this thought by teaching the values of the simple life. The Epicurean method calculates pleasures. Eating is good, but gluttony leads to pain. Like Epicurus, Baloo teaches Mowgli to avoid excessively filling his life with pleasures. Many of his expressions line up with Epicurean philosophy: Do not worry about life; do not take more than you need; be self-sufficient. Similarly, the “man cub” should follow Baloo’s style and “rest at ease.” ....As much as there are similarities, we contend that Baloo’s moral philosophy strongly harmonizes with Augustinian concepts, particularly in the areas of happiness and friendship. While some of Baloo’s ideas may suggest Epicureanism, some of his actions stand in noteworthy contrast to Epicurean thought.
...Baloo’s instructions imply that there are wrong paths to happiness. Baloo tells Mowgli to forget about his anxieties; some routes won’t lead to the happy life. Augustine agrees. He and Baloo are realists. They talk about real good and real evil. There is pain in the world. Where Baloo tells Mowgli how to avoid the obstacles of the prickly pear, Augustine experienced his own prickly pears. When he was young, he stole pears. Later, he wrestled with these actions. Pears are good, eating is good, but stealing is wrong. He wondered why he did it. He was not starving; he did not even eat the pears. In his analysis, Augustine goes beyond the natural problems found in the world and observes psychological problems. Baloo implies this internal problem by advising Mowgli to reject some of his inclinations. This is not just a battle between the spirit and the flesh. Augustine finds the spirit to be at fault too. A major theme for Augustine is conflicting desires, which he frequently calls, “double-hearted.”
....Everyone is born with this sense of self-love. Humans are slaves to their own desires. It is the war within. Desires can be met, but it is temporary. When our happiness is found only in these things, then happiness is ephemeral. ”Things rise and things set: in their emerging they begin as it were to be, and grow to perfection; having reached perfection, they grow old and die.... ....Augustine also found that philosophers had not settled the problem of temporality. We crave the eternal because we know the pain that comes from loss. Recall, he believed that misery is friendship with mortality. In contrast, happiness is found in eternity. We naturally long to live but we don’t live long. This foreshadows the angst of some modern philosophies and their focus on death.... This isn’t his final word on the matter. Like Baloo, Augustine is no defeatist. He is simply emphasizing a point that resonates with Baloo’s perspective. Good does exist and we should turn to the good, but how is this possible when we are prone to latch on to temporal goods?


This post is meant simply to offer a glimpse into our Disney & Apologetics project. Excerpts alone, however, cannot stand for an entire chapter, nor can they stand as representative for all the other ideas to be explored and arguments to be made in this 500-pp, two-volume work. There is much more to ponder within these pages! If you want to think more carefully about morality, about using the formative artifacts of pop-culture to approach Christian apologetics, and about the connections between imagination, aesthetics, and theology, buy this book! You can see what others say about it here and here.


Eric Williamson is Instructor of Religion and Philosophy at Blue Ridge Community College in Flat Rock, NC. He holds a PhD in Philosophy and Ethics from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His research interests are in virtue epistemology, aesthetics, philosophy of expertise, and philosophy of history. He has written on architecture and culture, pedagogical approaches in general education, and the epistemology of disagreement in religious diversity.

Russell Clayton is an Assistant Professor of Instruction at the University of South Florida, teaching MBA courses on managerial communication. His research has been published in the Harvard Business Review and has he been mentioned in or written for such popular press outlets as Psychology Today, NBC News, Fox News, Inc. and Fast Company. In addition, his research has appeared in several peer-reviewed academic journals such as Human Resource Management and he serves on the editorial board of Management Teaching Review. He was awarded the 2020 Mid-Career Distinguished Educator Award by the Management & Organizational Behavior Teaching Society and was voted 2021-2022 “Professor of the Year” by the Executive MBA students in the Muma College of Business. Clayton earned a PhD in business administration from the University of Mississippi, a master’s degree in higher education administration from Middle Tennessee State University and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Auburn University.

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